PalmOne Launches ‘Smarter’ Treo 650

PalmOne officially launched its latest high-end smartphone Treo 650.

While PalmOne has added an MP3 player and Bluetooth support, the goal with this release was to improve upon a good thing, said Greg Shirai, director of product marketing for the Milpitas, Calif.-based Palm spin-off.

“I think we’ve listened,” Shirai said. Users were generally quite happy with the smartphone, he said, but they did have a wish list: a better camera, higher-resolution display, Bluetooth and a removable battery. PalmOne added those, along with some enhancements to the software and tweaks to the hardware.

“It’s a better Treo 600,” he said.

The new device retains the Treo form factor, with a color screen atop a mini QWERTY keyboard. The display is 320 by 320 pixels for greater clarity and resolution. The keyboard has been arranged in a slight “smile,” allowing for slightly larger and flatter keys with larger symbols on them. The two most-used buttons, Menu and Launcher, were moved above the keyboard on either side of the navigation control, while Send and End buttons have been added.

“Now, all the keys are within thumb reach,” Shirai said.

The 650 has a removable battery, so that users can pack two batteries instead of the charger. More important, Flash memory storage not only accommodates battery switching, but ensures that data won’t be lost if the charge is.

The camera includes a 2X digital zoom and takes better pictures in low-light situations. There’s a mirror for snapping self-portraits. PalmOne improved the camera interface for greater usability and to support the new zoom function.

While Bluetooth hasn’t taken off in the States as it has in Europe, its wireless connectivity to peripherals will become more important, Shirai said, as high-end auto makers install Bluetooth in “smart cars” that, among other features, allow drivers to cradle the mobile phone and make hands-free telephone calls while driving.

One hardware change may not be so popular with Treo fanatics eager to upgrade. The cable connector has been changed to match that used by the Tungsten line; therefore, accessories purchased for use with the Treo 600 won’t fit.

Shirai said the company wanted to standardize the part across the product lines, as well as to use a more modern connector. “The older connector was about four years old, and it was out of spec.” Worse, the old connector doesn’t support audio out, making it incompatible with those smart cars.

To support and encourage use of the 650’s multimedia capabilities, a new messaging application, developed by PalmOne, combines multimedia and text messaging, making it easy to include audio, photos and short video clips in messages from within one interface.

A new e-mail application, VersaMail, supports Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, IMAP and POP. The 600 supports only IMAP.

“We now support Exchange Server out of the box,” Shirai said. “If your IT department has turned on Exchange 2003, you can now wirelessly synch your calendar and e-mail.” Thanks to the agreement with Microsoft, Shirai said that the 650 now supports most consumer and enterprise e-mail applications.

An interoperability deal between PalmSource and Research in Motion will complete the picture. “We are very eager for PalmSource to finish RIM,” Shirai said, “because this is the ideal platform for their e-mail. When we have that, we feel that across the board we will have the most comprehensive choices.”

While PalmOne is known as the hardware spin-off from the company formerly known as Palm, in fact, the company designs much of the software for its products, which include the budget Zire line of PDAs, the professional-grade Tungsten and the Treo smartphone series. PalmOne also includes Handspring, acquired by Palm in 2003. PalmSource, the other spin-off from Palm, maintains the Palm operating systems and works with third-party developers.

“Most of our engineers are software engineers,” Shirai said. “All the telephony libraries, the carrier customization and all the carrier-specific applications were originally handled by Handspring and now by PalmOne. On the wireless side, we are ahead of what PalmSource has developed.”

The Treo 650 will first become available through wireless carriers. Although PalmOne hasn’t disclosed which telos will offer the 650, it will be released in two flavors: a CDMA/1XRTT dual-band radio that can be used over the Verizon and Sprint networks, and a quad-band GSM with EDGE support, the GPRS protocols used by AT&T, Cingular and T-Mobile.

Shirai said that carriers should announce the availability of the 650 in the next few weeks, with the product actually available before the holiday shopping season.

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