Palm OS
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Smartphones Now: Palm OS

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Though it sits behind RIM and its BlackBerries in market share in the US, the Palm OS is still a powerful operating system that is favored by many users who swear by its reliability and ease of use. First introduced with the original Pilot 1000 back in 1996, the OS has grown in functionality and robustness while conversely becoming easier to use.

The Palm OS at one time was the absolute leading operating system for handheld devices in the United States, but steep discounting by Microsoft to OEM handset makers and the low overhead of RIM’s BlackBerry OS have taken their toll. That being said, the Palm OS offers simple functionality while retaining the ability to perform complex and advanced tasks, making it a good choice for the first time smartphone user. As far as American smartphones go, it is only available currently on Palm’s extraordinarily popular Treo line.


Palm OS users tend to love their devices, almost universally. It is the only smartphone OS with native support for the Mac OS, so users of MacBooks and iMacs will probably want to look no farther than this popular OS. That doesn’t mean PC or even Linux users shouldn’t look seriously at Treos, as extending your desktop or replacing your laptop is part of the appeal of smartphones, and it’s something the Palm OS has been doing well now for over a decade.

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But don’t let this Mac comparison fool you; Palm OS users don’t feel like they’re missing out. All the features of Windows Mobile are matched, from Exchange syncing to Web browsing, and usually in a much easier to use fashion. In addition, the Palm OS works with more push email systems than BlackBerries, and can even work with RIM’s BlackBerry Connect for enterprise settings.

Windows Mobile and RIM aren’t the only competitors, though. Symbian, a very popular operating system in the rest of the world (indeed, it’s the global market leader), is making headway in the United States. Nokia is now selling an affordable smartphone on the Cingular network using a flavor of Symbian, though its popularity is still uncertain. The Symbian operating systems are fairly similar in their user loyalty, ease of use, and expandability.

The Palm OS, however, features more add-on software than other mobile operating systems, in the shareware, freeware, and commercial arenas, most of them sharing the OS’s ease of use philosophy.

Who, What, Where?

Currently, Verizon and Sprint offer the Treo 700p, the state of the art Palm OS and CDMA-based version of the smartphone, with EV-DO for blazingly fast mobile internet connections. Cingular sells the EDGE-enabled Treo 650, and is poised to offer Palm’s newest Treo, the 680. This antennaless handset will come in four colors when the carrier begins selling them, ostensibly sometime in the next several days.

T-Mobile is the only major American carrier to not offer a subsidized Palm OS device, though this has more to do with the Palm’s hardware than the software. T-Mobile is looking for its smartphone vendors to commit to integrated WiFi, something no Palm OS device has shipped with yet. But, again, this is an issue with the hardware, as the OS has had support for WiFi for several years. That doesn’t mean you can’t run a Palm OS Treo on T-Mobile, but it does mean finding and purchasing an unsubsidized and unlocked unit, which can be a little tricky.

In the end, a smartphone is only as good as what you can do with it, and herein is where Palm OS-based devices shine. With over 65,000 applications currently available for download and/or purchase, users can customize any Palm OS device to be exactly what they want it to be. Since smartphone apps tend to be of limited use on their own, users have the ability to mix and match which features they want via the applications they download, which reduces storage bloat and maximizes efficiency. Finding a location with the Google Maps app, for example, is actually easier than it is via a Web browser. Email is simple, as the contacts have their own application (they work together seamlessly), as do things like tasks and memos.

Which One?

Depending on what you use your smartphone for (business or personal), there are dozens of guides on the Internet to help you navigate your way through the labyrinth of programs to find exactly the ones you need. Installing them is easy; click the icon after downloading, plug your Treo in via the included cable, and it’s loaded. Alternatively, you can just drag the app to your desktop’s Bluetooth transfer program, select the phone, and hit “OK” to load it up. You can even download apps straight from your Palm-sized Web browser, upgrading and customizing a Palm OS device is very, very simple.

All in all, that’s what it comes down to: it’s an easy operating system to navigate, learn, and moreover, use. If you’ve had a non-smartphone Palm OS device before, it will all be familiar, and the vast majority of your legacy apps will function as before. If you’re new to handheld computing, it makes for a perfect introduction to the current market. If you’re an old hand, give it a try. You’re sure to like it.

Phone

Manufacturer

Carrier

MSRP


 Wi-Fi


 GPS


 QWERTY Keyboard

Touchscreen


 OS


 Weight


 Size


 Features

Verdict

Treo 650

Palm

Verizon, Cingular, Sprint and Earthlink

About $200, depending on carrier subsidies

N

N

Y

Y

Palm Os
5.4

6.3 ounces

2.3x 4.4x
0.9
inches

VGA camera, 320×320 touchscreen, Bluetooth, SDIO, backlit QWERTY keyboard, GPRS/EDGE or CDMA/RTT 1x

The gold-standard for Palm OS smartphones, the one you’ll most often see

Treo 680

Palm

Cingular (tentative)

About $250, depending on carrier subsidies

N

N

Y

Y

Palm Os
5.4

6.2 ounces

2.3x 4.4x
0.9
inches

VGA camera, 320×320 touchscreen, Bluetooth, SDIO, backlit QWERTY keyboard, GPRS/EDGE

A newer, sleeker version of the 650, above

Treo 700p

Palm

Verizon, Sprint

About $300, depending on carrier subsidies

N

N

Y

Y

Palm Os
5.4

6.4 ounces

2.3x 4.4x
0.9
inches

VGA camera, 320×320 touchscreen, Bluetooth, SDIO, backlit QWERTY keyboard, CDMA/EV-DO

An update to the 650, slightly faster and with a better keyboard

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