Although mobile phones are great little devices which keeps us connected with family and friends (and clients and our boss too!), they have come a long way from just being something we use to make and receive calls with. Gaming in shades of grey and keeping notes and simple diary entries have quickly become basic requirements for this very-mobile device that many of us have taken granted of.
And then the communicator comes along, which opened the door to more complex devices that can offer varieties of applications that can make our daily lives both simpler and more efficient. Unfortunately, this has come at an expense of the communicator’s physical size (think about the Motorola PDA phone and Nokia Communicators models!)
Handspring’s new “Treo” communicator product line isn’t like what we’ve seen so far. The Treo 180/180g PDA phone has one of the most compact sizes around and does not physically weigh you down when carrying it in your pocket. And to top it off, the Treo 180/180g is one of the very first Palm OS-based devices with a built-in mobile phone facility.
If you’ve previously used a Palm or Handspring PDA device, you will not find much difference in using the Treo 180/180g. The Palm OS functionality is pretty much standardised, with one of the major differences being the enhancement of various built-in software (such as the address book, which I will address in this review). Also, software has also been added to complement the wireless features of the Treo 180/180g, including an SMS utility and web (WWW) browser.
There are two models to choose from - one with the standard Graffiti interface (Treo 180g), and the other sporting a physical QWERTY keyboard (Treo 180) instead.
For current Palm OS users, the Graffiti model may suit your needs more - that’s if you’re quite comfortable writing with the stylus. The interface on the Treo 180g is virtually the same as that of your existing Palm OS-based device (Graffiti writing area and home/menu/calculator/search “tap” areas).
The keyboard model provides users with the option of being able to use the Treo 180 without needing the stylus as words and numbers can be typed out, and provides the opportunity for a user to use the Treo 180 with one single hand. A stylus is still provided with this model (since both models have the digitiser display) - not to worry! :)
Another difference of the Treo 180/180g compared with other Palm OS-based device is the addition of the active lid, which acts as the earpiece and speakerphone, receive and conclude calls, and an easy way to turn on and off the device by simply opening or closing the lid. A clear window is part of this lid, allowing users to view information such as caller information when a call comes in. The cover also protects the display from scratching and any accidental contact that may crack the actual LCD screen.
Holding the Treo 180/180g in the hand feels just like any other Palm OS-based device, where it has a similar sizing and weight. But when using it to make and receive calls, positioning it properly to achieve the best comfort isn’t as easy, especially when trying to rest the earpiece on your ear. After a few more attempts, you either try and get use to it, or decide to use either the headset accessory or speakerphone feature.
I find the positioning of the buttons on the Treo 180/180g to be quite accessible when operated by either left or right hand. The power and ringer switch at the top-side of the phone is easily accessed by the index finger, while the rocker switch on the left-hand side of the communicator can be used by your middle finger or thumb (depending which hand you decide to operate the Treo 180/180g with).
As for the four quick-access buttons, some of these now access other applications instead of the default phonebook/date-book/memo/to-do list features. But if you prefer them to point to whatever you previously expected, you can simply change this in the device’s preferences list.
User Interface (UI)
Both Treo models share the standard Palm OS interface, with the only difference being the provision of either the physical keyboard (Treo 180) or the Graffiti writing area (180g).
For phone functions, both Treo devices handled this very well. On opening the lid, the speed dial screen is brought up - where a maximum of 49 speed dial numbers can be entered (one of them is reserved for voicemail). Pressing on the phone button at the bottom will bring up another screen featuring the 12-key phone pad allowing a user to make a call manually. The buttons are big enough on the screen to allow a user to tap the required numbers with their fingers. Further presses of the phone button will bring up the contacts list, followed by the call history list.
Making and receiving calls
The active lid acts similarly to a typical active flip on other clamshell- and folder-type phones, where opening it answers an incoming call and closing it will conclude one. While the lid is closed and a call comes in, pressing any accessible buttons will reject the call, while pushing the rocker switch up will divert the call to your voicemail box. During standby mode, opening the lid will activate the phone interface while closing it will turn off the PDA interface and takes the Treo back to its standby mode.
On the Treo 180 (keyboard model), you have the option of either entering the name of the person you want to call or the number to be called after opening the lid. The phone software will automatically work out whether you are dialling in a number, or the name of a person from the phonebook you wish to call. I find this a very innovative feature indeed.
During phone conversations, in-call features are brought up onto the screen (such as hanging up, hold, etc). These features are displayed as virtual buttons, sized appropriately for a user to easily tap them with a finger when required. And if by any chance you need to dial a few numbers on the phone keypad, one can simply tap the ‘dial pad’ button which brings this feature up immediately.
Other Palm functions can still be accessed while you’re on the phone with the Treo 180/180g. Simply tap the ‘home’ icon (or the respective key sequences on the Treo 180), which takes you to the main applications list where the Palm can be used as normal. Should you need to return back to the phone application, you can simply hit the ‘phone’ button located at the bottom of the unit.
The built-in SMS application has the ability to display an entire SMS message on the Palm device’s display, and not just simply restricting a user to the very few lines available. Phone book entries are directly linked to the SMS application as well, removing the need to go back and forth in search for a number. Messages sent and received can be kept on the Treo for future reference.
If you’re a user who does a lot of SMS-ing, the keyboard version of the Treo would be the most likely candidate for your needs. I found typing with both my thumbs quite comfortable and relaxing, rather than trying to rest my other eight fingers on the mini-keyboard and trying to type instead!
Battery performance on standby for the Treo 180/180g isn’t bad, with each communicator can do approximately 2-3 days standby on average use. With the mobile phone feature off, you can expect longer battery times (probably as much as what a standard Palm can do). Once you start spending time talking on the Treo 180/180g, you will see battery life start to degrade very rapidly. I was only able to get around 2 hours’ worth of talk time on a full charge.