It seems to have been ages since we saw a new Treo smart phone from Palm, but then again, it hasn't. Palm launched its Treo 750v a couple of months ago here in the UK, exclusively with Vodafone -- that handset runs on Windows Mobile Pocket PC -- but you have to look back a lot further, to late 2004 in fact, to find the last Palm OS-based Treo to see the light of day: the 650.
So, given the gap between the last Palm OS Treo and this one, is the Treo 680 a giant leap forward from Palm, or, bearing in mind the company's historical attitude to providing sleek, user-friendly systems, is it just a subtle advance on its predecessor?
The Treo 680 will set you back almost £300 without an operator contract.
If you have seen the Treo 750v then the Treo 680 will seem very familiar. The two are identical in size and shape, but where the 680 is sliver and grey, the 750v is silver and blue, and there are some differences in key layout, reflecting the fact that the 680 runs on the Palm OS and the 750v runs on Windows Mobile Pocket PC.
Both devices have the same-sized screen, and measuring 44mm square it is slightly on the small side. This touch-sensitive screen delivers 65k colours at 320x320 pixels, which is the same specification as the Treo 650. While we'd have liked to see improvement here, it has to be said that the screen is clear and sharp enough.
Immediately beneath the screen sits a pair of Call and End keys. These are wide and thin and very easy to locate when you want to make and end calls. The End key doubles as the main power switch.
Under these again are four shortcut keys that take you to the Palm Home screen, the messaging centre, the calendar and the phone dialler screen. In their centre is a well-sized and easy-to-use navigation button.
On the left edge is a volume button, which when you hold down lets you make a voice recording, however if you'd rather it ran a different application you can change its function. The phone, calendar and messaging buttons have second shortcut functions if you hold them down while pressing a key on the mini keyboard -- you can set these to whatever you like, as well as changing the software that the calendar and messaging buttons automatically launch. It's all pretty customisable.
The mini keyboard is just about as large as it could be given the space available, and the keys are raised and well separated which makes them fairly easy to find and hit. We aren't intending to write a novel using it, but found tapping out emails as comfortable as with any smart phone mini keyboard.
On the top edge of the casing is a small slider button that is a feature from the Treo 650 and Treo 750v and we're very pleased to see it here again -- it turns the ringer off, so it's easy to shut you're phone up when you need to.
It has to be said that after the excitement of the 3G Palm Treo 750v it's quite a bump back down to earth to see that the Treo 680 is not a 3G handset. Still, it is quad-band GSM with GPRS, and if you are thinking of using a smart phone for Web browsing occasionally and don't need 3G for this, then the Treo 680's browser is one of the best we've seen.