CrunchGear Spends Turkey Day with Treo 680

With the exception of the Zune, few devices this holiday season have had as many rumors, conjecture, spy shots, leaked stats and hyperbole than the Palm Treo 680. What started out as a hand held known only as “Hollywood,” the 680 is today Cingular’s newest smartphone and Palm’s (and, some say, the industry’s) first attempt at making a full-featured smartphone that appeals to the masses.

Over the holiday, CrunchGear got some exclusive hands-on lovin’ from the Treo 680 and was able to see how it stacks up against the venerable 650. Herein, we go for a side-by-side comparison, as the two Treos are similar, but different enough that there should be some considerations.

If you’re new to the Palm OS, then the 680 marks a solid entry to the platform. The Palm OS is known for its ease of use, and the new Treo is no exception. The version of the OS is very similar to that of its predecessor, the 650, with the upgraded phone application being the most major difference. It’s a handy dialer, but not showstoppingly different.

The major differences are in the hardware, but even those are minor. There’s the obvious: the antenna is now internalized, the SD card slot moved from the top to the side, and the design rounded and made a little more modern. The main stylistic changes, however, are almost nonexistent, the “slimmer” form factor advertised being a loss of 3mm total.

The new stylus is something that only established users would notice. It’s lighter, while retaining the stable, firm feel of the 650’s stylus. It’s mostly plastic, but not in a bad way. The popular ringer switch is right where it always is, though now more recessed and flush to the top, it looks nice, as the overall design is more modern.

The internals, however, are roughly the same. The processor is the same PXA270 running at 312MHz, the display is the same 320×320 touchscreen, the camera is the same VGA without flash, and the radio is the same EDGE, no UMTS/HSDPA upgrade here. Palm did manage to double the internal memory from 32MB to 64MB, which is something. And Palm was able to shave .8-ounces.

The addition of Pocket Tunes is a welcome one. The program plays back MP3s from the SD card via the integrated speaker or through the headset (stereo headphones are available, but aren’t included). The software also allows you to listen to streaming Internet radio via the GPRS/EDGE connection. Streams up to 128Kbps (theoretically) shouldn’t be a problem, and with Cingular’s unlimited data plans, you can get all you can eat.

The upgraded email interface is nice, but, much like the new phone interface, is mostly cosmetic. Sadly, both programs use the same interface to browse contacts, so scrolling through your booty calls still takes forever, no scroll bar is included.

Short of a few other minor changes, the 680 is basically a re-skinned 650, sans antenna. One odd notion is how Cingular is selling the Treo. The 650 is apparently still available, at the same starting price as the 680. After rebates, however, the upgraded 680 costs $50 less than the two-year old 650. This is most likely due to the higher per-unit cost of the 650 to Cingular, who makes up its own subsidies. The price of the 680 will also drop as time goes on; the 650 was $399 at its launch and is now almost half that, a trend we can expect to continue.

If you currently sport a GSM Treo 650, via Cingular or a roll-your-own unlocked unit with T-Mobile, we’re sad to say we cannot at this price advocate upgrading. With the over-the-counter software available that allows your 650 to take advantage of memory in its SD card slot, spending $200 for 32MB, even with the loss of the pesky antenna, just doesn’t seem worth it.

If you’re coming to the Treo (or, indeed, smartphones) for the first time, the 680 actually marks a fine place to start, as you get all the proven and popular features of the 650 without the premium the rest of us paid, so good for you. We hope that you and your new Treo can live happily ever after, or at least until the next generation comes along, in which case you can check back here to see how it looks.