Palm Treo Pro: Not digging it

Underwhelming. That’s the word that comes to mind when I look at the new Palm Treo Pro. Yes, nicer looking for sure, with a strong influence from the lower-cost Centro model (and looking rather like the upcoming Blackberry Bold). And it has 3G and WiFi, which is great, and the newest version of Windows Mobile, and GPS, though these can also be found on existing competitors. So it’s got a decent package of features, but what’s so compelling about it that isn’t being offered elsewhere?

In this day and age, offering a screen that takes up less than 50% of the device, especially with as big borders around it as the Pro has, just doesn’t cut it. I’m not suggesting touchscreen only here, as I definitely prefer typing on a physical keyboard to tapping on a virtual one, but really, even a business-oriented device like this one is going to be used to show off photos, looking at web pages, etc. which all benefit from a large screen. 320x320 has been the Palm standard for years now. Heck, even the Palm Tungsten T3 I had 4 years ago had a 50% bigger screen, albeit without a physical keyboard. The Pro’s screen already looks small, and will look even more diminutive over its product lifecycle given how slowly Palm brings out new models.

Size-wise the Pro is almost identical to Blackberries, though longer. It’s fatter than the iPhone. So no real advantage in pocketability or bragging rights there.

The talk time and battery life are good, but the 2MP camera is ho-hum.

In this video Palm talks about how the Windows interface is great because it mimics what people are used to on their desktops. Ironically, as Rob Haitani, the software architect for Palm back in the day used to talk about, the whole philosophy of the original Palm OS was that you should not try to mimic a big-screen mouse/screen environment, because it was not optimized for small-screen direct touch interactions. Transferring desktop interaction patterns onto a handheld was just not efficient, and which is why the early versions of Windows Mobile were slow to use. Now they’ve adopted the Windows platform on this device, Palm has to sing the opposite song.

Palm got a lot right in their earliest models, but they’ve struggled to stay innovative and focused in the last few years.

In the video they also talk about how they wanted to take care of all the little details. It looks like they’ve done that, but by focusing on the small things Palm’s come up with a device that treads water in the market. There are no big things that really push the boat out further compared to other smartphones, no marquee features that really stand out from the increasingly large and diverse crowd. With the current state of the smartphone market, that’s just not good enough to move the needle on their dwindling market share and attract new customers to the Palm brand.