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.
There's 64MB of user memory built in and you can easily add to this with SD cards -- the slot is very accessible on the right edge of the casing and is protected by a large cover. Out of curiosity we tried one of SanDisk's new 4GB SDHC cards in the Treo 680 and the device recognised it. Not all devices recognise the format, and the Treo 680 specifications don't indicate that it does, so that's pleasing.
There's a camera built in, with its lens on the back of the casing. Sadly it's stuck in VGA-land, and it doesn't take shots we'd be proud to share any other way than via MMS.
There's an MP3 player included, but rather stupidly Palm has decided to bundle a mono earbud with a 2.5mm connector. When we used our own favourite headphones and a 2.5mm to 3.5mm adaptor we could only get mono output to them, though Palm says the Treo 680 outputs stereo to headphones.
Unfortunately Wi-Fi is not included here -- Bluetooth and infrared are, though.
For all its lack of features at the cutting edge of smart phone capability, the Treo 680 is hard to dismiss -- it's crammed with software and designed with ease of use very much in mind. The threaded SMS, for example, lets you view text messages between you and another person as a chat thread so you can keep an eye on the flow of an exchange. Also handy is the copy of Documents To Go, which lets you create and edit Microsoft Word and Excel files, and the copy of VersaMail, which can collect email from multiple accounts.
When it comes to humble voice calls, the phone dialler caters for really easy touchscreen access to an on-screen dial pad, favourite numbers, call log and even shortcuts to applications.
We'd be lying if we said the Treo 680 was a huge advance on the Treo 650, but if you haven't had a Treo before what is on offer here is solidly good stuff.
Because of the quick access to contacts and speed dials it's really easy to make voice calls. The loud speaker is fine and call quality generally did not let us down.
We're a bit concerned about battery life, though. We asked the Treo 680 to play MP3s from an SD card continuously looping our tunes and keeping its screen on. We got 3 hours 45 minutes of music, which frankly isn't much cop for a smart phone.
Thanks to Expansys for providing a review sample of this phone.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield