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Edited by chromatic
July 2005

Just when you think you've made sense of all of the new phones, calling plans, and options, along comes a new batch of hardware. If you're slogging along with old technology and expired calling plans, you're in the same boat as a few of the O'Reilly folks on the Editors List. Here's a recent conversation about smartphones.

Grant Kikkert:

Hey all...

Just curious if anyone has some user opinions on the Treo 600. My contract is up with Cellular One and I will be moving to a new cellphone contract with Verizon Wireless. Verizon has a sale with the 600 Treo ($250 w/a new two-year contract), and I'm seriously considering getting one. I'm due for a new PDA. My iPAQ is 4 years old and needs a new battery (and to be perfectly honest, I rarely used it). I would like to have just one device to take while visiting accounts. I'm sick of carrying a separate cellphone, digital camera, and PDA. I don't plan on using the extended Verizon services (no internet and/or email). I just want a simple smartphone that will also act as a PDA to keep track of my schedule/events (alarms, etc). Anyone use the Treo 600? How are the PDA functions... cellphone functions? I know the Treo 300s were pretty harshly critiqued for their phone functionality.

Any opinions appreciated.

Sarah Milstein:

Oooh, I want these opinions, too. I just yesterday started considering the very same deal from Verizon. Am also toying w/the BlackBerry option they have.

Steve Hazelwood:

I actually switched my service from Verizon to Cingular back in Feburary. The reason I changed is because of Verizon's poor selection of phones. While switching, I got the Treo 650. After doing research on the two Treo's out right now, I found the 650 is much better. The processor is twice as fast for faster surfing. The screen and camera are also much better. On the 600, you'd have to send the phone back to the factory to switch the battery, while the 650 has a battery hatch. But the deal closer was the fact that the 650 has Bluetooth. It can transfer data to my Mac, after hacking the interface. A lot of phone providers don't want to allow this with their unlimited internet plans, but there's a workaround. With Bluetooth, you can also get one of those cools Star Trek-looking headsets for phone conversations. It's completely different working without wires.

After switching to Cingular, I haven't noticed any difference in coverage. I was able to get more minutes for the same price, with no drop in quality. Of course, this is in the Midwest; it may be different elsewhere.

Grant Kikkert:

The 650 is sooooo tempting. Last night, I went to Verizon and compared the 600 to the 650 side by side and the differences were very identifiable. Although they are both identical in size, weight, and appearance, the 650 has much better screen resolution. The interface seems a bit more accessible, too. There is a hot button for a main menu on the 650. I didn't see this feature on the 600. Of course, the removable battery and Bluetooth are the deal breakers.

I also looked at the AudioVox XV6600 and the Samsung i700. The AudioVox would be my first choice--a true pocket PC with cellphone features. Sleek, powerful, and hefty. I like the "brick" form factor. I lose small things easily... in fact, I always joke that I should see if I could activate my old 2lb Motorola cellphone with separate battery pack. The Samsung i700 looks nice as well--no QWERTY keypad, but I hate using that anyway. However, it gets poor marks on the phone functionality (less than 3 hours talk time). Both are way out of my $$$ range. The Audiovox is $549 with a two-year contract. I can buy an entry-level Celeron laptop for that price. Plus, hot syncing with Windows Mobile requires a 3rd party solution with the Mac. The Treo can sync directly with either Windows or Mac.

Unfortunately, my only service choice is Verizon. They offer the best coverage in my residential area (they practically own NYC) and dominate the entire Northeast with their coverage area. Sprint's coverage was very spotty, and Cingular doesn't even offer service in my area.

Right now, Verizon is offering $399 for the 650 after rebate and $249 for the 600 after rebate. This is where I get into trouble. Before yesterday, I was thoroughly convinced the 600 more than met my needs and fell within my budget. Now, after seeing them side by side, I'm debating whether it's worth it to spend an extra $150 for the features I want, compared to the features I can live with. This coming from someone who has limped along perfectly fine with a broken iPaq and dual-mode cellphone.

So now it's a duel between the 600 and 650. I have two weeks to change my mind. Last night, I signed up for a two-year nationwide contract with Verizon. Or... I wonder if it's better to wait a few months and eBay my best deal. I just passed on a Samsung i700 (soon to be replaced by the i730). No reserve, $220 and 5 mins to go. Great deal, except the seller registered in 2001 and had 1+ feedback. In addition, another bidder with (2) feedback was shilling the bid immediately after a bid was placed. Money order was the only accepted payment.... for a listing that showed just a stock photo. I had to pass on that one.

Brian Jepson:

I'm thinking about the same thing... in fact, I was on eBay today looking at broken Treos and wondering how much Palm would charge to repair them. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and I didn't buy one. I think I might hold out for the Treo 650-- I reviewed the GSM (Cingular, T-Mobile) version a while back, and really like it.

For all the complaints people have about Palms crashing because the operating system isn't a true multitasker, I can think of plenty of times I've had a pocket PC crash or just start acting funny. The thing that I really dig about Palm is the number of applications available for it and the overall hackability--you can do a lot of cool stuff to a Palm.

That said, if Nokia came out with a Series 60 phone in a Treo form factor, I'd snap that up in a second. Right now, I'm torn between some kind of Treo and one of the newer Nokia smartphones. For an interesting take on the Nokia Series 60 as a Treo alternative, see The Super Phone You Can Get for Free.

Also, Nokia smartphones are very hackable--you can program in Java or C++, and script in Python, Perl, or OPL. Even if you wouldn't be likely to do this, it means that it's easier for 3rd-party programmers to build cool apps you can use.

One thing that may be a deciding factor is the cost of data. I was in a Verizon store recently, and they want $45 a month for unlimited data. T-Mobile is only $19.99. However, Verizon's data can be 3x faster than T-Mobile, so that's something to consider. And T-Mobile doesn't currently have the Treo 650, but Verizon is getting it soon (I could buy an unlocked Treo 650, but it's costly).

Sara Winge:

I like my 600. I use it as a PDA more than as a phone, and I like the Palm interface. Phone works fine for my purposes. The camera's pretty low-quality, but handy occasionally.

Lori Keam:

I use an Audiovox SMT 5600 Smartphone (Windows Mobile).

Thing is that it only syncs up with Outlook. I don't sync email, only contacts and calendar. As a phone, it has great bandwidth. My only complaint is that it's not a flip phone, so you have to lock the keys whenever you put it in your pocket. The PC Mag review is right--it's not a very good camera, but it will do in a pinch. Looks like it's only available through Cingular, though.

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