Treo Pro Looks Good, but Needs Improving

Mobility

The Treo Pro from Palm is bringing a sleek new look to the smartphone for business users. However, the erratic 3G performance and battery life issues in the Palm Treo Pro need to be resolved.

With the new Treo Pro, Palm for once is bringing the sexy to business users, delivering a sleek, appealing device ready for business use.

Unfortunately, the Treo Pro’s erratic 3G performance quickly depletes the battery under certain circumstances, making it difficult to recommend the device until the 3G problems are resolved.

Without question the Treo Pro is Palm’s most aesthetically pleasing smart phone to date. With its shiny obsidian case and smooth, rounded edges, the device is both visually pleasing and comfortable in the hand. At 60 by 114 by 13.5 mm, the Treo is much thinner front to back than the Treo 800w for the Sprint network that I recently reviewed; at 133 grams, the Treo Pro weighs a lot less.

Palm is positioning the Treo Pro as a GSM World phone, selling it as an unlocked device from £399 from the Palm Store. The device, which supports HSDPA, EDGE and GSM, should work seam­lessly in international markets, as it offers quad-band GSM sup­port (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) and tri-band UMTS support (850, 1900, 2100 MHz).

Despite its sleek look, the Treo Pro is part of Palm’s family of devices aimed at business custom­ers, so it comes preconfigured with Windows Mobile 6.1 Profes­sional, which works out of the box with Microsoft’s Exchange (including Direct Push support) and System Centre Mobile Device Manager platforms. The device also includes the Office Mobile Suite of applications – the mobile iterations of Word, Excel, Power­Point and OneNote.

The Treo Pro has a fairly power­ful mobile processor (a 400MHz Qualcomm MSM7201 processor) and an adequate amount of mem­ory (128MB), so performance was reasonably snappy compared with other Windows Mobile devices I’ve tested. However, available on-board storage is some­what limited as the Treo Pro has 256MB of on-board storage, but only 100MB is available for user programs. Howver, the Treo Pro can be kitted out with a large amount of remov­able storage, as the MicroSDHC slot supports cards up to 32GB (my biggest card, at 6GB, worked fine). Unfortunately, the user needs to remove the back cover to access the MicroS­DHC slot, which I found difficult and awkward to remove.

The touch-screen is pretty good for a Palm device: At 320 by 320 pixels, it doesn’t compare favourably to the iPhone or the BlackBerry Bold, but the picture is sharp and the touch-screen is highly respon­sive.

The Treo Pro’s QWERTY key­board has the similarly soft and rubbery keys such as those found on Palm’s Centro devices, although the Pro’s keys are not jammed together as closely as on the Centro. The Treo Pro also fea­tures the same five-way naviga­tion pad found on the Treo 800w, plus physical shortcut keys for call, end, mail, calendar and the Windows menu. Two additional shortcut buttons are actually part of the lower end of the touch-screen.

Like the Treo 800w, the Treo Pro features802.11b/g wireless networking complete with full WPA/WPA2 and 802.1x certifi­cate support. The Treo Pro also offers a physical Wi-Fi button on the side of the device that can be used to quickly toggle power to the Wi-Fi radio or easily access the WLAN configuration page. However, the side place­ment and flush placement (with the bezel) of the button makes it a little harder to press than I found with the Treo 800w.

The Treo Pro also offers an inte­grated GPS receiver for turn-by-turn directions (via the included but unlicensed TeleNav applica­tion) and a 2.0 megapixel cam­era for still photographs or video clips.

I was pleased to see Palm has quickly retreated from its brief foray into USB audio. Whereas the Treo 800w was saddled with but a single MicroUSB port—so users could not charge the phone and use a wired headset at the same time—the Treo Pro has a separate 3.5 millimeter headset jack that worked perfectly with the headsets I typically use with my iPhone. Meanwhile, Blue­tooth users will be satisfied with the Bluetooth 2.0 support with EDR support.

The Treo Pro’s 1500 mAh bat­tery is rated for five hours of talk time or 250 hours of standby time, but in my talk-time tests, I was not able to get anywhere close to that level of performance. Fur­ther experiments indicated that the Treo Pro is capable of per­formance closer to the specifica­tions (although not from my test bed). As we recently have seen from other 3G smart phones such as Apple’s iPhone 3G, I suspect that the Treo Pro still requires a significant amount of optimisa­tion and a firmware upgrade or two before it will work consis­tently on a 3G network.

With the Treo Pro set to autose­lect the best network available (I tested on AT&T’s network) and connected at 3G speeds, I could squeeze an average of only 2 hours and 45 minutes of talk time out of the Treo Pro on several test runs. While trying to troubleshoot the disparity between the published specifications and my own find­ings, I discovered that my test unit was completely unable to place or receive calls when forced to a 2G connection. Figuring there was something wrong with the hardware, I had Palm submit a second unit for the battery tests.

While this second device was able to participate in calls using a 2G connection—achieving 7 hours and 5 minutes of talk time for a GSM call—the 3G talk time numbers were as equally bad (2 hours and 40 minutes) as those found with the first device.

Palm engineers suspected the results were particular to the AT&T network conditions in or around eWeek’s offices. To verify this supposition, Palm’s engineers connected a third Treo Pro to some battery emula­tion equipment from Agilent to measure the phone’s power draw during a call.

Indeed, we found that the third unit consumed much more power during a call from our ninth floor offices than a call placed from the street below. For instance, at street level (driving around the block, actually), the Treo Pro averaged about 335 to 340 milliamps con­sumption during a 3G call (which would translate to slightly less than 4.5 hours of talk time with a 1500 mAh battery). But in our offices, the average consumption was around 450 milliamps, with occasional bursts of over 500 mil­liamps.

By way of comparison, we tested a device from a Palm competitor in parallel with the Treo Pro. This device averaged around 315 mil­liamps drawn from street level and around 340 milliamps in the eWeek offices. These findings indicates that 1) there is a mea­surable battery performance hit that comes from placing a call in our offices versus calling from the street below, and 2) the Treo Pro is currently much less capable of dealing with these deleterious con­ditions than other devices avail­able for sale today.

Palm engineers are still combing through the device logs to root out the ultimate cause of the excessive battery consumption experienced in our offices.