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    Palms in hand might be worth an Apple in the offing

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver

    January 23-29, 2007; issue 900

    High Tech Office

    As I was writing this column, Apple’s Steve Jobs announced the long awaited iPhone to instant acclaim from traditional and new media.

    Imagine: one device combining cellphone with e-mail and web browsing, and even including a camera and a music player. Pity it won’t be available anywhere until June with pricing in the U.S. starting at US$499. Even more of a pity that Canadian customers will have to wait longer and pay more.

    But before you succumb to iPhone-envy, take a deep breath. While slick, the iPhone is far from the only gadget to combine phone, Internet, camera and music. Previously, this column has looked at the Blackberry Pearl and the Motorola Q, both with all those features, and both available now for considerably less money.

    Palm has had the experience of several generations of its Treo line blending all the above-mentioned features with its PDA. As Apple was announcing its iPhone, I was testing a pair of Treo models.

    Both the Treo 700wx and 680 models are somewhat chubby compared with the svelte Motorola Q or Apple iPhone. Both combine handy touch screens (and optional stylus input) with small keyboards and include built-in Bluetooth for communication with headsets, car kits and Bluetooth-enabled computers and printers. Each has an SD expansion card slot, handy for storing additional programs, music, photo or video files. Nicely (and unlike the iPhone), the Treo batteries are easily replaceable. Not so nice: you can’t use SD-format WiFi adapters – not even Palm’s – with these models. (Apple is promising built-in WiFi).

    The Treo 700wx Smartphone is (like the Motorola Q) powered by Windows Mobile operating system. Other Palm products run the Palm operating system, though Palm’s hardware and software was split off into separate companies several years ago. The 700wx is available from Bell Canada (from $399 with an air time plan) and supports that company’s high-speed Ev-DO data network. By building this model on the Windows Mobile platform, Palm is appealing to business IT departments with built-in support for Microsoft Exchange servers. The standard set of Pocket Windows applications means support for Word, Excel and PowerPoint document formats.

    The 240 x 240 pixel screen has less resolution than some competitors’ models, especially noticeable when web browsing, though the built-in Pocket Internet Explorer otherwise does a nice job of displaying web pages. The 1.3 megapixel camera can be used for still photos or video. The battery is rated for up to five hours of talk time and 15 days of standby. Bell Mobility also offers the Palm OS-powered (and similarly priced) Treo 700p.

    The Treo 680 runs the Palm operating system and lacks the 700wx’s external antenna. It’s available from Rogers Wireless (from $299 with plan) and, using quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE technologies, should be usable internationally.

    Its 320 x 320 pixel screen allows more web data to be viewed at a time than on the 700wx, but its camera is a lowly VGA (640 x 480 pixel) model.

    Palm includes a copy of DataViz’s Documents-to-Go for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF support. And the 680’s built-in Bluetooth can be used as a wireless modem with many laptops (not true for the 700wx).

    Battery life is rated at four hours talk time and 12.5 days of standby.

    If you’re looking for one device to do it all, you could wait for an expensive model from Apple. But one of these Treos may meet your needs now.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan