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  1.    #1  
    Personal Round-Robin

    Palm VIIx—Treo 270—Treo 600-Treo 650—Treo 680—Nokia E 63—iPhone 4
    Blackberry 8830 WE-9630-9650



    With action on these boards growing less and less each day, I thought I would finally post this summary of my personal smart phone history as a kind of eulogy to the Palm OS, the innovations that Handspring and Palm brought to the smart phone market, and a cautionary tale of bad management decisions.

    My first handheld with wireless capability was the Palm VIIx. I got this in early 1999 when we were spending out some end of the year budget money. My boss got a Palm IIIC, one of the first color screen PDAs, but I opted for the VIIx . The VIIx had a grand total of 8 MB of memory, black and white screen, used Graffiti for input, ran on regular batteries, and connected using a proprietary network call Palm Net. Palm Net was extremely slow (I think it was measured in characters per second) and although not a smart phone, the VIIx showed several features that would come to define that term. It did allow you to access your e-mail, although it couldn’t render any HTML, which was just starting to become popular in written e-mail. To get around that, I used a product called ThinAir, which used a proxy server to strip HTML code and attachments out, to compensate for the slow connection speed. To access the internet, initially the VIIx used what was called “web clipping”. Each web site was given a small program which contained the fixed information (like graphics) and only the changing data was downloaded (say temperatures on a weather chart). Ironically, now that I have an iPhone, I realize that many of the “apps” are just web clipping upgraded. You could also use a program called AvantGo which would download websites when you synched with your computer. An early version of Documents to Go, which only synched with a computer, and a portable hard connect keypad, gave a rudimentary word processing capability. It all sounds primitive at this time, but on 9/11, I was on a trip. All cell phone circuits were busy, calling anyone in NY or Washington was impossible, even on a land line, but I was able to communicate by e-mail using the Palm VIIx. I was able to get home using a rental car and hotel reservations made with VIIx, which showed the future for smartphones in travel nightmares. Towards the end of the Palm VIIx, Palm introduced an upgraded program that you let surf the web directly (and very slowly) through a proxy server. Interestingly enough, that upgrade also allowed you to download new programs and upgrade existing programs wirelessly. That feature would also reappear years later on the iPhone in much upgraded form

    I came to buy my first true smart phone, the Handspring Treo 270, as a work around for some stupid company rules. I traveled overseas frequently and on one trip in 2002 I had a minor family emergency. Staying in touch using the hotel phone was difficult and I came back determined to get a GSM phone. Unfortunately, my company only issued phones from Verizon or Nextel, which did not work overseas (and still don’t). However, since “smart phone” was not a known term to the company bureaucrats; I was able to purchase a Treo 270 by declaring it to be a PDA. The 270 had a color screen, physical keyboard, 16 MB of memory, a sealed battery (back again on the iPhone), and two bands, one for the US and one for overseas. You could surf the web through a program called Blazer , but it was slow, since it originally used what was called CSPD (0 G service). However, the Treo 270 showed most of the features we have come to associate with a smart phone. It could do real e-mails with attachments (but not HTML). I could choose from multiple e-mail programs (I used snapper mail). You could open and read documents (but not edit without synching). Over the lifetime of the Treo 270, both Quick Office and Documents-to-Go improved their editing capabilities. Quick Office even allowed you to e-mail an attachment to a server, which converted it to a form you could edit, then e-mail it back to another server, which re-converted it back to native format for e-mailing. There was a dedicated external keyboard that could be purchased, which made taking notes and editing documents easy. Shortly after its introduction, the 270 firmware was upgraded to GPRS connection speeds (1 G), which actually made surfing and e-mail seem tolerable. Interestingly, you could if you wanted, install web-clipping on the 270. This sped things up, but support for this mechanism was ending and only a few legacy sites (like the NY times) still supported it. The flip case design had its advantages and disadvantages. The cover kept the screen from fingerprints, but since the speaker was in the cover (which could get loosened up), the phone could have some real problems. However, the two biggest drawbacks of the 270 were a sealed battery and fixed memory. Both features would be addressed in the next model (the last from Handspring) and both would return in the iPhone.

    The Treo 600 set the standard for smartphones until the arrival of the iPhone. With its replaceable battery , memory card slot, and basic camera all the functions of the smart phone were now complete. It was now possible to actually do real work on documents, not just view them and make small changes. Eventually, you could even open and edit in native format for many programs (including WordPerfect at one time). More importantly, you could now tether to your laptop. This wasn’t fast (it was still GPRS) but T-mobile offered a proxy server (called Get more speed) that made web surfing a little less painful. It was also possible to have a complete audio visual experience with movies, internet radio, and music. The ecosystem that developed around the 600 was amazing. There were multiple programs you could choose from for just about anything you wanted to do, with estimates in the tens of thousands for number of programs available. A portable keyboard that plugged into the dedicated connector made typing and editing on the 600 easy and a program that sent documents to be printed made the 600 a viable alternative to a laptop for short trips. The camera, allow crude by today’s standards, was at least useful for a quick snap. All things considered, this was truly a quantum step up from the Treo 270 and became the form factor for most smartphones.

    Unfortunately, the Treo 600 was also the end of true innovation at Handspring and Palm. Palm purchased Handspring while the successor model, the Treo 650 was finishing development. The Treo 650 was a very small step up from the Treo 600: higher resolution screen and better camera, some better placement for the SIM card and memory card, but nothing as impressive as the change from the 270 to 600. Palm also made a fatal error in changing the connector from the solid (and unique) one designed by Motorola and used in the earlier Treos to the standard Palm PDA connector, which was really too loose to work with the abuse a cell phone took. Palm also dropped the hard wired keyboard. I don’t know how many IR and Bluetooth keyboards I went through but none of them worked as well as the hardwired ones. The separation of Palm into two companies, one for hardware and one for software, also proved fatal, as others have mentioned. PalmSource (the software spin off ) was either unable or unwilling to make the investment needed to improve the operating system. Program software development started to slow down and eventually stopped. There were only so many additional features that the developers could add since the operating system was now frozen somewhere in 2003. The same thing happened on the hardware side. Sure, there were the 680,700 p,and Centro, but functionally none of these really did anything that a Treo 600 or 650 didn’t already do. Edge connectivity was also eventually added, as was Microsoft Active Sync for a short while. Palm was now dying.

    Palm tried to work around the now static OS by building Windows phones, but the Windows operating system was just too cranky and the number of programs available too small to really attract a large number of users. The Windows phones did have at least one function you could not get on a Palm OS phone: wireless connectivity. Palm OS only permitted the phone to have either a cell connection or a wireless connection, but not both easily. Treo central users figured out how to do by swapping out ROMs, but this was not practical for every day usage.


    My Treo 650 soldiered on till 2009 and I would probably have continued to use it as my primary phone had it not been fried when a charger failed catastrophically one night. I tried to replace it with a Treo 680 from e-bay (Palm at that time had not yet released the Pre and the Treo Pro, while a very nice machine, was already being orphaned by Palm). Of course it was a grey market machine and did not work well (it took three tries to get one that worked at all. Even then I had to consult the boards on how to flash the ROM to get it to work in the US on ATT). Reluctantly, I concluded I had to try something besides Palm, but I was not sure what to do.

    My employer had been providing us with Blackberry 8830 WE phones for awhile when this occurred. The BB was fine for push e-mail and calendar functions, but was really poor compared to the Treo 650 for any other function. Just changing the SIM and memory card was a total pain (no swapping movies and music in this phone). Web surfing, document editing, and even simple note taking were harder. No wireless connection, but it did have GPS which made Google maps more functional. We eventually upgraded to the 9630 and fairly quickly to the 9650, which finally added wireless. None of them worked well on anything except e-mail and calendar, although the 9650 was a little better on the multi-media experience, being able to stream radio and even tv acceptably.

    Based on that BB experience, I decided I did not want to buy one as a personal phone. I finally decided on an unlocked Nokia E63. Hardware wise, this phone was like an improved 650. The keyboard was set up well for e-mail, the headphone jack was a standard 3.5 mm (no adapter needed), micro-sd card that is easily swapped out, and a camera with a flash (that doubled as a flashlight by holding the space bar). The sync was through a micro-usb, although charging required a special plug. QuickOffice was preloaded, the browser was a version of Mini-Opera, and the Core Media Player was available in the Symbian operating system. Microsoft ActiveSync handles the e-mail and calendar. The phone could manually be switched from wireless to cell (with a 3G) connection. Overall, in terms of hardware, and pre-loaded software, this was a good follow up to my Treo 650. The main problem was the Symbian software, which was years behind the Palm OS in terms of user ergonomics. No doubt because Symbian is used in a wide variety of cell phones, many without key boards, to get anything done requires you to go through an almost endless list of menus and submenus. I really missed being able to get to my e-mail inbox in one button push (it took three pushes to do it on the E63). Editing documents was essentially impossible (you miss a stylus when it’s not there). Ironically, Nokia has recognized the limitations of Symbian and has now formed a partnership with Microsoft to use Windows. I have no experience with Windows 7 for smart phones, but I hope Nokia’s experience on this path turns out better than Palm’s.

    Last fall, my wife’s Treo 680 finally started to show its age. It could no longer retrieve e-mail from her university’s server, simply because none of the e-mail clients available for Palm OS could work with the upgrades in the server software. I knew Symbian was not for her (it was barely acceptable to me with all the sub-menus to deal with) and Blackberry was also out (she hated the track ball). That left the Palm Pre, an Android phone, and the iPhone 4. The iPhone 4 won out mainly because our 9 year old daughter wanted an iPod touch and I did not want to deal with multiple charger cables in the house. We also actually like ATT. The facetime application is wonderful on business trips. Overall, though, the iPhone really does not do anything the Treo 600 couldn’t do, with the exception of the wireless capability. I have to say that the video experience on the iPhone is tremendous compared to the Treo, but that is really in terms of quality because of the bigger/sharper screen. The e-mail, with ActivSync, is also very good, especially in handling html and attachments. In fact, the iPhone has pretty much replaced my company supplied BB in that function. Viewing documents is very good; editing documents is next to impossible. In that respect, the iPhone can not replace my laptop like the Treo 600 could for short trips. There may be hundreds of thousands of apps, but that number is clearly inflated by multiple versions of the same app (How many versions of Angry Birds can you buy?) and the fact that many of the apps are just “web clipping” of mobile web sites. I do enjoy using the iPhone, which is something I can not say for any of the BBs or the Nokia. But I can’t help wondering what Handspring might be producing right now if it had not been bought out by Palm and if the Palm had never been split into two companies.
  2. #2  
    Nice Writeup

    Would have been more complete if you actually used a pre or pixi and used that in the comparison!
  3. #3  
    So basically you started with Palm Treo, upgraded up the line with Palm, and now using an iphone 4.

    Ditto..
  4. #4  
    Quote Originally Posted by UntidyGuy View Post
    You joined this forum in 2004. You've had a total of twelve posts - a little more than one per year. The last Palm you used was launched in 2006.

    You're like Harper Lee, Ralph Ellison, or Margret Mitchell - they each only wrote one great novel during their lifetime. I can't imagine what you will have to say in 2017.
    Untidy-

    That might have been the funniest post you ever made!

    To the OP-

    Anyway, that's an interesting journey through the Palm products.

    I hate to say it, but the Palm mentality and culture is gone... if you aren't hooked into WebOS by now, there are probably a ton of other options available for you today to consider, from iOS to any of the Android implementations, Meego, Windows Mobile 7, and the BB.

    One of them is sure to get the predomination of preferences for you, if you try each of them out.
    "The more I learn, the more I realize just how little I really do know!" -Albert Einstein

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