Help-Key: How to Pimp Out your Treo

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i_treo_narrowweb__300×5280.jpgOne of the most popular smartphones on today’s market is the Treo by Palm (and formerly by Handspring). The original versions ran Palm OS, with Windows Mobile coming later. We cover WinMo quite a bit here at the Gear, as it’s on the majority of smartphones people buy right now. That being said, there’s a huge user base for Palm OS-based Treos. What’s sad is that many people don’t take advantage of the elegant but powerful (albeit old) operating system they way they could.

If you’re a Treo user, read on. We’ll discuss add-on software and tweaks that will make your trusty handheld faster, easier to use, and far more productive.

We’ve discussed the pros and cons of the Palm OS before, so we’ll spare you that debate. What we’re here to do is pimp your Treo out, starting with the basics. At the top of your Treo (or to the right if you’re rocking the 680 or 755p) you’ll notice a card slot. That card slot is your friend. It’s a standard SD card slot. SD cards are expansion memory for your handheld, and are a fairly inexpensive standard. Chances are good it’s the same memory your digital camera uses. If you’ve got an extra memory card for it, then put it in your Treo. You’ll thank us farther down the page.

If you don’t have one, go get one. You can get them at your local drug store, but you’ll be paying a premium. A less expensive option is your local electronics store. Keep an eye on the papers, as they will often feature a steep discount on cards to get people in the doors. We’ve seen 2GB cards go for as little as $10, but if you can score one for under $30, you’re still in pretty good shape.

treo-680-sd-card.jpgWe know what you’re thinking, why does a phone need 2GB of memory? Because it’s a smartphone, and does a whole lot more than make telephone calls. The built-in memory on your Treo is fine for what’s built-in, but the expansion memory is where all the fun’s going to happen.

Sadly, the Palm OS can’t natively integrate the contents of your card into your regular menus, it’s got its own “card” menu in the navigation. But that’s because the built-in launcher on the Palm OS is pretty basic. Most modern launcher replacements allow you to access programs on your card as if they were in the built-in memory, which is the way God intended. Our favorite is the Launcher X, as its tab-based folders work very much like organizing tabs in Firefox or Safari. Launcher X is about $20 shareware, but includes future updates, and is totally worth it.

So now we’ve got a place to put our software and a way to organize and get to it. But what kind of software do we want? If you’re using a Treo, you hopefully have a dope data plan to match. And that data plan needs a good Web browser. While the Blazer-based browser that ships with the Treo is good, it can’t hold a candle to the polished and powerful Opera Mini, which is a free download. You’ll need the IBM Websphere runtime to support it, but it’s also a free download to Treo owners. Install it first, then Opera Mini, and you’re set for the best mobile browsing experience this side of the iPhone.

If you’re a photo taker, then you probably like the built-in camera on the Treo. Though it’s lacking built-in flash and is only 1/3 of a megapixel, the images it makes are still clear and sized just right for the Web. The built-in media browser, though, has things lacking. Depending on which version of the Treo you’ve got, it may have shipped with Splash Photo as a demo. Use it, register it, love it. It’s with the money.

And for God’s sake, set up your email. Versamail, the Palm default mail client, is awesome. You may have to download an update to get Exchange sync working right, but once it is, you’re rivaling your cohorts and their underpowered Blackberries. The “anything you can do, I can do better” mantra is at work here, including attachment viewing, document editing, you name it. Ask your system admin for the login information, they should be able to help you out (if your Exchange server is running the proper software for wireless sync).

On flights or at the airport, we’ve got a few options for viewing video. Your Treo is another. With that 2GB card, you’ve enough room for an entire film compressed with the Kinoma Producer to view on your Treo. Put on some headphones and you’re set. The Producer can compress pretty much any video you can download into a portable-friendly format.

But if you’re set for video, there are other fun things your Treo can do. The games for the Palm OS are one of its strong points. Everything from RPGs to shooters to puzzle games are available, many of them for free. And those that aren’t don’t usually cost much, and we’re telling you here about a few that are worth it.

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Tradewinds by Astraware is a modern update (albeit with 1860’s themes) to Drug Wars. Instead of a street tough, you’re a pirate in charge of a fleet of trader ships, going from port to port, buying low and selling high, and fighting off other privateers in the process as best you can. It’s not fast paced, but it’s a great and satisfying way to kill some downtime.

If action is your flavor, consider Handmark’s Warfare Incorporated. It’s a Starcraft-like overhead real time strategy sim, wherein you mine a planet for precious ore while fighting off your competitors and flushing out saboteurs. If you like puzzles with some skill and action thrown in, this combat game is tops. Plus, it really takes full advantage of the graphics capabilities of the Treos, so it’s a fun way to impress the stiffs.

But the overall winner of most innovative Treo game would be Arcade Reality. Utilizing the camera on the back of your handset, the game superimposes classic arcade baddies onto the real world. The game uses motion tracking, so your Treo becomes a Wii-like controller. It’s intense and fun, and when your friends play it, they look dumb. But you don’t, because you’re cool.

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All of this can be added in in a matter of moments via a HotSync: when you download the applications, and open them, they should automagically be stored in your “add-ons” directory on your computer. Next time you sync your Treo, they should just appear on your handheld, and you can just have fun.

So there you have it, a few simple downloads and your Treo is suddenly far more useful, not to mention fun. If you want a phone with QWERTY there are pleny out there. But you’re a Treo user, and now you can act like it.

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