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 My new Treo    
 Dated:  Thursday, May 17 2007 @ 06:19 PM PDT
 Viewed:  2,713 times  
PDAI trade in my Treo 650 for a 750 running Windows Mobile 5, with unpleasant results

(A concatenation of several e-mails.)

April 17, 2007

The company has issued me a phone -- a Treo 750 running Windows Mobile 5. My intention is to retire my personal 650 and use the 750 as my personal phone/pda. This will be my first experience with Windows Mobile. I've owned Palm based products since the original Pilot Pro back in the mid-nineties.

The 750 arrived today. It charged up in a couple hours and I was able to begin exploring Windows Mobile. After getting it to sync with my PC and installing a couple of applications, my impressions are:

Just shoot me now.

Seriously, I've already had two BSODs [in this case, the phone displaying only the stock Windows background, which is blue, and being thoroughly hung] during the sync process, and you have to reboot the durned thing when you install an application. Let me be more clear: You have to REBOOT YOUR PHONE when you install something on it. What a concept! [Turns out this was only true for some applications.]

The sync process doesn't automatically back up your phone like the Palm hotsync. You have to install a separate application -- "Sprite Backup" -- to do that. Then, whenever you trigger a backup, it REBOOTS YOUR PHONE, performs the backup, then REBOOTS YOUR PHONE AGAIN. My daughter's Symbian-based Samsung, which has many of the same features of this thing, hasn't rebooted since July 2006.

Syncing the phone to Outlook takes about three times longer than PalmOS with identical data. Except it didn't get all the way through the first three or four times, failing with "Activesync has encountered an error and must now close. We apologize for the inconvenience." Deleting some of my notes seems to have made it happier.

There is no "sync button" like with PalmOS. Windows is supposed to notice when the phone is connected (or in range, if you're syncing over bluetooth) and then do a continuous sync until the phone is disconnected from the PC (or out of range). Except, this PC only notices the phone is connected about one time in three. So I have to pull off the cable, put it back on, pull it off and put it on, until it wakes up and starts syncing.

When an application crashes on the phone, you get a very similar popup ("something_you've_never_heard_of has encountered an error") that gives you an opportunity to send the error message to Microsoft, just like real windows! Yay! I could just shoot myself.

The thing can lock up in strange ways. If you try to do some other action while a program is loading (and everything takes significant time to load) the phone can be put in an odd state where the screen is scrambled. For instance, if you hit the "windows" key while the cellular part is powering up, you can consistently get the phone to hang with a corrupted screen. Hitting a menu button while Word is loading can cause the phone to hang. Fortunately you don't have to take the back off to get at the reset button. (It's next to the SDRAM slot, but if you've ever used a Treo 750 for any length of time, you already know that.)

Occasionally, the keyboard will get "stuck" in various ways. The alt key (that you use to get punctuation and numbers) will get stuck on, or the keylock will get hung somehow and you won't be able to unlock the phone. The solution in each case is a reboot.

The keyword with Windows Mobile is "Patience". It takes awhile to do stuff, and if you try to rush it you will make it unhappy. And then it will make you unhappy.

And this is Windows Mobile 5 -- it's not like the OS just came out. (Unless they started at 5?)

There is a "start" button on the screen and a "windows" button on the keyboard. Getting to some arbitrary application requires a MINIMUM of 7 keypresses. When you get there, you see a screen similar to the original PalmOS screen, with all the applications lumped together in one folder. But unlike PalmOS 5, there are no categories.

There is a quick start menu to which you can add five or six most-used programs. But anything not on the list takes an inordinate amount of keypresses to get to.

Fortunately, you can replace the gui with third party products. I'm pretty sure that's a first for any Windows device. I'm experimenting with that now. [I ultimate didn't find anything particularly useful.]

I'm forced to say, there is one nice thing. When it's plugged in (or connected via Bluetooth) it looks to the PC like a storage device. Putting stuff on the phone is drag-and-drop easy. PalmOS forced you to go through Palm's conduit and perform a hotsync each time you installed something, which involved way too many gestures and waiting while the phone did a bunch of unnecessary operations. This part, at least, Windows Mobile gets right.

I understand that the attraction of Windows Mobile is ease of syncing with Outlook and application compatibility. But I've had no problems with my PalmOS-based phone syncing with Outlook, even using Activesync over the wireless, and I really have no desire to view Word docs or spreadsheets on a 2 inch by 2 inch screen. (That's what laptops are for.) Windows Mobile looks like a solution looking for a problem, with a billion marketing dollars behind it.

You can expect a PC to hang occasionally or an application to fail, but this is absolutely unacceptable behavior in a PHONE. When you receive a call, you need to RECEIVE THE CALL. Every time. This is the only reasonable expectation for a phone.

Not long ago, we used to talk about reliability in terms of "dial tone". When you pick up the phone, it always works, and computers should strive to be this reliable. Instead, we're resetting our expectations about the reliability of phones. This is clearly going in the wrong direction.

The Treo 750 represents an odd paradigm. You have a fast processor and a large amount of memory (for a Treo as of 2007) but the more you make use of the device the more it misbehaves. If you don't install anything and confine your usage to phone, email and calendar, it can be stable enough for casual use. But power users are going to be extremely frustrated. The irony of having hefty resources in the palm of your hand, and have to trade off reliability against actually trying to use those resources, will not be lost on Treo 750 owners.

The hardware is nice. It's smaller and lighter than the 650, has no antenna stub, and has a rubberized finish that feels good in the hand. This phone with a real operating system would be really something. I've heard that Palm will be releasing Linux-based devices... hang on, my phone spontaneously rebooted... that was strange... What was I saying? Oh yeah -- Palm announced that they will be releasing Linux-based devices later this year. That might be a good thing. I wonder if I can get this thing reflashed?

We used to joke about someday our cell phones would run Windows. "Lessee, start... ...programs... accessories... communications.... phone. Wait for the phone application to load... Hit "file"... choose "enter number"... hit "file"... choose "dial"... wait for phone to connect -- what? Socket timed out? System error 0023905732? Ah, crap... hold down ctl-alt-del, wait through boot sequence, try again..." It took a few years, but life finally imitates art.

I can't wait until my car runs Windows.



Addendum to my earlier rant.

The thing has hung twice today during installs, necessitating a reset. I haven't had to punch the reset button so often since the Pilot Pro days.

The other guy who has a Treo 750 has had (so he says) no hangs, no bluescreens, no spontaneous reboots, and no "the application has caused an error". I asked what he does with it, he says email and calendar, that's it. So if you don't use it, it doesn't break. Makes sense.

You can't run applications from the memory card. You can install them there, you just can't run them. When I get time, I'll see if I can fake it with a Windows shortcut. [I eventually returned the phone before I could try this.]

Unlike PalmOS, Windows Mobile pretends it's mult-tasking. What this usually means is that you have to be very very careful to dismiss an application when you're done, because if you just start another one, the first application will stay resident in memory, chewing up memory and cpu. I haven't yet found a way to switch between running applications, and haven't yet found an analog to the Windows task manager. Talking to Windows Mobile users, the standard practice is just to reset the thing when it gets slow. I guess it's all about expectations...

The things that make Windows Mobile livable:

- Rhinolaunch and Todaypanel (both from Rhino software) Todaypanel gives you back the memory and battery widgets, and includes a really nifty Task Manager so you can kill background processes (which you will be doing a lot). Rhinolaunch gives you categories of icons similar to the default Palm file browser. I haven't seen anything so far that gives you tabbed pages of icons like Launcher X. (About $11 for both.) [I eventually uninstalled Todaypanel because it had a tendency to hang.]

- Minimo -- Mozilla for Windows Mobile. Includes tabbed browsing just like Firefox. (Free download.) Greatly preferred to Internet Explorer.



There's a switch on the top that turns off audible alerts and turns on vibrate mode. Turning the switch to the off position does turn on vibrate mode. Unfortunately, turning the switch back to "on" doesn't accomplish anything. To get audible alerts functioning again requires a phone reset. [This is a known problem, according to the Treocentral and Windows forums. As of this writing, there is no known solution. The only known workaround is to not use the ringer switch.][Update: There is now a patch for the ringer issue.]



I returned the Treo 750 and went back to my 650. In summary, the thing was slow, locked up incessantly, and missed calls. Even if the ringer gets fixed, there are enough other issues that I wouldn't want to put up with it, even for free.

Had I paid my own money and didn't have a known working Treo to go back to, I might have been tempted to stick it out, except that for on-call purposes I must have a phone that's dead-nuts reliable, ("dial tone" reliable) and this one just didn't fill the bill.

It may be worth trying again when the upgrade to Windows Mobile 6 arrives, but I tend to doubt it. Micro$oft keeps saying that every new version is "faster", but that usually means doing some tricks to make things seem to start faster. Overall, every new release of Windows has been slower on the same hardware. I don't have any reason to believe that Windows Mobile will be any different.

Similarly, I don't expect Mobile 6 to be any more reliable. Micro$oft is clearly going for a different paradigm here. Windows Mobile based phones are clearly Windows boxes with some phone features, and not phones with PDA features. If your need for a "Start" button overwhelms your need for a phone, the 750 might be a good fit for you. But warn your friends that you won't always be reachable, and be sure to reset the phone and then LEAVE IT ALONE if you're expecting an important call.


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