Palm Treo 650: The best device I've ever used
Several months ago I began a personal project to port some software from the Palm OS to Microsoft's WinCE OS (now labeled by Microsoft as Windows Mobile). I had a large number of requests for the software to be ported and calculated that the number of people asking for it justified the cost of porting it. In doing so I decided I would once again try to make the switch from a Palm OS based device to a WinCE based device. This was not an easy thing for me to do, the Treo 650 is by far the best device I have ever used. I naively wanted the software to look and feel like other software on the device so I figured I should switch and get used to the device. After using a Treo 650, I couldn't imagine having both a phone and a PDA (actually I could and tried it but that's another story) so I wanted a PocketPC based phone. My wireless service is with Cingular so I selected the Cingular 8125. After using the 8125 now for several months, I can no longer endure the frustrations of the device.
The problems of the 8125 (and other HTC based devices) are mostly in the software. Microsoft has been through at least five if not six full releases of it's WinCE operating system and it still suffers from the same design flaws it has always had. Microsoft's apps on the Windows CE devices are designed for users that live in Microsoft Outlook. If you do not live in Microsoft Outlook (or some other system like GroupWise) and want to use your device as the primary source of data (both input and output), you (IMHO) will not be happy. The number of steps it takes and the number of dialogs and prompts you must pass through to perform simple tasks is mind boggling. Let's examine two basic everyday tasks that you might encounter on these devices and compare them.
Task 1: Changing a todo item's due date
On the Palm I click on the current due date and I am given a menu with 10 choices that includes today, the next six days, 1 week from now, no date, or "Choose Date". If I pick one of those days I am done with the task in two clicks. Most of the time, I don't move my tasks more than seven days out so most of the time I can move a task in two clicks. If not I can click "Choose Date" and a calendar is shown with the current due date selected and I can pick a new date. That would require three clicks. This can also all be done using the thumb pad so I don't actually have to use the stylus on the screen.
On the WinCE device I have to click the task at which point I am taken to the details of the task which shows me less information about the task than the task list showed. I have to click the double arrows on the details screen to show me the details. To make a change to the task I have to select the edit menu. I am taken to the task edit screen where I can now see all of the details of the task and edit them. If I click on the Due: field, I am finally given a calendar with the current due date selected and I can select a new due date. After I select the new due date I am taken back to the edit screen and I have to select OK to save the changes.
Task 2: Creating a new appointment
Now there are a lot of types of appointments but let's go with the one that happens most often when I am not sitting in front of a computer and cannot enter it using Outlook (or GroupWise). I want to invite my wife (or some other person) to lunch.
On the Palm I click on the time slot in which to make a new appointment and it visibly changes with a cursor letting me know it's ready to enter the appointment information. I enter "Lunch with Wife". Task completed.
On the WinCE device when I click the free time slot it only selects it even though there is nothing there. I have to either select Menu and then select Edit or I can "click and hold" and wait for a little timer to count of some time before then showing me a context menu that has "New Appointment" in it. If I select "New Appointment" I am taken to the calendar edit screen where the Subject field is selected and I can enter text. I of course have no way to enter text because I need to also select the keyboard from the menu bar so I can actually enter text. I enter the text "Lunch with Wife" (ignoring a bunch of popup text suggestions which are all wrong until I have completed the full word) and click ok to save the event. I admit that I could have used the built in keyboard on the device and avoided the step of clicking on the keyboard from the menu bar. In that case I would have had to slide the keyboard out and then wait for Windows CE to realize the screen needed to rotate and redraw the screen in the rotated state. Most of the time that is very quick but it always seems like when I NEED it to be quick, it takes up to five seconds. Once the screen is redrawn, the Subject: field is no longer selected and has the text "No subject" in it and I have to click the subject to then use the keyboard and enter the text. I then click OK and I am returned to the calendar. I then close the keyboard and wait for the screen to rotate and redraw (with the same unpredictable speed).
I could continue with many other examples but this is only a blog entry and you are probably wondering when it will end. Here are some quick summaries of other problems I had in Windows CE and don't have on my Treo 650:
- When the phone rings I expect the device to instantly switch to some kind of phone answer screen and allow me to answer or ignore the call. On the 8125 I would often get an hourglass while it was preparing to switch to the answer dialog. I would frantically press the answer button but because the device was not quite ready, the button would activate whatever app was previously using the button and jump to some other function while I would miss the call. I felt like an idiot explaining to people that I couldn't get my phone to answer their call when I called them back.
- When I set an alarm I expect it to go off at the time I set it. On the 8125 I would often wake up (late) and turn on the device only to suddenly get an alarm for something that was supposed go off several hours earlier.
- If I don't make a single phone call all day, I would not expect my phone battery to be mostly used at the end of the day. My Treo will last two days easily with moderate use. The 8125 is lucky to make it 15 hours with no use at all.
- I expect a handheld device to work like a flashlight. When I need to see in the dark, I don't have to wait for the light to hit the wall, it's instant. When I am at some service desk and they ask me for some obscure information that I can't remember and need to look it up in my device, I want don't want to stand there looking like an idiot that doesn't know how to use my device while I wait for apps to load, screens to draw, menus to appear, and hourglasses to go away. I want the information NOW! The response time of the 8125 is never consistent and is always slow when I need it to be fast. My Treo is consistently fast.
- I want to turn the phone on and off using a hardware button, not a menu. There are times I want the PDA to stay on but the phone radio to be disabled. On my Treo I can hold down the red phone button (like every other mobile phone ever created on this earth) and it will turn off the phone portion of the device. On the 8125, to turn off the phone radio, I have to select the radio indicator in the menu bar to pop open a menu that let's menu turn on "flight mode"... that makes sense doesn't it?
- I want to turn off my phone's volume by reaching in my pocket and flipping the "sound off" button. On the 8125 I have to turn on the device, select the speaker icon from the menu bar which pops open a menu and let's me choose on, vibrate, or off".
Finally, I have to add one more story to this blog entry. When I turned on my 8125 to get the exact steps needed for the tasks above, I had it completely turned off so I needed to wait for it to "boot". I have had the device off for several days and as it booted it began to sound alarms for every event I had set since I turned it off. At the same time the alarm clock was letting me know it's time to "wake up" since it couldn't do that this morning. I had to sit and endure about 45 seconds of alarms and noises going off because I had no way of responding to them while the system was booting up. The only thing I could do was squeeze my hands over the speakers to mute the mix of alarms, notifications, and "wake up" music.