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PalmOne's Treo 650: Hybrid Phones Keep Getting Smarter

PalmOne includes an extensive software bundle. Its online capability consists of the Blazer Web browser, which displayed a variety of mainstream Web sites legibly on the 650's small screen, and VersaMail, which retrieved e-mail from both my EarthLink and AOL accounts without complaint. (Sprint's just-faster-than-dial-up connectivity made both Web and e-mail use far more tolerable than it has been on earlier cell phones.)

Two other bundled applications are worthy of note: Documents To Go 7, an editor for Microsoft Office documents, vastly outstrips what Microsoft bundles with its own Windows Mobile handheld software, and RealPlayer provides basic MP3 management and playback.

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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An additional 25,000 or so programs are available for the Palm operating system, many of them free. This is an immense advantage over other smartphones, on which the supply of add-on software is often limited to a small set sold or rented by the wireless carrier.

The Treo 650 also includes an SD Card slot for add-on memory, which you'll need to hold larger files such as MP3 music. Since 512-MB SD Cards now go for $40 or less each, you don't have to budget much for extra room.

PalmOne's desktop software (Windows and Mac OS X versions are included) is showing its age these days, but you can also synchronize the Treo with Microsoft's Outlook or Apple's Address Book and iCal.

Palm isn't advertising improved battery life, but the 650 seems to exceed the 600's already impressive endurance. With Bluetooth wireless left on, I got just shy of five hours of talk time. In a second test, I set the included RealPlayer software to cycle through a lengthy MP3 playlist; after eight hours, the Treo reported it still had half a charge left.

Sprint charges $600 for the Treo 650, but it offers $150 off to new customers. Sprint subscribers who haven't upgraded phones in the past 18 months can get the same discount via a mail-in rebate. (The company's Web store didn't offer the 650 as of Friday evening, but it should be available at any Sprint store.) Unlimited data service adds $15 to any $35-and-up Sprint voice plan.

Sprint has exclusive rights to sell the 650 through the end of the year, after which I expect other carriers to offer it if they know what's good for them. There are cheaper smartphones -- for example, Cingular's Motorola MPx220, with a better built-in camera, Bluetooth and Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2003 software, can be had for only $250 -- but there isn't anything better.

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at rob@twp.com.

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