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Something New, Something Old From Palm and RIM

When I started researching today's column, I thought I'd hate the Palm Centro and like Research In Motion's BlackBerry 8820. It turns out that I appreciate the Centro more than I expected, while the 8820 bothers me more than I'd imagined.

My frustration with Palm's lack of innovation has been well documented. See, for instance, my fed-up review of the Treo 755p. But the Centro was compact enough and incorporated enough quality third-party software (Documents To Go reads and edits Microsoft Office documents; Pocket Tunes Deluxe plays MP3, WMA and AAC music files) to offer both a decent value and the rarest thing of all in the Palm market -- a sense of novelty.

I had thought that the Centro's compact keyboard alone would sink the device, but I've found that I can thumb-type on it almost as well as I can on larger handhelds -- even after I've forgotten, for two days in a row, to clip my fingernails. And although the operating-system software on the Centro is the same old Palm OS, it somehow hasn't crashed in a week of steady use. Maybe the Internet applications on it include some bug fixes? (In a non-multitasking system like Palm's, the computer is no more stable than its least reliable application.)

Palm's desktop software, however, continues to be an insult to its customers and an embarrassment to its developers. When a company's marketing guy, Palm's Rob Katcher, tells you that the firm expects its Mac customers to spend their own money on a third-party solution (Mark/Space's $40 Missing Sync), something's gone wrong.

The 8820, meanwhile, kept getting on my nerves. I just can't grasp how the same company that designed such stylish, functional hardware as the Pearl and the Curve keeps producing such ugly, awkward software. The developers at RIM appear unable to grasp basic principles of usability, like pruning a menu of irrelevant options and eliminating unnecessary steps. So turning off the 8820's ringer requires going to the home screen, scrolling to the Profiles icon, selecting it and then scrolling to select "Vibrate."

And after testing the iPhone, I can't understand why RIM keeps shipping the BlackBerry with the same ugly, low-res fonts. Would it kill these guys to load typefaces that didn't come from an Atari 2600 or the destination sign on a Metro bus?

RIM's desktop software provided another source of frustration. Aside from the new, but buggy Pocket Mac application provided for Apple users, RIM's software is as out of date as Palm Desktop -- check out the list of supported calendar and address-book programs to see its age. It's also far more annoying to download. RIM's Web site will demand your first name, last name, job title, company, street address, city, country, state and e-mail before it will cough up these downloads. After going through that routine four or five times, I started making up stuff like this:

First Name: stop

Last Name: asking

Job Title: me

Company: you

Address 1: stupid

City: twits

The difference between Palm and RIM seems to be that Palm once knew how to create good, even elegant software and may yet do so again. RIM doesn't know and doesn't seem to want to learn.

The Centro is probably the phone I'd buy if I needed a new smartphone today. But any such purchase would be a stopgap, something to tide me over until one of a few things happened:

* Palm ships a phone that multitasks reliably and is notably thinner than even the Centro;

* Apple ships an iPhone with a better notepad program, and for a carrier that reaches the subway parts of the Metro;

* Symbian's software gets faster and, again, comes on a phone I can use on the train here;

* RIM gets religion about usability;

* I can get a good notepad on a Windows Mobile phone without having to carry around a Treo-thick device or run little installer applications in Windows to add every new program.

Which do you think will happen first? Let's talk about this during my Web chat at 2 p.m. today. Stop by then, or send me a question ahead of time.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 18, 2007; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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Comments

On the Pearl, holding the pound (#) key for 2 seconds switches the phone between vibrate and normal modes. I wonder if that feature might also be available on the 8820. Let us know if that works, Rob.

Posted by: Doug | October 18, 2007 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Weirdly enough, holding the # key does nothing on the 8820.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | October 18, 2007 6:09 PM | Report abuse

ROB

CAN ANYONE EXPLAIN HOW THE MOTOROLA Q PHONE WENT FROM ITS INITIAL OFFER PRICE OF

$100

TO ITS NEW PRICE OF

$399

ON VERIZON WIRELESS ???

IS THIS ++++ FRAUD ++++ A SCAM ++++ OR JUST PLAIN OLD RACKETEERING ???

Posted by: BRUCEREALTOR@GMAIL.COM | October 18, 2007 11:22 PM | Report abuse

ROB

IT TOOK DETROIT TO WAKE AMERICA UP ABOUT FLIM-FLAM IN AUTOMOTIVE PRICING TECHNIQUES.

//////////////////////////////////////////

WE ARE NOW SEEING THE SAME MANURE IN CELL PHONE/PDA PRICING.

THOSE PHONES CAN'T EVEN POSSIBLY COST OVER $30 TO MANUFACTURE, YET THE NEWER MODELS, I.E.

THE SIDEKICK

AND

THE BLACKJACK

AREN'T AVAILABLE WITH VERIZON WIRELESS.

WHAT MUST I DO IF I CAN OBTAIN ONE OF THESE PHONES TO GET IT TO WORK ON VERIZON WIRELESS ???

DO WE HAVE ++++ SERIOUS ANTI-TRUST ISSUES ++++ IN THE MARKETING OF THESE PHONES ONLY TO CERTAIN PROVIDERS ???

HOW DOES ONE ORDER THE CHINESE VERSION OF THESE PHONES AT A MORE REASONABLE PRICE ???

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Posted by: brucerealtor@gmail.com | October 18, 2007 11:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm changing from a two-year old Motorola V551 on AT&T/Cingular to Verizon because the signal is so terrible. I got a free Motorola Razr with Verizon that has GREAT sound quality and picks up where Cingular didn't (i.e., in my new basement apartment).

But I want to change to a Treo 700p because I really need the calendar, to-do list, notepad & other organizational abilities. I'm going to get the $39.99 plan and not use e-mail. Will the sound be as good as the Razr? I don't want to have to get a landline home phone.

Thanks!

Posted by: Marti | October 18, 2007 11:51 PM | Report abuse

WOW, ITS REALLY ANNOYING WHEN SOME DOOFUS

USES ALL CAPS

IRREGULAR SPACING AND $$$ @@ &

SYMBOLS IN HIS POST FOR NO APPARENT REASON.

Posted by: Grammarcop | October 19, 2007 12:18 AM | Report abuse

As a long time Palm customer (300, 600 with Sprint and now 700p with Verizon), I was confident Palm would work out its desktop snafu with Vista. Despite giving us a beta version in August (a wait from January I think), I am still on hold. The beta version will not handle any third party software. Hello Palm. Don't you get this? That's the whole idea and it's YOUR idea. I only have documents on my Treo because they were there last year. I can't add or correct or anything now without a desktop that recognizes DocumentsToGo which this beta version does not. I've had it. We've decided to back up and buy XP for the new desktop. And after all that hype what does Palm intend for LifeDrive and Vista? At least with that I can move stuff over to it but I still can't service any of the installed software nor install any new software.

Recently, I had direct contact with Palm re using this beta version of the desktop for my Treo. Unfortunately, I was three steps ahead of tech service to solve the problem AND I don't really think it's solved. Following this, I received the usual what-did-you-think/how-did-we-do email. Among other things, I said I would not recommend Palm to anyone. When my contract is up and I am noodling around for a replacement, if Verizon has iPhone by then, I'll definitely be considering it, something I never thought I'd say.

Posted by: Claire | October 19, 2007 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Why does Palm insist on using 2.5mm jacks? Is being able to listen to music on my phone with normal headphones too much to ask for? I'm not going to replace my ancient 600 unless it breaks or I can dump one of my other devides, like my ancient iPod. Lack of convergence is the #1 thing keeping me from upgrading.

Posted by: slar | October 19, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

If the iPhone moves onto Verizon service, I'm kicking my Palm Treo to the curb. Until then, I'll just make do with my 700w.

Posted by: TP | October 19, 2007 11:28 AM | Report abuse

2 weeks ago I finally dumped my Treo (my third) for an iPhone. (Actually, I had intended to wait until my Verizon contract ended in January, but my partner got me one for my b-day, and how could I wait with it sitting on my desk all shiny and pleading like that?) I was so frustrated with Palm's OS, its regular crashes, its lack of innovation, etc. Unfortunately for me, though, the 2 things I use my "phone" for most were Vindigo (my personal opinion being that it is the killer app for the Treo) and to pull down email from my office Outlook Exchange server. Neither of these two things is really available on the iPhone (yet, anyway). As an attorney, I get a lot of email, and the ActiveSync between my Treo and my desktop email was wonderful. For some reason, I (and, according to the Web, lots of others) have not been able to configure our iPhones to sync with Exchange server, even when you configure it to IMAP. So I am just hoping that Apple will realize that to break into the corporate market it will have to implement synchronization software between Exchange and the iPhone. As for Vindo, now that the iPhone SDK is on the way, I am anxiously waiting for February...
But it has made me appreciate the things that the Treo did well - when it wasn't crashing on me.

Posted by: Tom in LA | October 19, 2007 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I'll try to answer some of the questions...

Bruce: In most cases, Verizon is only going to sell the phones that Verizon wants to sell--and in general, that company tends to take its time to bring new phones to market. (It hasn't even begun to sell the Palm 755p that other carriers have had since May.) The Sidekick, however, has always been a T-Mobile exclusive. Also: Please give your Caps Lock key a break.

slar: The Treo and most other phones use the smaller jack because that's always been the standard size for wired hands-free kits. Whoever made that the standard obviously didn't foresee a time when every other phone would double as an MP3 player.

Claire: The current beta of Palm Desktop for Vista had no problem putting a third-party app on the Centro--I double-clicked the .prc file, it showed up in the HotSync window, and on the next sync session it was loaded on the Centro.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | October 19, 2007 6:39 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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