Palm's Treo 650 goes global

Palm's Treo 650 is now available in a GSM version that can be used all over the world.
Palm's Treo 650 is now available in a GSM version that can be used all over the world.PalmOne

If you’re considering the purchase of a smartphone the Treo has to be near the top of your shortlist. That’s especially true today, because PalmOne has announced their GSM Treo 650 world phone and a U.S. carrier to handle the service.

If you’re familiar with the Treo line of phones (originally designed by Handspring) the newest 650 is easy to figure out. Its shape is very familiar. Overall, it's a little larger (4.4 by 2.3 by 0.9 in.; 6.3 ounces) than Audiovox’s tiny Windows Mobile smartphone that I’ve been testing – but the Treo also has a small, backlit keyboard on the bottom.

The new Treo 650 is a quad-band world phone that uses the GSM system for voice, GPRS for data and the emerging EDGE standard (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) for high-speed data.  While not as fast as some of the new data services used on CDMA/1xRTT networks (Verizon and Sprint), EDGE is capable of 100-130 Kbps download speeds (with bursts up to 200Kbps) and seems very speedy on the 650.

Inside the handset lives a speedy 312 MHz Intel PXA270 processor, Palm’s 5.4 operating system, a removable, rechargeable lithium-ion battery (6 hours talk, 300 hours standby), VGA camera, Bluetooth and infrared connectivity, MMS/SD memory card slot, an improved 320 by 320 color display, speakerphone and lots more.

Early adapters complained about the 650’s file handling speed when the CDMA version hit the market a few months ago.  Because Palm changed the way the 650 deals with information, the handset has a maximum of 23 MB of storage available – less than in the older 600. 

Palm has solved the problem by offering Treo 650 owners a free 64 MB memory card. The new GSM 650 will also come with a free memory card. I must report, though, that even though no extra memory came with my review sample, my 650 suffered none of the earlier reported problems.

As a matter of fact, for the short time I’ve been using it, the Treo 650 has been terrific. Phone service via the Cingular network has been exemplary. Surfing the Web via Palm’s browser is among the fastest I’ve ever encountered on a cell phone. The VGA camera takes good-looking pictures and video files plus text and picture messaging. MP3s played on the built-in Real Player and Office documents opened as promised using Documents to Go.

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to fully test Palm’s e-mail capabilities. The Treo 650 ships with their VersaMail software which allows you to download your e-mail wirelessly or by synchronizing with your desktop (Windows or Mac). VersaMail has built-in support for Microsoft Exchange Server ActiveSync which means you can synchronize your corporate mail and calendar directly with Exchange 2003.  Unfortunately, my newsroom isn't set up to use those features -- so, as with the Audiovox’s smartphone, I’ll have to take their word for it.

(Microsoft and NBC are partners in MSNBC.)

Unlike the Audiovox, however, the Treo is pricey. The Treo 650 is available for ordering on the PalmOne Website for $449 with a two-year Cingular service contract — or for $549 without wireless service.  Depending on how and where you use your phone, voice and data plans will run $55 a month and higher.

Overall, the Treo 650 is a very smart smartphone. Everything I asked it to do was accomplished quickly and flawlessly. What you can’t tell from a picture is just how nice this phone looks in person and feels in your hand.  It’s beautifully designed and made.  When you begin to use it — play with the features — you'll understand that this is a precision instrument worthy of your attention.   Highly recommended.