The last update to Palm’s genre-defining Treo smart phones was in early 2006. Two years have passed and since then the company hasn’t just sat sedately on the smart phone sidelines. In the fall it released the Palm Centro, a handy, small smart phone for beginners, onto Sprint’s network, and since then has ported the successful little “smart phone that could” over to AT&T and Verizon as well. Now, after selling more than a million Centro handsets, Palm is getting back to its roots with the revitalized Treo 800w, which adds Windows Mobile 6.1 and Wi-Fi capability to a handset already noteworthy for its snappy 3G data connections, push email, and corporate syncability. We got the Treo 800w (exclusively for Sprint at $249 with a two-year contract) a few days ahead of today’s announcement and spent the weekend fiddling with its re-tooled QWERTY-keyboard, slick 320 x 320-pixel touchscreen, and sonic web browsing. Modern Sleek Design If you’re looking at the picture above and are thinking that the Treo 800w looks like the Centro’s stockier, better-muscled older brother, you’re right. Palm redesigned the Treo to resemble the Centro’s more comfortable, slimmed-down feel (gone is the annoying external antenna and odd curvy shape), but it’s beefed up the device with features like real GPS capability, stereo Bluetooth, and a 2MP camera. We always enjoyed how the Centro slides smoothly into our pocket, and now the Treo, measuring in at 4.4 x 2.3 x .7 inches and 5 oz. (thicker, heavier, and slightly taller than its pipsqueak sibling), does it too. Looking around the phone’s edges we found some other changes to appreciate. Namely, its cool blue rubber grip texture (to help prevent slips and drops, no doubt), a Wi-Fi on/off button at the top, and a slot for a microSD card on the side. Noticeably there’s no headphone jack on the device. Instead a special headset that plugs into the charging slot was included for listening to music privately and making calls. Keyboard and Touchscreen For all the Treo fans with messaging addictions out there, you’ll love the ample QWERTY-keybad which feels more spacious than other Treo predecessors. We liked that the back-lit buttons are all curved and raised high so that our emails and texts were error-free. Viewing the touchscreen is only a problem in direct sunlight. Otherwise the display is luminous and clear. We had no problem using the included stylus to navigate Windows 6.1, but using our fingers was another story altogether. Unless you’ve got the twiggy digits of TreeBeard, finger-touch navigation of Windows 6.1 will be a challenge. Though it demands two hands, we think using the stylus is the best way to interface with the touchscreen. Windows Mobile 6.1 Using Windows Mobile 6.1 on the Treo 800w isn’t as intuitive as using Palm OS, but Microsoft’s OS offers a much more dynamic experience for business users and work-minded consumers to whom it should appeal. Though it’s clunky and takes a lot of getting used to, WM comes with mobile versions of MS Word, Excel and One Note that allow users to open and edit documents on the spot. The phone also comes preloaded with PDF and PowerPoint viewers, is capable of opening ZIP files, and has other Windows bonuses like Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player Mobile, Microsoft LiveSearch, Outlook Mobile, and ActiveSync for syncing e-mail and calenders to corporate servers. Web Browsing Browsing the web with both the Treo’s 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi support and its EV-DO 3G data connections was comfortably fast. Switching back and forth between mobile sites for the NY Times, CNN, the LA Times, and The Washington Post took an average of about 4 seconds on both our home 802.11g Wi-Fi network and local cell phone towers. Loading full HTML sites like blog.laptopmag.com took longer though, usually between 30 seconds and a minute. When we tried to stream YouTube video, the Windows Media Player Mobile program launched and attempted to play the video file, but we received an error message instead of our Katy Perry video. VoIP Calls? There’s no pre-installed software to make VoIP calls with the Treo 800w’s Wi-Fi reception, but we’re going to check in with Treo and Sprint to see if any plans are in the thinktank. Battery Life The Treo charges quickly. It took only two hours to rejuice from nothing to 100%. Unfortunately, after about two hours of listening to music, another hour or so of calls, and intermittent Web use and document editing in MS Word Mobile, the battery was down to 39%. After another 4 hours of barely being used at all, it was dead. We should note that WM 6.1 has several options to adjust settings to improve battery life, but we’re still hoping that a better battery option will be available for purchase. What We Think So Far We enjoy Palm’s snazzy update to its classic formula. The Treo 800w has a streamlined design and is full of features that both business and recreational users will find useful. Windows Mobile 6.1 is a bit too technical for smart phone newcomers, but gaining familiarity with the software might be worth the time thanks to the included suite of Microsoft Office software and all the features only a Windows OS can afford. One thing that would make the Treo an even better buy is software to make VoIP calls using its Wi-Fi capability. We’re going to look into that and let you know in our full review, which will also include more info on included programs, GPS functionality, and multimedia capabilities. So check back soon!