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


The Treo 700w's Thumbboard
This brings us to the other unique Treo feature: the thumbboard. Yes, the thumbboard is small, no doubt about it. But is it usable? To answer this question, I've been testing the thumbboard heavily before this review. To give you a little background as to my thumbboard experience, I've historically hated thumbboards. I bought a snap-on thumbboard for my iPAQ 3870, but found it too clumsy to use and quickly shelved it -- Pocket PC 2002 and Windows Mobile 2003 required too much simultaneous touch screen and thumbboard use. I tried the thumbboard approach again with the JasJar, and finally got hooked. The JasJar makes it easy, though: the keys are massive on the JasJar.


Figure 14: One more comparison shot between the 700w and JasJar.

In fact, for anyone who considers themselves "fat-fingered", I suggest they try out the JasJar/Universal: the keys are slightly domed and have a rough texture to make them easy to press. They are also large enough that it's extremely hard to accidentally press another key while pressing the desired key. Anyway, coming from the JasJar, I went to the other extreme in thumbboard-land: from the largest thumbboard on the market to the smallest. And my conclusion: the Treo 700w thumbboard is "okay". It's usable, and you'd be surprised how fast and accurately you can type on it, but it's certainly not the most comfortable thumbboard I've used.


Figure 15: The Treo 700w's thumbboard.

As figure 15 shows, any ordinary person's thumbs are going to be significantly larger than a 700w key. I'm not fat-fingered, by the way: I took classical piano lessons for about 10 years, and have fairly slender, long fingers. The trick is to use either your fingernail or the side of your thumb to accurately finger individual keys. Actually, you don't have to: the 700w handles multiple keypresses intelligently, so if you decide to press a key with the middle of your finger and make contact with 3 others, the 700w will get your intention right most of the time. Still, I like to use the keys in a way that I can see what I'm pressing. I'm a typist, but it's different to type thumbboard keys blindly as opposed to a desktop keyboard, and I find it much more comfortable "edging" the keys with the side of my finger.

The texture of the keys are slightly rubbery, so your fingers grip them nicely as you're typing. The one exception is if you've just washed your hands with soap; the keys do feel slippery at that point, and typing is significantly harder until your body regenerates your natural skin oils.

My other main concern was the usability of using the 700w thumbboard to dial while walking. It's one thing to stop, grasp the 700w firmly in both hands, and to carefully peck at the thumbboard; it's another to want to walk down the street and call your friend. I am pleased to say that dialing is a reasonable process. It's not the same as a larger-keyed regular dialpad, but it's much better than any other Pocket PC phone on the market, for the simple fact that the thumbboard is always there. You simply pull the unit out of your pocket, turn it on, and start dialing. There's no awkward flip like the JasJar or slide like the Wizard/Apache, no using the top row for numbers, and no screen-thumbing like the non-thumbboard-enabled Pocket PC phones. You just pull it out and you dial. If doing a number dial, Palm helpfully colors the dialpad differently and puts a tactile bump on the 5 key in the middle of the dialpad so you can quickly find the keys. Best of all, the Palm dialer is smart enough to know if you're dialing names or numbers; I'll talk about that when I get to the Palm Today screen plugins later in the review. Finally, if you need to dial an alphabetic number (like 1-800-PALM-ROX), there is a on-screen dialpad that can be summoned, which does thankfully have the letters mapped to each number. (The Blackberries are famous for not having this, which has driven a former Blackberry-toting officemate of mine crazy on occasion.)

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