Treo 755p: The Palm OS goes out with a whimper, not a bang

The end of the Palm OS?

The Palm Pilot was the first wildly successful product that enabled us to walk around with a small computer in our pockets. Palm -- and the Palm OS -- has long since branched out into smart phones, and many reports claim the new Treo 755p, just released by Sprint Nextel Corp., will be the last hurrah for the aging Palm OS as Palm replaces it with Linux.

There are many advantages to Palm in making this move. Perhaps the biggest is the fact that Palm can leverage that technology for the Treo and make available to users the many third-party applications written for Linux-based phones.

So the Treo 755p may well be the end of an era for a platform that once held near-monopolistic market share for mobile devices. Is the 755p a grand final moment for Palm OS?

The Palm Treo 755p
The Palm Treo 755p
Not really. We just spent some time with the 755p and found some solid incremental improvements, but the device is mostly familiar, with nothing that will make you sit back and say "wow." The most noticeable change is the same "antenna-ectomy" that other recent Treo releases received. The resulting form factor fits a bit better in a pocket, but the Treo antenna was never that big to begin with. Palm touts the 755p as being slimmer, but if you measure the device, it's only 1.2mm thinner.

From a corporate perspective, the Treo 755p supports the new Microsoft Exchange "Direct Push" technology. Assuming that your IT department sets up your Exchange server to support it, this allows you to receive e-mail as soon as it arrives rather than having to wait until the device polls for it.

For end users, there's now an integrated instant messaging client that works with AIM, Yahoo and MSN. The device supports Sprint's EV-DO data network, including the ability to watch Sprint TV clips, although even in a strong coverage area near Boston during our tests, the video tended to be jerky.

Also new is a nice voice command capability, which lets you hold down the side button and say a command like, "Appointment: Get car washed; date: June 12; time: 7 a.m." That information will then be entered into your calendar. However, this requires an upload of the speech sample and a download of the results, so it's definitely not something you should try outside of the EV-DO data coverage area.

The device also has built-in support for Google Maps for Mobile. A smaller change is that the memory card has moved from the top to the side and is now a mini-SD rather than full-size SD slot. And the Treo 755p comes in two colors: burgundy and dark blue.

Beyond that, though, the Treo 755p is very similar to the older Treos. For example, like the Treo 750, the 755p is now covered by one of those annoying, flimsy plastic snap-on covers that could easily come off the first time it catches on something. The memory capacity is the same as the 700p -- 128MB with 60MB available to the user -- as is the 312-MHz XScale processor. Both devices run the same release of Palm OS and have the same display and camera.

Oddly, the Treo 755p is rather pricey for a device sporting an aging operating system. Sprint is offering it for as low as $280, depending on the service plan, which is significantly more expensive than more up-to-date smart phones. Sprint offers both the Motorola Q and at least one BlackBerry for less than $100, depending on your plan, and a host of other smart phones for under $200.

So, if this is, indeed, the last significant product based on the Palm OS, it goes out with a whimper, not a bang. Palm hasn't released much that has been new or interesting since the Treo 700w, its first Windows Mobile phone, which started shipping more than a year ago. Of course, that will change dramatically when it releases its first Linux devices, which could see the light of day before the end of the year, according to some reports.

James Turner is a freelance journalist specializing in technology.

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