Treo Pro is Palm's Best Handset Yet, for Business

Sleek model takes the best from Centro and Treo, but Pro's appeal is limited to pros.

The Treo Pro fits nicely in a hand.
The Treo Pro fits nicely in a hand.

Palm's new Treo Pro is the company's best smartphone yet—at least in shape, size, and capability. Too bad it isn't for consumers, at least not yet.

The Pro hits that sweet spot in size between the Centro and the Treo, two popular Palm handsets. The Centro is Palm's small smartphone for consumers, with attractive, smooth lines, and a sleek feel. The Pro bows to its Treo heritage by being bigger than the Centro, giving it a larger screen and a more comfortable keyboard, and packing in capability like GPS, WiFi, and compatibility with overseas networks.

But the Pro is still small enough to fit comfortably in a pocket. And it retains the smooth lines and stylish look of the Centro.

It's close to the same size as the iPhone 3G, which is a bit thinner. But the Treo Pro is a little shorter and narrower than the iPhone and fits my hand better. Its touch screen is also significantly smaller than the iPhone's, but the Pro's hardware keyboard lends itself to faster thumb typing. That's something messaging maniacs would want to consider.

The "Pro" name indicates that Palm intends this phone for business users. That's also evident in using Windows Mobile 6.1 as the operating system. Windows Mobile is powerful and sophisticated, with all the tools needed for corporate IT departments.

For home users, I find Windows Mobile still too gawky. That's despite some nice touches by Palm to smooth Windows' rough edges. The main Windows menu still looks like something from a desktop PC. It's too long and confusing for a handset. And opening the Windows Menu disables the one-touch key for getting back to the Pro's main screen, forcing an extra touch or two to get there.

In focusing on business users, maybe Palm is also covering for the fact it doesn't yet have a U.S. carrier as a partner. Without the typical carrier subsidies that keep phone prices low, the Treo Pro will sell for $550. Only the iPhone with its cachet and breakthrough software could appeal to consumers at that price. Even globe-hopping professionals and their companies might be put off by the price of the Treo Pro.

Also, for fast data rates, they would be limited to running it on AT&T's network in the United States. It can work with T-Mobile but not that carrier's new 3G network.

There are rumors that Palm is readying Pro versions for other networks, including Verizon and Sprint, as well as a new model with more consumer-friendly software. Just rumors. For now, the reality is that Palm's best phone yet isn't the best for me.