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Old 04-10-2006, 08:30 PM
Janak Parekh
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Default Palm's Treo 700w Reviewed: Part 1 (Intro, Background, Hardware)

Product Category: Pocket PC Phone
Manufacturer: Palm, Inc.
Where to Buy: Amazon [Affiliate]
Price: $299.99 USD (after Amazon rebate); $499.99 USD (from Verizon Wireless)
System Requirements: Windows 2000 or Windows XP; USB port; CD-ROM drive
Specifications: 2.3" W x 4.4" H (excluding antenna) x 0.9" D; 6.4 oz; proprietary AC plug/adapter; 312MHz XScale processor; 240x240, 16-bit screen; 128MB memory (60MB ROM, 14MB RAM free on startup); SD slot; QWERTY thumbboard; 2.5mm audio jack; 1.3MP digital camera; 800/1900MHz CDMA/1xRTT/1xEV-DO; Bluetooth 1.2; Windows Mobile 5 AKU1

  • Fast EVDO access;
  • Top-notch one-handability;
  • Compact size, good for phone use;
  • Broad support.
  • Smaller, square screen incompatible with some applications;
  • No WiFi;
  • Less than ideal memory;
  • So-so multimedia performance.
Palm's first effort in the Windows Mobile arena has yielded one of the most talked-about Windows Mobile devices of all time. The form factor, plus Palm's customizations, makes it pocketable and usable as a phone, but does it make for a good Windows Mobile Pocket PC?

Read on for part one -- introducing the device and reviewing the hardware -- of the longest Pocket PC Thoughts review ever, if you dare!

Who is this review for?
One can approach the 700w from a number of perspectives: as a "PDA/Smartphone newbie", as a Palm Treo user looking to switch to the Windows Mobile platform, as a Windows Mobile Pocket PC user looking to acquire their first Phone Edition device, or as a Phone Edition user looking for an upgrade. I'm going to primarily focus on the latter two categories, as the last Palm I owned was the Qualcomm pdQ, the very first PalmOS-based Pocket PC phone running Palm 3.x on a 16MHz Dragonball -- and that comparison wouldn't be very fair. Still, I hope users in the first two categories find this review useful as well. I don't focus on the WM5 OS here, but I will talk about various architectural aspects of WM5 when appropriate.

I'm also a strong believer in a "thorough" review -- that's why I've used the 700w as my only phone and Pocket PC for several months instead of doing an immediate review. Before the 700w, I've owned a gaggle of Windows Mobile devices, starting with the iPAQ 3650 in 2000, followed by the 3870, the T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone (the original HTC Space Needle, the very first US-released Pocket PC Phone on the market), the Samsung i700, Toshiba's e805, the Samsung i600 WM Smartphone, and the i-mate JasJar (HTC Universal). In other words, my experience on Windows Mobile is pretty extensive, and I've used or supported every version of Windows Mobile since before Pocket PC 2000 (I'd sold the Philips Nino 300 PSPC to a customer back in the late '90s... if you think ActiveSync is bad now, you should have seen Windows CE Services back then). This gives me some perspective and an opportunity to describe the 700w as an everyday device not just as an end-user but as a power user, and hopefully you'll find my various tidbits, positive and negative, useful should you actually end up owning this device yourself. I personally dislike the mainstream cursory reviews that hit upon a point or two and then just summarize, and I hope you find my detail-oriented approach useful, if hopefully not too long. Believe it or not, it's longer than Darius's E-TEN M600 review and my i700 review. 8O

And yes, you read that right: I was an i600 owner for some time. In fact, for about 8 months, a Smartphone was my daily driver. Pocket PC Thoughts readers might call that heresy, but in my defense, I was still carrying an e805 or the JasJar almost all the time as well. In addition, my background in using the i600 gives me some insight into the Smartphone platform, which is particularly interesting in the Treo 700w's context as it is one of the first Pocket PC Phones, in my opinion, to approach the Smartphone's ease-of-use as a "phone".

By the way, I want to thank my colleague, Phil Gross, for donating his time and use of his Nikon D70 DSLR for the pictures of the devices in this review. Most of the pictures in this review link to a bigger version of the picture in case you want to see details close up. (Man, that is one sweet camera...)

Verizon and Windows Mobile: A Primer
Before we start with details on the 700w itself, I wanted to briefly discuss the underlying technology: CDMA and 1xEV-DO (EVDO for short). CDMA, or Code Division Multiple Access, is both a technology and a platform for mobile phones. As a technology, it's the undisputed global future: every network is moving to some variant of CDMA. As a platform, it refers more specifically to the Qualcomm-based implementation, and that's what the first release of the 700w uses. CDMA has numerous advantages over previous TDMA-based technologies -- in particular, better spectral efficiency and better data support.

Spectral efficiency refers to the amount of bandwidth any single call takes. CDMA requires less bandwidth than competing GSM/TDMA technologies, as it does not allocate a full timeslice for any given call, rather using a packet-like technology that allows far more calls to be multiplexed per tower. This packet-like technology also lends itself well to packet-based IP technology. In the US, two carriers use the Qualcomm CDMA platform: Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS. Verizon happens to be popular due to its excellent coverage in the US (especially for me in the Northeast), and recently they have aggressively started rolling out EVDO data services.

EVDO, if you didn't know already, is short for EVolution Data Optimized, and has significant deployment in North America, South America, and East Asia. It's one of the first "true 3G" wireless standards, as it is capable of handling several Mbps of transfer (although, practically, current deployments are slower; I discuss the 700w's practical performance later in this review). Even better, EVDO devices, including the 700w, seamlessly fall back to 1xRTT (1x for short) operation when an EVDO-enabled tower isn't present, even in the middle of a data connection. UMTS/HSDPA is a promising competitor to EVDO, but has limited deployment in the US, so I do not discuss it further here.

Additionally, Palm and Verizon have an exclusivity deal for the first few months of the Treo 700w; this is standard practice for Palm, who released their 650 only on Sprint in the US for a few months before releasing it to other GSM and CDMA carriers. The practical upshot? If you want a 700w now, be prepared to sign up for Verizon service... which isn't cheap. It's gotten better -- you can now get "combined" data-voice plans that reduce the cost of the data plan by about $10 from a standalone price, and Verizon will give you a $100 rebate on the phone if you sign up for a combined plan along with a two-year contract, but it's still an investment: the 700w is $499, so if you buy directly from Verizon, you'll be paying at least $399 for the device plus $79.99+/month if you want voice and unlimited data. Moreover, that data plan has some "strings" attached -- it is unlimited, but for handheld-only use, and tethering is against the TOS (Terms of Service). Verizon is rumored to be releasing a $15 add-on that would allow tethering to a desktop, and they have indeed released such an add-on for some of their phones, but notably not the Smartphone/PDA Phones in their lineup yet. :?

Figure 1: 4 of the last 5 Verizon Windows Mobile devices released, including the XV6700 Pocket PC phone, the Treo 700w, the Samsung i700 Pocket PC Phone, and the Samsung i600 Smartphone. The latter two are discontinued; Verizon continues to sell the Samsung i730, albeit with Windows Mobile 2003 at this time. As you can see, the 700w is one of the smaller devices.

(Finally, if you're curious, you may want to take a look at the beginning of my i700 review from about a year ago; it explains some of the concepts discussed here in greater detail, including a history of the major US carriers, and most of the discussion, excepting EVDO, remains current).


Figure 2: The 700w in my hand.

The Treo 700w is a decided mixed bag when it comes to specifications. It's got a 312MHz XScale processor, 128MB of memory (more on that in a minute), a 2" 240x240 transflective screen, SD (yes, full Secure Digital!) slot, removable battery, Bluetooth 1.2 using the MS stack, and of course, the QWERTY thumbboard. The 1.3MP camera module has no flash but does have a self-portrait mirror. The unit is running Windows Mobile 5.0, build 14359.0.2.0, i.e. not AKU2. Hopefully the AKU2 update will come out soon, but it's not yet available for this device. The phone module is a CDMA 800/1900 (no analog) device with 1xRTT and 1xEV-DO support.

It is important to note, up-front, that the 700w does not have WiFi. Fortunately, EVDO is a suitable replacement for most applications, but if you need LAN access or other aspects that only WiFi is able to provide, you'll have to get a add-on SDIO card or a different device. (While I'm sure some of you suspect it's Verizon's fault, I think there's a simpler explanation: Palm has never integrated WiFi into a Treo, and it doesn't look like they're about to do so any time soon.)

Palm has a product page with detailed specifications. If you want more detail, Phone Scoop has a full specification list for the 700w.

What's in the box?
Apart from the Treo itself, you get the following items:
  • USB sync cable; strangely enough, there's a button on it. I'm guessing it's the exact same cable as the 650's and has the HotSync button, but of course you don't need to use that with ActiveSync. There's a pass-through jack for the charger so you can sync-and-charge. I don't think the cable supports USB charging, so if you need that functionality, I highly recommend a cable like Pocket PC Techs' Lil Sync Pro; it's compact and very durable in design. In fact, I never once used the Palm cable, having gotten the PPC Techs one early enough to carry that exclusively;
  • Travel charger;
  • Stylus (there only appears to be one, but I didn't get the retail packaging, so I'm not sure);
  • Fairly generic stereo+mic headset;
  • CD, a "getting started" pamphlet, and a quick reference guide. The latter is 95 pages -- not too shabby in this day-and-age of CD-only materials!
The CD, in case you're curious, comes with Outlook XP and ActiveSync, a Bluetooth ActiveSync setup assistant, the 700w user guide, and two installable applications (Cubis -- an Astraware game, optimized for 240x240 -- and the Picsel PDF viewer). Finally, a wizard on the CD automatically detects what you do and don't have and prompts you through the installation of the appropriate components.

Processor and Memory
And now, I come to the first controversial design aspect of the Treo 700w: the processor and (more interestingly) the memory. At first glance, the memory sounds generous at 128MB and the processor rather anemic at 312MHz. Heck, my Samsung i700 had a 300MHz XScale, so what exactly is going on!?

Turns out the situation is precisely the opposite. The processor is actually quite snappy. In fact, in terms of everyday use, this is one of the fastest Pocket PCs I've used: certainly faster than every other Pocket PC I've owned, which is ironic considering that Windows Mobile 5 is often considered slower than 2003SE, especially amongst users who upgraded their Pocket PCs to the latest operating system. I'm not sure why, but I'm guessing the Palm hardware and software customizations are well-optimized for WM5. In addition, I'd assume the smaller square screen requires less resources on part of the CPU. I'll detail some Spb benchmarks later in the review.

The memory, on the other hand, is not nearly so unequivocally excellent. In fact, it's downright bizarre.

Figure 3: The Memory applet immediately after a soft-reset, with absolutely nothing running (not even custom Today plugins).

First, the good news: the amount of Storage memory provided is excellent. The unit has 62MB of total Storage, of which about 60MB is free upon hard-reset. That's noticeably more than most 64MB ROM-equipped HTC devices; my JasJar has something like 42MB free after a hard-reset. In fact, this device has enough storage memory that I don't install any applications onto a SD card; all of them, including games, fit just fine in main memory.

Now, the mixed news: the amount of RAM provided in the 700w is anemic. After a soft reset, about 13.7MB of RAM is available, assuming you're not running anything in the background. In this day and age of increasing memory (heck, I have a 1GB SD card in the device), this is a definite throwback. Now, I say anemic, not unusable. As part of testing the device, I decided not to install a task manager to see how often I'd run into "Out of Memory" errors, and I was really surprised to see how the 700w held up: on average, I can run about 7-8 programs simultaneously without running out of memory. You'd be amazed how well WM5 can run even with less than 5MB of RAM free. 8O

In fact, most of the time, I can use the device without even having to close applications. The main catch is applications which dynamically use more memory during execution (as opposed to startup); the most common case of this for me is VisualIT's Tube, a top-notch metro/street application for Windows Mobile devices. Tube has a "NYC Pro" street/subway/rail map collection which I use fairly often, but it doesn't actually load the map into memory until you pick one from its collection. If you've got lots of programs running, it'll then complain about a memory allocation error, and you'll be forced to close some applications. Not ideal, but manageable in most cases.

The biggest problem with the memory isn't the amount that is initially free, it's when you experience a memory leak. Since you only have about 14MB to start with, a memory leak is noticeable pretty quickly. I have one that forces me to soft reset about once a week. I haven't tracked it down yet, but one notices it when applications start running really slowly. It's entirely possible a third-party application or game is triggering it, but I've decided to wait for AKU2 before worrying about this.

So can a power user use the 700w without too many memory problems? Probably. However, it may depend on what kind of power user you are -- I'm a bit of a minimalist when it comes to Today plugins and background applications; I don't use any custom Today plugins anymore, and if you put a lot of stuff on the Today screen, it's entirely possible you'll find the RAM to be a bit too anemic for your tastes. On the other hand, I'm not sure how many Today plugins you want to cram in on that 240x240 display. Still, if Palm had bothered to put an additional 32MB, we wouldn't need to have this discussion in the first place.

Okay, enough on specs. How does the Treo 700w feel in the pocket, and how does it stack up to other contemporary Pocket PCs?

Treo 700w Size Comparisons
I had two other modern Pocket PC phones on me when working on the 700w shots: the i-mate JasJar/HTC Universal, and my colleague Phil Gross's Verizon XV6700/HTC Apache. That, plus a Nikon D70, means pictures. Of course, the other two devices are designed to work both portrait and landscape (the 700w can theoretically do landscape, but why would you?), so we took the pictures in a number of different arrangements.

Figure 4: The 700w side-by-side with the XV6700. They're similarly sized, although the Treo is more curved at the bottom.

Figure 5: The 700w side-by-side with the XV6700. Again, the Treo is more curved at the bottom. In fact, the Treo does feel thinner than the XV6700, although they're both spec'ed at 0.9" thick.

Figure 6: The 700w stacked on top of the XV6700. Did I mention they're close in size?

Figure 7: The 700w side-by-side with the XV6700 in landscape.

Figure 8: The 700w side-by-side with the JasJar. No size comparison this time.

Figure 9: The Treo 700w side-by-side with an open JasJar. Note the slight size difference between their respective thumbboards.

Figure 10: The Treo 700w side-by-side with an open JasJar in portrait mode. Oops, I forgot to turn off the devices for this shot. I guess that means you get to drool over the JasJar's VGA screen, which is truly one of the best out there.

Figure 11: The Treo 700w side-by-side with a JasJar. The JasJar is surprisingly not that thick; it's a bit thicker than the 700w, at .98", but the main size difference is in the other two dimensions.

Figure 12: The Treo 700w stacked on top of a JasJar. Again, no comparison: the JasJar is significantly larger.

Pocketing the 700w
So, there's a pictorial context of the 700w's size. What does the 700w's size feel like? And what's the best way to pocket it?

The 700w feels very comfortable in the hand. It's 6 ounces, so not unduly heavy -- similar to most Pocket PCs of its size. The curved back, as mentioned before, makes it feel thinner than the HTC Apache, which has been known to look and feel a bit block-like. The device's size is well-suited to one-handedness, as it's small enough that your thumb can reach nearly every control on the front of the device.

The remaining question is the best way of pocketing it; Palm didn't see fit to include a case, so if you want, you'll have to get one from a third party. I decided, after some deliberation, not to buy a case, and to carry the 700w naked. I've seen most Treos carried this way, and I've seen them subject to (and hold up to) unbelievable amounts of abuse. I was sitting in a downtown rush-hour 3 train in New York six months ago, when someone holding a naked 650 lurched past me to get the seat next to me. He somehow managed to hook his foot on mine and fell to the ground, the 650 leaving his hand and flying a few feet in the process. The 650 fell solidly and the SD card ejected, much to my horror. However, the guy didn't skip a beat -- he dusted himself off, picked it up, reinserted the SD card, and kept on playing his game. I've had this demonstration of the Treos' hardiness corroborated: one of my colleagues told me his Treo 600 horror story, where he managed to drop it into the gap of an elevator and the landing. It proceeded to fall 2+ stories down the elevator shaft to the bottom. He called the super and had it picked up, and surprisingly, it was in one piece (although it didn't turn on). He bought a Treo 650 in the meantime, but one day became curious: he took apart the 600, reseated everything, and reassembled it, and it still works great! 8O

I think one major reason the Treos are hardy is due to the small screen: it takes much more pressure for the screen to crack, and it's worth pointing out that if you pocket the device, your leg doesn't actually manage to touch the screen, unlike larger-screened devices. This was enough for me; I drop devices rarely, so I decided to risk it. If you consider yourself clumsier and/or disagree with the strategy, the good news is that, being a Treo, there's lots of cases for it, including several delectable Vaja cases. If I were to get one, I'd get the i-volution T7: since the Palm is designed to be one-handed, I'd want a case that would allow me to pull the unit out of my pocket and dial or answer a call without having to flip any flap out of the way (and flapping against my head while I proceed with the call). However, even that would make the device larger, and I wanted to pocket it comfortably (no belt clips in a crowded subway car, thanks!) After a few days, I got used to it, and now I don't even notice when the Treo is in there. If you're a tight pants-wearer, then the Treo will result in a small bulge, but for most any other pants or shorts the Treo should fit very comfortably. (It also helps that I use a keycase to store my keys, eliminating the chance of them scratching against the Treo.)

Protecting the Treo's screen
(This is sort of a mini-review on the WriteSHIELD AG that I'm using on my 700w. Feel free to skip it if you don't want to hear about screen protectors. Note that all of the pictures involving the 700w and the XV6700 are with screen protectors, and if you see any moire patterns, that's an artifact of photographing them with the protectors on; those patterns aren't visible under everyday use.)

So far, the Treo's stood up to the challenge of carrying it naked. I did take one precaution, though: I installed a Pocket PC Techs' WriteSHIELD AG on it before subjecting the device to pocket dust and lint. The main danger of a naked device is that dust collects on the screen and manages to scratch the touchscreen when you drag the stylus against it, and I wanted to avoid that. I can't possibly be happier with the WriteSHIELD: it was a snap to install (basically, brush the screen clean, peel off the WriteSHIELD off its backing slowly, and put it on the screen), it doesn't use glue (just electrostatic attraction, so it's easy to remove and reapply if you want to, yet it sticks on very well without bubbles), and best of all, it seems to be dust-repelling. I know, it sounds like marketing-speak, but it's amazing how little dust it attracts. The AG also has a very paper-like feel, which I was suitably impressed with.

This is the first screen protector I've used on a Pocket PC, and I hated the idea of having to deal with one, but I'm completely happy with it. I don't mean to sound like a Pocket PC Techs' stooge or anything, but it's a completely different experience than other screen protectors I've seen used. It's not cheap (the deluxe kit is $36.99 and the basic kit is $26.99, each with 2 sheets), but they last forever, unlike a lot of other screen protectors; my officemate used up 6 adhesive-based Palm-branded screen protectors in a 20-pack before getting even one bubble-free application on his XV6700, and the protectors scratch up easily, despite him keeping the unit in a case. I've stuck one WriteSHIELD on mine and there's not the slightest hint of a scratch anywhere after 2 months of heavy use. Do note the AG is anti-glare, gives a Pocket PC a matte-like surface, and diminishes the brightness of the screen slightly. I like it that way, but if you want a screen protector as transparent, they also sell a E2 screen protector that may be what you want. My only nit is that there's a small area around two of the corners where it looks like the protector isn't completely stuck to the screen. However, it's barely noticeable and only at a weird angle, isn't "unsticking" further at those corners, and doesn't actually affect functionality in any way.

Overall, two thumbs up from me. Next: a detailed tour of the 700w's hardware!

A tour of the device
The Treo 700w looks a lot like its smaller sibling, the Treo 650, but there's a few subtle improvements to the device's design.

Figure 13: The front of the Treo 700w.

The 700w has several distinctive aspects. Starting from the top to the bottom, the LED indicator in the upper-left corner of the 700w is fairly simple: it blinks green when the phone module is on and there's a signal, and blinks red when the phone module is on and there isn't a signal. If the phone module is off, the LED stays off. When charging, the LED glows a steady red, and turns to a steady green when the device is fully charged. And that's about it. The LED is capable of blinking a slow green when there's a notification or reminder, but this functionality seems flaky; I've only seen the LED behave that way once or twice. Additionally, the functionality of the LED cannot be customized in the Sounds and Notifications applet, unlike some other Pocket PCs.

The earpiece on the phone is slightly indented to make it easy to line it up with your ear. The device, in general, is reasonably comfortable to hold to the ear: it feels a little short when you hold it against your head, but not unreasonably so. The top area is a smooth, non-abrasive plastic. This isn't like all Pocket PC phones; notably, many HTC devices have a flat earpiece "hole" and it's a little awkward to align against and hold up to your ear. Of all the Pocket PC phones I've used as a phone, and I've used many, the Treo is the most comfortable and the least "geeky".

Next is the relatively small square touch screen. The screen has a 240x240 resolution; I'll talk about the OS implications of the screen later in the review, but for now, it's worth mentioning that despite the small size, controls aren't too small and can easily be tapped. The screen is bright and clear and, thanks to its small size, 240x240 doesn't look pixelated. ClearType is excellent on this device, and it's the first thing I turn on. The screen happens to be nicely recessed, and it's small enough that your cheek is unlikely to make contact with it even if you hold the 700w relatively close to your face. This is a nice improvement over larger Phone Edition devices whose screens frequently are in contact with one's face, picking up facial oils.

The control buttons are next; there's the two usual WM5 soft keys, the 5-way d-pad including action button, and 4 Windows keys. It's notable to see that there are no application keys; as I'll show in the screenshot later in the review, it's possible to map Fn with a key (or press-and-hold) to give it dual functionality, but in general, the Treo doesn't have an intuitive means of immediately launching the Calendar or Contacts. The good news is, it's not exactly a loss, because the Treo's Today screen mechanisms make this omission close to moot.

The d-pad is decent; the four directions have good tactile feedback and are not difficult to press. The center action key is distinct from the rest of the d-pad, and is a bit recessed, making it a little harder to press; while this is a little annoying at first, you get used to it, and it reduces the number of times you press down on the action key by accident. I have only one major complaint with the d-pad: in text block editing applications, like an email in the Inbox applet, the d-pad up/down arrows only page up and down. I believe this is standard WM5 behavior, but most other thumbboard-enabled WM5 Pocket PCs have separate arrow keys that go up/down one line at a time. Not having such keys on the Treo can make editing arbitrary parts of the email awkward: either you have to use the left/right arrow keys and scroll extensively, or you must tap the screen to jump to a portion of the email. I find that thumb-tapping the screen is easiest, but WM5 is supposed to minimize required touchscreen interaction.

As for the other keys,
  • The green phone ("Send") key is probably the most unintuitive key of the bunch. In most cases, its only task is to bring you to the Today screen. Yes, the Today screen. 8O It turns out that the Treo's primary dialer functionality is the Today screen, so it's bringing you to that point of entry so that you can make the phone call. This also means that the Send key is a handy way of quickly minimizing everything to bring you to the Today screen to see your other Today items.

    If you're already at the Today screen, pressing the Send key will bring up a list of most recent calls, along with options for the Dial Pad and the Call Log. This means, for example, that if you want to view the Call Log, it's particularly easy to do on the 700w: press the Send button once to go to Today, press it again to pop up the menu, and go up one and select the Call Log option. Note there's no fumbling in the Phone applet or in Applications like other Phone Edition devices. (The green key does also perform some more intuitive functions, like answering a call, or initiating a call once a speed dial item is selected, a number is entered, or a recent call is highlighted.)

  • The Windows key does exactly what it would suggest: pop up the Start Menu. On a device with no application keys, this is particularly important.

  • The OK key also does exactly what it would suggest: simulate the tapping of the OK or X button on the upper-right of the screen. For those of you who have not been WM5 Phone Edition users, this is a little unintuitive compared to most phones; it's most similar to the "return" key on other phones or Smartphones. I'm not quite sure why Microsoft specified it as the OK key; it would be far more intuitive to suggest it as a return key. The Treo does add something to the OK key's function, however: pressing-and-holding the OK key brings you straight to the Running Programs list. This is the Treo 700w's substitute for a task manager, and for most daily activities, it's surprisingly okay, i.e. I only use it to close heavy applications like media players and leave other programs running for the most part.

  • Finally, the red phone ("End") key serves two functions: it hangs up calls and doubles as the power button. No bizarrely-placed power keys like HTC devices -- it's right in front!

The Treo 700w's Thumbboard
This brings us to the other unique Treo feature: the thumbboard. Yes, the thumbboard is small, no doubt about it. But is it usable? To answer this question, I've been testing the thumbboard heavily before this review. To give you a little background as to my thumbboard experience, I've historically hated thumbboards. I bought a snap-on thumbboard for my iPAQ 3870, but found it too clumsy to use and quickly shelved it -- Pocket PC 2002 and Windows Mobile 2003 required too much simultaneous touch screen and thumbboard use. I tried the thumbboard approach again with the JasJar, and finally got hooked. The JasJar makes it easy, though: the keys are massive on the JasJar.

Figure 14: One more comparison shot between the 700w and JasJar.

In fact, for anyone who considers themselves "fat-fingered", I suggest they try out the JasJar/Universal: the keys are slightly domed and have a rough texture to make them easy to press. They are also large enough that it's extremely hard to accidentally press another key while pressing the desired key. Anyway, coming from the JasJar, I went to the other extreme in thumbboard-land: from the largest thumbboard on the market to the smallest. And my conclusion: the Treo 700w thumbboard is "okay". It's usable, and you'd be surprised how fast and accurately you can type on it, but it's certainly not the most comfortable thumbboard I've used.

Figure 15: The Treo 700w's thumbboard.

As figure 15 shows, any ordinary person's thumbs are going to be significantly larger than a 700w key. I'm not fat-fingered, by the way: I took classical piano lessons for about 10 years, and have fairly slender, long fingers. The trick is to use either your fingernail or the side of your thumb to accurately finger individual keys. Actually, you don't have to: the 700w handles multiple keypresses intelligently, so if you decide to press a key with the middle of your finger and make contact with 3 others, the 700w will get your intention right most of the time. Still, I like to use the keys in a way that I can see what I'm pressing. I'm a typist, but it's different to type thumbboard keys blindly as opposed to a desktop keyboard, and I find it much more comfortable "edging" the keys with the side of my finger.

The texture of the keys are slightly rubbery, so your fingers grip them nicely as you're typing. The one exception is if you've just washed your hands with soap; the keys do feel slippery at that point, and typing is significantly harder until your body regenerates your natural skin oils.

My other main concern was the usability of using the 700w thumbboard to dial while walking. It's one thing to stop, grasp the 700w firmly in both hands, and to carefully peck at the thumbboard; it's another to want to walk down the street and call your friend. I am pleased to say that dialing is a reasonable process. It's not the same as a larger-keyed regular dialpad, but it's much better than any other Pocket PC phone on the market, for the simple fact that the thumbboard is always there. You simply pull the unit out of your pocket, turn it on, and start dialing. There's no awkward flip like the JasJar or slide like the Wizard/Apache, no using the top row for numbers, and no screen-thumbing like the non-thumbboard-enabled Pocket PC phones. You just pull it out and you dial. If doing a number dial, Palm helpfully colors the dialpad differently and puts a tactile bump on the 5 key in the middle of the dialpad so you can quickly find the keys. Best of all, the Palm dialer is smart enough to know if you're dialing names or numbers; I'll talk about that when I get to the Palm Today screen plugins later in the review. Finally, if you need to dial an alphabetic number (like 1-800-PALM-ROX), there is a on-screen dialpad that can be summoned, which does thankfully have the letters mapped to each number. (The Blackberries are famous for not having this, which has driven a former Blackberry-toting officemate of mine crazy on occasion.)

Thumbboard Continued...
Of course, if the thumbboard is always readily accessible, there's the fear of accidental dialing while the Treo is in one's pocket. Fear not: the Treo implements a keylock very similar to that of a cell phone. In the Treo's case, to undo the keylock, you first hit power (or one of the other 3 "application" keys next to it) to wake the device up, and then hit the center key on the d-pad to disengage the keylock. In my roughly 2 months of carrying the device in my pocket, I've never done this accidentally. It's a decent compromise of secure locking while making the unlock process as painless as possible. By default, the device is set to lock as soon as you turn it off or let it power itself off, although that behavior can be customized. (In theory, one could shove the Treo in the pocket without turning it off, thereby making it vulnerable to accidental presses, but the timeout is short enough that I haven't managed to do this yet.)

There are several special keys on the Treo 700w: the "Fn" key, for lack of a better word, is the key with a large "dot" on it immediately below the A key. You can use the Fn key to access the "alternate" value of any key in one of three ways: by holding down the Fn key while pressing the other key, by pressing the Fn key followed by the other key, or by pressing Fn twice, which gives you an "Fn-lock", which sticks until you press the key again. The Fn-lock is particularly useful when inputting numbers into a PIM application. Palm also built a nice indicator in the WM OS, which I find hugely lacking in HTC's devices. Here, for example, is what happens when you press the Fn key once:

Figure 16: Fn key enabled. Notice the "dot" to the left of the SIP indicator.

That dot is there to tell you that Fn is enabled for the next key press; if you Fn-lock, a line appears under the dot. Simple and perfect. HTC, are you listening? Fn is cumbersome unless you have an indicator like this.

Incidentally, the two shift keys do exactly what they would suggest, and they have a similar indicator mechanism. (You can even "lock" Fn and use the Shift for one character, or vice versa, and it will properly return to the previously-locked state.) The last remaining key of interest is the Alt: it's a handy way to enter unusual characters without having to resort to using the SIP.

Figure 17: Alt key pressed. If you're a WM geek, you'll notice the popups "originate" from the top-left on the 700w.

You can either scroll through the list, or you can press another key on the thumbboard: period jumps you to the symbols, a jumps you to accented a characters, and so on. Backspace will get you out of the list. Handy! One nit, though, is that there is no dedicated colon key. Maybe other people don't use it much, but I do, and I miss its presence on the thumbboard itself (in fact, I use colon far more than semicolon).

Figure 18: Sending critical email to Jason by using the thumbboard. (No, I didn't actually send it. )

As figure 18 shows, the thumbboard glows when you're using it. In fact, it's on whenever the device is on. The keys are very bright and clear to read in all lighting conditions (on the dark keys, the actual letters/numbers show up clearly as well). However, you may find the thumbboard a little too bright for a theater venue...

Comparing thumbboards
Here's a few more shots comparing the 700w's thumbboard to that of two HTC devices: the Verizon XV6700 (HTC Apache) and the i-mate JasJar (HTC Universal).

Figure 19: The 700w's thumbboard vs. the 6700's thumbboard. Note the relative sizes of the keys compared to my thumbs.

Figure 20: "Action shot" of the two thumbboards. No, I can't actually simultaneously type on both devices, piano player though I may have been.

Figure 21: A "night shot" to give you an idea of the illumination difference between the JasJar, 700w, and 6700 clockwise. Red, white and blue... The screens admittedly look "washed out" here; it's surprisingly tough to get accurate screen exposure and be able to clearly see the thumbboard backlight. None of the three screens are washed out in reality; all are clear and bright.

Okay, I think I described the thumbboard enough. On to the other sides of the unit!

Tour of the device, continued

Figure 22: The left side of the Treo 700w.

As figure 22 shows, there's two buttons on the left side of the device: an up/down button (they're not independent) for volume control, and a "Hold Side" button. The up/down button behaves the same way as every other WM5 Phone Edition device and cannot be remapped; however, the Hold Side button is different. I call it Hold Side, as opposed to Side, because while you can customize it in the Buttons applet, it only works if you press and hold the button for 2 seconds. This design decision, I'm sure, is to prevent inadvertent button-pressing. As I've ended up turning off that button's functionality on other Phone Edition devices due to inadvertent presses, this change is welcome.

Figure 23: Button applet on the 700w. A subset of keys shown, including the Option+OK and Hold Side. (The latter defaults to Windows Media Player; I've remapped it to a free screenshot program.) Mappable buttons also include Start, OK, Option+Send and Option+Start.

Figure 24: The right side of the Treo 700w. Not much to say here, but I took the picture, so why not show it.

Figure 25: The top of the Treo 700w. Yes, the paint is chipping off on the "dark speaker" icon.

The top of the device is much more interesting than the right side. You can more clearly notice the earpiece "bump". There's the antenna on the left: yes, it's an external antenna, but I'm used to it and hardly notice it. It's not particularly long, either; Samsung's i700 and i600 antennas were noticeably longer and more annoying. Immediately to the right of the antenna is the SD slot: yes, a real SD slot (thank you, Palm! Boo, HTC!) and an IR port.

Tour of the device, continued
Finally, one of the most interesting hardware-enabled features of the 700w is the speaker mute switch on the top of the device (Palm calls it "ringer switch", but it's a true, hardware-based mute). As many of you know, Pocket PC Phone Edition does not have profiles; the Treo 700w doesn't either, except this switch acts like a profile. If it's on the left position, the device behaves like every other Pocket PC Phone. If it's on the right, as pictured, the device's speaker is muted, and by default, rings and notifications vibrate. (You can fully customize vibration behavior, as I'll show later in the review.) For me, this is perfect: 99% of the time, I'll leave it on the silent position, except when I need to put the phone down and walk away from it or need to listen to something on the speaker. The great thing about this is it's a true silent: no games suddenly making noises in your meetings when you forgot to turn the volume off!

Figure 26: The bottom of the Treo 700w.

The good news: the 700w uses the same connector as the 650 and is apparently compatible with all of the cables, chargers, and accessories the 650 is compatible with. The bad news: Palm uses their own lame connector as opposed to something simpler like the XV6700's mini-USB interface, shown in figure 27. :?

Figure 27: The bottom of the Treo 700w compared to the XV6700.

The headphone jack, incidentally, is a 3-conductor 2.5mm jack like most other Pocket PC Phone Edition devices; it accepts both the included earbuds and standard 2.5mm wired headsets. Pocket PC Techs (and other vendors, presumably) sell adapters to allow you to adapt this jack to 3.5mm headphones; I discuss this later in the review.

Finally, the rightmost holes are the microphone; its positioning enables convenient phone and speakerphone use.

Figure 28: The back of the 700w.

The backside of the 700w is rather simple. The stylus is on the left; it's a standard-fare PDA stylus. The tip is a little bit bigger than I'd like, but it's not a major issue. The good news is that it's not a telescoping or other awkward stylus, and it's held in the device via simple friction, not some clip that's likely to break. Next to that is the standard-fare cameraphone camera with standard-fare self-picture mirror, and to the right of that are two rubbery covers. I'm guessing there is an antenna jack next to at least one of them, but they're surprisingly hard to remove, so I didn't investigate it further. ops:

Below the camera is the speakerphone. The speakerphone is of decent quality; I've only tested it in fairly quiet environments, so I can't speak of its use as a handsfree solution in the car; I avoid using the phone whenever driving, and if I must, I use a Bluetooth headset. Since the microphone is on the bottom, it's safe to keep the Palm "face-down" when using the speakerphone.

Finally, below that is the battery cover. I'll open it in a second, but before I do, one complaint: when I first started using this device, this cover creaked. Badly. It was one of those "pick it up and feel it creak" devices. The good news is that after a few weeks' use, it "settled down" and now doesn't creak at all.

Figure 29: The back of the 700w, with battery cover removed.

Removing the battery cover yields a few interesting points: the stylus silo is not entirely enclosed, but rather is mostly open. I guess this is a good thing if you're the kind of person that tends to get things stuck in there. Immediately to the right of it is the soft reset button. Why, Palm, why did you have to put the soft reset behind a battery cover? :cry: Actually, it's not terrible, since you can use the stylus to toggle the soft reset, but it's really convenient to have it outside. Finally, we have the battery, which can easily be removed by hooking your thumb on the side right next to the soft reset hole and pulling out the battery. Since the device runs WM5, it's safe to do this if you want to swap batteries. The battery is 1800mAh, and I'll talk about the 700w's battery performance near the end of the review.

And that completes the hardware tour. I know you're all itching to see what Palm's software changes are, but it turns out phpBB can't handle the entire length of this review in one article. 8O Part 2 contains a thorough walk-through of the Palm customizations to WM5, software and multimedia capabilities, and concludes with a look at the performance of the device.

Janak Parekh is finishing up his Ph.D. in Computer Science at Columbia University in the City of New York. When not frantically performing last-minute research experiments or writing ridiculously long PPCT reviews, he can be found catching a baseball game or hanging out in New York City with his friends... and his Treo 700w, of course.
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Old 04-10-2006, 09:31 PM
Raphael Salgado
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Being a recent convertee(?) to the Palm Treo 700w from the Verizon XV6700 due to the Apache's unpredictable "dark screen of death" (DSOD) syndrome, I was happy to read this review end-to-end to pick up on things I didn't realize when I got the device. Needless to say, I'm really happy with this device despite its little quirks I've noticed as a power user myself, too. I'll be interested to read part 2 of your ginormous review.

I may be bold to assume that the Treo 700w is regarded as a "transition" device for Treo 650 users, specifically in the corporate world. And thus, it would have been in Palm and Microsoft's best interest to make sure that the corporate user would not have to go out and purchase all new accessories. In fact, it would be as simple as swapping out the 650 for the 700 and replacing HotSync with ActiveSync, and that's it. As a die-hard Windows Mobile user who never owned any previous Treo model, it obviously didn't work out to my advantage - I ended up spending for USB sync & charge cables, AC and DC adapters, etc.

It's been a long-standing rumor that HTC was the actual designers behind the Treo line, or at least the 700w (then rumored as the 670 - eek, what a model number that would have been). Perhaps the nice things about the 700w device, such as the hardware switch, keyguard, Alt-symbol list, and more, might have been design-patented or guarded by Palm as to not be implemented similarly in other HTC products like the Apache, Wizard, Prophet, Hermes, etc.

So far, I feel better and confident about my purchase. Thanks again for the review, and I'm looking forward to part 2!
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Old 04-10-2006, 09:53 PM
Jason Lee
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Actually the HTC Wizard devices have the "Fn" key dot. It also turns to a "C" if you hit shift or caps lock.

I think it is an HTC thing and not just a palm thing.

It just requires a registy tweak.

Create a DWORD value called EnableIndicator and set it to 1.
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Old 04-10-2006, 09:57 PM
Raphael Salgado
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Actually, by default, the option for the Wizard was not enabled until I posted the discovery of the registry entry by looking into the CapsNotify.exe in my blog a long while back. Unfortunately, the HTC Apache (presumedly the CDMA version of the Wizard) didn't have the executable, nor made a difference when I copied it over and tried the same registry entry.
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Old 04-10-2006, 10:05 PM
Jason Lee
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Originally Posted by Raphael Salgado
Actually, by default, the option for the Wizard was not enabled until I posted the discovery of the registry entry by looking into the CapsNotify.exe in my blog a long while back. Unfortunately, the HTC Apache (presumedly the CDMA version of the Wizard) didn't have the executable, nor made a difference when I copied it over and tried the same registry entry.
Oh, i didn't know that it wouldn't work in the CDMA versions. That's no fun...
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Old 04-11-2006, 12:17 AM
Janak Parekh
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Originally Posted by Jason Lee
Actually the HTC Wizard devices have the "Fn" key dot. It also turns to a "C" if you hit shift or caps lock.
Thanks for the tip. I don't understand why they don't have this enabled by default. :? Oh well, I'm just glad to see two people actually read the article. :lol:

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Old 04-11-2006, 01:36 AM
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This review has made me really eager for when the GSM 700w comes out I love the form factor. I miss the PPC Phone functionality that my XDA Mini/KJAM offered, and the Treo looks like a good way to get back to that. Lets see, I sell off the Axim (with 2Gb CF) and SP5 (with 1Gb miniSD) and get:

* Tero 700w GSM
* Spectec SD WiFi (the tiny version)
* 1/2Gb SD Card

Mitchell Oke - Gear Diary Editor
MacBook Pro, Self-Built Media Center PC on 22" LCD
Samsung i600 "BlackJack", HTC Universal, Microsoft Zune
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Old 04-11-2006, 02:03 AM
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Being a recent convertee(?) to the Palm Treo 700w from the Verizon XV6700 due to the Apache's unpredictable "dark screen of death" (DSOD) syndrome, I was happy to read this review end-to-end to pick up on things
You gave up a Wizard and went thru all those other devices to end up with a memory deficient Treo?

Wow. 8O
PDA Lineage:HS Visor->Visor Prism->Casio EM-500->Casio E-200->HP Jornada 568->Ipaq 1910->IPAQ 4150->IPAQ 2750 with Motorola RAZR V3->Imate K-JAM->Treo 750->HTC Touch Cruise
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Old 04-11-2006, 02:43 AM
Jon Westfall
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This is one of the best reviews of the 700w I've seen - and it's only part 1 (OK, I'm a bit biased, but the truth is the truth!). Looking forward to part 2 Janak!
Dr. Jon Westfall, MCSE, MS-MVP
Executive Editor - Android Thoughts
News Editor - Windows Phone Thoughts

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Old 04-11-2006, 04:05 AM
Janak Parekh
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Originally Posted by MitchellO
This review has made me really eager for when the GSM 700w comes out
Of course, the million-dollar question is when it will come out. :| Hopefully sooner than later.

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