Review of the Palm Treo 650

Home : Writing : by Trevis Rothwell, 2006 - 2007


Several weeks ago, I got a new cellular telephone in the form of a Palm Treo 650. This device has many more features out of the box than my previous cellular phone did (an LG phone that came free with the phone service).

What's Good?

It's a computer! And so is any mobile phone on the market today. But, running PalmOS, it's a little more obvious on the Treo 650. I can easily download software, either directly on the phone or on my desktop computer, that can run on the phone. I can synchronize contact lists, calendar entries, and text memos between the phone and my desktop computer. I can type on the minature QWERTY keyboard on the phone. As far as computers go, it's reasonably capable.

Along with the Treo 650, I now have mobile internet access. I could have had this with my previous phone, but I didn't; I think I can make better use of it on the Treo than on a lesser phone. The Treo comes with a respectable mobile web browser, with which I can (occasionally with some inconvenience) access both mobile-specific web sites and traditional web sites. JavaScript even works on the Treo's browser, permitting usage of Ajax-enhanced sites.

I also found and installed an SSH client that runs on the PalmOS. The font is tiny, but the program functional.

A POP3/IMAP email client is included with the Treo 650, which lets me download my latest messages from GMail wherever I'm at. (Google introduced the mobile version of GMail just after I got my Treo email client set up; this turns out to be much easier to use than the Treo client.) You can specify whether or not to download attachments with email, or just attachments under a particular size. You can also add attachments to outgoing emails; for example, pictures that you take with the onboard digital camera.

The digital camera on the Treo 650 isn't as spectacular as a Canon digital SLR, but I didn't really expect that. It's also nowhere near as good as my old 2.2 megapixel Hewlett Packard digital camera, but I didn't really expect that either. But it's still nice to have a functional camera built into your phone, for those times when you aren't toting a Canon SLR with you.

What's Bad?

After several years of getting used to a regular mobile phone, there are a few things I notice about the Treo 650 that aren't all that great. Or, at least, things that I miss from my previous mobile phones.

First is the clock that's always on the cover of the phone. Many mobile phones have this, and you don't have to activate the phone in any way to see the clock. The Treo 650 is in some sort of blacked-out screensaver mode when it's not in use, so even if you didn't have it inside of a protective holster, you still couldn't see the clock without awakening the Treo. Of course, there are these things called wristwatches, and I almost always wear one when not asleep, and there are these things called alarm clocks which I almost always have near my bed. Nevertheless, there are a few occasions (e.g., travelling without an alarm clock) when the phone-face timepiece is handy.

Second, the Treo 650 isn't very telephone-shaped. I don't know if I just have an unusually large face or what, but it can be difficult to position the Treo near my head such that I can hear well through the earpiece and the person with whom I am talking can hear my voice through the microphone. I do prefer using a headset for lengthy conversations, but this conundrum of phone placement still pops up from time to time. I guess I just need to talk louder or listen harder.

Lastly, the Treo 650 is, well, a computer running a reasonably capable operating system. While this is largely a good thing (at least for software developers like me), it also means that the phone is more prone to experiencing a total system meltdown than lesser phones. Mine has crashed several times over the past few weeks, but thankfully not during a voice call. The crashes occurred while trying to setup Bluetooth wireless connections with my desktop computer, and trying to run new software that evidently doesn't work all that great on the Treo 650.


I like the Treo 650. It's not flawless and perfect in every way, but the minor quibbles I have with it are outweighed by its other usefulness and good design. At About $350, it's not the cheapest mobile phone on the market, but you get what you pay for. And if you like the idea of having a pocket computer with mobile internet access and the ability to place telephone calls, then a Treo 650 may be for you.

Update: Palm Treo 700w

About a month after I wrote this review, Palm released the Treo 700w. In true computer technology form, my spiffy new mobile smartphone is now yesterday's news. Oh well. I'm still happy with it, and don't plan on upgrading to the 700w any time soon. In fact, by the time I'm ready for a new phone, we'll probably see another revision or two come along. The Palm Treo 700w features an unexpected twist from Palm: it runs Microsoft Windows Mobile.

Update: Whack-a-Palm

It's been about nine months now since I got my Palm Treo 650. A few weeks ago, it started not responding to button presses. The touchscreen still worked, but this was largely useless because I have to press a physical button to unlock the phone and place a call. If someone calls me, then the phone is automatically unlocked, and I can use the touchscreen at that point.

I was about to have it replaced when it suddenly started working again. Then, a few days later, it stopped working. Then it started working. Then it stopped working. Once, removing and reinserting the SD memory card revived functionality; another time, giving the Treo a good whack brought it back. Other times, nothing I do seems to help.

This has happened enough now that I will probably replace it, even if it does mysteriously start working again. I'm somewhat hesitent to replace it with another Palm Treo after seeing this, but we'll see what happens.

Update: Getting Better?

The folks at Sprint said two things: they should be able to get me a replacement Treo, but with the new 700 model out now, it would take them a while to hunt down another 650; and I should try removing and replacing the battery about once a week and see if my problems go away.

It's been about a month since they began their quest to find me a replacement, and I haven't heard back from them. I suppose that they aren't very keen on the idea of replacing my Treo 650 with a Treo 700 unless I pay for it, so they would rather procure another 650. Removing and replacing the battery seems to largely do away with the problem, although not entirely.

Update: My New Refurbished Treo

The phone continued to fail sporadically, and the Sprint store found me a "factory refurbished" Treo 650. I went into the store to pick it up, and while the clerk was in the back getting the box, I pulled out my old phone and turned it on. To my amazement, it didn't work. I was amazed because I would finally have the opportunity to show the Sprint staff the phone in a defunct state.

The clerk returned, and I handed the old phone to her and demonstrated the problem. She looked at it, from my perspective in surprise, and said, "It doesn't work." I wondered if they hadn't believed me until they actually saw it fail.

No matter, they assigned my old phone number to the refurbished phone, and handed it to me. I've owned this new phone for about thirty minutes now. So far, so good...

Update: Another Refurbished Treo

Well, it turned out that the refurbished Treo I had been given initially mostly worked, but was unable to connect to the Internet. Since web use was one of the main reasons I wanted a Treo in the first place, this warranted some looking into.

I took the Treo to the Sprint store (a different Sprint store this time, just out of convenience), and the clerk looked at it and waited on hold for Sprint technical support and talked with Sprint technical support for about an hour and a half altogether. The end result was that I should get a replacement Treo.

As before, Sprint preferred to rustle up a refurbished 650 model rather than give me a newer model. They had more difficulty finding one now than before, but managed to come up with one. This time, before leaving the store with the new refurbished Treo, we verified that the phone service worked and the Internet service worked.

I'm currently on day three of this new Treo 650. Again I say, so far so good...