Palm Treo 650

In 1998 I got both my first cell phone (a Nokia 5160) and my first PalmPilot (a Palm III). I fell in love with the mobile access a phone provided combined with the storage and utilities offered by a PDA. For the first time I felt as though I had the beginnings of a complete mobile office with me in my pockets at all times. Yes, pockets. In 1998 I also started wearing cargo pants. With a cell phone, PDA, digital camera, wallet and keys with me at all times, I needed all the pockets I could get.

Over the past couple of years I’ve watched these products slowly begin to overlap. When this happens, one of the technologies almost always suffers. “It’s a camera and a phone … but the camera sucks.” “My camcorder takes still pictures as well … but they suck.” “My phone has a calendar system included … but it sucks.” That’s a lot of sucking. In my mind I knew what I wanted — a cell phone combined with a PalmPilot, with complete functionality in both products.

Enter the Treo 650

I rarely buy products the minute they come out any more; I love new technology, but I hate paying to be a beta tester. After working the kinks out of their Treo 600, PalmOne released the Treo 650, a combination PalmPilot/Phone/Camera.

Key Features:

Large Color Screen
Combination Full Keyboard and Stylus
Full Cell Phone Functionality
Full PalmPilot Compatibility
Internet Access
640×480 Camera Phone
SD Ram Slot

First Impressions

The Treo’s list of features is mind boggling. This phone is not recommended for people who have trouble setting the time on their VCR — or really even for people who still own a VCR. There’s a learning curve to figuring out the ins and outs of the Treo. The battery life seems to last a week for moderate usage. The screen is very big and very bright, bigger and brighter than any phone but smaller than the one on my Palm Zire. The first thing I’ll need is a case — the phone slides comfortably into my front pocket, but I cannot hear it ringing in there. As a matter of fact, I can’t hear much of anything — my first goal is to find how to crank up every volume level on the phone. The mute switch on the top of the phone is new and handy. The phone is thinner than it looks in pictures.


The Unit as a Whole

After charging the unit I noticed a green blinking light. That light means, “hey — I’m working!” It’ll be on as long as your phone is on. Get used to it. Despite the poptart’ish shape of the unit, the Treo fits in your hand nicely both while talking on the phone or using its PDA features. The 650 includes a data cable for connecting to your PC’s USB port. Unlike my older Zire, the 650’s data cable includes a physical “Sync Button”.


My first impression of the Treo’s phone was, “it’s not loud enough.” Seriously, I simply could not hear people even after cranking the volume up to the maximum setting. (See 3rd Parties to the Rescue below.) Dialing is performed by either pressing “virtual” buttons on the phone’s touchscreen, or real buttons on the phone’s small but functional keyboard. I found the touchscreen worked best while driving, and works even better if you use the “corner” of your thumb. The 650 comes with a selection of “MIDI’ish” ring tones. Out of the box the 650 will not accept MP3’s as ringtones. (See 3rd Parties to the Rescue below.) If you previously owned a PalmPilot, all your old contacts will be imported into your dialing list the first time you sync your 650 to your computer. If you’ve been a good boy/girl and had everyone in different categories, this’ll work well. If you are like me and never sorted your contact list, you may suddenly see hundreds of people in your contact list. Fortunately, these can be easily sorted into categories.


The Treo 650 is a powerful PalmPilot. Prior to this unit I had a Palm Zire 72, and before that I owned a Palm III. Every program I used on those other two units works on this one as well. My 650 shipped with version 4.1.4 of Palm’s familiar Desktop software. For new PDA owners, Palm Desktop allows read and write Palm data on their laptop. Your calendar, contact list, tasks and other vital information is sync’ed to and from your phone via this program, allowing you to do data entry on your computer (where it’s much faster and easier to do). I had several problems with my Zire (for example: I could never get photos taken on my phone and saved to an external memory card to sync up to my PC) that were all solved in the 650. If I noticed anything at all it was that most Palm programs are designed with a stylus and handwriting in mind. With the 650’s keyboard there is no more handwriting shortcuts, which means you’ll find yourself both holding the stylus and trying to type at the same time in many programs.

I had a few issues with running programs off an added memory card. From my experience, adding an SD Ram card is most useful for storing things like documents and audio/video files. Many programs simply weren’t written to run from a memory card and get confused when you ask them do so.


The Treo 650 comes with a 640×480 camera. That being said, it’s the best 640×480 camera I’ve seen to date. Although my Palm Zire’s camera had double the resolution (1280×1024), the pictures looked horrible at that resolution. Even when they were shrunk down to 640×480, the Treo’s camera still looks better. The 650 is capable of capturing both photos and videos. You can set the phone to default to a memory card which should work for just about any outing — a 512 meg card can store over 7,000 photos.

All pictures appear in Palm Desktop as well as a directory on your hard drive, making pulling pictures from the unit extremely simple and quick.


When I bought my 650 I didn’t have any bluetooth devices so I disabled it. For Christmas, my wife bought me a wireless bluetooth headset. I enabled bluetooth on the phone and it saw the headset. That’s about all I can tell you — it works and was simple to set up.

Internet Access

The 650 comes with both an e-mail client and a web browser. When I purchased the phone I signed up for data access as well (not included in your regular phone service). For $40 (!) I got unlimited data access per month. The e-mail program works well, although I ended up checking most of my messages via webmail instead. The included web browser (Blazer) works as well, and has a few convenient features like easy to access favorites and the ability to view sites with a few different “modes” to make web surfing on a 320×320 screen slightly more bearable. If you have a need to be connected to the net while away from home, the Treo 650 will do it.

Out of the box, the 650 has no way to connect to WiFi networks (See 3rd Parties to the Rescue below), so at the time subscribing to Cingular’s data service for an additional $40 a month was the only way to get your Treo online.

3rd Parties to the Rescue

Although I fell in love with my 650 the moment I took it home, it still had a few flaws. I’ve been able to overcome each of these flaws through several third party programs. Some of these I’d almost consider mandatory for fellow 650 owners.


My biggest problem with the phone out of the box was that I couldn’t hear anything. Within minutes of owning the phone I was Googling for solutions and ran across VolumeCare ($15), which allows you to boost your 650’s volume level. You can even select different levels for your ring tone, speaker, mic, headset, and sound effects. Awesome, and much needed.


My second search focused on how to get this $500 multimedia phone to use MP3’s as ringtones. Phone Tecnician ($6) allows you to do just that, along with setting an MP3 for your SMS notification alert as well. Phone technician has a few other hacks which allow you to control that dang blinking LED and to blank your screen while you’re talking, saving battery life. There are other apps out there that do the same thing, but this one was $6 and works well. Another great program is Ringo ($30), which allows you to set specific ring tones (including MP3’s) for specific incoming callers, as well as displaying your friend’s pictures when they call and reading the numbers aloud (Voice Caller ID).

Palm File Browser

It makes no sense to me why I can’t browse every USB-connecting devices like a USB drive. With PC2PDA installed, you can. It’s a bit clunky to use; you’ll need to run an app on both your phone and your PC to get it to work, and the file copies aren’t as slick as most FTP clients, but moving files to/from your Treo works just fine.


Last year a WiFi card was released for several PalmPilots, although it was announced it would not work on the 650. Then hackers made them work. You can get Palm WiFi cards for a little over $100, but if you’re really wanting something slick check out Enfora’s WiFi adapter ($129) for the 650. It slides on the back of your phone and enables WiFi access. A must for nerds like myself.

Voice Dialing

While not a must, it’s surprising that this feature wasn’t included as well. What’s not surprising is that Palm is now selling Voice Dialing by VoiceSignal for $19.95. As advertised, the software allows you to dial either names from your contact list or numbers using only your voice. Handy while driving.

Six Month Follow-up

I’ve owned my Treo 650 for a little over six months now. Acutally, that’s not true — I’m on my second 650. Two months ago, my phone came unhooked from my belt loop and fell from waist high down onto a tile floor, cracking the screen. I ordered a new screen from eBay for $100 in an attempt to replace it. I failed, and rendered my old Treo inoperable. It ended up being an expensive venture — the $400 I paid originally was with a two year service agreement. Without that, I paid and additional $650 for a replacement phone (not to mention the $100 for the additional screen). Ouch, ouch, and more ouch. Lesson learned. I am very, VERY careful with my Treo these days.

Screen-breakage aside, I’ve been pretty happy with the unit overall. VoiceDial and VolumeCare are mandatory purchases as far as I’m concerned. Voice dialing should have been built into this phone but wasn’t, and the phone simply isn’t loud enough for me to hear conversations if I’m in a car or in a restaurant (maybe that’s the idea).

Having many devices rolled into one is both a blessing and a curse. It’s great to have a camera, phone and PDA with me at all times; however, if my battery dies or the unit breaks (like when my screen broke) you lose access to all three devices at once. Really this is what’s kept me from using the unit as an MP3 players as often as I had originally hoped for.

My infatuation with the wireless access turned out to be short lived. The $40 “unlimited” data plan only included the receiving of data — sending data (including e-mails and posting on forums) turned out to be extra. When I saw additional charges lumped in on top of the “unlimited” plan, I cancelled it all. I don’t have any mission critical e-mails I need to receive, and I’ve found that when I’m near a wireless signal and need to check my e-mail my laptop is almost as convenient as the phone. Surfing the web via the Treo is pretty slow and rough on sites not designed for it. Some sites such as Google do have optimized pages for mobile devices, but whatever you’re searching for most likely won’t.

I love having the additional ram installed, but overall I’ve been disappointed on how few programs will run from it. Most of the programs I’ve tried need to be installed on the phone itself. The extra storage works well for photo, video, and MP3 storage, but I feel like I’m already beginning to run out of space on the phone itself when it comes to applications. With the memory card installed, I can take every Excel spreadsheet containing every movie, album and videogame I own with me — convenient for not buying dupes while out shopping.

Overall I am very pleased with my (now +$1,000) investment. I can’t imagine leaving the home without my Treo by my side.

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