Wednesday, March 31, 2004

A very creative technology - Treo 600 Smartphone

I love breakthrough devices. My favorites are where new technologies are applied so creatively yet usefully that it takes users a long time to catch up. The Treo 600 by Handspring is just that kind of breakthrough device. I bought one in November 2003 and I am still finding new ways to use its powerful features. Let me explain.

It's a Sprint PCS phone. I get decent coverage especially in all the major metro areas, clear signal and lots of plans to meet my budget. The Treo is also available for Verizon, T-Mobile and Cingular users.

It's a Palm Pilot. It's probably equivalent to the Tungsten and it runs OS 5.0. All the usually Palm programs like calendar, contacts, To Do's and memos come with it. You can use the thousands of free and commercial applications. I use ACT and Lotus Notes and they sync easily and accurately. The color screen is 160 x 160 dpi which isn't great. Apparently a 320 x 320 screen would have drained the battery too fast. Speaking of battery life, the unit gives me at least 2-3 days of power. I also bought an external battery that doubles the length of battery use.

It has a built-in camera. Sprint has a great tool on the phone which allows me to immediately e-mail the pictures to friends and family. The resolution is not great. I think that Sprint intentionally “dumbed down” the camera so the picture file sizes wouldn't jam up the Picture Connection service. There is a program called QSet which allows me to increase the DPI level for the camera. The QSet program lets me improve the image quality by entering a number from 1 to 100. The camera comes set at 60 so moving it up to 90 gave me a dramatic improvement in picture resolution. I found one of the best things to do with the camera is to document things you come across. When I'm at the store and I'm not sure if my wife wants me to get Catsup or Ketchup, I'll simply take a picture of it and sent it to her. Also, I can shoot an item as a reminder to check for a better price somewhere else.

It plays mp3's. I use an SD memory card and load it up with tunes and a program called Pocket-Tunes which allows me to build and edit playlists. There is a stereo headphone jack but the plug is a size smaller than your regular mini-plug. I needed an adapter (about $5) and was best to get the one made by Treo. The sound through the headphones is cleaner than playing them through my laptop. The phone itself has a small speaker which puts out a decent sound for its size.

Once I get beyond the phone and PDA the Treo 600's Internet-based features just blows me away.

It does email. I can sync with my Lotus Notes mail account through the Internet using an add-on service from Sprint called BCS. The service requires me to leave my computer connected to the Internet in order to drive e-mail to the Treo. This becomes a battery drainer though if I sync too often. I also have another e-mail account which uses POP3. The built-in e-mail program will send and retrieve e-mail. I can set up as many e-mail accounts as needed. There is a commercial e-mail program upgrade called SnapperMail that works great. For fat-finger guys like me it has enhanced screens which make it easier to click and scroll. I can also open and edit Word and Excel documents.

It's a Web browser. I can go to any Web address using a built-in browser called Blazer. Unlimited Internet access adds about $5 to my monthly Sprint bill. Blazer takes the Web pages and resizes them for the 160 x 160 screen. It doesn't always look great but there are thousands of sites that are formatted for PDA's including eBay, Yahoo, MSN, ESPN, and USA Today. I can bookmark about 100 sites. I also use MapQuest to get directions while on the road. Google has a PDA site as well.

It's an ISP. The phone provides 145k of Internet service to my laptop. This is the clincher and the killer app for the Treo. Forget about WiFi hotspots. Anywhere you go that has Sprint phone service is a place that you can get Internet Service. Using the sync cable, I simply plug in my laptop to the phone. Then I click on a program called PDAnet and within seconds my laptop has decent Internet access. I tried it out on a car trip from Cleveland to Columbus. My wife drove and I sat in the back seat with my laptop. I got clean Internet access the whole trip. I have used it during customer demos, lunches, airports, conferences and anywhere else.

It does chat. I use AOL Instant Messenger at work. There is a program for the Treo called VeriChat that works with all the major instant messaging services like AOL and Yahoo but the cost is $30 per year. I went to AOL's PDA site and signed up for a free version. It's not as good as the VeriChat version but is quite usable.

It's a FTP client. I can login to our Web servers and do maintenance on the files, even upload pictures. This can be a life-saver if a Web site is down and I want to access it remotely. It was great fun to flip out our network administrators showing off the FTP client to them. Soon afterwards, they made some changes to the servers to keep me out of the sensitive areas. I suppose they're just doing their job.

It's a voice recorder. And, for that matter, it's also a movie recorder. I can record conversations or shoot short movies with audio and save them to disk. The voices recordings can be any length depending on the drive space but movies run much shorter. The longest movie is about 30 seconds.

Another application is SMS which is for Short Message System. I don't use this very much but it is helpful for getting beeped when messages come in. There is also SplashID which is a handy application that comes with the Treo. I use it to securely store all my logins and passwords. It seems like there are so many to remember now.

Recently, BlackBerry has come out with a comparable phone with a bigger screen and wider keyboard. Compared to the Treo the new Blackberry phone maybe a little wide to fit into my shirt pocket and it lacks many of the powerhouse features I've listed above.

I'm sure there will be enhancements and improvements to the Treo in the future but at this point I have a ways to go before I maximize the technology. When that happens it will time for me to convince my wife that she needs a Treo 600 (while I buy a new 610!).

Copyright © 2004 James D. Fisher.
All Rights Reserved.