July 4, 2007

I am the Chosen One

I call this: phones — Posted by KP @ 6:41 pm
UPDATE A major bug has surfaced in the Verizon MR (which apparently is also in the Sprint MR). The data connection will not work when the phone is in a regular 1X data area, instead of the faster EVDO connection which is now available in some parts of the country. I can’t even conceive of how a bug like this got through, and I’m not sure if everyone has it, but please consider that before you go running off begging Verizon to give you the upgrade. If you’d like to learn more, the TreoCentral forum for the 700p has several threads discussing it and other advantages and disadvantages of the MR, but this one seems to be the most directly related.

There’s a developing situation in the Treo world centering around the maintenance release (MR) for the Treo 700p.

A brief background:

The 700p was released by Palm over a year ago, and from the start has had a number of bugs, enough to actually make it notable above the normal amount of bugs of any Palm device. The biggest one is what is usually simply referred to as “the lag.” Instead of the normal immediate response that Palms are known for (and that makes the limitations of the Palm OS justifiable), the 700p was known for taking several seconds (or much more) to switch between apps or do various things. Some people were very much up in arms that the lag makes it skip when playing MP3s in the background. There is also something apparently wrong with the Bluetooth stack which makes it difficult for the phone to hold a connection with another device.

Cut to far too late:
Palm announces they are finally going to provide a maintenance release (not just a patch, sort of like a Service Pack is to Windows) that supposedly will fix all that ails the 700p, as well as adding a couple enhancements. Much fanfare was made when the MR was released for Sprint back on June 4. Of course the Verizon people were bitching that their version was not released simultaneously, which just poured salt in the wound of Sprint having released the Treo 755p first, also supposedly containing the same improvements. So the Sprint people had two options for a better Treo, Verizon users were still stuck with the buggy 700p.

Things evened out a bit more when after a few days it became clear that there was something wrong with Sprint’s MR. Instead of being a simple patch added to the phone’s RAM, the MR is a permanent upgrade to the ROM, which leaves open the possibility of the phone turning into a brick if something goes wrong during the upgrade. A lot of users were experiencing problems, either with bricked phones or the update failing to apply properly, and Sprint pulled the upgrade. Sprint then re-released the MR on June 21, which seems to be better at installing itself.

Verizon drags their feet
With this whole saga apparently resolved on Sprint (despite some new bugs that have arisen with the MR), Verizon users still have not heard a peep about either the fix for the 700p or the release of the 755p. So when I heard the rumor that the 755p was going to be delayed at least 6-8 more weeks, I decided I had to buy a 700p, even though I have a major aversion to paying for something that’s already obsolete. My Treo 650 first of all had a talk time of less than 3 minutes from a full charge, and besides that was acting even more buggy and losing more data than even a 650 has any right to. And I was getting tired of the slow data connection, especially given that I pay Verizon $45/mo. for data, regardless of whether I’m getting dial-up speeds or broadband. I was a little worried about the fact that I would be getting a phone without the MR, but since people have at least been living with their 700p’s, albeit unhappily, I decided it was OK.

Buying the 700p

So after kicking around some ideas, I decided that since the 700 is not that different from the 755, I should just get on with my life and enjoy the improvement over my 650. Plus, it would keep me from doing something stupid like jumping on the iPhone too early. So I called up a nearby Verizon store and asked if they had any. The guy I spoke to had to look it up, then said, “Yeah, I’ve got a couple.” He took my phone number and said he would get it set up for me to pick up.

When I arrived I was thankfully able to skip past the line of people waiting for service, and we talked a bit about my plan and I made some adjustments from my last contract. Then when everything was confirmed he passed my phone off to be activated, for which there was a bit of a line, so I amused myself looking at all the other PDAs that I had been considering switching to.

I found it kind of odd that they didn’t actually have the 700p on display. They had the 700wx, which is the Windows Mobile version, as well as several Blackberries, the Motorola Q, and the VX6700, which is soon to be replaced by the more stylish 6800. I have never owned a non-Palm smartphone, and have often wondered if perhaps I might like a less antiquated OS, but having so much free time to try all of them out, I was unimpressed. I’m sure if I owned them I would be customizing them more to my way of working, but the general feel of them was kind of nauseating. Anyway, it made me feel better about sticking with Palm. But I did wonder, as I watched salespeople showing customers around, how they were even supposed to know the 700p was available.

Finally my name came up on the list and I paid for the phone and signed my contract. However, when the rep tried to activate the phone, it started a reset loop. He showed me and I played with it while they brought out another one and went through the process of marking it as DOA. After completing digitizer calibration, the Verizon Wireless splash screen would come up and the phone would promptly reset.

The second phone they brought out started doing the same thing, so a tech was called out to look at it. He explained that they had just installed new software on all the phones and maybe the upgrades had failed on a few. I was surprised at this, because I like to think I have my finger on the pulse of the Treo world, especially given how desperately I was waiting for the release of the 755p. I asked if this was the big update Palm was releasing, because I didn’t think it was out yet. He said they had just gotten it in the day before (which would have been July 1), and he had spent the day updating each of the phones in their stock. I believe he said he did 40 of them.

Of course I was very happy to hear I would be getting the MR, but I was still perplexed at how I could have missed hearing of this huge development. When I got home and checked TreoCentral, I read a thread which said something like “some people say they’ve gotten the MR,” without a link to who these statements. So I chimed in that I had just bought a 700p and was told it had the MR. I asked what version numbers I should be looking for, and was told software version 1.10, and Bluetooth version 3.1.2 were the big indicators, as well as a new feature where you hold the home button and it pops up a list of recently used apps. My phone has all these things. A number of posters contacted Verizon, either the main customer service, calling local stores, or by e-mail, and were all told the MR has not been released to the public, is not available for upgrade in stores, and is not being sold on new units in stores. It was at this point that I took the above picture of my phone’s info screen and posted it.

I’m not sure who these other people are who claim to also have the MR, but they’ve remained silent on all the threads I’m following, and I haven’t seen links to any of these claims. All I know is I seem to be the only person in the Treo community who has it, and I’m not sure if I should feel lucky to be The Chosen One, or scared that my phone is running software Verizon swears up and down doesn’t exist.

Other notes:

The Sprint MR’s most apparent flaw is referred to as the “DTMF tone issue.” What happens is that when you perform certain actions that elicit a sound, like a beep when you click on something, simultaneously with the beep coming from the phone’s rear speaker, you will hear a sound from the earpiece that is the same tone you would hear when pushing the * key on a phone. As soon as I began using my 700p I noticed this, and being unfamiliar with the 700p, I figured I must have something set wrong in my system sounds or something. When I got home I found this thread, where I realized all the Sprint users were complaining about this on their MR. Just for the record, I would like to point out:

  • This update comes over a year after the phone was released
  • Palm has had ample time to test this update
  • Sprint has done their own tests to ensure it operates correctly on their network
  • Verizon has taken their notoriously sweet time with their extra “quality assurance”

As it turns out, the quick and dirty fix seems to be turning off system sounds altogether, which sucks if you like system sounds. Personally I keep them on because it’s a good reminder if I’ve forgotten to put my phone on silent, I will notice right away that I hear beeps when I tap on things. But for now I’m OK going without. I do hear the tone still when setting ringtones — if I tap on a sound in the list it will first play the DTMF tone through the earpiece, then the sound through the speaker. It’s also heard when that sound is played as an alarm (and presumably for calls as well). The sound doesn’t play every time a system sound plays, but one method that’s been discovered to be reliable is to go to the phone app and press spacebar. I would like to point out that this even happens if your phone is on silent (probably because silent mode doesn’t affect things coming out of the phone’s earpiece).

OK, a little annoying, right? But here’s the kicker: it really is a DTMF tone, and as such, will send a “*” to your phone whenever it plays. Some people have reported being on phone calls and having it do things, like deleting their voicemail while they were listening to it. NOT GOOD, PALM. NOT GOOD.

Why am I so blessed among all the millions of Verizon customers to be the only one with this obviously carefully tested piece of software? I don’t know. But there are many people trying to find out, and I will keep updating as the situation progresses.

Additional Reading: