Review: Palm Treo Pro

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So we return to the Palm Treo Pro, a $549 unlocked Windows Mobile Treo aimed squarely at the business set. It’s been about a week and I’ve used this guy off and on. It kept a nice charge – two days, for the most part, without much data use – and fit nicely in the pocket. But is it the Treo of which we all incessantly dream? Is it the Treo that will bring us closer to world peace and better burritos on the East Coast? Is this the Treo for you?

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Yes, it is the Treo for you if you are a business professional forced to use Windows Mobile and you travel quite a bit and hardware price is no object. This is also the Treo for you if you’re buying a few cellphones for the CEO and the CFO and you want them to be productive without having to change your Windows-based IT and communications infrastructure. If you are neither of those people, think of the Treo Pro as a vision of Palm’s future.

The Treo Pro is one of Palm’s most attractive Treos to date. Gone is the lumpen plastic of the Centro and the low-gloss ho-hummery of the 800w. Whereas the Centro and the 800w took design cues from the lower end of the market, Treo tapped HTC to design this new looker and for good reason. The RIM, in a general, sense, was eating their enterprise lunch and the Centro was doing just fine.

So we have the Treo Pro. As its name implies, this isn’t for amateurs. Because it’s unlocked and unsubsidized you’d better have a damn good reason for going Windows Mobile. This could mean IT departments buying in bulk for their executives or a mobile professional who wants a messaging phone but still likes ActiveSync. Europe loves them some Windows Mobile, so their unlocked model is a good move. The US market, sadly, looks at expensive phones and then looks elsewhere. The Blackberry Curve didn’t get where it is on its good looks.

The phone is very thin and the keyboard very usable. I had no issues with tapping out emails or messages and once set up it’s easy to get mail and surf the web. The rounded hang-up and call buttons are a great touch but the odd center “Palm” button and the additional OK button made for some odd moments – which one does what? Aren’t they the same? Reader, I don’t know. The phone also has G.P.S. built in.

A dedicated silencing switch on the top and a dedicated Wi-Fi button on the side are probably the most useful features. Windows Mobile has been streamlined quite nicely with Wi-Fi discovery and connection made a snap by the button and search and messaging made easier with an uncluttered front page.

Who is this phone going against? I’d say Palm is aiming at two other handsets. One starts with B and ends with -old and the other starts with i and ends with Phone. The Bold is the Pro’s closest rival with its updated styling. This phone also goes against the stunning new Nokia E71.

Right now, if I were to recommend a QWERTY smartphone to someone with a little money, I’d say the Bold was the best in the RIM category, the Pro was the best in Windows Mobile, and the E71 was the best in Symbian. That, I’m happy to say, is a great feeling. I’m a long-time fan of Palm and their dips of late have disturbed and depressed me. I’m still not in love with the Centro and the 800w was ho-hum but the peppy processor and attractive styling of the Pro made me rethink my misdirected anger.

What are my concerns? That people see the nearly $600 price tag and balk. Nokia can play in the unsubsidized market simply because it’s been working in that space for quite a long time. When we think of the Treo we think of carrier-specific models – to untether the Pro, even though they’ve done the same for the Centro with little fanfare, is distressing. I’ve been promised good things from Palm in the next few months but I worry their time has passed. Android could replaces Palm OS as the geek OS of choice and the iPhone and its various knock-offs are what’s popular with the kids. This is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope the next step comes sooner than later.