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Fast Forward by Rob Pegoraro

PalmOne's Treo 650: Hybrid Phones Keep Getting Smarter

By Rob Pegoraro
The Washington Post
Sunday, December 5, 2004; Page F07

When I showed PalmOne's new Treo 650 to a co-worker who had just bought the Treo 600, my now-jealous colleague paid this new model one of the highest compliments imaginable: a two-word obscenity we can't print.

Treo smartphones seem to have that kind of effect on people. Maybe it's because these useful hybrids of organizer and cell phone remind people of a Star Trek communicator. Or maybe it's just because customers don't want to carry around separate organizers, cell phones, MP3 players and digital cameras. A device that does all those functions, even if it doesn't perform all of them very well, offers the promise of a far less cluttered pocket or purse.

The PalmOne Treo 650 combines a cell phone, handheld organizer, digital camera and MP3 player in one package. (The Washington Post)

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Since the Treo 180 debuted in late 2001, its developers -- first Handspring, then PalmOne -- have steadily worked toward that goal. Last fall, the Treo 600 got the basics right, fusing a phone, organizer, low-resolution digital camera and digital-music playback capability in a package not much bigger than most cell phones. Now the 650, available only through Sprint PCS at the moment, refines the formula still further.

The big deal with the 650 is its beautiful, sharp screen, a color liquid-crystal display that, with 320 pixels of resolution along each side, offers four times the resolution as the Treo 600's LCD. This means you can view maps and finely formatted text documents without eyestrain and can scan more of a Web page at once than before.

The 650 also adds Bluetooth, a wireless technology that's intended to replace everyday data cables. This is a snazzy idea in theory, but in reality it's less attractive, thanks to Sprint's half-baked implementation. You can use a Bluetooth wireless headset (should you feel like replacing a $10 wired headset with a $50 model that will need regular recharging); you can send small bits of data to and from another Bluetooth-equipped device; and you can synchronize the Treo's data with a Bluetooth-enabled computer (expect the initial Bluetooth hot-sync to proceed with glacial slowness).

But the single most useful application of Bluetooth -- linking the phone to a Bluetooth-compatible laptop, allowing you to go online anywhere wireless coverage is available -- isn't available. Sprint says it had meant to include this feature, but had to leave it out "due to lack of time for testing and quality control," said Lisa Ihde, a spokeswoman who said it would be added in "an upcoming maintenance release."

Since third-party software has already been released to activate this feature (see www.treocentral.com/content/Stories/491-1.htm), I hope the wait will be short.

The camera built into the 650 is no sharper than that on the 600, but for what many people use camera phones -- documenting life's random happenings -- it's fine. It can now record video as well, and a tiny mirror next to the lens allows you to aim the camera properly when taking self-portraits.

PalmOne thoughtfully updated the Treo's keyboard layout, adding separate keys for access to programs and onscreen menus, plus green and red "send" and "end" buttons for its phone.

One last upgrade hides inside: The 650's internal memory, like that on PalmOne's Tungsten T5, preserves data even when the battery is spent. The trade-off is that data will occupy slightly more room in this model, but the 23.7 megabytes provided should still be plenty for all but hard-core users.

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