Palm's Dumber Smart Phone

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By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, May 24, 2007

Not even three years ago, the Treo 650 smart phone looked revolutionary. But its latest successor, the Treo 755p Palm unveiled two weeks ago, feels more like a relic.

The Treo's basic concept -- uniting a cellphone, handheld organizer, miniaturized keyboard, touch-sensitive screen, Web and e-mail access and media playback in one device -- makes sense. But while competitors have advanced, Palm has been napping on the train tracks.

The new Treo 755p gets online no faster than last year's model. Its basic design features few changes from the 2004 version; its dimensions almost match those of the 2003 edition. And its operating system and software for desktop synchronization received their last major updates in 2002.

Over that same period of time, almost every other hand-held device -- Windows Mobile smart phones, BlackBerrys, iPods and even plain old cellphones -- has seen major upgrades in capability and notable shrinkage in size.

The Treo 755p (available from Sprint for $280 after a $100 mail-in rebate and with a two-year contract) only cements Palm's status as the sick man of the smart phone business. After wasting most of this decade on pointless reorganizations and a disastrous spinoff of its software-development group, this company appears to have reached a state of creative bankruptcy.

As a basic organizer, the 755p remains pleasant to use. It's like a second brain that remembers details that might otherwise slip your mind. It can pluck useful bits of data off the Internet as needed. It can also run thousands of useful programs, many free, that enhance its utility and entertainment value.

But you could say the same, basically, of its immensely popular predecessors. This new model's main selling point -- a cellular Internet connection that runs as fast as most entry-level home broadband connections and can connect with a Bluetooth-equipped computer -- already debuted on last year's Treo 700p.

Exploiting the 755p's Internet capability quickly reveals profound flaws in Palm's software. Unlike most other operating systems today, the Palm system struggles to run two programs at once and often can't ride out a malfunction in a single program.

So when you check your e-mail using the new Treo's VersaMail, you have to wait and wait and wait until everything downloads. If one of those messages includes an attached Word, Excel or PDF file, opening it in the included Documents To Go program incurs a further delay.

And if the Blazer Web browser hiccups on a site and crashes, you can twiddle your thumbs still longer as the entire phone reboots.

None of these traits is acceptable in a phone advertised as "smart."

The new Treo's looks don't bring any big changes either: It is only fractionally thinner and lighter than its elders, with the sole obvious change being the removal of the external antenna.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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