Palm 800w PDA Phone Review

CNET editors' review

  • Reviewed on: 07/14/2008
  • Released on: 07/14/2008

The world may still be all abuzz with iPhone 3G talk, but believe it or not, there are other smartphones out there and Sprint has just landed a pretty darn good one. Today, Palm and Sprint unveiled the Palm Treo 800w, a Windows Mobile 6.1 smartphone targeted at business users. Now, we'll admit we've given Palm its fair share of criticism over the years for being behind the times and lacking innovation, and while the Treo 800w doesn't offer anything earth-shattering, it offers enough to shut us up for a little while.

You see, the Palm Treo 800w is the first Palm smartphone to finally offer integrated Wi-Fi and not only that, but GPS as well. It's also the first Sprint smartphone to ship with Windows Mobile 6.1 and EV-DORev. A support out of the box. All these features finally put Palm onthe same playing field of HTC and Samsung. Palm has also revamped the design to make it smaller (all while still keeping a touch-screen andfull QWERTY keyboard) and easier to use and navigate, making it a nice alternative. We're still conducting some performance tests, but we'd say the Treo800w promises to deliver a well-connected and powerful smartphone for mobile professionals. We're just slightly worried about the battery life, so we'll let you know after a couple more days of testing. ThePalm Treo 800w is available starting today for $249.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates and discounts.

Design
When it comes to design, the Palm Treo 800w takes a little bit of theold and a little bit of the new. The overall shape falls more along thelines of previous Treos,but Palm has definitely trimmed it down and given the Treo 800w a moremodern look. The smartphone measures 4.4 inches high by 2.2 inches wideby 0.7 inch deep and weighs 5 ounces. It may make for a tight fit in apants pocket, but the Treo 800w is really quite a compact smartphone,especially considering it has a touch screen and full QWERTY keyboard.The smaller size and attractive slate blue color really adds much to the appeal of this device. Plus, the back features a soft-touch finish to give it a rubberlike texture.


The Palm Treo 800w is infinitely more compact than the Palm Treo 700p.

One big improvement over previous Treos is that the Treo 800w now has a 2.5-inch, 320x320 pixel resolution touch screen (versus 320x240),bringing it up to speed with the Palm-based Treos. The higher resolution, along with its 65,000-color output, makes text and images sharp and bright, but you really notice the difference as everything just looks smoother and less pixilated. The Today Screen was also enhanced with some useful features to make the Windows Mobile smartphone easier to use. There's now a Dial Lookup field, so you can easily search for contacts by entering the first couple of letters of aname. And in addition to Windows Live search, you can search for pointsof interest.

The navigation array below the screen is similar to the one found on the Palm Centro,while the full QWERTY keyboard is decidedly Treo. You get Talk and End buttons, a Start key, an OK button, shortcuts to your Calendar and in-box, and a five-way navigation toggle with a center select key.There are also two soft keys right below the display. We found the layout to be fairly roomy and didn't run into too many problems; though if anything, the Talk and End buttons could be bigger. The soft keys were particularly helpful for making the device easy to use with one hand.


The Treo 800w features a navigation array similar to the Centro, but keeps the signature Treo QWERTY keyboard.

Given that the Treo 800w is larger than the Centro, the QWERTY keyboard isn't as small and cramped. However, we didn't find it particularly roomy or easy to use either. There isn't a whole lot of spacing between the keys, so users with larger thumbs may experience some mispresses. We thought they also felt a bit stiff. With time,though, we think you should be able to click away easily.

On the left side, you'll find a volume rocker and a customizable button, while there's a stylus holder, an infrared port, and a microSDexpansion slot on the right side. One very minor complaint is that the stylus was really flimsy, bending very easily under pressure. The topof the unit holds a Wi-Fi shortcut and ringer on/off switch. And unlike previous Palm devices, the Treo 800w now comes with a microUSB port on the bottom, rather than a multiconnector. This is where you'll connect your USB cable, power cord, and unfortunately, your wired headset. We say unfortunately because this limits you to using the included earbuds, which leave much to be desired, or you can get an audio adapter. Finally, the camera lens, self-portrait mirror, and speakerare located on the back.

The Palm Treo 800w comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USBcable, a wired stereo headset, a software CD, and reference material.

Features
The Palm Treo 800w represents a number of firsts for both Palm andSprint, but the most notable additions might be the addition of Wi-Fi(802.11b/g) and GPS. Yes, we've been asking for Wi-Fi for years but Palm did one better and added the GPS radio--what a pleasant surprise. You can configure your wireless network with authentication settings and data encryption. Our review unit was immediately able to find and connect to our accesspoint, allowing us to cruise the Web within minutes.


As for GPS, the Treo 800w works with Sprint Navigation , which offers turn-by-turn text- and voice-guided directions, traffic updates, local search, and more. Sprint Navigation's cost is free the first day, but afterwards, you will have to pay $2.99 per day or $9.99 per month for unlimited use. Of course, you can download other third-party navigation software. The smartphone also includes some navigation shortcuts. For example, the GPS integrates directly with your contacts list, so you can navigate to an address right from your phone book and you can search from points of interest right from the home screen with a preloaded map app.

The Treo 800w is also the first Sprint smartphone to ship with EV-DO Rev. A support out of the box. The Rev. A boosts download speeds from the 400Kbps-to-700Kbps range to 600Kbps-to-1.4Mbps range, while upload speeds will average about 350Kpbs to 500Kpbs (compared with EV-DO's 50Kpbs to 70Kbps). In short, you're going to get faster Web browsing, e-mail, and downloads--that is, if you're lucky enough to live in a coverage area. According to the carrier, the Sprint Mobile Broadband Network is available in 13,453 cities and 1,321 airports with a "vast majority" of that network upgraded to EV-DO Rev. A. You can check for your city on Sprint's Web site (Click the "Data, Email, and Multimedia" tab; Sprint Mobile Broadband Network areas highlighted in orange).

As a phone, the Treo 800w offers a speakerphone, smart dialing, speed dial, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging. The contact book is limited only by the available memory, and there's room in each entry for multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, instant-messaging handles, and birthdays. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a picture, one of 37 polyphonic ringtones, or a group ID. Bluetooth 2.0 is also onboard for use with mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, object exchange, and dial-up networking. To use the Treo 800w as a modem for your laptop, you will need to subscribe to a Sprint Power Vision Modem Plan, which costs $49.99 per month for unlimited data.

In another first, the Treo 800w is Sprint's premier smartphone to ship with Windows Mobile 6.1 out of the box. The upgraded operating system brings some minor but useful enhancements, including a Getting Started menu aimed to help first-time users configure their device by guiding you through the setup of your e-mail, Bluetooth headset pairing, ringtones, and more. That said, we couldn't seem to find this option on our review unit. We are still trying to confirm with Sprint and Palm whether this was intentional or if the feature pulled a mysterious vanishing act. What you definitely do get is a new pan in and out function on Internet Explorer Mobile, richer Windows Live capabilities, and threaded text messages.

The other Windows Mobile staples are there. Microsoft Office Mobile Suite is onboard for editing and creating Word and Excel documents and viewing PowerPoint presentations. You also get OneNote Mobile and a PDF reader as well as other productivity tools, including a task manager, a voice recorder, a Zip manager, Sprite Backup, and a calculator. For e-mail, the Touch Dual offers Microsoft's Direct Push Technology for real-time e-mail delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. As usual, POP3 and IMAP accounts along with HTML format are supported. Sprint has also graciously added its instant-messaging app, which includes AIM, Yahoo, and Windows Live clients.

While the Treo 800w is aimed at business users, there's plenty of fun to be had with the device's multimedia features. In addition to the standard Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, which lets you tune into your favorite AAC, MP3, WAV, WMA, MPEG-4, and WMV music and video files, and TV shows recorded on your Windows Media Center PC. The device supports Sprint TV so you can watch short clips from a variety of channels, including CNN, Fox Sports, E!, and the NFL Network, and you can listen to live streaming music and talk radio from Sirius, VH1 Mobile, and MTV Mobile. Sprint TV is offered as part of the Sprint Power Vision pack, which ranges in price from $15 to $25 per month. Interestingly, support for the Sprint Music Store was left out, though it's something that could be added in the future. The Treo 800w has 128MB program memory and 256MB user memory (170MB user available); the microSD expansion slot accepts up to 8GB cards.


On the back, you'll find the 2-megapixel camera and self-portrait mirror

Finally, the Treo 800w has a 2-megapixel camera with 2X zoom and video recording capabilities. For still photos, you have a choice of shooting in three modes and five resolutions. There are brightness controls, but there aren't many other options to tweak the picture. In video mode, you only get two quality settings and a brightness scale.


Picture quality was OK, but we wish there was more richness in the colors.

Picture quality was decent. Photos came out clear, but colors looked slightly faded so we wish for a bit more richness in that area. Sadly, videos just looked washed out and hazy.

Performance
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 850/1900; EV-DO Rev. A) Palm Treo 800w in San Francisco using Sprint service, and call quality was mixed. On our end, audio sounded quite clear and the volume was almost too loud for us. We had no problems talking with friends or using an airline's voice automated system. Unfortunately, things weren't so peachy on the other side. Our callers said our voices sounded digitized and conversations got broken up a couple of times. The speakerphone wasn't tops either. On both ends, there was a noticeable background hiss that didn't prevent us from having a conversation but definitely made it less enjoyable. We successfully paired the Treo 800w with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Active Bluetooth Headphones .

General performance was OK. There was a bit of that typical lag we've come to experience on Windows Mobile devices when too many applications are running at the same time. It never got to the point where we were so frustrated that we wanted to abandon the phone, and we didn't experience any system crashes during our evaluation period. As we noted earlier, we had no problem connecting to a Wi-Fi network but we were more impressed by the blazing EV-DO Rev. A speeds. Web browsing was great, but the speed boost was really apparent when watching Sprint TV. Even with EV-DO, there was a bit of a delay when launching the service and video, but now, it takes just a few seconds. Video looked pretty good and the images and audio were always synchronized, but music playback sounded flat through the phone's speakers.

The Treo 800w's GPS capabilities are satisfactory. It took about 5 minutes for the smartphone to get an initial lock on our position, but subsequent starts were faster and it did a pretty good job of maintaining a fix on the satellites. We used both Sprint Navigation and Google Maps for Mobile on a couple of walks around the CNET neighborhood, and the radio accurately tracked our position. Given the time constraints of when we received our review unit and the launch date, we were only able to try out the navigation tools on foot, so we'll be hitting the road over the next couple of days to see how it does as an in-car navigator.

The Palm Treo 800w's 1,150mAh lithium-ion battery has a rated talk time of 4 hours and up to 8.3 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests , we were able to get 4.5 hours of talk time. With general usage, we noticed that after only a few hours of use, the battery levels dropped fairly fast, so that's a definite concern. With GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 3G, battery life will be an issue. According to FCC radiation tests , the Treo 800w has a digital SAR rating of 1.42 watts per kilogram.