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Treo Grande

Palm (PALM) lovers rejoice: The Treo 700p from Sprint (S) is easily the best phone yet from your favorite PDA shop.

Unfortunately, however, while the newest Treo may be at the top of its game, the game in smartphones right now is to beat Treo.

This heavyweight champ boasts a fantastic screen and fast Net speed, but the $650 price tag ($400 with a two-year contract) and unfashionable girth could be its downfall.

There are a number of lean, up-and-coming contenders vying for Treo's crown, including Motorola's (MOT) svelte Q phone , Samsung's i320 and Nokia's (NOK) E61.

The modern Treo is the latest achievement by designers who've gracefully married calling to the Palm's PDA functions.

The brilliance of a handheld computer phone is evident, with features like automatic prompts to make contact files for each new caller and the ability to create and attach Microsoft Word documents to mobile emails.

Add to that the computerlike QWERTY keyboard, along with the sharper 3-inch touch-screen display, and you can see why gizmo fans adore this handy package.

But let's consider the heft of that package for a moment.

Apparently, all that onboard computing power prevented the folks at Palm from heeding the slimming trend that's swept through the mobile-phone industry. The Treo 700p is actually thicker and heavier than its predecessor, the Treo 600.

As phone trends go, thinner is a winner. After a few weeks of toting the diminutive Motorola Q around, the Treo 700p by comparison felt like a pocket-straining hulk.

But in its defense, Palm probably never aspired to make fashion phones. And the Treo's beauty is present -- it just lies more within.

Utilities like syncing calendars, contact lists and other files with your computer are huge, when they work. Sadly, after several tries via disk and download, both with and without technical support, the Treo 700p's desktop-synchronization program failed to install correctly. With hope, the glitch was limited to this trial phone.

Though WiFi was initially promised last year when Palm first announced the 700, the cheap, fast Internet connection continues to be a no-go with Treo. Certainly Sprint doesn't want to underwrite any free Net calling services, especially when it's looking for a little return on its big network investment.

Users will find that traveling the Web on Sprint's evolution data-only (or EV-DO) network is relatively quick. A few speed tests put access at about 107 kilobits per second; most pages took 15 seconds or less to load.

Testing the phone over a couple of weeks in several cities showed Sprint's service to be surprisingly strong. The phone had good network coverage and signal strength, with clear connections and only a handful of dropped calls.

The 1.3 megapixel camera was decent. Taking video was easy, and the quality of the sound and pictures was solid. There were no preloaded videos or games on the phone, but several were available for purchase through an online menu. For a few bucks you could even download short TV clips.

Disappointingly for business users, there's no BlackBerry email service. Office and field workers must convince their employers to buy another enterprise email service, such as Good Technologies' system, to access work email on the Sprint Treo from the road.

Fortunately, the Palm operating system ran more nimbly than Windows Mobile, which, along with Symbian, runs other cell phones in this category. More to the point, there were no major freeze-ups to report.

The Treo 700p comes with 60MB of internal memory. There's also an easy access SD slot for removable memory. For music, the Windows Media Player works with MP3 and iTunes formats. The 700p also has Bluetooth for wireless earphones and PC connections.

Overall, the Treo is a great phone, designed for PDA fans by computer makers. The problem is that phone makers have also designed a new generation of wonderfully sleek handsets to please the PDA crowd.

Treo's run as king of the smartphones may be ending.



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