Windows Phone Thoughts: Palm's Treo 700w Reviewed: Part 1 (Intro, Background, Hardware)

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Palm's Treo 700w Reviewed: Part 1 (Intro, Background, Hardware)

Posted by Janak Parekh in "HARDWARE" @ 12:30 PM


Processor and Memory
And now, I come to the first controversial design aspect of the Treo 700w: the processor and (more interestingly) the memory. At first glance, the memory sounds generous at 128MB and the processor rather anemic at 312MHz. Heck, my Samsung i700 had a 300MHz XScale, so what exactly is going on!?

Turns out the situation is precisely the opposite. The processor is actually quite snappy. In fact, in terms of everyday use, this is one of the fastest Pocket PCs I've used: certainly faster than every other Pocket PC I've owned, which is ironic considering that Windows Mobile 5 is often considered slower than 2003SE, especially amongst users who upgraded their Pocket PCs to the latest operating system. I'm not sure why, but I'm guessing the Palm hardware and software customizations are well-optimized for WM5. In addition, I'd assume the smaller square screen requires less resources on part of the CPU. I'll detail some Spb benchmarks later in the review.

The memory, on the other hand, is not nearly so unequivocally excellent. In fact, it's downright bizarre.


Figure 3: The Memory applet immediately after a soft-reset, with absolutely nothing running (not even custom Today plugins).

First, the good news: the amount of Storage memory provided is excellent. The unit has 62MB of total Storage, of which about 60MB is free upon hard-reset. That's noticeably more than most 64MB ROM-equipped HTC devices; my JasJar has something like 42MB free after a hard-reset. In fact, this device has enough storage memory that I don't install any applications onto a SD card; all of them, including games, fit just fine in main memory.

Now, the mixed news: the amount of RAM provided in the 700w is anemic. After a soft reset, about 13.7MB of RAM is available, assuming you're not running anything in the background. In this day and age of increasing memory (heck, I have a 1GB SD card in the device), this is a definite throwback. Now, I say anemic, not unusable. As part of testing the device, I decided not to install a task manager to see how often I'd run into "Out of Memory" errors, and I was really surprised to see how the 700w held up: on average, I can run about 7-8 programs simultaneously without running out of memory. You'd be amazed how well WM5 can run even with less than 5MB of RAM free. 8O

In fact, most of the time, I can use the device without even having to close applications. The main catch is applications which dynamically use more memory during execution (as opposed to startup); the most common case of this for me is VisualIT's Tube, a top-notch metro/street application for Windows Mobile devices. Tube has a "NYC Pro" street/subway/rail map collection which I use fairly often, but it doesn't actually load the map into memory until you pick one from its collection. If you've got lots of programs running, it'll then complain about a memory allocation error, and you'll be forced to close some applications. Not ideal, but manageable in most cases.

The biggest problem with the memory isn't the amount that is initially free, it's when you experience a memory leak. Since you only have about 14MB to start with, a memory leak is noticeable pretty quickly. I have one that forces me to soft reset about once a week. I haven't tracked it down yet, but one notices it when applications start running really slowly. It's entirely possible a third-party application or game is triggering it, but I've decided to wait for AKU2 before worrying about this.

So can a power user use the 700w without too many memory problems? Probably. However, it may depend on what kind of power user you are -- I'm a bit of a minimalist when it comes to Today plugins and background applications; I don't use any custom Today plugins anymore, and if you put a lot of stuff on the Today screen, it's entirely possible you'll find the RAM to be a bit too anemic for your tastes. On the other hand, I'm not sure how many Today plugins you want to cram in on that 240x240 display. Still, if Palm had bothered to put an additional 32MB, we wouldn't need to have this discussion in the first place.

Okay, enough on specs. How does the Treo 700w feel in the pocket, and how does it stack up to other contemporary Pocket PCs?

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