TECH & YOU PODCAST
Back in January, Palm (PALM ) surprised, and even offended, some of its most dedicated customers. It brought out its latest and greatest hardware, the Treo 700w, based on Microsoft's (MSFT ) Windows Mobile software. Palm has now atoned for this with the introduction of the Treo 700p. It runs Palm software, which Palm loyalists, myself included, find much easier to use.
But even as Palm is returning to its roots, it is also offering users something new. The 700p ($399 with a two-year contract with Sprint (S ) or Verizon (VZ ) Wireless) delivers wireless broadband to your laptop.
This idea isn't exactly shocking. Both Sprint and Verizon offer customers a number of phones, including the 700w and other Windows Mobile products, that run on their new high-speed data networks. It's technically simple to connect these phones to a laptop so that your computer, and not just your handheld, has Internet access anywhere you have coverage. But until now, the carriers, unsure of how to price the service and nervous about overloading their systems, have barred this use. With the newest Treo, both Verizon and Sprint (whose Treo I tested) are encouraging subscribers to use the 700p as a high-speed modem for laptops.
The speedy EV-DO wireless networks (called BroadbandAccess by Verizon and Mobile Broadband by Sprint) offer downloads at up to 500 kilobits per second. Even in locations where the networks aren't available, you still get decent dial-up speeds. Of course, you do have to pay extra for broadband. The cheapest Sprint voice plan with unlimited handheld data costs $50 a month, and adding unlimited use of the Treo as a modem for a laptop costs another $50. Verizon charges at least $80 for a voice and data plan, plus $15 for unlimited laptop data.
GETTING THE TREO TO TALK TO YOUR laptop requires little more than installing some software on the computer. Then, if you're on a Windows machine, you connect the Treo with the sync cable. Once hooked up, the laptop uses the Treo as though it were an internal wireless modem. With some laptops, you can skip the cable and make the connection using Bluetooth instead. But on a PC, that requires penetrating the considerable mysteries of Windows Bluetooth, and it can also cut your connection speed. (Macs don't offer the cable option. Fortunately, setting up Bluetooth is much easier on a Mac.)
The hardware of the 700p is almost identical to the Windows-based model: the same Intel (INTC ) processor, 60 megabytes of usable memory, a 1.3 megapixel camera, and even the same keyboard, though some keys have different functions. One important improvement is a 33% increase in screen resolution, which is very nice for viewing photos or videos.
The operation of the 700p will be familiar to anyone who has used a Treo 600 or 650, since the programs and functions are essentially the same. The device comes with Documents To Go software that lets you view and edit Microsoft Office files. But in one small way, the 700p is actually a step backward from the 650: The older model had all of the navigation keys clustered at the top of the keyboard. When Palm embraced Windows on the 700w, the Menu key annoyingly ended up at the bottom right of the keyboard, and Palm failed to rectify this with the 700p.
The 700p gives Palm's software a new lease on life, though its long-term future remains clouded. Networking features in particular are primitive compared with what's available with Windows Mobile, and the next generation of products, which will be expected to switch freely between Wi-Fi and cell-type networks, may be a real challenge for Palm. The new owner of the Palm operating system, a Japanese company called Access, is attempting a complete rewrite based on Linux, but it is not clear how long this will take. For now, the great thing about having the 700w or the 700p is that consumers can pick the software of their choice on an excellent piece of hardware.
For past columns and online-only reviews, go to Tech Maven at www.businessweek.com/technology/wildstrom.htm