Palm Treo Pro packs a punch for a pretty penny

Having enjoyed success with its sporty Centro models, Palm Inc. is taking some of the lessons it learned there back to its Treo business line: The Palm Treo Pro integrates certain Centro design elements with the Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system and with the more robust features of contemporary BlackBerries to produce a sleek smart phone built with the image-conscious corporate user in mind.

All of that style and power doesn’t come cheap, however. The Palm Treo Pro debuts at US $549 ($643 CAD). In part, that’s because it’s being sold unlocked, meaning that you don’t get the type of carrier subsidy that has made the iPhone 3G so affordable.

On the other hand, you can use it on any GSM carrier worldwide simply by inserting that carrier’s SIM card into the unit. This flexibility is great for frequent travelers — you’re not tied to a carrier or a long-term plan, and you can pop in an overseas carrier’s SIM card to keep costs down (if you don’t mind changing your phone number).

The Treo Pro supports virtually all of the wireless connectivity a person could ask for today: Wi-Fi, GPS, quad-band (world) voice and high-speed HSDPA/UMTS data networks (in the U.S., AT&T Wireless is the only nationwide carrier to support this GSM-family high-speed technology).

In my tests, the Treo Pro delivered adequate (though not outstanding) phone call quality. Unlike the iPhone 3G, the Treo Pro has a removable rechargeable battery, which is rated at 1500 mAh.

The Treo Pro’s battery provided four hours, 25 minutes of talk-time in our lab tests, poorer than the average PDA phone we’ve tested recently, but 3G phones tend to have a shorter battery life than non-3G phones.

The Treo Pro is exceptionally small, skinny and light for a business phone, checking in at 2.4 inches wide, 4.5 inches tall and a mere 0.5-inch thick; it weighs 4.7 ounces. The glossy black phone includes both a hardware keyboard and a transflective 320-by-320-pixel touch screen, which looks crisp and bright.

A handy dedicated button on the right side lets you turn Wi-Fi off and on. The unit comes with 256MB of built-in flash ROM and 128MB of RAM, so most users will want to add a microSD card to accommodate more music, images, videos and apps.

The Treo Pro supports expansion cards with up to 32GB of capacity, far more than most people will need (even the iPhone 3G supports only up to 16GB).

The keyboard, in particular, reflects the Centro influence. Though small, the keys have a plastic veneer that helps prevent fingers from sliding about.

I did find the Palm’s button layout confusing at times. I kept tapping the blank area below the screen’s softkeys, which never produced a response. The Palm also got warm rather quickly.

Palm’s home screen provided some welcome tweaks to Windows Mobile. Most notably, an icon in the upper-right corner of the Today screen lets you view all running apps and shut down ones you don’t need.

This addresses an ongoing annoyance with Windows Mobile: It doesn’t automatically clean up after itself, which can drain memory and slow the device down.

Palm provides a standard 3.5mm stereo headset jack and a reasonably good ear-bud headset. In my hands-on experience, the quality of audio and video playback was acceptable. The included 2-megapixel camera was adequate.

Palm preinstalls TeleNav navigation software, but to use it you must pay US $10 a month. In my tests, it worked well, delivering good turn-by-turn voice guidance. The Treo Pro also includes GPS-assist software to help it get fixes faster, plus Google Maps, which can use GPS to show your location.

Google Maps can create driving directions, but it doesn’t provide turn-by-turn voice navigation.

The Treo Pro has plenty of pluses: svelte good looks, bundled GPS software, a standard earphone jack and easy Windows Mobile app shutdown. But the Treo Pro’s heat issue worries me, and its high unlocked price tag could turn off anyone whose corporate IT department isn’t buying.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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