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BRIEFLY: Palm launches first new design for years - and it's a winner

PROS: Powerful handset, great interface, stuffed full of features

CONS: No wi-fi. No touchscreen.

SCORE:


Palm Treo 500v Pocket PC Review
Is Palm's new entry level smartphone good enough to take on the Blackberry Curve?
Review by urban75 for Digital-Lifestyles, 20 Sept, 2007


Palm Treo 500v Windows Mobile 6 Smartphone reviewAs anyone who has been tracking the various ups and (considerable) downs of Palm's fortunes recently will know, there's quite a lot hanging on this latest release for the company.

Although both Windows and Palm OS versions of their Treo smartphones sold pretty well and received generally good reviews, there has been growing discontentment amongst loyal followers that Palm's Innovation Dept have been on an extended dinner break for too long.

After all, the form factor of the recent Treo range has barely altered physically from its Handspring days, with the recent Palm 680 offering very little over their long serving Treo 650 handset.

Early this year, the company launched their first Windows Mobile Treo phone, the Treo 750v (reviewed here in May 2007), and although it garnered praise for its usability and feel, we felt it still lagged behind the market leaders.

Palm Treo 500v Windows Mobile 6 Smartphone reviewThe Treo 500v sees Palm coming up with their first real new design for years, targeting the handset at the 24-35 year old business/consumer demographic.

Available in two colour schemes - dark grey/silver and white/silver - and given away free with some Vodafone contracts, the 500v presents a sleek, modern and affordable look that invites comparisons with the Blackberry Curve.

Considerably slimmer than its Treo predecessors, the phone measures 110mm x 61.5mm x 16.5mm (4.3" x 2.4" x .65") and weighs just 120g (4.2oz) in total. Not bad at all for a phone sporting a QWERTY keyboard and a decent sized screen, and positively anorexic compared to the lardy lines of the previous Treo range.

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Palm Treo 500v Windows Mobile 6 Smartphone reviewIn the hand
Our first impressions of the phone were very positive. Although the white finish is asking for trouble with messy types like us (we prefer the look of the grey number), the handset looks fresh, contemporary and rather stylish to our eyes. It felt pretty sturdy too.

The 320240-pixel screen was bright, clear and crisp and easy to read in sunlight. We also had no problems using the phone at night, with a strong backlight illuminating the entire keypad and control keys.

A metal strip across the centre of phone contains four flush buttons, an oval 'D' pad and the call start/end buttons, but despite some initial misgivings about the ergonomics, we found the controls very responsive in use.

The keyboard
The problem with trying to wedge a QWERTY keyboard onto a compact mobile device is that something has to give: make it too small and it becomes unusable to all but pixie-fingered peckers; make it large enough to comfortably type on and you'll end up with a pocket ripper.

Some manufacturers have opted for slide-out keyboards or virtual onscreen keyboards, but these invariably render the phones pretty useless for one handed operation.

While there's no denying that the keys on the 500v are pretty small and not for sausage fingered prodders, we liked it and had no problems knocking out texts and emails.

The slim and wide shape of the phone meant it sat nicely in the hand and was substantial enough to let us type messages one handed with our thumb.

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Turn it off!
We can only assume that Palm's designers had been passing the crack pipe around when they arrived at the decision to remove the sound on/off slider from the top of the phone.

It was one of simple but craftily inspired selling points of previous Treos - and a ruddy brilliant idea to boot - so we can't imagine what possessed Palm to remove this must-have feature. It's a really frustrating omission and we hope they put it back for the Centro.

At the bottom of the unit is another annoyance with Palm sticking to a 2.5mm headphone socket instead of an infinitely more useful standard 3.5mm jobbie.

Windows Mobile 6 SmartphoneHappily, Palm have finally moved away from their proprietary connectors and added a mini-USB slot, so it's not all bad.

Looking to the left hand side of the phone, there's two buttons for volume up/down and a dedicated button for launching Internet Explorer.

Spinning the phone around, we can see a 2MP camera at the back and speakerphone grill. Thankfully, they haven't bothered with those pointless face-distorting convex mirrors that turns your face into a fairground attraction.

At the top of the phone sits the power on/off button.

Palm Treo 500v Windows Mobile 6 Smartphone reviewA look inside
Getting the back off the Treo took a bit of a Herculean effort - so much so that we were fearful of breaking the thing.

Once we'd finally slid off the back cover, we found a user replaceable Li-ion 1200MaH battery sitting tightly inside with the SIM and miniSD card slots lurking below.

Taking out and inserting cards from both slots was straightforward enough, although we wouldn't like to make a habit of getting the back off.

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Palm Treo 500v Smartphone Review

Booting up the Treo for the first time took around 30 seconds, with a succession of logos appearing on screen: first the Palm logo, followed by Vodafone's animated feast of redness and finally the Window Mobile branding.

Interface
With no touch screen onboard, menus are navigated via a strip of controls contained in the silver band running across the middle of the phone.

Clicking the 'start' button takes you to Vodafone's slick tabbed interface which we found exceptionally easy to use.

Palm Treo 500v Smartphone ReviewPressing the left/right controls on the Treo's 'D' Pad lets you scroll through various interfaces labelled Message Centre, Favourite Contacts, Upcoming Events, My Settings, Windows Live, Music & Video, Recent Photos, Live! and Recent Programs. Sub menus were selected using the up/down controller with the central button being used as an OK/launch button.

Going through the tabbed screens, the Message Centre tab affords one-click access to text, MMS, email, voicemail and missed calls, Favourite Contacts offers quick access to your best chums, My Settings lets you set ring tones, home screen wallpaper, alarms and profiles and also turn Bluetooth and Flight mode on/off.

The Windows Live tab provides access to Live Messenger, Hotmail, Live Spaces and Search, with Music & Video displaying all the media you've got squirreled away on your phone and memory card. Recent Photos displays thumbnails of your last snaps while the Live! tab connects you to Vodafone Live!, eBay, Google Maps, Business email, Mobile TV and Internet Explorer.

Palm Treo 500v Smartphone ReviewRecent Programs does exactly what you might expect, and presents a list of the last programs accessed on the phone.

Throughout the testing the interface was snappy, responsive and pleasingly simple to use. We didn't experience any crashes and have to say it's one of the best interfaces we've used on a Windows smartphone to date (and we usually end up screaming at them).

We certainly preferred it to the skin-deep glossy veneer of the HTC Touch we reviewed recently, and seeing as Palm forgot to give us a user manual, it's testament to the UI that we very rarely found ourselves getting lost.

You can judge for yourself with this video posted here:

(Courtesy Jason's WebLog)

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Phone quality/reception
We found call quality to be of a good standard and users had no problem hearing us at t'other end. Reception was pretty good too, although we found ourselves drifting in and out of 3G coverage a little too easily (a bit surprising since we're ten floors up and can see a great chunk of London from our window).

The speakerphone, although unlikely to grab the attention of ex-Motorhead roadies, was loud enough to conduct an outdoor conversation or play some music in a quiet room and made a pleasant enough racket considering its small size.

Palm Treo 500v Smartphone Review (Part 3: 87%)

Camera and video
The onboard 2MP camera produced reasonable enough results although the accompanying thunderous shutter sound effect is likely to startle sleeping babies and send nearby cattle stampeding. We sure it's in there somewhere, but we couldn't find a way to turn the ruddy thing off.

The resulting pics (recorded at 1600 x 1200 pixels) were certainly good enough for 6?x4? prints, but the lack of flash might prove a minor annoyance.

Despite the 500v being a 3G UMTS handset, there's no front-mounted camera on the Treo for video calls (not that we've ever felt the need to make any of them).

Palm Treo 500v Smartphone ReviewVideo quality at the highest setting - 320240 (mp4) - was passable enough for having a laugh on YouTube although, like most phone cams, it didn't handle fast movement very well.

You wouldn't want to be using it for recording the really precious memories, but it's good enough for grabbing short movies and unlike the rival Blackberry Curve phone, at least there's a video recorder there in the first place.

It has to be said that both the video and still cameras on the 500v are leagues ahead of the near Stone Age offerings on the Treo 650/680, and as Palm OS users, we hope that the soon-come Centro packs equivalent optics.

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Palm Treo 500v Smartphone ReviewBundled apps
As well as the applications listed above, the Treo 500v also comes equipped with basic but usable mobile versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, plus a PDF reader. You wouldn't want to be authoring your latest bodice-ripper on the phone mind, but being able to sync documents with your PC and read emailed Word files is useful enough.

The calendar application isn't going to win any interface awards either, but it does the job, as does the address book and to-do lists. Serious PIM users might want to consider investing in third party applications.

Email and web
The email client lets you check up to five web-based email accounts at once (including Hotmail/MSN, Yahoo! and Gmail), with straightforward interfaces giving access to Windows Live! IM chat, MMS and SMS.

In a bizarre backwards move, Palm have removed their legendary threaded SMS view - an idea so good that Apple nicked it for their iPhone recently - and replaced it with the boring, old-style Windows Mobile interface listing texts individually.

Palm Treo 500v Smartphone ReviewFor web browsing, we were fairly impressed with Internet Explorer Mobile which did a good job of serving up readable versions of most web pages. Google Maps and eBay pages were also quick to display and easy to use.

YouTube videos can be viewed with the built in Streaming Player, although the video quality isn't the greatest and at times it sounded like the clip was being narrated by a Dalek.

Vodafone Live!
We were rather impressed with the location-based functionality of the Vodafone Live! service on the Treo 500v, with the 'where am I now' service offering to tell us, err, where we were and then providing local cabs, cashpoints, cinema listings etc. Nice, but it's not free for some uses.

We were especially chuffed that when we selected 'clubs in our area', our very own club night appeared on the first page of results, and clicking although gave us a map of the area. Neat, and something we could see ourselves using a lot of.

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There rest of Vodafone's Live service seems to be principally interested in the sports, music, totty'n'titties crowd, offering endless (paid) downloads of busty babes, 'sexy stuff' and yet more soft porn.

Actually, we're being a little unfair. In amongst all the Zoo Mobile vixens, beach crumpet and saucy FHM hotties there were some genuinely useful free offerings, including live train timetable search, location-based AA road alerts and maps and fast access to BBC news, ITN news and, err, FHM Magazine.

We loved being able to watch the BBC News TV summaries on the phone too.

Multimedia
Photos can be displayed (individually or as a slide show) via a simple viewer offering basic editing features - crop or 'auto correct' - and your snaps can be shared with the masses via email or Bluetooth.

A rather natty looking Windows Media player takes care of video and music playback options, backed by a respectable 150MB of user available built-in storage, backed by a microSD memory card slot for additional capacity. Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR stereo support is also included.

Battery Life
We haven't had chance to methodically test the phone's battery life, but it seemed on a par with the competition. It's a relief to see that the Treo comes with a user replaceable battery too (take note, Steve Jobs).

Palm Treo 500v Smartphone ReviewAlthough the battery looks tantalisingly close to the one that fits the Treo 680/750, current users looking to switch phones will be miffed to realised that they're not compatible.

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What's missing
Palm's curious allergy to all things Wi-Fi continues, although it's forgivable in such a low cost handset, particularly when there's 3G onboard. EDGE might have been nice too, but it's not a deal buster for us.

Conclusion
We're rather impressed with this phone. Despite our previous misgivings about Windows Mobile devices, the 500v offers a fast, very neat and intuitive interface that is dead simple to use.

We liked the QWERTY keyboard and overall usability of the Treo, and we'd go as far as saying that this is the best all-round Windows smartphone we've used to date.

The rounded, slim, big screen design looks great and feels comfortable in the hand, and although the specifications may not right out there at the cutting edge, there's more than enough functionality and multimedia goodness on board to keep most folks happy.

With Vodafone stating that they will be offering the Treo 500v free with certain contracts, we reckon Palm might well have a hit on their hands with this phone.

We reckon the 500v is a fine return to form from Palm and comes highly recommended. Can we have the Palm OS version now, please?

Our verdict
Ease of use: 84%
Build: 82%
Features: 80%
Phone quality: 85%
Value for money: 90%
Overall: 87%

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Specifications
Platform Windows Mobile 6 Standard
Display 320240-pixel Transflective colour screen; supports 16-bit colour (up to 65K colours)
Radio GSM/GPRS/UMTS radio
GSM bands: 900/1800/1900
UMTS bands: 2100
Bluetooth Version: 2.0 + EDR
Profiles: Headset, handsfree, EDR, serial and OBEX. Mono and stereo headsets are supported
Memory 256MB memory (150MB available user storage)
Camera 2.0 megapixels with 2.5x digital zoom and video capture support
Battery Removable 1200mAh, lithium-ion
Talk time: 10 days standby, and up to 4.5 hours of talk time
Expansion MicroSD card
Connector Mini USB
Dimensions 16.5mm (D) x 61.5mm (W) x 110mm (H), 120 grams
System Requirements Windows XP, Vista
Bundled software: ActiveSync, Alarm Clock, Bluetooth, Bubble Breaker, Calculator, Camera, eBay, File Explorer, Google Maps1, Internet Connect Sharing, Internet Explorer Mobile, Messaging, Microsoft Notes, Microsoft Office (including Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word), Phone, Picture and Video, Solitaire, Task Manager, Vodafone Mobile Windows Live, Windows Media Player Mobile

The Palm Treo 500v will be available exclusively from Vodafone in October, with an unlocked version appearing at the beginning of January 2008.
external link Palm Treo 500V

RELATED LINKS:
» Palm Treo 750v review
» Palm Treo 650 - why I still love the Treo
» Palm Treo 680 Affordable Smartphones Announced
» Palm OS Treo 700p US Launch

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