Phone Tech, iphones and the Treo 750v from Vodafone

The new iphone/Applephone looks like a must have. Reviews have been mixed, many drawing on its lack of “business features”, primarily the absence of a full physical keyboard, as a reason why it won’t hit the sales targets. I’d be surprised if that were the case – after all, as someone said to me once, who’d have thought that an MP3 player with no off button would ever be top of the charts? What intrigues me most about the new gadget is when will Apple unbundle the phone features to create a pure ipod with touch screen etc? Numerous reports on the pricing strategy have all disagreed about whether it will be profitable without a kickback from Cingular so perhaps they think Apple will have to ship a good number before they can unbundle. I’d have thought they’d reach a lower unit cost by selling as an ipod without phone features – after all, you don’t need to sign up to a contract, don’t need to cancel an existing contract, don’t have to worry about GSM if you’re not in a GSM area and don’t have to worry about unpredictable data bills from your web surfing or abundant spam email (it still gets to me that spam costs ME money to receive on the usual data package).

For three months I’ve been using the Treo 750v, available on contract only from Vodafone. I guess it was the end of my old contract or something because I didn’t pay for it and I got a better deal on mins/month plus 1000 free texts. I have three (4 if you’re fussy) words to review it: “don’t use it”. It seems amazing to me to take something with so much potential and then just mess it up.

Some context first. For the last two and a half years or so I’ve been a Treo fan, first with the 600 (I know, I was late to the party) and then the 650. Both of these had their flaws – sound quality was poor, crashes were frequent (especially with the 600) – but they also had outstanding features (threaded text messages, awesome speed, great response from the keyboard and, because of the Palm OS, they ran Robert Parker’s Wine Guide – it’s true, I don’t know anything about wine, I get it all from RP). When the 700p launched I wanted that but it didn’t surface in the UK; then the 700w launched and that didn’t appear either. So I was pretty keen to try the 750, figuring it was at least version 2 of a Palm-branded Windows phone and so should have fixed any basic issues and be on its way to being solid. Instead, despite this being Windows Mobile 5, it’s more the Windows Me of mobile phones than the Windows XP.

Some of the problems are hardware related, some are Windows related and some are doubtless a combination of trying to tailor Windows to be more like Palm on a new hardware base. The main flaws are:

– Every 2 or 3 days it switches off the ringer and the buzzer and so when you get a call or a text, there’s no ring. I run my phone in silent about 99% of the time so rely on the vibration to alert me that there’s a call. Irrespective of whether the hard switch on the top is in mute or noisy, sometimes it just doesn’t make a noise or a buzz. In the last week this has got me in a pile of trouble as I’ve missed an important call (and the second one and the third one and the fourth one). I can’t find this mentioned online. The only way to correct this is to take the battery out, wait a bit, and then put the battery in so that it can reboot – the neat little button for rebooting that the 650 had is gone.

– I don’t take pictures with my phone very often but when I do, I usually want to snap something funny that’s right in front of me. One time in two, all I get is a black screen where the camera image should be. Only a reboot solves it. It appears that if the buzzer has stopped working, the camera has stopped too.

– Battery life is always, always less than a day. I’ve set the brightness down, turned off buzzes and beeps for lots of things (including its annoying habit of buzzing to let you know that you’ve missed a call). I use Spinvox direct to my blackberry so don’t get voicemail calls. I’ve taken to carrying a car charger and a USB charger so that I can keep it charged. The phone spends more time connected to a power source than it does dealing with calls.

– Most phones have a set vibration for alerting you when there’s a text. The 750 has a vibration rate that ties into the ringtone you’ve chosen. So if you have a long ring tone, the vibration is long (and you want to see what that does to battery life). There’s no way to set a short buzz with any given ring tone. I’m baffled why these are tied to each other.

– Performance is sloooowwww. I set the “spare” button on the left hand side of the phone to activate the tasks function (there is only one spare button on the 750v – the 650 had several). You have to hold the button in (count 1,2) and then wait (count 3,4,5) before your task list comes up. If you miss a lot of dates in your task list, you’ll find the edit process more cumbersome – select the task, select edit, change the date versus select the date, pick a new one on the 650.

– The 750v has a new memory card – the microSD or something. These are like normal SD cards but about 25% of the size. The good news is that they can fit inside a normal SD card shell and then work in an SD card slot. The bad news is they’re a new format and they’re not cheap. On the upside, they’ve fixed the problem with the 650 where you could accidentally eject the SD card and then lose it.

– Vodafone ships the 750v with its own Vodafone Business email service. This is supposed to emulate (replicate? copy?) the Blackberry service by fetching email from your server without you needing to tell it too, not even on a schedule but when you have new email. It can go 12 hours without clearing email that you’ve already downloaded on your PC or without fetching new email, can lose connection and not gain it again (for no apparent reason) and so not send any mail you send and has, a few times, completely lost email. When it works, it’s great, it’s not Blackberry but it is far better than Versamail which ships with the 650 (and all other Palm-based Treo phones). The software has an update available, which I’ve downloaded, but every time I try and install it, I get a message that it’s an invalid file type.

– One of the single best things about the old Treos was, if you replaced your phone or upgraded to a new one, it would sync everything to the new phone – contacts, addresses, applications and, especially, text messages. Moving from Palm to Windows you lose this and, as far as I can tell, Activesync doesn’t back up text messages either.

– Lastly, and this might be just me, when I first got the phone it had a digital clock on the menu bar at the top of the screen. One day this switched to an analogue clock – which is about 0.4cm across. It’s completely unreadable. I would have thought that by clicking the clock (click clock?) you could change it back. Nope. Or by going to the control panel and fiddling with the Time application? Nope. I cannot find any way, despite having gone through every option, of resetting it. I’ve tried google – you just try and phrase a search term that tells you how to switch from analogue to digital! So if someone knows how to do that, I’d be pleased to know.

On the upside, I love that it kept threaded text – that by itself is a good reason to own a Treo (but not a Windows Treo). I like the keyboard, although I don’t think it’s as good as the new Treo 680 (which is Palm based). Sound quality is better than the 650 (which had an annoying hiss) and that’s a good enough reason to change from the 650 if everything else was equal (which it isn’t).

It’s time for a new phone and, with the iphone at least 6 months away, I just might have to go with a Treo 680. And then I can put my Parker Wine Guide back on it.

2 thoughts on “Phone Tech, iphones and the Treo 750v from Vodafone

  1. Just a comment on the analog/digital phone thing – you can change from one to the other by clicking and holding the stylus on the clock icon. You\’ll then get a menu allowing you to switch from one to the other. Oh and we\’ve had major battery life issues with our 750v\’s – we improved things a lot by forcing the use of GPRS for data connections instead of 3G – doubles battery life (at least).hth!

  2. On a side note, the reset button is just below the mini SD card slot, after you open the hatch. That way you don\’t have to keep pulling out the battery 😉

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