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Tuesday, August 28, 2007, 08:25 am PT (11:25 am ET)

iPhone Review Series: iPhone vs. Palm Treo 650


Camera

The iPhone's camera is not only able to take much better photos, but its software actually takes shots at the full resolution of its hardware. The Treo has a 1.3 megapixel camera compared to the iPhone's 2.0, but only takes 640 x 480 photos, which is only a 0.3 megapixel resolution. The iPhone takes full 2.0 megapixel resolution 1600 x 1200 photos.

As noted earlier, the Treo takes video, while the iPhone doesn't yet. While I think it is a critical missing feature for the iPhone, the video taken by the Treo is really unusable. Its captured audio is extremely poor, and the video captured is only 320 x 240, a 0.07 megapixel resolution.

Other camera phones similarly take extremely low resolution photos. The Samsung Blackjack, which has camera features among the best of any Window Mobile phone, similarly only takes 320 x 240 video.

The iPhone's display is 320 x 480, compared to the Palm OS Treo's 320 x 320; Treos running Windows Mobile only have a 240 x 240 screen resolution. That means the iPhone not only takes much better photos, but also allows you do upload your iPhoto library and carry around thousands of very high quality photos that look great on its screen.

The Treo not only balks at displaying photos taken on another camera (it crashes when I try to view photos taken on my camera and put on SD Flash RAM cards), but its lower quality display makes it pretty hard to view photos of any kind, even the poor quality shots taken with the device itself. It's limited RAM also helps to strangle its potential in taking or showing photos.

I presented some photo quality comparisons comparing the Treo, Blackjack and the iPhone in the article series "Using iPhone: Camera and Photo Comparisons."

Needs Attention

It's quite amazing that Apple's first attempt at delivering a mobile platform could so completely trounce everything in its class in terms of hardware and software. The only thing the iPhone can be realistically compared against are phones that cost several hundred dollars more, and even those phones — such as the Nokia N95 — are missing its Flash RAM and software polish.

That doesn't mean the iPhone lacks any flaws; its just that its compelling features outweigh them. There are also a series of things the iPhone does differently, which users more familiar with existing phones might not like. While some of these things might be addressed in the future, others might give users reasons to look elsewhere, as the iPhone isn't a one size fits all solution.

1) Until support is delivered for the proprietary corporate email systems in common use — or an open, alternative solution to them — the iPhone won't work for business users who work at the mercy of their IT group.

2) Until Apple delivers complete support for Bluetooth stereo audio profiles, it will trail other smartphones with comprehensive Bluetooth support.

3) The iPhone begs for greater integration with .Mac and other online services, simply because it offers so much potential. Support for Internet server-based calendaring and similar online sync services, and perhaps expanded file transfer services, would all make the iPhone more attractive.

4) Support for audio and video recording is a necessary feature. Beyond that, the ability to transmit audio and video would also be delicious, both for video conferencing as well as VoIP services. Even support for Jabber-style iChat services would be great. These features are all potential threats to AT&T, but it would be wise for the service provider to recognize the potential for market expansion in trade for the nickel and dime tunnel vision of lost data services.

5) Faster data services would be a boost, although 3G UMTS data services currently are major power drains for other smartphones that support them.

6) Other integration pathways for the iPhone beg for exploitation. When will it get iPod-like games, new applications, greater support for Bluetooth profiles? Wouldn't it be cool to use it like a standalone Bluetooth or USB touchpad input for a desktop? How about using it as an Apple TV remote for fine grained control of its interface?

There is so much potential for the iPhone, all created by the obvious jump it represents as a new hardware and software platform.

Conclusion

Shortly before the release of the iPhone, Jobs commented that there were several people testing it out, and that it would be difficult to pry them out of the hands of those users. After using the iPhone for a month and a half, I feel the same.

I can picture features I'd like to add and minor details I might like to be slightly different, but no other phone I've used comes even close to offering the kind of experience Apple assembled for the iPhone.

Like the iPod, the iPhone isn't just a laundry list of features dutifully checked off to assemble a product that can be sold to consumers. It's really a cohesive effort that blends innovative software with choice hardware to deliver an excellent 1.0 product.

Within two months, Apple has already released two easy to install bug fixes to address minor problems. It has promised significant, regular updates to applications. That makes it a very unique product. Combined with Apple's market power and its ability to delivered upon stated goals, that pushes the iPhone into a very unique position.

The iPhone is very much like the original Macintosh, which humiliated the simplistic DOS PCs surrounding it. It took ten years for the DOS PC world to offer a copy that approached the original; that ten years also involved DOS PCs occupying a monopoly position over the entire desktop computing market and the failure of Apple to capitalize on its unique product.

This time around, Apple is firing on all cylinders, and there's no monopoly to compete against. Its Windows Mobile competition has only earned a tiny 5% fraction of the smartphone world, even after a half decade of Microsoft's attempts to establish its Windows Smartphone product. That indicates that the iPhone will accomplish things the Mac didn't.

While that should be fun to watch as it plays out, I'm content simply having a iPhone to use. It feels like the future sitting in my hand. The Palm Treo has always felt like a lingering shadow of the past.

AppleInsider previously compared the Apple iPhone to the BlackBerry 8700 series.