September 3, 2005

I am really angry at Palm.

Today, I complain about something that I really wanted to like, but cannot any more. My Palm Treo 650 phone. It is a cautionary tale, one from which we can all learn a lesson. Maybe not a lesson on the level of "don't stuff the government with your idiot cronies and then be surprised when it doesn't function when disaster strikes," but those kinds of lessons apparently need to be learned the hard way, again and again. (While I'm on the subject, Delicious Monster is donating our 2005 Q1 Amazon revenue to disaster relief, since, you know, the richest federal government in the world is congenitally incapable of doing anything that might be mistaken as "good," since all our money is busy being spent toppling nations.)

What was I talking about again? Oh, yes, phone. I used to really wuv my Treo, but now I've taken to hating this device, because I've spent a small fortune on it and countless hours, and it has progressively become less and less functional.

When I first bought it, I spent extra to get the "unlocked" version, thinking that I would surely own this lovely Palm longer than I would stay with any particular carrier. I should mention that I haven't owned a Palm in years, because I used to have a beautiful Palm V, made of shiny Titanium or some such. It was a small, gorgeous work of art, made when Palm was at its apex. But it didn't function as a cell phone, and I found I really got tired of having my pockets stuffed with pagers, cell phones, and Palms, so I stopped using the Palm V. And after it Palm released the almost-useless Palm VII, which was ugly, weighed about 700 pounds, and had sort of network access, sort of, but not a phone.

Then they started releasing all these plastic pieces of crap, and licensing their operating system to others so they could release ugly pieces of crap. The amazing thing was that I'd hold up my Palm V and say, "Ok, has anything this beautiful come from Palm or Handspring or Sony in the last seven years?" and the answer would always be, "Oh, no, not really, although we have this ugly piece of crap..."

So I used the calendar and contacts in my cell phones, which synced perfectly with my Mac, and made do with their tiny screens and their no-keyboards.

But, lo, a friend showed me his Palm Treo 650, and it had a beautiful screen, and I saw that it was good. So I bought one.

And the keyboard is surprisingly easy to use.


• It turns out that the built-in e-mail reader, VersaMail, actually doesn't really delete your mail from your IMAP mail servers. Now, I'm not an idiot when it comes to protocols and stuff, and I've tried it with two separate services, and it simply does not work. Oh, sure, there's a PREFERENCE you can set to delete mail from the server when you delete it locally (also: DUH!), and there's a PROMPT, and then it'll go ahead and merrily ignore you and download the same mail and spam you just deleted, over and over. HEY, it turns out THAT IS NOT USEFUL. In fact, it's completely useless for the way I read mail if I can't delete the junk and transfer the good messages to other mailboxes when I've read them. Apparently this mail reader is for people who literally want to only read their mail, and not actually, you know, DO anything with it.

So, I never use that.

• The web browser, although a truly amazing piece of engineering (with JavaScript and images and all kinds of things), is freaking slow. The 650 has, like, no memory, an anemic processor, and a tiny little capillary to the internet, and so every time you load a page it takes like 30 seconds or so. It can't cache pages, so going back and forth from a google list takes literal minutes.

I have, honestly, tried to use it several times when I was out, and each time everyone around me has lost patience and gone on with their lives before I found any useful info. It'd be like, "Hey, where's the bar?" "Oh, I'll look it up on the internet..." [5 minutes pass] "Uh, I'm just gonna call 611..." "No, really, the page is coming up! I swear."

None of this is really Palm's fault (unlike the mail-reader that can't delete), but it's still a case of, nice try, but I don't use that.

• The messaging system is really nice, but unlike the Danger, you can't talk to people on AIM, you (and they) have to pay 5 cents a page to talk to each other. So, I do use messaging, and I love the keyboard on the Palm, but it really could stand some improvement.

• Syncing with the Mac was an exercise in arduousness. Certainly, it was possible, with enough time and know-how and installations, to install the Palm Desktop software which I'd never use, and set up a fake Bluetooth to serial line, and install the iSync -> Palm Desktop conduits, and enable them in Palm HotSync Preferences, and disable the Palm Desktop conduits, and get the damn phone to sync, once I'd discovered that the group I was syncing to my phone in Address Book had to contain at least one person, not just other groups, otherwise NONE of the people would sync (unlike with my Motorola and Sony-Ericsson phones). And certainly a lot of this was Apple's fault, but, honestly, Palm should have just said, "Damn, every Mac ships with a built-in, shared calendar program and an address book -- let's chuck this crappy custom stuff we've been making and get our software to work well with what Apple's doing!"

• The phone sound quality was always bad (there was ALWAYS a hiss on the line) and it would periodically just hang up in the middle of a call. It was pretty annoying.

I'd like to mention at this point that Palm just spent a gazillion dollars buying the name "Palm" back from PalmSource (who they just spun off) so they can use the name "Palm" all over. This is one of those Dilbert-style management things, where they're all, "We should spin off our hardware and software! No, wait, buy back the name! No, sell! License the fromjub! Re-org! Capitalize our key assets!"

This is always a bad sign for a company. I'm like: Hey, here's an idea... spend your time and money making your products not suck. Nobody gives a crap if you're called Palm or PalmOne or Pam or Spam. Your asset isn't your name, you dickweeds, it's your reputation for having a cool device, which you are destroying by having the device not be cool any more.

So, now Palm comes out with a firmware update they recommend to everyone. Now, here's where the story really takes a tragic turn. First off, it's not just one firmware update, it's like four of them, and you use a different revision depending on what carrier you use. Confidence-inspiring! Because I'm SURE that there aren't going to be 4x the bugs in four different revisions.

But they recommend everyone upgrade, and say that the sound quality gets better, and mumble about other improvements in mail. Sign me up.

Let's talk about how not to do an upgrade, shall we?

• Don't come out with an upgrade that simply cannot be loaded into the anemic memory you provide for your device without the user deleting the programs that come with the device. That sucks!

• If you go ahead and do the above, then for gosh sakes write a nice custom program on the computer that will unload everything from the device, upgrade it, and then put everything back. Don't just provide instructions on your website on how to create a second, dummy account on your computer to do the syncing with a minimal system install. If you ever find yourself writing an upgrade where EVERY user is going to have to create AN ENTIRE SECOND ACCOUNT JUST TO UPGRADE THEIR STINKING PHONE, you are PROBABLY MAKING A MISTAKE. TAKE SOME OF THE FUCKING MONEY YOU SPENT BUYING THE WORD "PALM" AND SPEND IT ON WRITING AN UPGRADER.

Ok, so after an ENTIRE evening and part of the next afternoon trying, I got my phone upgraded and working again. It had lost all its settings and no longer knew about my computer, which meant I had to set up syncing again. Palm warned me to use the newer version of Palm Desktop with this newer firmware, so I downloaded it, as well, and after dancing the magic dance for about six hours, I had my Palm syncing once again.

Here's the worst part, though: syncing ONLY worked because the computer already knew about the Palm, and was still happy to talk to it, even though the Palm had forgotten about the computer. (If only ex-girlfriends were so forgiving!)

The next week I have a computer crash. I get my drive replaced entirely. Here's where the REAL FUN starts. Obviously, I need Palm Desktop to sync with the Palm again. So I got to Except, wait a minute... the software that they said was REQUIRED to sync with the new version of the Palm is gone. Replaced with a page that says, "Mac users: Sorry, we took the new version down. Just use the version on your CD. Except we told you not to. Good luck!" For the last two weeks, it hasn't been on their web site. TODAY, they've added it back.

Now, again, I'm going to make a short list of things you can do with your money instead of spend it buying the word "Palm":


Hmm. Well, problem is solved now, right? Because now I've finally got the new Palm Desktop from Palm, so I can dance the magic dance again (install Palm Desktop, and, under Tiger, just click button to install Apple conduits) and maybe sync.

Except, here's the panel from when I paired my phone with my new Mac:

Hey, be sure to zoom in on that photo. That's right, after the firmware upgrade, there are NO SUPPORTED SERVICES on my Palm. I can't use it as a dial-up modem any more, even though I'm paying extra to get all-you-can-eat data from Cingular. No point in that! And I can't sync with my phone, nor dial with it!

Heck, I'm not even sure why I bothered pairing it with my computer, because it sure as hell can't do shit! What an idiot I am!

Now, this may be Apple's fault. Who knows? Except, here's my logic:

• All these things worked with my Palm and my Mac.
• Palm upgraded the Firmware
• Now none of these things work.
∴ It's Palm's fault.

But, wait, I can still go into iSync on the Mac and tell it to look for devices. Maybe it'll pair up with the phone anyways?

Hah! Denial! It's not just a river in Egypt, that has overflowed for thousands of years and yet still our leader can't grasp the concept of rivers overflowing.

But, hmm. Maybe I can hack around a bit. I run Palm Hotsync Manager, enable the Bluetooth connection, and check the conduit settings. The iSync conduit isn't enabled, since iSync couldn't find the Palm. However, when I enable the conduit, SUCCESS. The Palm shows up in iSync, and I can finally, finally, update my address book and calendar on the Palm. Sure, I still can't use it as a modem, but even getting back basic functionality seems like a godsend after all this time using the Palm as a dumb phone.

And, a dumb phone it is. Because, see, the upgrade woes are not the only problem with the Treo. Sure, with the upgrade, the sound got better, but here are some other fun fone features:

• If you don't disable the touchscreen when you're on a call (using preferences), you'll press the "hold" soft-button with your cheek. A LOT. A WHOLE LOT. EVERY SINGLE CALL, EVEN. There's no way to know you've done this if you're talking, so you'll just talk and talk for a while and then finally notice the person isn't responding, and then when you look at your phone you notice they've been on hold this whole time, and since they don't know why it suddenly went silent, they'll have hung up. But if you DO disable the touchscreen, well, you can't touch the buttons and put people on hold and the like.

• About half of the time now, my phone rings once and then instantly sends the person calling me to voicemail, with no record that anyone called. Not in the logs or anything. Which is amazing to me, because I'm like, "Hey, didn't you just ring? How come there's no log of an incoming call?" And the phone is all, "Ring? I'm not sure what you're talking about?" And I'm all, "Well, it seems awfully suspicious that I THOUGHT I heard a ring just now, and now, 20 seconds later, you're telling me I have new voicemail, but you never told me I had an incoming call, and it's not in the log." And the phone is all, "¿Que? No habla englais."

Now, admittedly, this happens a lot when the phone is in my pocket, so possibly my pocket is magically always pressing whatever button is set to "send this to voicemail and also forget you ever received it." And if it's my pocket doing it, you might call this user error, except, you know, I'd would ALMOST THINK that a phone would be DESIGNED to come out of a pocket while ringing and NOT HANG UP on the person calling. Because, see, this is amazingly annoying. I've had entire days where no calls get through, and I have to check voicemail every couple minutes. EXCEPT...

• The touch-tone keypad often sends double digits when you press a single digit key, on either the touch screen or the keypad. So, if your voicemail password is, say, "1234" (mine is not, nice try), you'll send "122344". Now, you may think this sounds like user error, but it happens about half the time for me. And, here's the rub, the PALM ITSELF says that you typed "1234". I mean, there's a record of what you typed right there on the screen, and it's clearly been typed correctly. Except, no, it's sending doubled digits. SO I CAN'T GET INTO MY VOICEMAIL.

I only found this out because I called my pharmacy's refill service, and when I typed in my refill number the computer repeated it back to me, only with half the digits doubled. I was like Ellen Feiss, all "duhhhh?", and I typed it again, and they repeated it back doubled again, and I typed it again, and the computer is all, "Please hold while we transfer you to a real person, IDIOT..."

Oh, and when you press the "#" key on the keyboard it sends the "#" keytone FOREVER, although "#" works on the soft-screen. I'm not saying "FOREVER" as in, "amazing long," I mean, IT ACTUALLY WILL NEVER STOP. IT JUST KEEPS SENDING #.

Is this a feature? Because I don't find it useful. I think this is pretty stunning, because, you know, it's not that uncommon for a computer to be all, "Give me such-and-such a number, followed by the # key," and yet NOBODY at Palm has EVER hit that key on their keyboard, and noticed IT GOES ON FOREVER? It's really obvious, on account of the not-stopping.


Let's talk about the philosophy of complaining a bit. I didn't sit here for an hour typing this in because I hate Palm and want them to die. I honestly don't have that kind of free time. I'm complaining because I want them to do better. I want them to create a device I can love again, the way I loved my Palm V. It was, for its time, a truly beautiful piece of work, inside and out.

Now, the Treo does a lot more than the V, but at every step there's a little gotcha. A little rough edge that nicks you. To me, it's too much like using Windows; sure, the features are there, SORT OF, if you fight enough for them. But after a while, you get worn down, and you stop trying.

For $600 (unlocked), this should be an amazing phone. It should knock my socks off. I can buy a Motorola flip-phone for like $120 that is half the size and has all the features I can use on the Treo right now, and it'll work without all the gotchas and magic dances. (I know; I've owned a couple before, as well as two models of the execrable Sony-Ericsson line (Motto: We put the "slow" in "Damn this crappy phone is slow!").)

I like my keyboard. I like my big, bright screen. I like having a general-use computer with other software. But somebody at Palm needs to start thinking like Steve Jobs. Someone needs to make it her job to say, "This detail sucks, and if the details suck the whole thing sucks, and if our product sucks we suck, so we're going to stay here and we're going to fix this and we're not going to ship until the phone doesn't suck."

Good luck, that person.

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Anonymous David Scully said...

Um. All PDAs suck anyway.

September 04, 2005 3:09 AM

Anonymous Nis Wilson Nissen said...

What a great post :D

I haven't laughed so much from a blog post in long time.

I use a SonyEricsson K750i (my first SonyEricsson) and it is actually quite fast and has many nice features like 2mega pixel camera with auto-focus, calendar, it's good for text messages, listen to FM radio, read email (though their client is not so good either), browse the internet and it works as a phone on top of everything else.


September 04, 2005 3:38 AM

Blogger Mike Matas said...

I told you to get a SideKick.

September 04, 2005 10:33 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Siemens S56 has a little silver earpiece, which isn't functional per se, but does look pretty. After less than a month with the phone, it fell off, leaving this ugly glue-stained spot that looks like something is supposed to go there (like, say, a little silver earpiece).

Meanwhile, 2600 miles away, my wife's little silver earpiece falls off at the same time. Coincidence?

Then, when my phone was destroyed and replaced with a new one of the same model (which is a whole other study in bad customer service), the new one also lost the silver earpiece in less than a month.

I have to wonder what's going on in the Siemens factory. Are all their phones this defective? Or is having the silver earpiece fall off a feature? Maybe that's what they meant by "Java support." I don't know.

However, between the phone and my car, I've developed a simple test. It only has one question: "Does your device have piece just sort of randomly fall off?" If the answer is yes, the device is a piece of crap.

September 04, 2005 10:38 AM

Blogger Josh said...

Good stuff, Will. Is this a job that even you would want to take on or would it just be annoying as heck??

Cause you know they'll probably want your help after reading this . . . if they have any money left after their odd purchase of "Palm."

September 04, 2005 10:46 AM

Anonymous Nick said...

This covers much of my feelings about Palm over the years. I was a Palm user starting in the fall of 1996, when I got a US Robotics Pilot 5000. I absolutely adored it, and turned a number of my friends onto Pilots as well (I must admit that there was one friend who turned me on to them, so I wasn't quite the pioneer).

Anyway, six years later I found myself with an original Handspring and thought, "you know, this is really not any different than the Pilot I had in 1996" and decided I had had enough of Palm devices. Their Mac support was lagging, as you point out, their OS was not up to the task of dealing with network or realtime communications, and the platform just wasn't moving anywhere. Now I just keep my contacts, notes, and calendar on my iPod. I still miss having a calculator and a few other things about my Palm, but it just wasn't justifying itself anymore.

I think the Palm platform suffered the same fate as Apple did in the 1989-1997 period. They were years ahead, but the just stopped moving and watched the world pass them by. Saddled with an outdated OS, they've tried numerous strategies to build the uber-device, but they've either gone nowhere (BeOS assets?) or just tread water.

As a personal information manager, the Pilot was great. It seamlessly integrated with your desktop computer. As a group information manager it lacked, and even though I had many friends with Palms I never felt that their personal information was ever tied to mine, even though we had the same friends, attended the same parties, and generally were interested in much of the same stuff. It's a tough problem, but had Palm cracked that nut it could be a very powerful platform today.

I think you're a little too kind to Apple in your post, though. Lots of people have cut themselves on Apple's sharp edges over the last four year. What I think differentiates post-1997 Apple from Palm is that Apple is moving. With every revision of Mac OS X, the new features are a mixed bag. Some are great, some aren't quite up to the hype, but you know that in another 18 months things on the platform will be different and almost certainly be better. Apple certainly doesn't always move in the direction I want, but sometimes they move in surprising and useful directions I didn't anticipate, and that's not something I can say for the Palm platform.

It's really sad, ultimately, because I think the original Pilot hit home with a lot of Mac users (probably far more Mac users than the Newton). Sure, you could criticize Graffiti as putting the machine before the person, but the original Pilot had a simple interface that "just worked". It even had the same processor as the original Mac. (I was amazed to have a Mac 512k in my pocket at the time). I'm still a gadget fan, and hope that by 2010 to have a gadget that I could have had in 2000 if Palm had kept moving).

September 04, 2005 10:52 AM

Anonymous Komor said...

This all is a proof of the fall of western civilisation... ;-) Everything gets cheaper and dumber, despite those new features driven by marketing, not engineering efforts and real user needs. Now I'm using Sony Ericsson K700i after almost 10 years of using Nokia, and - while it's fast and has those features (driven by marketing...) - it feels like Windows to me. Simply put, there are some small glitches that spoil the fun. Seems that they could easily fix it, but they don't. Partly due to patents-crazyness, I guess. And, yes, battery life sucks.

September 04, 2005 10:55 AM

Anonymous Andrew Aldrich said...

I know what you mean by the Sony Ericsson slow comment. Doing anything with my T610 is an exercise in patience.

September 04, 2005 11:18 AM

Blogger Matt James said...

I think the last line really sums up what is wrong with a lot of companies and why Apple and Delicious Monster have been receiving such great praise recently. No one pays attention to the details anymore. Be they technical, aesthetic, experience-based, etc. If they did, they'd be making such great products as as the companies I mentioned above.

September 04, 2005 11:40 AM

Anonymous Petter Jensen said...

Heh... good thing I did not go for the Treo then... I actually chose the A1000 because of the faster internet on that one... and allthough not supported originally, works nicely with iSync with a little hack.
No real keyboard though...

September 04, 2005 12:03 PM

Anonymous Steve Streza said...

I bought a phone that does what a phone should do - be a phone. And it works very well.

All-in-one devices that are anything short of full-fledged computers almost always suck.

September 04, 2005 1:01 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Things are just as bad on the PocketPC side of the fence... I barely resist the urge to hurl my HP 6315 against a wall on a daily basis.

Apple needs to get into the ring and show the "smart" phone makers how it's done.

September 04, 2005 1:20 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of your issues (second half of the posting) sound like hardware and carrier issues. I've had a 650 (Sprint) for eight months without the same problems. Several 650-wielding friends haven't reported those issues.

Get a good case and don't carry the unit in a pocket. Good way to scratch the touch screen. A good case won't trigger the touchscreen except in extreme situations (like sitting on it).

Comments on CPU, memory and Mac integration are right on target.

It could be worse. You could bought a Blackberry.

September 04, 2005 1:31 PM

Blogger Rufo said...

Got to be honest here: I've had every Sprint variation of the Treo since the 300 and I've had very, very few of the problems you've experienced.

VersaMail: Do not pass go, do not collect $200, and do not use VersaMail, go directly to Chattermail and live a much happier life.

Web: I use the Sprint version, so I get rather faster data speeds then you do on a GSM network (about 2x is my understanding). Even so I rarely (if ever) use the browser to browse "real" websites - it's just a pointless waste of time. Most of the things you'd need/want to access on the go have mobile portals with greatly scaled-down interfaces, which will save you loads of time. Between mobile websites and Handmark Express, which I use extensively for the 411 and mapping features, which are truly excellent and very fast (well worth the money IMO), I don't have much of a complaint with the data speed.

AIM: Grab Toccoer and enjoy free AIM messaging with a very nice interface. If you want multi-service capability, get Verichat, but beware of the yearly fees/possible SMS fees.

Syncing: Palm OS Syncing sucks. Period. I won't excuse it. If you use Missing Sync, it's better, but it still sucks. I'd be much happier if somebody just released a freakin' iCal/Address Book conduit that supported more then one address and categories in the calendar app, but the syncing would still suck.

Phone Quality: Never had a problem at all with voice quality and the Treo 65, nor with periodic random hangups. The 300 and 600 had some issues, but the 650 is "are you really on a cell phone?" good. There could be issues with the GSM version, or with your particular phone. Might want to call Palm (if you dare).

Firmware Upgrading: The situation with multiple versions sucks, but since each phone carrier has their own crippled version I'm not sure what Palm can do without pissing off the phone companies; it's honestly not much more of a different situation then with any other cell phone with a different version for each carrier. I've been around the block enough with this stuff to know to back everything up to SD, then just do a hard reset and install the firmware, but you're right, you shouldn't have to go through that. Palm OS syncing sucks, in case I haven't mentioned it before.

Palm Desktop versioning: No idea. I didn't realize a different version of Palm Desktop was required. I think it's BS personally, but I also use Missing Sync, so I don't know what you do or don't need w.r.t Palm Desktop. (Have I mentioned Palm Desktop sucks?)

Bluetooth funkiness: This is definitely Palm's fault. There's something very funky with the Bluetooth on the Palm... many Bluetooth headsets don't work properly, with the auto-answering features often not working properly at all, and many car Bluetooth capabilities not working properly. These issues have led me to not purchase a Bluetooth headset at this time, which sucks, because I'd really freakin' like one. As far as iSync goes... yes, it doesn't show the "iSync" option because Palm doesn't support the SyncML protocol, which is what phones use and not Palm... it sort of makes sense if you understand what's going on behind the scenes, which is complicated, and you shouldn't have to deal with this sort of BS anyway. (Did I mention Palm OS syncing sucks?) The Bluetooth DUN... I have no idea. I had to futz around forever to get mine to work but then again I had to hack my Sprint Treo to get it to work for months, so I'm not the best indicator. You might want to try enabling Bluetooth DUN in the Bluetooth settings and then re-pairing the phone; that might just be it.

Touchscreen: I have honestly never, ever accidently set off the touchscreen during a call. Ever. You must have chubby cheeks or something. :-) Seriously though, I use the D-Pad for everything, and if you're not you're a weenie, because you can still use the d-pad to select hold/mute/add-call/etc. even with the touchscreen disabled.

Automatic Voicemail/Double digits: This is really starting to lead me to believe there's a problem with your Treo. Never had these problems. Might want to check out and see if they're common.

Overall, yes, there's much to hate about the Treo, mcuh of which is just common about Palm in general these days. However, I truly believe it's the best device out there by a long shot, and I don't think that either the phone capability or the PDA capability is limited by either; it's truly the best convergence device I've seen personally. I like the ideas that are put into the Sidekick but the lack (up until recently) of Mac syncing and the incredibly limited hardware platform would drive me up the wall, as I have all sorts of neat things on mine that Danger would never let me do with a Sidekick.

So, yes, I see where you're coming from, and I agree: The "zen of palm" is lost, at least for now. I'd love to see them return to their former glory. But the sad thing is, they're still the best thing out there.

September 04, 2005 3:26 PM

Blogger Ben Combee said...

I've forwarded your comments to several of my collegues at Palm. Thanks for the useful feedback.

September 04, 2005 4:34 PM

Blogger thomas Aylott said...

You echo my sentiments exactly.
I havn't had so many problems with my treo 650. Mostly because my expectations are rounding home into the negatives.

I started palming with a Kyo 6035. Neat, but useless.
Then I upgraded to a Kyo 7135. This was the most upsetting period or my technical life. I loved it for it's potential. But it was only a tease. I broke it by accident.
Then I got myself the treo 600. the 5 way pad is awesome. But again, only a tease. I couldn't actually get it to do much of anything useful. I eventually smashed it to bits on my desk in a fit of bi-polar rage. It was a love/hate relationship.
Recently I got a treo 650. The screen is breathtaking. With 160 ppi & bright enough to blind you. This this was the ultimate tease. The potential is there for such wonderful stuff...

It makes you appreciate how hard it must be for Apple to make stuff that just works.

September 04, 2005 4:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Convergence devices suck, they are gadgets.
and nothing more. The best device ever was
an Apple Newton, and Palm, who actually hired
some of those Newton engineers, really dropped the ball by not heading in the "Soup" direction.
Also, what happened to those BEOS folks and
the software intelligensia behind that?
(which Palm also has or had,at least)
I support Treos and Palms and have had long
conversations with both Palm Tech support and
phone providers. It's almost as if these devices
exist exclusively.
These devices should work effortlessly and
with dependable results. None of them do.
Time to buy a pencil and a pad of paper.

September 05, 2005 8:03 AM

Blogger Mathieu said...

My PDA's have always been Cliés. The battery died on my first hi-res smaller screen Clié so I bought a Japanese language TH-55 the next time I was in Tokyo. Honestly I liked my simple, brushed blue metal Palm OS 3 point something based Clié better than the larger screenedfull blown OS 5. I think the Palm experience has really has gone down hill. The Sony hardware itself isn't too bad, except that the power button is a little tricky to use.

I had to get "The Missing Sync" to get it to sync with my Mac though. The setup was a little painful too. I kind of fiddle until it works, then I try not to touch anything. Syncing has mysteriously stopped working a few times, and I kind of have to put up with that until I do my own little dance again (format, re-install etc). But my dance never seems to be the same dance! I find it kind of odd though that I can sync wirelessly through my home wireless network, but the device doesn't come with bluetooth. Probably because of trends in the way Japanese people use their Cliés (hotspots?)

Compare all that to this:
I got a Sony Ericsson Z800i 3G phone on the 3 network a few weeks ago, and iSync found it as soon as I plugged the bluetooth into my Mac. It was amazing. I even blogged about it (wait I blog everything).
Anyway the end result: all my contacts calendars and todos synced across everything! Hooray! I can press a single external button twice and my next appointment comes up on the exterior screen. Great for checking room numbers quickly. There's heaps of nice touches like that, and they work.

And the phone seems fast too. I can watch streaming video or download the files really quickly, make face to face video calls too. The web browser seems to keep up with the network, although caching could be used more effectively.

And 1.3 Megapixels aint bad.

But if I had to make phone calls on my palm... well I wouldn't. And I wouldn't be able to do messaging with a touch screen interface either, unless it was on my Newton eMate, which kicks Palm OS ass in my opionion.

Anyway that's long enough.

September 05, 2005 8:10 AM

Blogger Charles said...

Hmm...I haven't had any trouble with my Palm at all, except for an arduous battery replacement that involved a hair dryer and spring clips and resulted in an ugly bit of duct tape required to keep the ground connection good... But I love my Palm.

On the other hand, you might not be surprised to hear that it's a Palm Vx. ;-)

Now, I'm no "retro electric" guy. My PowerBook and cellphone are both only about a year old, and I'd love to have a color Palm with a camera and built-in media player. For that matter, I'd love to have a Palm with all that plus a phone built-in. If only they could make one as good as the Palm V series...

September 05, 2005 10:07 AM

Blogger Drew Hamlin said...

ROFL. Yeah, you really should just get a Sidekick.

September 05, 2005 11:22 PM

Anonymous mugwump said...

I really enjoyed this article, and I've enjoyed quite a few of your interviews, keynote speeches, and other items even though I'm not in the computer biz.

You were spot on a few of the tortured exercises involved with the Treo, but there are a number of additional capabilities that make the Treo a really, really smart phone.

On my mac, I took the droplet "Move to Handheld", placed it in the finder toolbar, and drag videos at will to my memory card, which cost $60 for a gig. I even created a compressor droplet to convert anything to MPEG-1, then send it over to the Treo. Movies, videos, trailers on a phone is quite handy sometimes.

There are some great little Palm applications that bring back the days of simple and effective yore: someone beamed me over one called "Dir Assist" that instantly finds a residence or business in a X mile radius to where I am. Very fast and effective.

I have "Passport Wallet" application that syncs up all the passwords from my mac into my Treo with some basic security front-end to it.

Aren't there quite a few email applications for the Treo other than Versamail, which is a 3.0 version?

The Treo comes with software to edit and compose word, excel, and pdf's. Getting a contract sent to me as an attachment, making the critical changes in word, then sending it off again all while my car is getting fixed -- extremely handy.

*sigh* I do agree the Palm is dropping the OS ball through the friggin levee hole, but it is so useful in many other ways.

Have you ever tried to login to a server and do some admin tasks? How about creating this blog on your Treo? To be avoided, for sure, but you never know...

September 06, 2005 9:12 PM

Anonymous stevenkan said...

Wil, I couldn't agree more. My first Palm was a Palm Pilot (2nd gen, with the optional 2MB/IR card). It was a thing of beauty and elegance, surpassed only by my Palm Vx, which I bought only after dropping the Palm Pilot off the roof of my car at 40+ MPH :(

I bought a Treo 650 last month and it's been a CString of disappointments. Other bugs/features not mentioned by you, but probably experienced by you at some time or other:

1) The touchtones are too long to login properly to my voicemail system. They're also too long to be useful for very long entries like credit card numbers.

2) It crashes, and there's no external reset button. My Palm Pilot never crashed. My Palm V crashed maybe twice a year. My Treo 650 crashes every few days. It's like System 7.5 all over again. I hope we don't have to wait 5 more years for a Palm OS that doesn't crash. Hey PalmGuys--if your OS isn't bulletproof, provide us an accessible reset button. Removing the battery every few days to force a reboot is . . . inelegant.

3) Every few days the phone will just magically slow down by a few orders of magnitude. As in the new-email blinky thing blinks every 10-15 seconds, and keypresses take 30-60 seconds to respond. Sure, it hasn't crashed in the classic sense of the word "crash," but it's unusable. I prefer the phrase, "For the User, the Computer is Totally Unusable, Period." or FUCTUP for short. Yes, every few days my Treo 650 gets FUCTUP.

4) When my earpiece is attached, the phone doesn't ring in the earpiece. Uhhh, duh! Sure I can "fix" this with a $20 shareware app, but why should I have to?

Well, here's hoping that these all are fixable with future firmware updates.

September 07, 2005 7:04 AM

Anonymous brady said...

"My Palm is crashing."

Check out SonyEricsson's new phone (not out yet). Rumor has it Wi-Fi is supported.

September 07, 2005 8:54 PM

Blogger Ameen Malhas said...

Thanks for that, I haven't had this much fun reading a blog post in a while.

I miss my Nokia 6110 that I had in highschool, it worked, it was fast, and comparing "Snake" scores was fun. Now I own a clunky 9300, which crashes, freezes, can't handle multiple calls, and generally gives me the finger.

Nokia has had one of the better UIs but they seem to have forgotten how to make usable devices, my phone weighs a ton and doesn't have wifi or a cam.

The keyboard isn't backlit, it doesn't vibrate, and it doesn't have predictive text on the main screen.

I should post on my own blog about this, sorry I vented here, hope you find a new phone that solves your worries.

September 08, 2005 11:00 PM

Blogger English Writer said...

Hear yoy dude. Sadly it seems most companies/products are this way these days (beating out the competition's price by a few $ seems to be all that counts).

If you try to call them on it you just get a standard "The customer is the problem/you suck/no one else has these problems/we hope you enjoy using our sucky product but realistically there's crap all you can really do about it" response.

For some reason we put up with it (maybe we *are* the problem after all :)

September 08, 2005 11:03 PM

Anonymous jh. said...

I have had a variety of Palms over the years ranging from the Vx + m505 to a few of Sony's Clie line and have been overwhelmingly underwhelmed from the m505 on.

I cannot say that things ever moved me in a direction of being impressed post-Vx. Sure, color screens are great as are built-in cameras and the like - but these were merely additions. There has been no real amazing paradigm shift since OS v3.0 and I think that's probably one of the biggest letdowns.

I picked up a 650 about 6-7 months ago and took it back after a few days of having everyone I spoke to complain about hearing themselves/echo. That occurred in every possible fashion - normal, speaker, and with a bt headset. Obviously this pointed towards a firmware/software issue, and without getting any satisfactory answers returned it for a SE710a. This - of course - had been after buying Missing Sync and jumping through all the hoops to get it happily functioning with Panther/iSync. Versamail was horrible, at that point Gmail cried bloody murder at the Blazer browser, but I got pretty good signal and people sounded good to me. Oh well.

After having some friends pick up 650s recently, I had gotten favorable feedback and also confirmed that there had been significant firmware updates since my experience. So, I picked one up last night and stumbled across the same BS with regard to pairing it that Wil did - much to my chagrin. Luckily, I was able to install Missing Sync and take advantage of my abandoned investment to get things working. Still can't believe something as simple as calendar categories don't sync properly and - something I haven't seen mentioned above - is how recurring appointments are handled. iSync went crazy with conflicts after syncing since iCal just goes weekly/monthly/etc from the starting date whereas the Treo feels the need to insert the actual day of the week to the equation. Lame. I started to get things going with AvantGo and other such things only to start getting nothing but errors and failed syncs:

Sync starting at 9/8/05 9:41 PM (21:41:23) on USB
OK Install
9/8/05 9:41 PM iSync Conduit starting
9/8/05 9:41 PM iSync Conduit: received NULL message, disconnecting...
OK iSync Conduit
Error 5463: Error while reading from the AvantGo Server.
OK Mark/Space Conduit for AvantGo with 1 message(s)
MemoPad conduit was unable to open the MemoPad database on the handheld.
Failed Mark/Space MemoPad (0x400a)
TimeCopy: db removal failed: 16394
OK TimeCopy with 1 message(s)
 - Unexpected error number 0x400a

Failed Install (0x400a)
Failed Backup (0x400a)
Sync completed successfully at 9/8/05 9:41 PM (21:41:50)

Can't even sync the Time/Date... Sweet, yeah? Not to mention the fact that some genius Cingular employee must have swiped the AC adapter from the box of my Treo to satisfy some other unsatisfied Treo customer.

So it's Day 2 and whether this thing makes it past 30 without getting returned is a good question.

On a related note - The rumor mill has all but confirmed (haha) that the Treo 670 will be Windows Mobile which is like having the hottest girl in your class go from just having chronic halitosis and the IQ being the major drawback (admittedly annoying, perhaps tolerable, and ultimately causing no permanent damage) to ending up in the Cool Kids Herpes Club where the least of the problems is the foul smell and the $20 to Mark/Space for more software to make it work on a Mac.

September 09, 2005 11:12 AM

Blogger renaissance chambara said...

Palm lost the plot round about the time of the spin out. However, that's another story. If you want a decent mail client for the Treo 650 I can recommend Snappermail ( I have been using it on a Treo 600 for the past year and its the business.

September 11, 2005 9:53 AM

Anonymous R v Amerongen said...


I am happy to read these post about the treo, because now I know I am not the only one. On the other hand, now I am more sad then ever, because I did hope to exchange the phone with a new one. Mine is three months old. All those thing that I read above it happens to me to. Very irritating. Also two week back, I use my Treo 650 also as a alarm clock, my alarm did go off, and then I did hear a woman voice. Huh, I was sure the woman next to me was sleeping, so I pick up the phone from the carpet floor. I did put it there with the display down on the floor because of the flashing led. I saw the number. It did call 112 ( like 911 ). This was not the first time. Also it crashes when somebody calls me and I start calling someone at the same time.

September 23, 2005 4:18 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Treo 650 is the best Palm on the world.When you are so angry,you must buy a pocket pc. :-(

September 28, 2005 9:49 AM

Anonymous Hadley Stern said...

While Blackberry integration with the Mac may not be as robust as Palm as a device my Blackberry rocks. It is stable and just plain old works. Sure you can't modify the GUI as much, but who cares, it works.

September 28, 2005 2:04 PM

Blogger Sean said...

Admittingly, I didn't finish your rant-entry, nor read through all of the comments. I just had to comment myself, though, since I share most (if not all) of your complaints.

I just bought myself a Treo 650 about a month ago. Syncing to my Mac was the same dance, and I've since needed to perform it multiple times and have now gotten it down to a science and could probably earn a living doing it for hire. But that job would suck beans.

Now they're going Windows? I'm definitely ditching Palm. Sony Ericsson, here I come! (Again.)

September 29, 2005 9:18 AM

Anonymous Marco said...

Very good stuff. I laughed out loud. The point you made about Windows was excellent:

"To me, it's too much like using Windows; sure, the features are there, SORT OF, if you fight enough for them. But after a while, you get worn down, and you stop trying."

It's the reason I usually give for why I use a Mac instead of Windows. Many Windows users just don't see it, though - they've never known anything else.

BTW: The italics tag isn't working ... go Blogger!

October 04, 2005 12:12 AM

Anonymous Steve Cooley said...

Toccer for AIM, but, let me forewarn you. _do Not Leave Yourself OnLine_ in toccer, unless you like charging your battery every day. And night.

Missing Sync, and any number of tools to help with cheekholditis. :) True, it costs extra money to make the treo be less crappy. You're already in $600, what's another hundred in software??

I owned a Sidekick when they first came out. I wrote a similar number of articles about Why I am Angry at Danger. Basically, they charge you to buy ringtones, and software. The platform's open, but closed. There's _no_ open source software for the sidekick. Everything is productized. And there's no touchscreen. Sure, it's a difference in philosophy, but.. imo, the Treo 650 is head and shoulders above the sidekick.

November 01, 2005 8:19 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the double digit dialing,
If it's on speaker phone, you may experience the digit issues.
I mute mine and the trouble goes away. Still, It's apain in the tush.

November 16, 2005 4:57 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I guess I'm not the only one who feels just a little more angst when Jack Bauer is relying on his Treo 650 to help him save the world?

April 03, 2006 7:12 PM

Anonymous dana said...

*looks at my 650* *looks back at the blog* *blinks* Yup!
good post.

June 22, 2006 10:51 AM

Blogger John Markos O'Neill said...

This was an awesome post and it made me laugh despite the fact that I actually like my Treo 650. I have not experienced the infinite # thing, however. That would upset me.

Right now my wife is tearing her hair out trying to sync her 650 with her new Intel Mac. The documentation and interaction between Apple/Palm software are atrocious. When I got my 650, I couldn't sync it with any Windows box and eventually ended up syncing it with my wife's castoff G3 iBook. Since that works fine, I forgot about the problems.

We used to have Treo 270s and had a hard time syncing those as well. Syncing seems to be a recurring problem for these devices.

I hope Palm management reads your post over and over and over again.

September 22, 2006 3:56 PM

Anonymous andy said...

I wish I'd read this before I ordered my piece of crap Treo. I'm going to try to send mine back on the grounds that it's unfit for sale.

October 05, 2006 9:13 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm in Canada and I have a Treo 650 with Bell Canada. I honestly have never encountered the problems you are reporting. Though I do have a few comments.

-If I need to search for a location on my Treo I use the add-on GoogleMaps (PRC) search tool. No loading the browsing app unless I want to browse.

-If the built in email app versamail doesn't do what you need, replace it with a better email app. There have to be dozens of email app choices out there for the PalmOS. (You wouldn't say a car sucks if the default radio isn't up to par would you? Just yank out the radio and put it a better one.)

That said I've "pimped my palm" to the hilt with an MP3 player, divx video player, and heck just last week I found a port for the original doom and played both doom and doom 2 on it.

IMHO, I think you just got a dud that should have been sent back for replacement. My Treo was bought used and I haven't had as many problems as you.

November 17, 2006 3:31 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I laughed so hard I cried... and then I just cried. I too had memories of my wonderful shiny titaniumish palm, so that in my most recent phone upgrade I decided to opt for the all-in-one and got a treo 650 on Alltel. The fun started the first week, but problems were generally resolved with only 12 to 72 completely mind-numbing hours of tech support.

Whenever I have had a problem, I have first found wonderfully discomforting resources (like this blog) to let me know how many others share my pain, but is there ever an easily obtainable solution from palm or Alltel? Hah! They must practice the look of utter disbelief with which they say "I've never heard of that before..." followed immediately by the patroniozing, "we know some people are just computer inept..." Hello. I am a programmer.

Anyway... After I laughed my tush off, and began the mental process of resigning myself to more hours of tech neglect (more fun because it is Saturday night, and this is unlikely to be resolved before Monday, but I count on the phone as the only contact for many people that may actually want to REACH me before then).

BTW, the problem with my phone, which I believe is related to VersaMail bugs, is that the phone has gone into hiding: The phone button, or selecting phone on the menu goes to the menu; the phone turns on and off, but sometimes causes an attempt at reboot which freezes in a white screen that nothing but removing the battery will un-freeze; and if a call comes in, it gives half a ring, shows the call, and then goes to reboot...see above blah blah blah.

So the part that really made me cry??? All of the posts that I have found relating to similar (albeit none identical, so maybe it is a cosmic alignment affecting my phone alone) problems are from BEFORE I EVEN BOUGHT MY LITTLE PIECE OF CRAP!! and... Palm has pushed an upgrade since I bought my little piece of crap (which was a whole little tech support nightmare of its own.

While I'm at it... does it bother anyone else that had a shiny little titaniumish palm and liked the shorthand, that when they gave you a keyboard, they took that away, but left all the 'shortcut' indicators in the menues? Of course, you can still get handwriting software, but I'd trade the VersaMail abortion for Graffitti any day.

February 24, 2007 9:52 PM


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