Road testing the Palm Treo 500v

Back at IT Forum in November, Microsoft gave me one of those snazzy new Palm devices to evaluate. It felt a little weird on the way home, given it was in the middle of the advertising blitz, to have in my bag the same thing that was appearing on the hoardings (and indeed, cleverly projected from the Heathrow Express onto the walls of the tunnel – not seen that before). Anyway, a couple of months have passed so its about time I wrote up my findings.Working back from the conclusion, Microsoft and Palm have indeed come out with a device that should be more acceptable to the mobile masses than previous incarnations of Windows Mobile. There’s a lot in that statement – so let’s see if we can cover it off.

Microsoft has had a bit of a rocky road since it first caught onto the megalomaniac “Windows Everywhere” idea. At the time (so we were told), Windows was going to replace, well, just about everything. Anything was possible, indeed the kool-aid powered propeller heads at Redmond thought nothing of porting core elements of Windows to portable devices and setting out their own hardware configuration to support the “new” operating system. To cut a long story short, it all went horribly wrong: the pesky competition refused to roll over and play dead in a whole number of sectors, the open source movement was unwittingly catalysed (if not spawned) and, well, it turned out to be a lot harder than first thought to develop an interrupt-driven device OS.

We’ve seen several generations of Microsoft’s mobile operating system, and several renaming strategies, leading up to “Windows Mobile”. What we haven’t seen up to now is Microsoft clicking onto the fact that mobile devices are not computers. Up to now, I say – because the Palm device does exactly that. I have been using it in parallel with, and lately instead of my Blackberry 8820. To summarise the positive findings:

– It functions like a phone. There’s a lot in this statement: notably that I could give it to an 8-year-old to make a call, and they could get on and do it as easily as any of these new-fangled devices. The keyboard keys are a bit small, feel a bit cheap and make a funny clicky noise which is slightly off-putting, but they are usable.

– It doesn’t need rebooting. Why on earth I should have to write this at all, is an indication of where Windows Mobile has come from (I would say and how far, but no-reboots should be true off the starting blocks). Still, it’s a good thing.

– It is straightforward to navigate. Straightforward-ish – but I need to add the caveat that I was looking for things from previous incarnations in a way that I probably shouldn’t have. Games, for example, are there but harder to get to; ActiveSync also needed some finding (but perhaps I shouldn’t have needed to look)

– It doesn’t lock up, crap out, put up strange messages etc, or at least it hasn’t for me. I used to have to clear out running programs on a regular basis as they would crowd each other out of the memory – perhaps this is down to more memory, or more clever management, as a user I’m not sure I care.

– It’s an acceptable size. Notice I don’t say “small” – you could put it in a jeans pocket, but you wouldn’t want to sit down. I agree with “chunky”.

To put it bluntly, it works, “does what it says on the tin” etc. The second question is how well it functions as an email device, which needs to be treated separately as it is here that Windows Mobile diverges from other platforms, in terms of how it connects to the server. Some devices allow access to POP email, and Blackberry adds to this with access to Microsoft Exchange, through the Blackberry Exchange Server (BES). One thing I’ve always liked about Windows Mobile is the fact that it integrates very smoothly with Exchange, reflecting exactly what I have on the server: more so than BES, which just doesn’t deal with my email the way I want it to (example: when I move a mail from my inbox to an offline folder, I want it to be deleted from the Inbox: true in Exchange, but not synchronised for some reason to the Blackberry handset. I have other examples around synchronisation). Equally, I prefer the fact that Windows Mobile presents individual inboxes, whereas the Blackberry munges them all together. So, given the fact I’d prefer a Windows Mobile device for email anyway, it was unsurprising I quite liked how this one functioned.

Returning to the handset, then, what about the negatives?

– Battery life is still, to my mind, atrocious. I need to be able to go away overnight, forget my charger cable, and still be able to make calls the next day – not unreasonable I think, but not guaranteed with this device. Sure, I could be less forgetful, but that’s hardly the point.

– No GPS. While I have been coping without this as a nice-to-have, it was very useful when I was out and about to flick over to Google Maps and get directions. There’s still the maps, but no understanding of current location. GPS should be standard issue to mobile employees.

– It’s not perfect – “deep” configuration menus aren’t that easy to navigate, and its not always totally intuitive where to find things, and tehre’s little niggles about all the different beeps and buzzes (why can’t these all be turned off in one go?). The same could be said for Blackberry, however.

There are other downsides, but these are more a reflection of my geeky side than anything. I was disappointed (particularly as I’d forgotten mine) to find that I couldn’t use the Palm as a Bluetooth microphone for my laptop, for example; I can’t install everything I wanted to (notably the freedom keyboard driver); and also, the device isn’t really designed to be used as an ultraportable computer. Tis a bit ironic really, given that Microsoft and Palm have clearly put such effort in, to be castigated for a design feature – but I did like to have something with a screen and keyboard big enough to be typed on. For most people however, this will not be an issue, just the opposite!

So, there we have it. In this world of iPhones and the impending Android OS from Google, there will always be plenty for the geek. I am reminded however, of colleagues, acquaintances and passing strangers I have seen man-handling eminently unsuitable, brick-like smartphones, when all they want to do is acknowledge a mail, send and SMS or simply phone someone. A Blackberry killer? No – but for such mainstream business users, who need to be able to make calls and access their corporate email simply and without a device that needs a week’s training to use, this might be just the ticket.

Road testing the Palm Treo 500v

3 thoughts on “Road testing the Palm Treo 500v

  1. me, myself and I says:

    🙂 Use a palm device with PalmOS for a couple of months, then do this review again. I wonder how much less favorable to Windows it would come out. You’re right in that MS never groked it that handhelds are no PCs. You’re wrong in thinking they got it now. Just my opinion.

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