The Treo Goes Back to its Roots

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The new Treo 700p smartphone

An Intel-powered device that used to run Windows exclusively now also supports a more user-friendly operating system? No, this isn’t about Apple’s switch to the Intel platform, but a similar maneuver by Palm. Heads turned this January when Palm introduced the Windows-powered Treo 700w. Now the company returns to its namesake with a Palm OS version, the Treo 700p, slated to appear in Sprint and Verizon Wireless stores near you in the next few weeks.

Our first hands-on test of the 700p confirms that it is as much a successor to the Treo 650 as it is a sibling to the 700w. Palm famously spent a lot of time working with the Windows Mobile team to create a friendlier and more functional interface, but the company clearly spent just as much time reworking Palm OS applications for the 700p.

An example is the Blazer web browser, with improved Javascript support and page rendering in two flavors: Normal, which gives you slower loading pages that are easier to read, or Fast, a.k.a. quick and dirty dumps of the page that you can scroll through in a hurry. Fast mode, which is easy to turn on and off, can be helpful if you already know what you’re looking for.

A number of 700w features are now debuting on the Palm OS. There’s a PDF reader, key for a device that lets you access e-mail attachments. You can now save the caller-ID number from a call — either to a new contact spot or as an extra number for an existing contact. The 700p lets you “ignore with SMS,” that is, fire a preconfigured text message out to someone who is trying to reach you. It also has a feature for turning voice recordings into ringtones.

There are some things the 700p can do that the 700w can’t do. For instance, the 700p is compatible with the Mac operating system. If you were contemplating Boot Camp — running Windows XP on an Intel-based Mac — just to get your hands on the newest Palm, you can hold off.

Like the 700w, the 700p accesses its carriers’ EVDO networks, for speeds that come close to broadband (or at least leave dial-up in the dust). But the 700w does not allow users to access Verizon’s V Cast mobile video service. Sprint’s edition of the 700p gives users a SprintTV application, meaning access to PowerVision video channels and streaming music. Since Sprint’s 700p requires a regular voice plan plus a PowerVision subscription of $15 to $25 just for web browsing on the device, it seems only fair.

More of a coup is that Palm convinced carriers to let the 700p act as a cellular modem for laptops (for an extra fee, naturally). Most surprisingly, you can connect the phone to your laptop via USB or wireless Bluetooth. Many a geek knows how hard it has been for certain carriers to embrace the wider capabilities of Bluetooth.

Some 700w features do not appear in the 700p. Most of all we miss the immediate dialing options. Wake the phone and start tapping on the keypad, and contact names just appear. The 700p is more traditional — you have to tap a phone button then a contact button before you can bring up a name. Also, the 700w has native support for Windows Media, which means that if you have a Yahoo Y! Unlimited plan, you can “rent” songs and take them with you on the device. The Pocket Tunes pre-installed on the 700p does not support protected Windows Media files, although the $25 "deluxe" upgrade does.

The people at Palm wanted to offer two different Treos because they know that the choice is not always the user’s. Corporate e-mail systems have evolved in different directions, some which support Windows Mobile, and others that do not. Regardless of your company’s policies, there is a Treo for you. That is, of course, if you are a Verizon or Sprint customer. There’s no official launch date for either flavor of Treo 700 for the GSM carriers, Cingular and T-Mobile.