Over the years I’ve worked on this site there’s been a lot of changes. Smartphones were once quite prolific, and when I say “Smartphone” I mean those Windows phones WITHOUT a touch screen. The Palm 500 is such a phone and, for someone who is now probably more familiar with touch-screen devices, it’ll be an interesting experience to review one again.
Touch screen phones have perhaps moved forward faster thanks to devices like the HTC Touch Dual and HTC Diamond. However, whilst the keyboard-less experience may be beneficial to some, others will prefer a QWERTY messaging device like this.
To begin with we thought a video overview was in order, so have a look at the clip below if you want to see the Palm Treo 500 in the flesh…
Instantly the device has an extremely well-built feel to it. It feels good in the hand and has study, responsive buttons along with a widescreen 320×240 screen. You can tell straight out of the box that the phone is well built.
Inside, the specs are as follows…
CPU – 416 MHz Marvell PXA270 processor
Operating System – Windows Mobile 6.0 Standard
Memory – 256Mb memory (microSD slot under the battery for extra storage)
Camera – 2 megapixel camera
Screen – 320×240 pixel; 65k-color; transflective back-lit
Connectivity – Bluetooth A2DP, miniUSB and 2.5mm audio jack
Network – Tri-band GSM/GPRS. Single-band UMTS (3G @ 2100)
So, the Palm Treo 500 doesn’t have the high-end specifications found on other phones, but we shouldn’t discount it because of that.
The main screen is a 320×240 widescreen. Although this is fairly standard, I did find that the homescreen was a little cluttered. The cool Vodafone GUI is missing on this loan unit, however it would lift the experience somewhat and I’m sorry that I couldn’t check it out. The o2 version is available here in the UK, although it remains to be seen whether the flashy navigation system has made the transition to the o2 network.
The phone itself is a good size and handles well. On the left side you can see the volume up / down controls and a button which shoots you into Internet Explorer when held down.
The bottom has a 2.5mm audio port – something that will no doubt upset some users. The standard 3.5mm port is craved by most, whilst others will be familiar with the earphones that simply fit directly into the miniUSB port. The microphone is here too, whilst the miniUSB port allows charging and synchronization with your computer. Emails, contacts and appointments will be automatically synchronized with your phone via the included ActiveSync.
The right side of the phone is completely bare. Not one button, switch or wheel. Trademark Treo tweaks such as the threaded messaging system or ringer switch are missing.
The top has a rather fiddly sunken power button, although it’s probably easier to hit the “drop call” key, which appears to wake the device from it’s standby mode and lets you unlock the handset. This in itself is a little tricky, especially as you have to then press the left soft key and then “*” to access the phone – the star key on this handset is tucked away on the lower left, so pressing it with your left hand in a “one handed” fashion takes a certain degree of dexterity.
addition the new, larger, oval-shaped Pickup and Hangup buttons are painted with much brighter colours that stand out very distinctively, even when not backlit.
The navigation pad is nice and easy to use, with the outer edge of it standing proud of the unit a little way with the action button being flush. The large call / drop keys are always a welcome site (small ones are never good when you’re in a hurry), whilst the well-sized back / home and softkeys are easy to locate and show up well on the metallic background.
The QWERTY thumb-board / keypad / keyboard (whatever you wish to call it) has fairly small keys with a rounded design.
The camera doesn’t have a flash an is a 2 megapixel resolution. There’s no “stub” coming from the back of the phone to protect the lens from chips or scratches, so you may soon find a mark on the lens you weren’t expecting. It was also more than a little difficult to actually access the camera application and take a photo – no dedicated camera button or even a “Camera” shortcut direct from the phone menu.
Under the battery is the microSD slot. Many won’t be keen on removing the battery to simply add storage, but this layout is appearing on other phones too.
As mentioned earlier we’ve got ourselves a fairly standard Treo 500v without the flashy GUI that you’ve probably seen on Vodafone handsets. Inside you’ve got Windows Mobile Standard – this is the much maligned non-touch version which we’ve perhaps seen less and less of in recent years.
Inside there’s a 416Mhz CPU, although it at times it can appear to struggle for no real reason. This was noticeable more when taking photos, although I must confess that the 2 megapixel camera created rather splendid results compared to other handsets with similar resolution shooters.
Windows Live, Google Maps, Messenger and the Office Mobile suite are all included, although the latter will only let you edit files, so ensure you create a blank document and transfer it to the phone if you want to write something new on the move.
The menu system seemed a little confusing for me. Instead of pressing a number to get to your favourite item in the menu, each item is instead assigned a letter. This can be a little confusing when you’re looking for the letter “B” or “C” when it may just be easier to press “1” or “2”, however you can at least scroll down the menu list and choose that way.. perhaps easier.
Internet Explorer, which includes several view modes and font sizes, is included. You may struggle a bit with this if you’ve not got 3G coverage, as the alternative is GPRS. There’s no WiFi on board, plus the keyboard can take a little getting used to. A few minutes of practice will have you typing pretty easily though.
The Pictures and Videos application will show you all the images you’ve snapped on the camera and stored on the phone / storage card, although it’s not as fancy as the gallery application on HTC units. A File Explorer is on board too, so you can easily Bluetooth your files to printers or colleagues – you can also find a PDF viewer and a nice little application to switch your network settings (at least, in this handset). This allowed me to insert different SIM cards and get MMS / GPRS settings added quickly.
The Internet Sharing option is very useful, especially if you’ve got a good data plan. It’ll let you hook your laptop into the phone and use it as a 3G modem – getting 3G data speeds for your laptop where-ever you may go.
The Speed Dial facility gives a good short-cut into all of these applications, so you can assign certain keys to set programs or tools. There’s also the ability to change your ringtones, message tones, alarm tones and more using MP3 and WAV files from your storage card or on-board storage. You can also add your own backdrops and change the homescreen to your liking. For example I could take a picture and make this my new backdrop.
As we mentioned earlier this phone will synchronise your contacts, emails and appointments. You can connect to an Exchange server and get instant emails or hook up to your POP3 server should you wish, plus you can record voice notes and add them into emails if you don’t have time to type something out.
This camera produced pretty decent results. The software that controls the camera isn’t anything to write home about though. I couldn’t turn off the shutter noise easily and there wasn’t a vast array of camera settings to choose from.
Pictures came out rather well, and I must admit that internal
shots probably faired better than HTC handsets. Shots involving moving obhects
were more hit and miss due to the shutter speed, but overall it’s a nice camera.
You can record video too in 320×240. Below you can find some unedited shots
which can be seen by clicking on these thumbnails.
Overall this phone left me a little confused. Given the history of Palm and how impressed we were with the Treo 750, I was slightly disappointed by the 500. It’s almost as if Palm didn’t put any “feeling” into this one. Everything is just “OK” – the keyboard is fine, the screen is ok, the OS was ok, but nothing really sparkled. A lack of camera button, the standard specs and standard performance means that this phone is just an “OK” phone and not a brilliant one. I did like the build quality and the camera took good shots considering it was a 2 megapixel job.
I may be basing some of my opinion on the whole “standardness” of the OS too. This review unit lacked the fancy GUI shown in the Vodafone version and there was no Palm threaded messaging either – a bit of a let-down. The only thing I could find that had been added by Palm was a ringtone called “Treo”. We’re at a point now where shipping a phone with the standard Windows Mobile OS is simply not good enough. Phone manufacturers must work to integrate the OS seamlessly into the hardware through extra graphical additions or controls. Palm did this well on the 750 and everything gelled perfectly. Here though it’s like two separate phones in one unit.
Links – Palm 500 (Official Site) – Palm Treo 500 @ o2.co.uk – Palm Treo 500 @ Vodafone UK
NOTE – The Vodafone version has an enhanced graphical interface and navigation system. Learn more about it here!