While in New York two weeks ago at a conference, I spent my time at Verizon Wireless down the street sweating the big decision. Which Windows Mobile, broadband-enabled SmartPhone to upgrade to? The Treo 700W or the Audiovox UTStarcom XV6700? I went with the XV6700 in the end, after a few days with the Treo.
To tell my tale, which I hope you’ll find interesting, let me give you a bit of background. I live in the UK, in case you’re new to the blog. However, I’m American and travel back to the US quite a bit. I could try and use my UK phone in the US via roaming. The downside is I’d have a UK number and calls would be ridiculously expensive. In addition, having a US number is handy for when I’m dealing with things in the US that want a US number, like a bank account.
About two years ago, I left the much hated Sprint (sound quality was always terrible) and moved to Verizon. In particular, I was entranced by the Samsung SCH-i600 Windows Smartphone. I wanted a phone that had all my email, all my contacts, all my appointments synced flawlessly from Outlook. The Samsung was up to the job. It also wasn’t big. I think at the time there were other Palm-based Treos out, but they were huge. The Samsung was a small, normal looking clamshell.
Moving over meant entering into a two year contract. OK, why not? If at worst I decided to change, canceling and paying the $150 would actually save me money, since I wouldn’t be paying the $40 per month or whatever it costs me anyway when I’m out of the country.
About a year after that, I upgraded my UK phone to an Orange SPV C500 (AKA the Audiovox SMT 5600) Smartphone. It was just like the Samsung in terms of the basic operating system, doing all the sync stuff I want. In fact, after I upgraded the software later on, I could even sync with Window Media Center and put cartoons on the phone easily for my kids to watch. Like my previous UK phone, it also had a camera and could even record video.
The lack of a camera was beginning to nag on me for my trips to the US. I’d be at Google and want to snap something, and I’d forget to bring my camera. I’d be at a conference and want to blog photos like all the hip kids, but my phone wasn’t up to it.
Just before leaving on my New York trip, I’d seen that the Treo 700W had come out. Hmm. My friend has a Treo 600, and on my last trip to do search engine visits in the summer, everyone seemed to have Treo 650s. Honestly, I almost thought they were standard issue for Yahoo employees. Everyone at Yahoo had them.
So people seem to like the Treo. I was still hesitant. I was once a Palm person. A proud one. I started with the Palm III and loved how well it worked — and I mean worked like not crashing all the time. I loved supporting something that wasn’t Microsoft, simply because I like the idea of having variety in the world. I appreciated the product. I turned away from my written organizer and never looked back.
I rode upward to the Palm IIIc color version, to the envy of my friends. I got slick with the svelte Palm m515. But then I grew frustrated. No matter what I could do, Palm’s software only wanted me to be able to sync what was in my main email Inbox, not any of my subfolders in Outlook. Then a friend of mine showed me how he was watching video on his Pocket PC. Getting video going on my Palm seemed a convoluted affair.
I jumped ship, to a Toshiba Pocket PC e330. It was great. Pick any of your email folders in Outlook, and it synced no problem. Want to watch video clips? Easy to do. I’ve since moved to a Dell Axim X50V, which has been even better, especially for having WiFi and Bluetooth built in.
So a Palm-based Treo? Maybe getting those subfolders is easier now, but I’m well situated in the Windows Mobile camp now. I know how it works, and I tolerate the reboots for the phone editions. I didn’t want to do the Palm route, but the Windows Treo was enticing. And a broadband-equipped phone? Rockin! I was sick of going on the web in either country at the slow GPRS speeds, which is a bit more sluggish than 56K. You can do it, but it’s not fun. Mobile surfing as a result isn’t something I did much of.
So about three weeks ago — the Sunday before our SES Event started — I headed to Verizon in New York. I was committed. Time for a new phone, plus one of those broadband cards, as well.
I wasn’t sure I’d be successful. Verizon had told me on the phone that I could probably get the broadband card but that they doubted the New York store could cope with me switching phones, since technically I’m a California customer (with a proud 714 area code, long live OC).
Accompanying me were Dave Naylor and Chris Raimondi. We’d made an abortive attempt to go on Saturday night after I’d arrived, but Verizon had closed early. Instead, we detoured to Toys R Us (an entirely different story to come on that). Sunday was a second attempt, and Chris was already doing advance work. On his Treo 650, he got a friend who works for Verizon to verify that yes, there should be no problem with me upgrading to a new phone.
In we went. Yes, the smiling woman who helped us said I could upgrade my phone. However, it might take up to an hour and a half. Dave and Chris looked nervous. To be fair, I’d warned that we’d probably have to stay there a bit before heading off to J&R Music & Computer World. But this was longer than even I expected.
After a short huddle, they were with me. Such support! Let’s see how it goes, we said. And it went well. Seriously, that Verizon store was great. They got me going with an EV-DO broadband card, which I’ll write more about separately. That was easy — just get a card, give me a 212 number with it that no one ever sees, and I was set.
Then there was the phone, which was the point of this post, right? Thanks for hanging in there. Turns out, I had a choice of two Windows Mobile phones, the Treo or the XV6700. Like an angel and a devil my shoulders, Dave and Chris chanted for me to do different things. Dave was into the XV6700, because the sliding out keyboard looked good, plus it was similar to his own Orange SPV M500. Chris, having a Treo of his own, was in the Treo camp.
I liked how the XV6700 automatically switched to landscape mode when you pulled out the keyboard (more on this in a bit). But the Treo seemed more phone-like, plus I suspected more dependable. Lots of people have Treos already. It was probably the safer choice. I went with it.
I was initially pleased. We arrived at J&R where Detlev Johnson had been patiently waiting. Verizon did get out fast — like maybe 45 minutes, but that still made us late for meeting him (sorry, Detlev). Walking around, I was looking up everything on the phone. Was that a good price? Let me check Froogle, I’ve got unlimited broadband. Within seconds, I had prices. I used that phone tons to comparison shop while shopping. It was great.
The more I used it, the more depressed Chris seemed to grow. Or, maybe he was tired from walking around Toys R Us the night before. Actually, it was a combination of both. His Treo 650 has to use the slower “NationalAccess” speed with Verizon. My phone was blazing beside his.
Chris did cheer up in the cab, when we had a little race to see who could get the address for the Shubert Theatre for the driver, where were going to see Spamalot (such things really make you appreciate London black cabs, where the drivers have The Knowledge. They know where everything is in their heads). Off we went to search. I tried Google Local, he went with Google regular. He won — not on speed but because he looked with a slightly different query (and my query should have worked with Google Local, it was jump lame in handling it, I swear).
The Treo got better as I started text messaging. The keyboard was awesome, really super usable. I started sending essays to people, just because I could type so well.
Then, depression set in. I started taking pictures. The pictures were blurry. At the Ask Code Red Party, it was dark. The Treo has no flash. So either I couldn’t take a picture or the shutter speed seemed so slow as to make things blurry.
That became more of an issue the next night, when there was a gauntlet of parties where I wanted to take pictures at, including the MSN bash. Having to shoot two or three photos because the first isn’t fun. It’s hardly spontaneous. And that was one of the big reasons in getting the phone, to also be able to take pictures. I wasn’t looking for the same quality as with a dedicated camera, but something better made sense.
Time for research. Way back in the Verizon shop, Chris had pulled up a great short review that Michael Gartenberg had done comparing the Treo 700 to the 6700. I’d skimmed it briefly then, but now I did a closer look. He was in the camp of it being down to choice, but that the Treo was more phone like.
I did some more searching. I came across David Berlind’s long column where he called the Treo 700W “marred by flaws.” Much of what he wrote about resonated. He was getting bad pictures, blaming it on having to push the picture button so hard to take them. I kind of wanted an Escape button as well, though that’s more a Windows Mobile thing I think. My Treo had needed to be rebooted several times a day (but as an experienced Windows Smartphone user, I expected this). I did find I had to use the stylus a lot more than I wanted.
I’d also brought several copies of Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine with me, to catch up on my reading. The Treo 700W wasn’t in any of them (it’s now in the current one), but the Sprint PPC-6700 was reviewed (it’s the same thing as the Verizon 6700). The review was positive — the reviewer ended up buying one after his evaluation period ended.
Both phones weigh practically the same, plus the are about the same size. But here are initial main pluses to the 6700:
- 320×240 screen rather than 240×240
- Wi-Fi built in
I decided to jump ship. Verizon said I had 15 days to change my mind, so I took them up on this. I headed over to Verizon after the show ended, to do the exchange. And to Verizon’s credit, it was easy. No hassle, no problem. Swapped one for another, and away I went.
I haven’t played enough with the 6700 yet to say a ton about it. I had the Treo for about 5 days; the 6700 for less than two before I flew back. But overall, I do like it better.
I miss the Treo’s keyboard. If I were only doing text messaging, and a lot of that, I felt the Treo was better at it. It seemed easier to get to the messages operating systemwise, plus with text messages, you don’t really need to go into landscape mode. You can easily view a text message and respond using the thumb keyboard.
Aside from that, there’s lots to love. The 6700 has a flash, plus it will shine out white light when using it before taking a picture, so you can see what you’re shooting. I found getting the camera mode to come up a bit sluggish, but it is workable. With my SPV C500, the camera mode comes on super fast and shooting pictures is easy. The 6700 takes its time and is a bit clunky. But the pictures are good.
The larger screen makes a real difference. It’s important to understand that the numbers above aren’t screen resolution but literally the size of the screen you can see. In other words, consider a monitor that can show a resolution of 640×480 versus 800×600. The monitor itself doesn’t change size. If it’s a 20″ screen, that stays the same. The resolution is only how much you can squeeze within the monitor space.
With the Treo 700W, it has a 240×240 “square” screen compared to the 320×240 screen the other Treos have. The picture quality on both is just as good. Indeed, Mark Fletcher from Bloglines has a 650 and wondered if the resolution of my phone was as good when we talked at the Ask party. We put them side-by-side and yep, there were. It’s just that on his phone, you can see more.
The image below is a bad, rough idea of what I mean.
See the gray portion? That’s what you’d see on the Treo, while the 6700 gives you just a bit more visible area. However, it’s amazing how much that slightly large area can make web browsing much easier (especially when text wraps, unlike in the example above.)
To make a call, you push the phone button and a little number pad appears:
I wish the buttons could be bigger — and there’s plenty of room to make them bigger, but enlarging them isn’t an option. But the keypad is usable, and you can also bring it back up during a call for making touch tones.
Want to browse the web? Turn the phone on its side, and a little keyboard slips out:
The phone also shifts automatically into landscape mode, which is slick. Not so slick is that it takes about three seconds to do this, which is a pretty long time.
The keyboard is good. The backlighting could be better, as the magazine review above found, but it’s workable. I could actually type faster on the Treo’s smaller keys, but that’s me. Others might find it different. It’s pretty nice having arrow keys, of course.
I haven’t used the WiFi part yet, but it’s nice to know it’s there. I’ll talk about Verizon EV-DO in the future, but it’s not everywhere, so having WiFi as a backup is handy if you want quick, high speed browsing.
There were some unexpected surprises. The phone uses a standard mini USB cable. OK, they warn to use only the one provided, since that can also charge the phone. I suspect any cable will do this as well. I like knowing that if I forget my cable, I don’t have to hope I can find some funky Treo hookup in a shop at midnight.
The phone also has a cradle. You don’t have to use it, but when syncing, it’s nice to be able to look at the device directly, rather than to lift it up from the table or lean over it.
I dislike that it take a mini-SD card. That means you can’t plug in any SD IO devices. Then again, I’ve never once done that with any of my Pocket PCs. And since mini-SDs can slot into an SD adapter, you can always use them for storage elsewhere. In the end, I plunked down and got a 1 GB card for it, which I’ll probably never replace for the life of the phone.
Oh, the 6700 is also about $100 cheaper than the Treo, so that’s another plus.
My main regret with reupping with Verizon is that I wanted to go to a GSM phone, so that I could have one single phone and simply swap an UK SIM chip out and a US SIM chip in. I’ll write more about how I can do this with Cingular to get a backup phone, in the future. But Verizon’s high speed network is faster, where it’s available — more about that also in the future. Plus, I also found out that I could get that on my desktop through my phone using PdaNet, which will be part of that future entry. The short story for now is the broadband card went back, and I had broadband access for my PC through my phone.
I’ll leave off with this. One big plus with Windows Mobile over the Treo is that you can see your entire calendar in a month at a glance view, if you use Agenda Fusion. I’m not talking about seeing blocks that tell you something’s going on. I mean you can see text.
Look at this:
That’s my monthly calendar for April. I can get a good sense of what’s happening, even on that tiny screen. On my Pocket PC, I can see it better. As far as I know, you can’t do that on a Treo. I looked into this several months ago, when my wife showed a moment of weakness and declared she’d try a PDA if she could see all her appointments in a monthly view, plus she wanted a phone with a keyboard. A Treo wouldn’t fly, I found. Fortunately, she declared an end to her PDA madness, otherwise I’d be getting her going on a Smartphone over here. In the end, she wanted a Blackberry, simply because she thought it sounded cool to have one. I declared that not a good enough reason to change phones 🙂