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A SOHO View of the Treo 600

This Christmas, I became the happy owner of something I believe will have the greatest impact on SOHO businesses since the Internet made it easy for us work from home in the first place.

The Treo 600 is a "smart phone" or "PDA Phone" but it is much more than that. A PDA, or Personal Digital Assistant, is not really new technology. It is a mobile gadget that synchronizes with your computer making critical data like a calendar and contacts available on the go. Advanced PDAs using the Palm or Windows operating system also run games, document software, databases, and useful utilities like tip calculators, subway guides, and dictionaries. A Smart Phone is essentially a cell phone which is also a PDA - letting you check your calendar while you are on the phone, dial directly from the same contact list you keep back in the office on Outlook, and so on. You carry one "converged" device, instead of two.

The Treo 600 is part of the latest generation of smart phone. It is not as small as today's tiny cell phones, but smaller than many of the earlier PDAs. I wear it comfortably on a belt clip, and it sits easily in the palm of my hand. The full color screen, though small, is bright and easy to read, so I can work on documents in all lighting conditions. You can also install PDF and e-book readers, and download a huge assortment of public domain books and other materials. I installed an application called Documents to Go which emulates MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint and so I am writing this article from a café on a Sunday afternoon. When I return to the office, I'll synchronize the device with a single push of a button, and it will put the article on my hard drive there, for editing and uploading to the Web.

There are multiple ways you can input data to the Treo. It has a stylus, as do most PDA devices, but does away with earlier shorthand writing solutions, which is okay because those were tricky at best. Instead, the bottom third of the device has a "thumb" keyboard that is a mini replica of the standard keyboard we all learned to type on. Of course, it is too small to type on, but the keys are rounded and raised so you actually can tap in words fast with practice. It has a 5-way button in the center that is incredibly useful for navigating without a mouse. So, you can do a fair amount of input with a two hand, thumb typing approach. That works great for entering a new calendar entry or contact, or making short notes - but for entering large amounts of data, it is difficult. The solution, if you need it, is an external keyboard. The one I'm typing on right now folds up in quarters to be about the same size as a large wallet (but not as thick), and when you open it up, the Treo sits in the cradle so you can type on a full sized keyboard. I barely lose a moment's time as a 75 wpm typist, and there is a certain thrill to being able to type anywhere, without taking up the space of a laptop! Last week, I went to a client meeting, popped the Treo into the unfolded keyboard, and took notes for the meeting - no more scribbling on paper and translating it when I get to the office for me! With an AC adapter attached, you can recharge the Treo at the same time, but even without, you can get a good couple of hours off one charge.

But wait - it gets better. Because the Treo is supported on the Sprint network, and it is a cell phone with nationwide cellular service (which I already had), for $15 additional per month I also have unlimited web and email access. This means that I can go to a meeting, check my email in the car, see if anyone needs me, and go run an errand while I am already out. In the past, I was constantly running home during the day to make sure no clients were looking for me via email. With the web access I can check MapQuest for directions, get a number from directory assistance, read the daily news, or check the weather on web sites optimized to view on a small screen. Granted, big full color sites look a little goofy when viewed on a tiny screen, but with images turned off, you can get the essential information from ANY web site. This is nirvana for information junkies like me.

It is not all about business, though - my Treo ensures I will never be bored while waiting for an appointment or while standing in line again. I have installed a number of games on the device, which has a 32 MB memory on board, and can be upgraded with memory cards. I have a single 256 MB card in the slot, which contains about 80 MP3's - so with the headset adapter, I also have a nifty MP3 player to take to the gym. Even better, with shoutcast.com membership, you can listen to streaming radio stations on the web! Interestingly, the Treo had a superb speaker system built in, and with a headset, the sound is excellent. It also has a built in camera, though the quality is poor and it does not have a flash. Still, there might be moments you need to preserver when there is not a digital camera in your pocket, and this might do the trick. The main thing they left out with the Treo is a voice recorder, but future devices will likely have this, too.

Overall, the Treo 600 is an incredible device, and bodes well for the future of this type of technology. The price tag is high for a phone, a camera, a PDA, an MP3 player, an organizer, a calculator, or a Game Boy - alone. But when you consider that you can have ALL these things in one compact package, for under $700, it is impressive and worth considering. If you are a SOHO business person who needs to stay connected but doesn't want to be in the office all the time, or someone who writes a great deal while on the go, I strongly recommend you take a look at something like this or some of the similar models made by Samsung and others. In one month's time, I am beginning to wonder how I ever functioned without one!


Eileen Parzek is an award winning graphic and web designer providing digital and print graphic design and web design services. Always found at the intersection of information, creativity and technology, her business, Business Design Studio (www.businessdesignstudio.com) helps small businesses make a big impression.

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