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Treo 600: Not Your Parents' PalmPilot
Pages: 1, 2, 3

640K Is Not Enough (Add-On Memory and Software)

The Treo 600 has 32MB of RAM, of which 24MB is available to the user. Unless you're sharing one PDA between all the salespeople in your company, that really is enough to hold all of your contacts. And it will hold about 600 photos at the camera's maximum resolution of 640 by 480.

But it won't hold very many MP3 files.

pocket tunes Yes, MP3 files. This thing becomes an MP3 player with third-party software. I use the one palmOne recommends, Pocket Tunes . It's normally about $20, but is free if you buy a Treo 600 and register it online (this may be a limited-time offer). If you prefer your software from big blue companies, there is also a RealAudio player (which also plays MP3), just in case the notion of streaming RealAudio down to a Palm handheld excites you. (Note that you must register to download and you must be located in the U.S. in order to download; their web site "correctly" rejected me when I tried to download it from Toronto.) And, they only support Windows "at present," so do vote with your wallet -- elsewhere.

You can expand the Treo's memory using MMC or SD cards; I tested an 8MB MMC card and an 128MB SD card. One thing to beware of is counterfeit SD cards. palmOne claims that certain (they won't say which) "non-standard" SD cards can damage the SD slot in your Treo 600. And guess what? This damage is not covered by the warranty. So beware, and buy and use only SD cards that have an official SD logo.

With a bit of trepidation I took the Lexar 128MB SD card from my wife's HP620 and stuck it in the Treo. Which proceeded to lock up, requiring a soft reset. Fear. Reboot. Try it again. Lock up. But no damage to the Treo. Whew! I then stuck the SD card into my TiBook running 10.3.2, which also locked up! But only once; after that it was fine in the Mac, and the Treo! Go figure. Then I could download music and upload pictures.

In fact, memory cards turn out to be the only way I could upload pictures. In keeping with Palm's slow move away from Macs, despite the nice touchy-feely stuff, Palm does not provide Mac users with a conduit for uploading photos. (Given the rise of cam phones, this is an obvious candidate for either the iSync or iPhoto developers to take on; are you listening, Apple?) Mac users can back up their photos as one large PDB file using the default backup conduit in the Palm Desktop, then break them out with a tool like iTreo or ImageConverter. iTreo is cool: you can drag images from the preview it gives onto the desktop, the finder, a program like iPhoto, or directly into a graphics program. Alternately, put your images directly onto an SD card (in the Camera application, choose Move and select the Card at the bottom of the Categories list). Then plug the SD card into a reader/converter on your Mac, and use iPhoto to slurp them in. Of course, if you sync on Windows, you can use the HotSync photo conduit that they provide.

MMC cards can contain applications; the one card I picked up was the Encyclopaedia Britannica. My Anglo-background family has always had a leaning to the Britannica, which originated as a three-volume set in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1768 (although it's now American-owned and -operated). And it helps that the user interface to Britannica's desktop computer edition was written largely in my favorite programming language, Java. When I heard it was available for my Treo, I said "No way!" But here it is, Britannica in Palm edition, in an MMC card (as a cute little touch, it comes with a plastic case for holding up to six MMC/SD cards, one of which is the all-plastic dust-protector/dummy that you keep in the phone when no card is in use). Slide the Britannica MMC card into the slot, and you have a cell phone with an encyclopaedia inside! Of course it's not the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica; this has only 24,000 or so of the most commonly consulted entries. And it doesn't seem to have a full-text search; I could only find a "search by article title" function. But sure enough, if you look up, say, Java, you get this (see figure): . While the vendor doesn't officially support the Treo 600, it worked fine (again, I had a moment's trepidation before inserting it, but I figured it was at least from a reputable source). It does work. I must say that having a cell phone with Britannica inside is just sooo cool. And yes, having this card in my cell phone actually does make me a walking encyclopaedia.

If you like the encyclopaedia, you might also want The Oxford American Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus for Palm OS by Handmark, or other dictionaries from palm-dictionaries.com.

Software in MMC cards is just software loaded into a RAM card. Many titles are not read-only or otherwise protected, so you could, in theory, copy them. But you also have to be careful; the instructions with my Britannica card actually remind you that you can render the encyclopaedia "inoperative" by formatting the memory card, just in case you wondered what would happen. Don't. In fact, Card Info identifies the Britannica's hardware as a perfectly ordinary 32MB Hitachi Multimedia Card. But something must have interfered slightly with some data on the card, because after about two weeks, it got confused and started asking for a serial number out of the blue! What's even stranger is that it stopped this silly prompting again, with no more reason than it had for starting.

Of course, most Palm software is downloaded or sold on CD. Another package I find useful in a Palm device is printing, for which I use good old PalmPrint, from Stevens Creek Software. PalmPrint worked fine printing via IRDA from my Treo 600 to my HP LaserJet with IR support.

After getting the web browser working, I decided I needed to show you how the web pages actually look. Google found a variety of programs that claimed to do screen-dumps on the Palm. After a false start and lots of pop-ups from TealPrint, I settled on ScreenShot from LinkeSoft GmbH. The results are the picture-perfect screen shots you see here.

And you did hear me mention Java. There is a fast IBM Java Virtual Machine that you can purchase from Palm's site or from handango.com. Why do they charge $5.99 extra for the JVM when you've paid hundreds of dollars for the phone? I do not know, but I guess they have to draw the line somewhere. (By contrast, many other vendors' phones bundle the J2ME runtime.) There is, however, a palmOne page specifically for Java developers.

Also in my list of applications, you'll see the schedule programs from AirCanada and ViaRail (strangely called e.Schedule), typical of what most large travel companies provide. I have previously used these on my Treo 180 and had no problems with using them on the 600, other than that the navigator arrows don't work as well here as they do in newer applications.

Battery Life

My Treo 180 got about two days of standby time; the 600 claims to get up to 10 days. Of course there is no exact figure on battery life. Palm's literature says "6 hours talk time, 10 days standby." Elsewhere it says "240 hours standby," making clear they mean ten days of 24 hours, not just ten work days. But even standby time is determined by how far you are from the cell tower -- the further away from one you are, the louder your phone has to shout to be heard by the tower, and it does this even when you're not in a conversation, of course, so that the carrier's network will know to which cell tower to route your incoming calls.

Of course, expansion cards shorten your battery life, as they draw power from the Treo.

The claim of 10 days of standby time, with no expansion card, is certainly achievable and believable. I usually synchronize every day or two, and that puts a bit of juice into the battery, but for several weeks I didn't have the machine shut down due to low battery. I did get the red line warning appear in the battery; see below. The FileZ utility mentioned above has a screen for showing battery life, but its calibration is a bit off, as the phone kept going and going like a certain well-known energetic bunny, even when the battery gauge got to zero (see the third panel below).

battery life battery life
battery life battery life

But eventually the battery must really run out. What happens then? Does the Palm keep your data safe? Since this is a review, I wanted to find out for you. I was reluctant to try it in case it lost all of my data, but that's what backups (HotSync) are for. So I let it run right down, and the phone eventually stopped, doing a graceful shutdown (see bottom-right panel). Totally dead, like you'd expect a phone with a dead battery. Except it's not really dead at this point; it has carefully kept enough power in reserve to keep the contents of memory intact for a couple of days. When I connected the phone to the charger several hours later, it came right back on with no loss of data; all of my settings, recent appointments, and so on were all intact. Palm claims this is a feature, and is it ever a good one! As far as I'm concerned, you should have no qualms about trusting a Treo with your data. Of course, in normal life there's no reason to let the battery go this low. If you hot-sync every day or two and leave the phone connected to the charging cable for an hour or so, it will not go below about 70% battery charge. The phone does give you plenty of warning that it's getting low. It's nice to know, though, that if you really need to go low, you can, once in a while.

Speaking of cables, the cables are compatible with those from the Treo 180/270/300 series, so you can use your existing USB cables (but not the chargers, because of the phone's narrower but slightly deeper profile).

Gotchas?

The Treo 600 represents a major engineering effort, and it would be surprising (and you would, I hope, be suspicious) if I didn't find at least a few glitches. So here they are.

  • The Power button, which is very stiff and unlikely to be depressed accidentally, is controlled by the Keyguard feature, which means that with default settings, before you can turn the phone on, you have to wake up the PDA using the Phone button at the right, press the Center button to turn off Keyguard, and then go to the top of the phone and press and hold the Power button for a couple of seconds (see keyguard.html to turn off auto-keyguard).
  • The one obligatory firmware glitch: If you power down in an area of low signal strength and you press the On/Off button to turn the screen off before the phone has fully shut down, it leaves Binky the LED flashing red forever (or at least until you power the phone up again).
  • There is no lanyard ring. Most small non-flip phones have a ring for a carrying strap. If you don't want to drop that wussy little phone you got for $0 with activation, you certainly don't want to drop your $450 Treo 600.
  • The labels on the Sound/Silent switch are too small and/or don't contrast enough with the background. They should be bigger and darker.
  • The caveat about non-standard SD cards.
  • Some people will find the lack of BlueTooth a problem. Palm has an SD card for BlueTooth, but it's not approved for the Treo 600 yet; presumably this, or another of the BlueTooth SD cards, will work soon (there's even talk that the Pocket-PC-only C-Guys SD-Link11b 802.11 SD card may soon work on the Treo 600; there are driver issues and power issues to be resolved first).

Actually, that's a pretty short list. I've been living with the Treo 600 for almost a month so far, and that's really all I've found to object to. I really like the Treo 600.

Final Thoughts

The Treo 600 is Handspring's "third system" when it comes to building a cell-phone-plus-PDA combination, the first being the VisorPhone and the second being the 180/270/300 series. They say (in software development, at least) that you throw away your first system because it's too limited and your second because it gets too big, and your third is supposed to be about right. It didn't work for Windows 3.1, but it sure worked for Handspring on the Treo 600. I like my Treo 600. I'm keeping it. Handspring: You're not getting it back!

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