Round Robin: TiPb vs. Palm Treo Pro Final Review

[This is an official Smartphone Experts Round Robin post! Every day you reply here, you're automatically entered for a chance to win an iPhone 3G, Case-Mate Naked Case, and Motorola H9 Bluetooth Headset! Full contest rules here!]

Of all the reviews I have to write as part of the Smartphone Experts Round Robin, I have a feeling this one is going to be the hardest. See, I was a Palm OS user since the Palm V and stuck with the platform through the Treo 680, before switching to the original iPhone.

That, year after year after year, Palm still hasn't been able to ship a successor to Palm OS Garnet is inconceivable to me to the degree that what I'm now holding in my hand, gorgeous and powerful though it may be -- isn't a Palm, isn't a Treo. Not really. I was funny about that in my video. I'm actually more than a little sad about it real life.

The Treo 800 series should really be running Palm OS 2.0 "Nova". Since it's not, however, I'm reviewing an HTC handset running Windows Mobile 6.1 -- something I'll be doing almost immediately again with the HTC FUZE/PRO.

How to handle that? To avoid redundancy, I'm going to stick reviewing hardware -- a front facing Qwerty this time, slider the next -- and breaking up the software into two parts. This review (and thanks to Dieter for the idea!) will focus on the traditional Palm core -- the four pillars of PIM (Personal Information Management). The FUZE review will cover everything else Windows Mobile (media, apps, maps, etc.)

And I'm going to begin, after the break!

Hardware

The Palm Treo Pro hardware is a real departure. Gone is the little gray box that debuted with the Treo 600. The big honking antenna disappeared with the 680/750, but now even the legacy Treo 800 inset screen and gunship good looks have been given the heave ho.

Some have said this is because HTC basically designed and built the unit. Whatever the reason, it looks fresh and modern. It moves Treo -- physically at least -- into the next generation.

It looks good. It feels good. The form factor is very nice in the hand. Like the Google Android G1 (also by HTC) it does feel a tad creaky, but I'm beginning to think that a) the iPhone just spoiled me for build quality and b) plastic with removable battery equals a little bit of creak.

Buttons and Keys

A few niggles. The camera button is oddly placed. Having a physical button is okay, and I'm sure some appreciate it, but putting it below the volume rocker is non-sensical to me. The iPhone, by contrast, puts the mute button there, so all volume controls are grouped, and you can feel if the mute is in-line or off-line with the volume rocker, letting you immediately understand state.

On the opposite side is a WiFi on/off button. I'm not sure why it's there, or why it even exists. An "airplane mode" style toggle, maybe, but why just the WiFi radio? Is that any more necessary than Blue Tooth or cell? I really don't know.

The keyboard, on the other hand, while a little cramped compared to the 680, is a huge improvement just based on the key material itself. Gone are those hard, rounded nasty little nubs I could never really type on, and in their place is something... like gummy bears. I can't really describe it, but boy does it improve my typing experience. Keep this material and expand the keyboard back to full Treo size, and Palm has a real winner on their hands (and in ours!)

That said, the iPhone has really spoiled me off hard keyboards and the Treo has re-affirmed that fact. I only need the keyboard for text entry, and after I'm done, I was just sitting there staring at it staring back at me. "Go away! I'm done with you!", I felt like saying, "I want to watch some video now and you're in the way!". But it couldn't go away. I'm not sure if the FUZE or Bold will pull me back from this precipice, but for some types of users, I'm thinking the era of hard keyboards is over.

As to the hard buttons -- they depress me a little. And confuse me. The original Palm PDA's were pretty much perfect at this, but it's something Palm has struggled with since transitioning to the Treo line. My 680, for example, had a Green, Red, and Phone button (3 buttons just for the phone!). The Treo Pro has a Green, Red, Windows, and OK button. None of these seem optimal to me. And hitting Red (end call) to get to the Today screen seems counter-intuitive. So does every button but the center of the 5-way and OK serving to wake the device, with the center unlocking it. I realize we need different buttons to wake and unlock, but the center just seems so natural.


Screen

Windows Mobile Treo has finally caught up with the Palm OS 650! Yup, we have 320x320. It's unfortunate that it happened around the same time the Bold shipped 480x360 and the HTC Touch HD dropped the 800x480 bomb, but welcome to the 21st century! Speaking of which -- FLUSH! This is something I've wanted on a Palm for a long time, and boy does it deliver. After Kevin's epic deflation of the stylus in his review -- an issue I shan't revisit here since he nailed it so well -- it's nice not to have to try to poke into corners with any type of input any more.

The next step for Palm will hopefully be a non-square screen. This device with the Bold screen would be impressive (and would likely make Dieter faint).

Fit and Finish

The speaker being placed along the side is genius. If I hold the iPhone wrong, I can't hear a sound coming out of it. With the Treo Pro, even if I put it flat on the table, the audio is not effected one bit.

The standard USB connector is also very much appreciated. Absent a near iPod monopoly and the ubiquity of the dock connector that goes with that, sticking with standards is a win for every body.

Overall, this device really shines in fit and finish, and it's obvious Palm and/or HTC spent a lot of time sweating the details. While I benefited from Kevin and Dieter's tutorials on how to open the battery cover, once open there's a handy tab to pull out the battery, and SIM entry/exit was a breeze. I use this example because it's easy to scrimp inside where you think no one's looking. We looked, and no scrimpage was found.

This device is well made -- and beautiful -- inside and out.

Final Hardware Thoughts

Downside? I have iPhone out cables that connect to TVs to basically give me a portable AppleTV (the dock even works with the Apple Remote). I take shows and stuff I've rented to my friends and family to enjoy together on the big screen. This week in particular, I really missed being able to do that. Apple is still the only one who's nailed ecosystem.

In a world without the iPhone, however, -- and maybe the Bold, can't say yet -- this would be the type of hardware I want. If they could better the buttons, it would be the kind of hardware I carried -- if I still wanted a hard keyboard, which is a thought I'll be finishing in the FUZE and Bold reviews.

Windows Mobile for PIM

Palm nailed the Zen of PIM back in the late 90s. Say what you want about the aging Palm OS (and I've said plenty myself!), but it's arguably still one of the best PIM app suites on the planet. The story about it, about the early Palm team counting key strokes, is near legendary now, and it showed. Everything was easy. Everything was intuitive. Everything worked.

This is not that Palm.

Windows Mobile works -- don't get me wrong! -- but it takes work. I have full faith and confidence that if I invested the time to tweak and tune every little setting, to dig into every little registry entry, to basically Dieter or Malatesta the heck out of it, I could achieve something that the Palm OS did pretty much out of the box. But I have neither the time nor the inclination to do that.

By way of example, I bought my iPhone 3G on launch day, and iTunes was down, so no syncing, no activation. No problem. I put in my Exchange details, boom, work was running. Put in my MobileMe, boom, personal was taken care of. Put in my Gmail, boom, TiPb was happy. It all just worked.

With the Treo Pro, I never got OTA anything working. I never got BT sync working despite trying 3 different Macs (all failed at different points). I even bought MissingSync out of desperation, and USB tether would cause MissingSync to beachball of death continuously. I tried launching Windows XP via Parallels and it wouldn't even see the device.

Now, most users aren't Mac users, fair enough, but I am and I know many, many Mac users were Palm users prior to the iPhone, so I don't accept the really poor user experience. I should also point out that I never had a problem syncing my old Treo 680 via MissingSync via BT or USB on the Mac, and I likely could have figured this out too given more time and patience (and forum help). But I oughtn't have to.

Cases in point:

Mail

Phone aside, Email is the killer app. It's what made the BlackBerry the Crackberry. I use Exchange for work and Microsoft makes not only the Treo Pro's OS, but Exchange itself, so I was anticipating a quick and painless set up.

I was wrong.

First, just like I inexplicably can't setup Exchange in Outlook on a PC (gotta go to Control Panel!) I had to setup ActiveSync first on the Treo. Entering my info was easy enough, though password handling reminded me of iPhone OS 1.x, where we're expected to enter pseudorandom passwords that are totally obscured, which was made extra hard by having to use shift and alt to change state on a visually unchanging hardware keyboard. I managed to do it eventually however, only to be stopped dead by ActiveSync refusing my company's certificate.

On the iPhone, I just ignore the security warning and it works fine. With the Treo, I could find no way around it. TreoCentral Forum member Conrad gave me awesome directions for manually finding my certificate on my desktop and transferring it to the Treo Pro, but there's no excuse for that having to be part of the process.

So, while I could get the certificate easily enough, I couldn't transfer it over from my Mac by either BT or tether, so I couldn't get Exchange.

Really depressing.

I did get Gmail setup, though it defaulted to POP. Forum member RichChestmast tipped me to flipping on IMAP, however.


Calendar

I like the Calendar App. I couldn't sync either Exchange or MobileMe (where I keep my personal data) over, so I just re-entered everything manually (which technically avoided tethering!). Anyone who's used Outlook -- anyone who's used any Calendar app, will be right at home, and that's the highest of praise for PIM apps.

As mentioned, there's a hard key for the calendar, letting you zip right into it and cycle through states, and I'll use this opportunity again to announce my appreciation for the Today Screen, which would be a welcome option on the iPhone.


Also, the Windows Mobile calendar provides both week view (like the G1), which the iPhone lacks, and year view, though the screen size and ratio constricts it to 9-month view. Both of these would be welcome additions to the iPhone.


Tasks and Notes

As I mentioned in my Android review, the iPhone's stupefying lack of a Tasks app, and lack of any built-in way to sync notes, even with Exchange which supports just that type of syncing, has conditioned me to pretty much stop using these pillars.

They're here. They work. But they're not particularly attractive (making me miss Marker Felt is about as low as any Notes app could ever sync). I'll get into this more in the FUZE review, but it's not 1998 any more. UI matters.


Secret Sauce

(Yes, I refuse to surrender that jargon to lesser complaints). When Bill Gates took the stage at CES and stunned the world with a Palm running Windows Mobile, one of the first things that got me psyched was the Photo Dialing. I loved how Palm tweaked out Windows Mobile.

I didn't notice anything special about the Treo Pro. In a world with Touch Flo 3D and Xperia Panels, I was expecting something.

Far as I could tell, though, when Palm ordered up the Treo Pro, they held the sauce.

Pity.

PIM Postcript

When I was having trouble figuring out how to review this not made by Palm, not running Palm-OS Treo, Dieter gave me some great advice -- review it as a Treo, as something you use on the go to get things done.

In that regard, it's decidedly middling. The latest, greatest hardware and Windows Mobile, while better looking and far more powerful than my old 680, just weren't as fast and easy to use. They took more work, and that meant they were far less Zen. And, dagnabit, the measure of any true Treo is in the Zen.

Conclusion

I'm really conflicted about this device. It looks and feels great, it's powerful and configurable, but for every point I feel it improves from the Treo 680, there's an equal point where I feel it falls short.

I love the new key material but the board is more cramped. I can do far more with it, but it's just not as easy to get things done. It's not the aging Palm of yesteryear, but it's not the Palm I need today -- not quite.

I've pretty much come to a conclusion that's been brewing in my head for a while now (and I'm sure I'm not the first to think or post about it). In many ways, the iPhone is far more the successor to the original spirit of the Treo than any current model being sold by Palm today. Windows Mobile, for all the smart business and stop gap reasons that make perfect sense for Palm Inc. from every angle, just doesn't feel like a Treo to me, and the iPhone does. The iPhone is what I wish Palm had shipped 5 years ago. So I'll end where I began the Treo Pro is an HTC Windows Mobile device -- a terrific one, maybe the best one available here and now -- but it's not a Palm. Not a Treo. Not for me.

Here's hoping Palm hits a home run with Nova for next year, and we get a 2.0 OS device in Round Robin 2009.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Round Robin: TiPb vs. Palm Treo Pro Final Review

70 Comments

My last Palm was the Treo 750 and what was infuriating was the difficulty it had running my work email through the Microsoft Exchange. The iPhone on the other hand was pushing e-mail in under 30 minutes.
Also, as for your Today Screen request, you can check out "RemindYou," which is an app for Jailbroken iPhones... it's great.

"The next step for Palm will hopefully be a non-square screen. This device with the Bold screen would be impressive (and would likely make Dieter faint)."
So true. One thing that RIM has gone to the bank with is their new screens.
mmm... a capacitive touchscreen Bold

Good call on the keyboards in the way. Having a disappearing keyboard and large screen for videos is often overlooked.

I wish the Pro had the 800W "Smile" keyboard. They erred in going to the Centro style which is too small.
-THP

Well written review! Sad what has happened to the Treo line. The Treo and BB keyboards do have advantages with one-handed operation and many shortcuts, but those small screens are too limiting in this media-oriented world.

Great review, I fully agree having a today type home screen would he great. I know I can get one if I would jail break my phone but I'm just not interested in doing that. I would also like to see some updates done to the standard calender app that cpmes with iPhone 3g. I know they are both small maters bit they ate the things that would make the phone closer to perfect in my opinion.

I like the Treo Pro a lot. In my country I can´t get an iPhone without paying like a $1,000 so i'm trying the iPod Touch to see how it works. This way I'll understand what it means to have this type of products. Hopefully I'll be lucky enough to win the prize!

Great review I have never owned a palm device and highly doubt I ever will. I just think once your hands, fingers, and mind touch and experience and iPhone nothing else compares and from that point on your married to the most perfect beautiful mobile device ever.

It definitely looks nicer than it's predecessors, but I don't like the fact that it runs windows mobile...To me, it seems that if you need the physical keyboard, there are other phones much better than this one on the market. Iphone FTW.

It's interesting you mention the speaker postion. I have struggled with volume and sound with the original iphone from day one. There are some reports you can poke some of the holes with a pin to break the thin film behind the holes to improve volume. I am not that brave or stupid. Is the speaker is directly behind those pores anyways? If it is why would you position it in an area that is obstructed when the device is docked?

Despite that it has a lot of improved stuuf hardware and software wise, The form factor will never convince me. Small screen, small keyboard.

Good review. Many of those points are my thoughts as well.
It's not a Palm! It gets confusing at times with Treo Central and WMExperts. Do both sell accessories for the the Pro? Hehe. The Centro is the only current Palm device IMO and Palm needs Nova fast.

I do think that Palm has lost a step in recent years, though the Treo Pro is still all-in-all a pretty solid device.

Thanks for your candid comments. The Palm line in the past had wonderful simplicity and momentum. Things seem to be stalling out. So sad.

Nice review Rene, I think you got it right. I don't really think Palm will be around much longer. I'm really interested to see your take on the Fuze. Why? I just ordered one yesterday, thanks to the CybeMonday deals. Will I keep it? Who knows?

Thanks for the great review. My phone prior to my 3G iPhone was a Treo 650. I think that was probably the last great Palm phone made (perhaps the 680). Even up to the time I replaced it with the iPhone I still had people oohing and aahing when I pulled the Treo out.

It's amazing what a little difference like a flush screen makes in both usability and appearance. This is by far the best looking Palm yet, probably because it's made by HTC!

Fingers need bigger buttons and bigger buttons need bigger screens. Touchscreen is almost pointless otherwise. Palm was closer to touchscreen back in the 90s.

The phones are just too different to please one single person. The differences are huge and important. People that are productive on the Palm and Windows Mobile can't be on the iPhone for a lack productivity apps. People that want fun and multimedia can't experience it in ways the iPhone can deliver. I'm glad there are devices like this that cater to my needs. I'll gladly carry my Windows Mobile phone w/ a front facing keyboard and an ipod touch. My world is complete.

This probably the bets Treo. Where they will go from here? Get the same thing better and better? or Make a dramitic turn with trents?

It would be nice to carry 2 or more devices to cover all the bases but that is impractical for most of us. We compromise and choose the one that performs common tasks plus the special things that matter to us. The 5 phones being reviewed are quite different but I have to wonder exactly what "productivity apps" make the Treo Pro worthwhile compared to some other business-oriented phones like the Bold or Fuze. Indeed, I know many business people who even use the iPhone.

I enjoy the ability to customize my hardware and that is the one thing that I miss with the iphone.
Thought the effortlessness and beauty of the product is comforting for my busy schedule. As to Touch Me's comments about the productivity apps for the palm device, since palm has been around for a long time they are way ahead in the app department. Though the quality of the apps made for iphone are good quality.

Very nice review! I personally do not like the hardware at all like you seemed to, I'm not sure if you really did or not. I think the buttons are put way too close together to get any real speed out of them for typing, you might as well use T9 on a non-smart phone.

I apreciate rene's review. Beause the iPhone and the Treo are two phones soooo different's that I'm sure it was hard for Rene to come to the right conclusions.
Thanks.

After reading your review and the others I feel that I was not appreciating some of the features that each phone has. However out of the 5 devices, the Treo is the one that I don't have better feelings yet.

well I am trying to decide on a replacement for my 750 between the pro the bold or maybe the new curve and the epix fuze or someother wm6.1 phone. I am not sold on the pro totally and I dont really like sliders and I dont know if I can live without a touchscreen and I have to have creation editing of ms office docs on the go so each of the smartphones in the round robin has a lot of proas but a enough negatives to keep me from taking a jump/leap of faith because the faith is not there yet! Thanks for the review

I know the iPhone and the Treo Pro have nothing in comon however I would like to ask Rene a couple of questions:
1- What hardware features from the Treo pro you would like to have in the iPhone
2- What functionality in WM you are missing in the iPhone
3- What apps in the Treo Pro would be great in the iPhone?
4- What form factor/looks or design feature from the Treo Pro are missing in the iPhone?

I just upgraded from an old Treo 600 to the Treo Pro.
I really like the physical device and the form factor. The keyboard has great 'feel' that surprised me in how a few subtle improvements make a noticeably better typing experience.
However, Windows Mobile is rather disappointing. It is obviously more capable than Palm OS 5 on my old Treo, but WOW! everything is so much more complicated, cumbersome, non-intuitive and actually seems noticeably slower.

I think this Palm looks surprisingly good, not quite an iphone and not conventional but it does look good.

I'm beginning to think that a Treo Pro + an ipod touch is the magic solution for those of us that can't decide between something that works well as a business communication and document management device but isn't very exciting(Pro) and something that is awesome and fun but sucks at things like document editing and calendar/task management (iphone). Those two devices together still aren't as thick as a fuze, and two devices = twice the battery life! Now if only I had a big pile of extra cash lying around...

I don't know how I feel about the palms interface and stuff. It was never very interesting to me.

Great review, most interesting that it is written by a former palm OS user that currently uses an iPhone. That really enriched the review.
I started using handhelds since the HP48, and since then I have always looked for a combination of great hardware features, an open software development environment and a dedicated developer/user community. This is why I haved used Palm OS PDAs and later all GSM Treos up to date.
My Treo 680 is so tweaked that you can't find any equivalent product out-of-the-box in the market today, feature-wise.
My Treo is all about accessibility, one handed navigation, functionality, versatility. Productivity.
I am fortunate to have the iphone 2G as well. It is physically fragile, prone to slide off your hand and gets scratched easily, and requires both hands to use. It's the most impractical phone I know, even for sms. On the other hand it's made for entertainment, namely Youtube and the wide screen iPod. Forget using the camera for sports or kids snaopshots, they will be blurred. It also has the best mobile browser in the industry, Safari - it just works, pans, zooms in and out, all very smoothly. It's made to be on-line most of the time.
I will wait for the next Palm product, it's been years that I am waiting for a Treo with VGA screen... Productivity and fun, all in one.

Quote "On the iPhone, I just ignore the security warning and it works fine. With the Treo, I could find no way around it. TreoCentral Forum member Conrad gave me awesome directions for manually finding my certificate on my desktop and transferring it to the Treo Pro, but there’s no excuse for that having to be part of the process."
So you endorse a trading ease for security? I am sure your exchange admin loves that attitude!

Judging from all the spelling errors in the replies above, either the respondents were iPhone users or they were using an iPhone. :)
The iPhone is a beautiful device - a work of art, really. It's a marvel of industrial design. It's apps are killer, the form factor is great, the screen and navigation dynamics are superb.
The on-screen keyboard probably costs AT&T and its customers a billion dollars in wrong numbers. It's obvious (from above) it causes more than its fair share of typos. The screens crack if you're not careful. I happily browse, message, and text with my Treo 650 on my bus ride home while iPhone users curse their dead batteries.
The iPhone is a cult icon and most of its users treat it as such. It should be renamed iMapompousSnob. People don't own it to use it as much as to be SEEN using it. It's the same reason they own a MacBook and drive a Prius.
When the Palm Pre comes out, a lot of people will likely be crying about the money they wasted to buy their iPhone and the money they spend each month on their AT&T data plan.
My Treo is a Toyota Camry to Apple's Audi TT, but I pay only $5 a month for unlimited data, never run out of juice, and never type a wrong number. If I want to watch a movie, I'll watch it at home on my plasma television. If I want to play a game...well, adults don't waste their time with games.

Has anyone figured out an easy way to transfer my data from a treo 680 to the treo pro? I can't retype all the numbers, memos, etc.

I ve bought, the TREO Pro,it s really great but the 400 Mhz CPU is not enough ;( slow hanling for example with opera mobile.

I for one have the palm treo and I love it. I'm not trying to sync it with a mac so I have zero problems with it from my computer. As for the keyboard, I went from a palm 750 (yeah the big blue and silver bulky thing) to a Samsung Eternity (no keyboard just touch screen) and now the palm pro and I love my keyboard. Using my keyboard I find Im much faster at texting or typing than with a touchscreen simply because you don't need to calibrate ur screen for a button to work. iPhone is not that great a machine, I work in a retail company and that phone in particular between both the 3g and the 3gs get returned daily. People love the iPhone but yet most people go through maybe 4-5 of them before one is finally able to make it. Plus if your screen isn't calibrated just right then your not gonna be hitting the right letters anyway. You also can't just pick up something to type with on the iPhone because its heat sensitive and only responds to a finger. Give me a hardware keyboard anyday. I actually enjoy the windows mobile 6 os on the pro. Its just like using a home computer rather than all those other phone systems. What do I feel the iPhone has that the pro doesn't is applications, BUT what do you need all those games for anyway you hardly play all of them all the time and the pro has applications that are more useful. Personally I have a graphing calculator on my pro and my friend has the iPhone calculator app. He even downloaded a supposed graphing application but yet my pro was faster it graphed and found every point we needed while his iphone still thought about how to answer the equation. In my opinion the pro is hands down one of the best phones I have ever owned.