Treo 750 Hands-On

As the highest offering from Palm, the Treo 750 has quite the burden to bear. One of the pioneers in mobile communications, its products have produced fans of such great ferocity that they might only be usurped by Apple fanboys’ want to have Steve Jobs’ babies. Palm has made some exquisite devices in the past to be sure, but does the torch burn as bright with its latest offering?

I’ll be the first to admit, this one has been a long time coming. The device has been in my possession for weeks now, but it’s taken me a while to get comfortable with it. I experienced something of a learning curve (read: Blackjack withdrawal) when conducting my trials with the 750. That’s not a jab at Palm or anything, it’s just different from the phones I’m wholly acclimated to. That said, my experience with the 750 has been mainly positive.

The most notable improvement over earlier Palms is the elimination of a protruding antenna. This makes the device far more agreeable for pocket traffic. It still retains considerable bulk that will lead to pocket bulge, but the 750 makes up for its girth with performance. There is no arguing that Palm has a slugger on its hands.

Featuring a 300MHz processor, the 750 zips around its tasking like nobody’s business. The lack of lag I experienced with the device was probably the most refreshing aspect of my entire experience. I’ve come to expect, even accept, delayed reactions on cellular devices. I don’t like it, but it’s the nature of the game. Clearly, however, that is starting to change.

Palm has upped the ante and set the stakes for an interesting year. Other manufacturers will be compelled to speed up performance in order to set foot on the new playing field. This is clearly a good development for Joe Consumer.

In addition to its smooth runnings, the 750 features 63MB of internal memory, which was more than enough for the two or three programs I installed. If you want to take pictures with its 1.3-megapixel camera though, you might want to invest in a miniSD card. It can accept cards up to 2GB.

It utilizes its Windows Mobile Pocket PC Edition OS effectively. Pocket PC edition can be a little overwhelming at first, because it is so comprehensive. Palm has instituted some great functionality tweaks that suppresses the bloat while maintaining considerable functionality. My favorite feature though remains its messaging center. SMS threads run like IMs and keep a running conversation, it’s quite an excellent addition.

Another great thing about the 750 is something so small that it’s basically a no-brainer. The device has a small toggle switch at the top that adjusts the ringer. Flipping it one way turns the ringer on and going the other way puts it in vibrate. I know other phones have this, but none of my phones ever seem to and it’s quite useful.

The device features a fairly low resolution 240 x 240 display. This is probably the biggest downer of the 750. Sure, if Palm had included a standard 320 x 240 display, the 750 would have been the size of one of those old school rotary phones with the horn receivers. But the reduced screen has a negative effect on the whole package. Web sites are tedious, programs are irritatingly displayed, real estate becomes more valuable than in the OC — it’s a real pisser that I have a hard time accepting. For what it’s worth, the screen does project nice and clear.

Another issue is its lack of HSDPA. Yes it has UMTS, which doesn’t suck. It’ll eat EDGE for breakfast and come back for seconds, but it’s not HSDPA. For those of you who have HSDPA-enabled phones, you know what I’m talking about. Once you’ve tasted that sweet, sweet nectar of the mobile broadband gods, it’s hard to stomach anything less. It’s like trying to use a dial-up modem (do those things even still exist?); it surpasses infuriating. Palm has said that an HSDPA patch will be available in the coming months, but it’s not here yet. And in the meantime, neither is that Web site that I was trying to load.

It does make up for these complaints in numerous ways. I have a COO friend who swears by the 750 for its ability to interface efficiently (“flawlessly” in his words) with his servers and mainframes and whatever else COOs fiddle with. It’s here that you have to appreciate the beauty of Palm’s creation. It might not be as pretty or as fancy as some of the devices out there, but it’s a workhorse of high regard. Industry professionals have latched onto it for its ability to execute time and time again. The elimination of doubt is a sort of an insulation. A company can have some shortcomings on a device. It can screw some things up. But if on the whole it makes its product perform, pardons will be written with blazing speed, because there is no greater selling point than dependability — and that’s what Palm is selling here.

Of course, “dependability don’t come cheap” as they say back home in the South. They also say you get what you pay for. I think the truth lies somewhere between those two cliches. Cashing in at $399 with contract, the Treo 750, $649 free and clear, is the little engine that costs.

Is it worth it? I think it’s important to consider that a product is the sum of its parts and that adds up to something pretty valuable here. It’s not a device for everyone, but few products reach universal proliferation — and few of those products are gadgets. So to answer my question, I’d argue yes. The Treo 750 from Palm is a worthwhile investment, but of course, I won’t be giving up my Blackjack anytime soon.