Latest Palm Treo has Big Shoes to Fill

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New doesn't always mean improved, as some users are discovering of the Treo 700w from Palm, Inc., the winner of the handheld devices category in the Datamation Product of the Year 2006 awards.

The 700w, which succeeds the wildly popular 650, received twice as many votes as the second-place winner, iPaq hx2790 from Hewlett-Packard Co.

Yet, users are relatively underwhelmed by the 700w, which is the first Treo smartphone to run the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system. It also is the first Treo smartphone to take advantage of Verizon Wireless' BroadbandAccess service on its EV-DO network.

An avid user of the Treo 650, Justin Hectus, director of information at Keesal, Young & Logan, a law firm based in both San Francisco and Long Beach, Calif., began testing the 700w about a month ago. Hectus was interested in upgrading at the firm because of the potential cost savings of not having to pay a licensing fee for GoodLink technology, software that runs on the 650 that wirelessly synchronizes all Microsoft Exchange email folders.

''The 700w bypasses any third-party software and integrates with our Exchange 2003 server, so we get email directly without having to have middleware involved,'' Hectus explains.

From a personal perspective, he also likes the 700w's integration between the camera and email functions. Hectus also likes the integration with Microsoft Hotmail and Instant Messaging. ''I use the terminal services feature that allows you to log in to your servers remotely. I once had to make a change to a web server that needed to be made immediately from the road and that was kind of cool.''

But for work purposes, Hectus says synchronization is much slower on the 700w. ''I think it's a pulling instead of a push email,'' he adds. Whereas with the GoodLink technology, emails were downloaded in real time, Hectus now notices a group of emails downloading every couple of minutes.

''With GoodLink, the moment an email hits my office, it's immediately pushed out to my [650] device whether I'm in Singapore or New York,'' he says. ''I think the 650 with GoodLink is a far superior product with real time synchronization and consistency with the user experience.''

If someone never used the Treo 650, they would think the 700w ''was the best thing to hit'', says Hectus. ''But by comparison, it falls short. I frankly like the Palm operating system better than Windows Mobile.''

Visit an online user group and you'll see much the same comments. One user wrote that he's been using a Palm device since 1999 and just looked at 700w. While he says most people will think it's a great device, he wrote that he's been ''ruined by using a Palm for so many years'' because, echoing Hectus, he doesn't like the Windows OS in the 700w.

Despite the cost savings the law firm would realize moving to the 700w, Hectus says they're going to stay put.

''There's clearly more firepower in this device than in previous Treos. But you get to a point where you question whether it's worth packing all that punch into a small device because you end up paying for it in terms of speed,'' says Hectus. ''It's a cool device and I love the idea on paper.''

The other nominees in the handheld device category were the Axim X51 from Dell, Inc., which placed third, and MyPal A730W, from Asus Computer International.

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