One of Orange’s latest smartphone offerings is Handspring’s Treo 600. Not the lightest phone around, at a hefty 168g, the Treo 600 has all the features you expect in the latest GSM phones. These include a VGA camera, and GPRS and MMS support. A large bright display gives plenty of space for reading emails and documents. With a quoted talk time of 6 hours, and 10 days stand by, it’s a phone that takes the well-known capabilities of Palm OS, and mixes them with a quad-band GPRS phone to give you something a little different from the standard smartphone. For one thing, it’s got a Qwerty keyboard. Probably the Treo 600’s most distinctive feature, the keyboard isn’t really suitable for entering large amounts of text. Then again, when you’re on the road, you’re far more likely to use it to answer a text message or an email, or fill in a simple web form. It’s best to use the Treo’s keyboard “squirrel-fashion” with your thumbs, and you can type at a reasonable rate. Click the symbol or shift key once to enter a single character, twice to enter a string of symbols or numbers. Other keys include a 5 way control (which isn’t supported by all Palm OS applications), and various function keys. It’s important to realise that the Treo 600 doesn’t support Graffiti, so the keyboard is your only method of text entry. The Treo 600 works well as a phone. It’s not too big to hold to your ear, and phone functions can be quickly accessed using a single button. You’ll find that the familiar Palm OS address book has been integrated into the phone tools, so while you have to use the phone functions to check addresses, it means that it’s easy to dial a number by just typing a name. Other telephony functions like SMS messaging also have access to the device’s address book database. A single button on the top of the device turns off the radio circuitry, allowing you to use the Treo’s PDA functions while on board an aircraft. The built in speaker and microphone are good and it’s possible to also use them as a speaker phone. A basic hands free kit is also provided, but there’s no Bluetooth support, so you can’t use a wireless headset. You can choose to lock the Treo’s keyboard and touch screen while you’re using voice functions, just using the navigation control to start the speakerphone or hang up a call. We were impressed by Handspring’s SMS application, which threads and timestamps SMS messages and formats them as if you were using an instant messaging tool. Orange provides a basic GPRS portal, and you’ll find the Treo’s Blazer browser is able to cope with most web pages, so you don’t have to stick to WAP sites. A reflow algorithm makes it easy to work with complex pages and framed sites, and there’s full support for cookies and secure web connections, so you can work with e-commerce sites. It is possible to use palmOne’s more sophisticated Web Pro browser on the Treo, so we’d hope for Handspring’s merger with palmOne to give us upgrades that will put the Treo 600 on a par with palmOne’s Tungsten series of PDAs. (For readers who really like to keep score, Palm bought clone-maker Handspring, renamed itself palmOne and spun off its software business as PalmSource in 2003. And yes, they do disagree on whether to use a capital "p"). Applications can be developed using standard Palm development tools. At the time of writing IBM, in conjunction with palmOne, has just released a beta of the second generation versions of its J2ME tools, which add support for the Treo 600, so you can develop your own network aware Java applications, and deploy them to a range of PDAs and smartphones, ready to support a mobile workforce. It’s unclear why the Treo only gives you a 160 x 160 display, with 4096 colours. The latest Palm devices offer high quality screens, with high resolutions and 16-bit colour depths. If you’ve used a Tungsten, then you’ll find the Treo’s screen cramped and dull. Even so, it's good enough. After all, it’s a similar screen to Palm’s and Handspring’s original colour PDAs. You might find that some more recent PalmOS applications will treat the Treo’s display as a black and white screen. However, we’ve only seen this issue so far with games. One of the main reasons for investing in a smart phone is to improve access to email while on the road. It’s a pity then that Handspring’s mail client only offers POP3 mail, and doesn’t support the more business-friendly IMAP protocol. It is possible to get palmOne’s more powerful Versamail client working on a Treo 600, so it’s unclear why Handspring didn’t include a more business-friendly mail client. It’s just about possible to synchronise data when on the road, using standard Palm network synchronisation tools, though we wouldn’t recommend it. Alternative options come from services like Orange’s own Orange Freedom, which provide push notifications via SMS, and browser access to mail and key business information. Like all Palm OS PDAs, the Treo 600 can handle Microsoft Word and Excel documents using DataViz’s Docs2Go, which converts Microsoft document formats so you can use them on your mobile device. Handspring bundles a copy of the basic product with the device, but if you want more performance it’s worth purchasing the latest version, which adds mail and presentation tools. The Treo’s 32 Mbyte of memory can be extended using SD or MMC memory cards (a good idea if you’re taking lots of photographs). Orange bundles a 32 Mbyte MMC card with the Treo 600, so you can get started quickly. Handspring indicates that the SD slot is SD I/O ready, so should support future hardware expansion.

OUR VERDICT

This is a smartphone for the power user, especially if you’re familiar with Palm OS. The keyboard makes the Treo 600 much more flexible than appears at first sight. As it builds on the Palm legacy the Treo 600 already has a library of many thousands of third party applications – a considerable advantage over its Microsoft and Symbian competitors.