- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

To hear some critics tell it, Palm Inc. has become the John F. Kerry of handheld computer makers: Abandoning its own, eponymous operating software for Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 5.0, they suggest, was like being for the Palm OS before they voted against it.

That’s not totally true: Palm assures it will keep working on the Palm OS and bringing out new devices that use the software.

Thus the arrival last week of Palm’s Treo 700w phone/personal-digital-assistant combo is a watershed of sorts, but not yet a Waterloo. The Treo 700w is a capable device, occasionally frustrating, but not so terrible as to scare off many users. It’s designed, Palm admits, to appeal to corporate buyers who will accept only Microsoft-compatible products.

The size and layout are surprisingly similar to Palm’s latest Treos, such as the 650. There are some Windows Mobile-specific buttons, but if you’ve used the earlier model, you can pick up with the 700w quickly. The new Treo is designed to work on Verizon’s high-speed wireless network, and this it does well. E-mails zip back and forth, while Internet Web pages load superfast. A “desktop” viewing option will give you a lifelike Internet experience, albeit in quadrants you will have to maneuver around with the 240-by-240-pixel screen. There’s no landscape viewing option, sad to say.

E-mail comes via a handheld version of Microsoft Outlook, and it works reasonably well. I could set up, though not rename, separate accounts, and long messages could be retrieved one at a time. Sending e-mail worked well, too, as did e-mailing photos — the 700w has a very nice 1.3 megapixel camera built in.

Missing are the standard Palm applications, but the Windows Mobile equivalents are pretty good. The pocket version of Excel comes in handy if you are playing around with spreadsheets and number crunching. Ditto for the mobilized Microsoft Word, although even the Treo 700’s nice built-in keyboard isn’t a substitute for the real thing when it comes to writing more than a very short e-mail message.

Phone dialing can be summoned by typing the name, or even initials, of a contact — numbers pop up for your selection. Speed dial can be done by name, or even by selecting a picture from the main screen.

What’s not to like? It’s not the Palm OS, and that will disappoint some people. You can’t sync the 700w with Macintosh computers yet. The Verizon phone is great in New York but not in New Delhi — for global use, a Treo that supports the GSM phone system is required.

Still, Palm deserves respect for making an effort. Windows Mobile still has some growing to do as a handheld operating system, and perhaps Palm can help nudge this along. The Treo 700w, priced at $399 with a service plan from Verizon, isn’t perhaps as great as one might hope, but it isn’t as ghastly as some suggest.

Palm does, however, deserve even more praise for a little accessory launched alongside the new Treo: the $199 TripKit, which takes $300 worth of Treo accessories — leather holster, Bluetooth headset, travel and car chargers, an extra battery and a stylus/pen combo — and rolls them up, literally, in a nice leather case. Road warriors will sing hosannas over this one: It’s stylish and practical. It supports the Treo 650 and 700w; if you have either phone, it’s worth checking out.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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