- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2006

When Palm Inc. takes a big swing, it usually connects. I can’t remember the last time the company whiffed.

Their latest out-of-the-park achievement, available now, is the Treo 680, a mobile phone that seems to defy gravity, if not expectations. Gone is the nubby antenna; instead, there’s a smooth shape and no “handle,” as some users call it.

Memory available to users is double: 64 megabytes versus 32 MB for the Treo 650. Battery life seems longer, and you can, with the appropriate data plan from your carrier, use this as a wireless Bluetooth modem for your computer.

This is a GSM/GPRS phone, which means it can be used overseas, subject to your carrier’s plans or the purchase of an appropriate “SIM” card for your phone from another carrier.

The Treo 680’s system for mounting and using SIM cards, by the way, shows a fair amount of promise: the holder is secure and unlikely to see the kind of card displacement I’ve observed in other phones.

Palm has also updated the placement of a SecureDigital or SD card for added memory. It’s now behind a tiny door on the side of the phone, making it far less likely to fall out or become lost. This one change helps elevate the new phone to a higher plane; keeping such cards in place can be very important.

The Treo 680 also comes in four colors, probably for the fashion conscious, according to the www.palm.com/us Web site, where data about the phone can be obtained.

Right now, Cingular Wireless is offering the device for $199, depending on service plan selected. An “unlocked” version of the phone — meaning you don’t have to sign up for a new service deal, is $399.

What else is there to like about the phone? In my book, a lot: It retains the ease of use and more-than-decent keypad of the earlier Treo phones.

Palm’s operating software is, in my view, a superior mobile phone platform to Windows Mobile, and the Treo 680’s use of the Palm OS offers users a phone that’s easy to learn, and easy to keep using. There have been a few tweaks to the interface, all of which make using the phone less taxing.

A voice-dialing option remains available, and the Bluetooth connection can work with a hands-free device to make calling while driving a bit easier and safer.

The 320- by 320-pixel TFT display screen is bright and easy to read, even outdoors. Sound quality is impressive, and if you plug in the right headphones, your multimedia will come out in stereo, as will happen when you dock the Treo 680 with the Altec Lansing InMotion mobile speaker system, sold separately.

The camera is described as being “VGA” in quality, but the images I took were in resolutions of 72 dots-per-inch and thus suitable for a Web page more than a magazine page.

However, if I had to document a car accident, or show someone a ceiling fan at Home Depot, I suppose it would be more than adequate.

In short, there’s very little not to like with the Treo 680, especially because it costs $100 less than the 650 with more memory, a better (if not perfect) camera, and no “stub.” Would I want one as a holiday gift?

You bet!

Read Mark Kellner’s Technology blog at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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