I have been a Palm OS user since the original Palm Pilot (1000), having also owned/used a Palm Professional, Palm V, Palm Vx, Treo 600, and Treo 650. I’ve also used a couple of Windows CE/Mobile devices, and hated them.
Palm OS has always been very usable. The simple interface combined with a touch screen was easy to get around, and Graffiti handwriting input was fast enough for use in taking class notes. Somewhere along the way, though, Palm got lost. I jumped from Palm OS 3 to Palm OS 5 when I got the Treo 600. Palm OS 5 felt odd — the addition of data and phone capabilities left something of a “seam”. It was a pretty good PDA, but not a great phone. It crashed a bit. Upgrading to the 650 provided a few extra features, but the software was less stable still.
The Treo devices are also bulky. I had no choice but to wear them on a belt holster, as there was no way to comfortably put them in my pocket. The features of the hardware were not being upgraded in line with other phones on the market, nor were the dimensions and weight suitably reduced. When my contract with Sprint was up (or should have been — perhaps I’ll write another post on that later), I went looking for a replacement phone with the following criteria:
- Rock-solid, ideally Linux-based operating system
- Quad-band GSM with an option to unlock (currently not available on the iPhone)
- Thin and light enough to carry in my pocket comfortably
- At least 2.0 megapixel camera
- Ability to play music
- Ability to play movies, and a screen good enough to watch them on
- Large storage capacity to hold movies, pictures, and music
- Stable and complete bluetooth stack, including stereo audio (A2DP)
- Ability to check email
- Full HTML browser
- Ability to tether my laptop (to use the phone’s data connection)
- Reasonable price (less than $400)
The best match for those requirements that I could find was the new Motorola RAZR2 v8. At the time, it was not available from any U.S. carrier, and the versions that were available online had only 512MB of storage. The version I wanted had 2 GB of storage. One day, on a whim, I checked the T-Mobile site to see whether they were carrying the v8 yet, and they had just released it that day! I ordered one right away.
When it arrived, it took some getting used to. It has a nice user interface, but it’s more phone-like and less PDA-like than my Treo. I’ve now become quite used to it. I also could not get Java applications to access the internet. I turns out that T-Mobile had locked down a bunch of the Java functionality, so I took matters into my own hands. After doing some “research” on the internet, I found a way to – hem – “upgrade” my phone with a different firmware, and got much better functionality out of the phone.
Overall, the RAZR2 is much better than the Treos about supporting standards. It’s a quad-band GSM phone, which will work pretty much anywhere in the world that there’s a cell phone tower. The Treo 650 (on Sprint) is a CDMA phone, and will work only in the US, the Caribbean, Korea, and maybe Canada. The RAZR2 has a very good J2ME/MIDP implementation, and can run pretty much any J2ME (Java mobile edition) application that I throw at it. The big downside of the RAZR2 is that I’m back to a phone keyboard from a QWERTY keyboard. This was a sacrifice I was willing to make for a slim and light device. When I bought the Treos, I was heavily into checking and sending email from my phone. After several years of that, I’m going back in the other direction. I want to be able to check and send email from the phone, but not often, and not in any sophisticated way. Just enough to bridge me over to the next WiFi hotspot.
The Opera browser on the RAZR2 is very good, and actually allows more sophisticated selection of items on web pages (for example, to download an image) than the Blazer browser in Palm OS. It’s not quite as good at re-formatting pages for a small screen as Blazer, however. The email is not sophisticated, and I miss threaded SMS chats, but neither of these are deal-breakers. The calendar and to-do functions are also not very sophisticated, but the calendar function can be synchronized with Google Calendar (via various services) using SyncML. Contacts can also be synchronized via SyncML, but unfortunately my address book of choice, Plaxo, does not yet support SyncML access for phones. I’m trying to set up ScheduleWorld as a replacement.
In the last few days, I’ve added a stereo Bluetooth headset and less restrictive internet access to the phone’s arsenal, and I haven’t been disappointed by how it works with either. The stereo Bluetooth audio is great (unlike that on OS X Leopard), and I can control playback, track, and volume. Incoming calls pause the music and flip over to headset mode, and playback resumes when the call is over.
Overall, it’s not really a PDA replacement, but I am no longer really in the market for a true PDA phone. It is an excellent phone.