Saturday, December 13, 2008

Treo Versus T-Mobile G1—On The Inside

One of the greatest strengths of Palm's Treo smartphones has been their large, removable batteries. The large batteries are also one of the reasons why Treos tend to be so thick. The T-Mobile G1 also has a fairly large removable battery but the device itself is so capable that battery life takes a major hit. Moreover, while the G1's battery is removable, it's not nearly as easy to remove as the Treo's battery.

The Treo's battery compartment is very well thought out. As you can see from the comparison photo, the Treo has a nice little button near the bottom of the battery cover which allows you to easily pop it off and get at the battery. While it's not exactly a unique cell phone feature, it works so well that beginning with the 680, Palm decided to abandon the use of a reset button and now sets its devices to automatically reset when you remove the battery.

The G1's battery compartment is somewhat less elegantly designed. The G1 has a release tab which allows you to remove the back panel and get at the battery. In order to do this you must, "Slide open the display to reveal the keyboard." and "Pull the release tab out while at the same time peel the back cover off." (These are direct quotes from the T-Mobile Getting Started booklet.) In practice however once the release tab has been pulled out, the back cover is still firmly attached to the phone and must be removed using an uncomfortable amount of effort. While it's not exactly hard to remove the back panel, the amount of force you need to use tends to slightly deform the back panel causing it to creak slightly—a disappointing thing to see in a hot new phone.

Another problem with the difficult to remove back panel is that the SIM card resides underneath the battery. And the slot where the SIM card resides is just long enough to make removal difficult—not hugely difficult mind you but just enough to annoy. The Treo 680 by contrast, has a handy little tray for the SIM card which makes it easy to remove. The end result is that it is harder to switch back and forth between phones with the G1 than it is with the Treo.

One area where the G1 outshines the Treo is in terms of removable storage. The T-Mobile G1 has a tiny (fingernail sized) microSD card (a 1GB card ships with the G1) which fits into a tiny side door which is built into the device's "chin" which is revealed when you slide out the display to reveal the keyboard. It has all the same problems as the SIM card slot—tiny and hard to remove (I know it's sexist but I sometimes think that the G1 was built specifically for women with small hands and long fingernails). But the nice thing about the G1's microSD card is that once it's in, there is no reason to take it out because the G1 alerts you and offers to mount the card as a removable drive when you attach it to a computer. As a result, it is easy to get things on and off of the card. About the only problem with G1's storage scheme is that there appears to be no way to use the card to store applications which can run on the phone. As a result, you have to rely on the phone's own built-in storage which is somewhat limited. With the growing diversity of third-party Android applications for the G1, expect to see a lot of "low space" warnings.

Palm has always had problems handling removable memory on its devices and the Treo 680 is no exception. The Treo has a large battery door on its side which accommodates SD and SDHC cards. While it's never actually snapped off, the delicate plastic certainly feels like it could snap off easily. And this is a bad thing because there is no way to mount the Treo's SD card as a removable drive on your computer without resorting to expensive third-party software. This has been a problem with Palm devices for years going all the way back to m500 which debuted way back in 2001. It's simply mind-boggling that Palm never got around to fixing this problem in seven years. (Perhaps they figured that it wasn't important and best left to third-party developers but this ignores the fact that this feature has been available on Palm's Windows Mobile smartphones for years while devices based Palm's own, more flexible OS languish.) On the bright side, it is fairly easy to run applications directly from the Treo's SD card although some applications do need to reside on the phone if they handle alarms or are older and can't see the SD card.

Overall, the story of the Treo's internal hardware is one of thoughtful touches marred by one stunning omission. The G1 on the other hand is quite consistent in all areas, rough around the edges but consistently powerful. The G1 is bristling with radios: the obligatory cellular radio which also transmits 3G data, wifi, Bluetooth, and a GPS unit. It downloads email automatically and switches between 3G and wifi on the fly. While you can save on battery life by shutting down its various radios, the G1 uses them so well that there is a tendency to leave them on. If the back panel were easy to remove, carrying a spare battery with the G1 would be a no-brainer. While its battery life is generally poor in comparison with the Treo its hard to see how it could possibly be better given current battery technology, the device simply does too many things. I was going to write that the G1 struggles to get through a day of light usage the fact is that there is no light usage with G1 unless you start turning everything off and just use it as a phone (if this was all I wanted to do, I'd get a dumb phone), it will always be active in the background. The Treo on the other hand gets much better battery life but does less and does a lot of what it does do less well than the G1 does.

1 comment:

Wendy L. Kinney said...

Thank you. I really appreciate this post. I got my G1 a month ago. Loved it so much my husband got one a week later - and we both have had questions you answer here. You're right, I wish my hands were smaller and my nails thinner! You're right, the usability makes needing to recharge three times a day worth it.

I'll continue to watch this space for G1 info.