Last Wednesday, the 23rd, Palm Inc. announced that they would be offering cash rebates to customers who have experienced problems with their Treo 600 or 650 handsets. The rebates can be applied toward a replacement phone from Palm. In addition, any qualifying handsets that haven’t been serviced twice already are now eligible for out-of-warranty repairs from the company. These moves are part of the settlement to a class-action lawsuit brought by Treo owners.Before the news wires picked up this story, I hadn’t heard that there was a class action suit in the offing. I can’t say it surprises me though. After defining the PDA space with the reliability of their devices, Palm’s Treo 6XX smartphone series became a blemish on the company’s reputation, at least in our office. A few of the executives I support dived in to the smartphone movement by purchasing 600s when they were new a few years ago. After a period of high hopes for increased productivity, the handsets caused nothing but problems. I think we had a return rate of 130% percent in my office; everyone’s phones had to be sent in for service at least once. I remember that it got so bad that I was seriously considering the advice of a poster to a Treo forum who recommended solving the 600’s audio glitches with some strategically placed tin foil. We eventually moved our execs to BlackBerry devices, and they have been much more reliable for us.

Lawsuits and settlements aren’t the end of Palm’s troubles. The day after publicizing the rebate program to cover for defects in their past products, the handset manufacturer made public their plans to close all but one of the 34 retail stores they’ve opened since 2002. Started as an effort to increase the visibility of their product line, the retail initiative is ending so that Palm can focus on their “core business initiatives.” This is usually press release code for “we’re in trouble, and can’t afford this anymore.” If anything, Palm’s plan to institute layoffs would seem to confirm their financial problems.

Palm may be struggling, but that doesn’t mean that smartphones are on the wane. In fact, the market for convergence devices seems stronger than ever, especially among IT professionals. I’ve carried a BlackBerry for almost a year now—my first smartphone—and I’m sold on the utility of such devices. Mine has made running our help desk much easier for me. I manage my schedule of service appointments better by having my calendar always at hand, and its communications tools mean I’m never out of touch, even when I’m on a service call. I’ve even installed an SSH application that will let me log in to our servers from anywhere my phone can get cellular signal.

How about the rest of you? Do you have a smartphone you can’t live without? What model is your favorite? Chime in with your thoughts in the comments.