(Pocket-lint) - If you believe the rumours, vultures are circling Palm, eyes peeled for carrion. So can its latest smartphone save the company? We have a play to find out.
Once the dominating force in the smartphone arena, Palm has lost its way of late. Here at Pocket-lint we hated the Centro, didn't think much of the 500v and were only mildly impressed with the 700v back in 2007.
Fast forward 12 months to September 2008 and to cut to the chase, this is the best palm we've seen since the Handspring Treo. Why? Let me explain.
When it comes to the design, the Palm Treo Pro hits the nail on the head. iPhone like in its approach, the curved black glossy case is comfortable to hold, fits nicely in the hand and still manages to give you that "I do care about design" feel. Compared to previous devices from the company this is consumer through-and-through, even more so than the Palm Centro - the "consumer" model in the family.
The front splits the real estate between a QWERTY keyboard, panel of shortcut keys and a square 320 x 320 pixel resolution screen. The QWERTY keyboard is small and tight, with the keys spongy in their response, but on the whole it is easy to use and after half an hour we were typing with speed.
The number pad is coloured in white, contrasting against the black keys of the rest of the keyboard and, while only a small detail, makes finding the numbers in a dark room (i.e., presentation) easy, similar to the BlackBerry Curve. The shortcuts are mostly found sitting between the screen and the keyboard. Here you get the usual array of quick links to things like the calendar, mail, start bar and OK as well as hang-up and answer. There is also a d-pad for navigation.
Rather than opting for touch-sensitive buttons for the shortcut keys, Palm has done the sensible thing and opted for actual buttons and this means you know when you have pressed them. Not wanting to confuse the user too much, Palm has wisely added further shortcut keys on the side and top of the Palm Treo Pro. To one side is a volume switch, to the other a button for turning on/off Wi-Fi - a great little feature. The top features a mute button to save you looking for the option via a software menu and music fans get a 3.5mm headphone socket.
Of course all these buttons are in addition to the touchscreen that will be, alongside the QWERTY keyboard the main stay of your input usage.
The screen is responsive in use, although does occasionally suffer from the age old problem that affects most Windows Mobile devices - pressing that "x" icon in the corners of the screen. For these moments there is a stylus if your fingernails aren't chiselled to a fine point.
So the design is vastly improved, what about the tech specs?
The Palm Treo Pro is powered by a 400MHz Qualcomm MSM7201 processor which on the whole is nippy, but not as nippy as we would have liked. There have been quite a few times in our tests where we've had to wait a second longer than we perhaps wanted to. That's not to say that it was killer slow, it's just that it would have been nice if we never had to see the spinning multicoloured circle saying it was thinking about it.
On the connectivity front you get Wi-Fi for fast internet access around the home or office and HSDPA for when you are out and about. Internet browsing speeds, via Internet Explorer were fast on the Vodafone connection we tried the handset on, although our advice would be to download Opera Mini pronto.
Storage is supplied via microSD, not hot swappable, rather than in-built (you do get in-built, but only 256MB), while the Palm Treo comes with a 2-megapixel camera, GPS and AGPS with Google Maps for when you get lost.
On the software front, the Treo Pro hasn't really been messed around with Win Mob 6.1 too much. There are some tweaks here and there from Palm and users switching from HTC will notice a couple of familiar features like the drop down task menu that lets you close programmes without going back into them and the software interface when it comes to using the camera.
Palm has added a Google search bar so you can search from the Today screen and overall the Windows Mobile software is easy to use, well as far as you can say that about Windows Mobile 6.1.
Like an England qualifying game, somehow Palm has managed to pull something out of the bag with the Palm Treo Pro. Palm has struggled to create a device that we would actually want for a long time, however the Treo Pro goes a long way to change that.
A good looking design combined with a decent feature set in a device that doesn't try to be everything to everyone means that this is a Windows device we would happily recommend. This, like the Nokia E71, really takes the fight to RIM’s BlackBerry and its dominance of the QWERTY keyboard arena. It's been a long time coming, but this could just be Palm's saving grace.