Toybox: Palm Treo Pro is a sweet Windows smartphone

The Treo Pro introduces a number of sought-after features but the high price may drive some away

The BlackBerry, iPhone, and the first Android phone may be the kings of smartphone cool, but if you ask me, they all share one big shortcoming: they don't run Windows Mobile.

I know that statement puts me in a distinct minority. But I love the way Windows Mobile supports push email from Microsoft Exchange Server and easily syncs with Outlook. Not to mention several other business-friendly features the competition lacks — including VPN software and the ability to view and edit Microsoft Office documents.

The Palm Treo Pro — an unlocked, quad-band, Windows Mobile 6.1 device with a physical QWERTY keyboard and 2.5-inch, 320-by-320-pixel display — isn't the first Windows Mobile handset by Palm, but the HTC-manufactured Pro is the smallest.

The Treo Pro has a modern look. It fits comfortably in your hand. with about the same footprint as the iPhone and slightly more petite than the BlackBerry Bold. Although the Pro's case is plastic, the build quality is very good. My biggest gripe is the shiny black surface, which really shows fingerprints and scratches.

Unlike similar devices, Palm's hardware gives you quick access to a number of common functions. For example, around the case's edge are dedicated buttons for power, wireless connection, and volume — plus a ring silencer and a camera. On the bottom, there's a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and microUSB connector. Front-mounted buttons provide quick access to email, calendar, and Windows menus.

The keyboard is a little cramped, and the keys will be too recessed for some. But with my medium-sized hands, I had no problems typing accurately. That said, it's not on par with BlackBerry keyboards or the Palm Treo 750's keyboard. You also can interact with applications using Window Mobile's on-screen keyboard or via the Pro's five-way navigation wheel.

The screen, a long-needed upgrade from past Palm devices, is very crisp and readable indoors. Outside in sunlight, the display almost washes out, but is readable in the shade. The Treo Pro's touchscreen was responsive, and I was very impressed with the accuracy when using finger presses. I pulled out the included stylus only a few times to deal with a dense Windows menu here and there.

Perhaps the biggest hardware limitation is the relatively minuscule 100MB of free user memory. Then there's the hassle of getting to the microSD memory card slot (which holds up to a 32GB card, when they become available), hidden under the battery cover.

The Treo Pro simplifies a few tasks while maintaining clean screens. For instance, the MyTreo screen helps you set up the device. And the main Today display is uncluttered.

Since you're dealing with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, there's an abundance of corporate functionality. I had no trouble connecting to a Microsoft Exchange server and receiving push email. I also added three POP email accounts, quickly configured using a Wizard. There's a copy of Microsoft Office Mobile and the standard fare of Internet Explorer Mobile.

The Treo Pro generally performed well, launching applications within a few seconds. And there were no lags in input, such as entering numbers on the phone keypad.

Overall, the Treo's Assisted-GPS hardware (which uses a combination of cellular tower and GPS satellite information) achieved initial fixes within 30 seconds and worked well.

The 2-megapixel autofocus camera's quality is nothing to rave about, its 1,600-by-1,200-pixel resolution are fine for, say, documenting construction jobs or insurance claims. Indoor photo quality is poor.

For Palm users, the Treo Pro introduces a number of sought-after features in contemporary packaging. But the high price, compared to other unlocked devices with similar features, may drive some away.

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