Treo 650 Saves the Day During the Tour de Georgia

I've written a couple of stories about gadgets that I wish I had when I was covering the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia. One gadget that I'm proud to say I had with me for the all six stages was my palmOne Treo 650. The Treo 650 has quickly become the key component of my technology arsenal, and I would have been unable to file stories in a few really important situations without it.

I got my Treo 650 on March 31. I actually bought two Treos, the other one was for my wife. We had agreed to get his and hers Treos because we had both previously been heavy wireless email users and were in need of technology upgrades. The purchases were timed so that we would receive the Treos and have time to work any glitches out before I left on my trip to the Chicago Showcase Hockey Tournament. That took place right before the Tour de Georgia.

When I arrived at the Tour de Georgia opening press conference, a critical component of my laptop was not working. My WiFi network card was unable to maintain a connection to the hotel conference center's wireless network. For a moment I thought that I would be unable to publish a report on Lance Armstrong's retirement announcement, by far the biggest news story of the event. In a moment of panic, I pulled out my Treo 650, connected to my site's Movable Type backend using the built-in Blazer web browser, and published my story.

The palmOne Blazer Web Browser and the Treo 650 hardware provides the best handheld Internet experience I've ever seen, but that's only part of their appeal. These tools are also excellent for quick access to websites that have flexible page layouts and useful for emergency access to web-based business applications when your primary computer is unavailable or not working. The Blazer browser is helped immensely by the enhanced display (320 x 320), which has twice the resolution of the Treo 600 and most other PalmOS handhelds.

The Treo 650 is often compared to Research in Motion BlackBerry handhelds such as the BlackBerry 7230. After using both devices for long periods of time, I have to say that the Treo offers a superior web browsing experience both in terms of responsiveness and fidelity to the look and feel of the web page. When I used a BlackBerry, I found myself gravitating toward WAP-enabled sites, but the Treo gives me two different ways to look at HTML-based pages and the speed necessary to allow me to see them before I get frustrated. The Blazer Browser on the Treo 650 also implements a number of key JavaScript actions, Cascading Style Sheets, and other advanced features that make its browser far more likely to work with modern, full-featured websites than a Blackberry's browser.

Probably the most impressive feature of the Treo 650 is the integration between the PalmOS Contacts application and the Phone application. The Contacts application lets you do things like type a first and last initial and bring up a short list of people and their phone numbers. Using the 5-way navigator button, you can then choose the number you want to call. This part of the Treo User Interface is optimized for one-handed use, and it's a significant improvement over most mobile phones as well as first and second-generation Treos.

The Treo 650 has the potential to be a great mobile email platform if the right wireless email client is chosen. I tried Versamail, but found that it did not work well with my three primary IMAP email accounts. I then tried Chatter Email which bills itself as "the most powerful email client for Treo". This is a very well done, surprisingly mature mobile IMAP client that I recommend wholeheartedly. In my opinion, Chatter Email is the most BlackBerry-like email implementation on a non-BlackBerry device today, provided that your IMAP server supports the IMAP IDLE command.

Another email client that has been recommended to me by several people is SnapperMail. This appears to be aimed at the POP3 email users of the world, rather than IMAP users like me. If you use the Post Office Protocol for email, I would definitely give SnapperMail a try, although VersaMail might also be a good choice for you.

The Treo 650 is a much more stable, reliable handset than any of the Treo models I've used previously. Back in the days of the 180 and even during the heyday of the 600, I wondered if I'd ever see a palmOS-based mobile communicator that would run without crashing for days at a time unless the addition of third-party applications was blocked. After using a 650, I have to conclude that a number of features have come together in this device to improve its stability:

  1. core application code maturity making third-party applications that leverage the key features of the Treo less likely to crash it,
  2. CPU performance ensuring that the Treo keeps up with the data that it's receiving, and
  3. non-volatile memory making data loss a thing of the past.

The true test of my Treo 650's reliability was when I went on my recent two week trip to Chicago and Georgia and didn't take the computer on which I have Palm Desktop installed. With previous Treo models, this would have meant that I ran the risk of losing the data on my Treo if a serious application crash occurred or if the device ran critically low on power. Thanks to the non-volatile memory and improved stability of the Treo 650, I got through the two week trip without any data loss. That would have been impossible on the Treo 180 and improbable on the 600.

I like many of the other features of the Treo 650 including Bluetooth support, the unsophisticated, VGA-resolution digital camera, and the Documents To Go 7 Professional Suite that lets me view Microsoft Office documents without being near my PC, but to be honest, I could do without any of these features and still be incredibly happy. The 650 is what I hoped all the previous Treos would be: a durable, stable, and highly usable mobile communication device where I can install my choice of a wide variety of third party software. When the chips were down, it helped me succeed at the Tour de Georgia. If you need capabilities like these, I'd definitely give the Treo 650 a try.