Handspring Dials Up the High End

Treo 180 communicator boasts strong cell phone capabilities, but lacks expansion options found in other PDAs.

Handspring Inc. is shifting its focus from PDAs for the masses toward more profitable higher-end handheld devices with integrated cell phone capabilities. Judging from eWEEK Labs tests of the GSM-based Treo 180 communicator, Handspring has not only taken a solid first step in the smart-phone direction, but also has gotten the jump on future competitors running mobile operating systems from Symbian and Microsoft Corp.

The Treo is smaller and more usable than the Kyocera Palm OS Smartphone or Handspring VisorPhone Springboard module we reviewed last year. This is due, in part, to the inclusion of an excellent Blackberry-style thumb keyboard, in place of the Graffiti input area found on most Palm OS devices.

The Treo is definitely a phone first and a PDA second. As a result, it offers fewer avenues for expansion than does a VisorPhone-equipped Visor. The Treo is the first Handspring product not to include a Springboard slot, and the Treo does not include a Secure Digital or other peripheral expansion slot, either.

The Treos small size and weight make up for the lack of expansion potential, however. The device measures 4.3 inches long by 2.7 inches wide by 0.7 inch thick, and weighs in at 5.4 ounces.

It is priced at $399 with phone service activation and is slated to begin shipping at the end of this month.

Apart from its thumb-keyboard and phone functions, the Treo is a standard Palm OS device—it runs Palm OS Version 3.5.2h and ships with 16MB of RAM. We could connect to the Internet at a data rate of about 9.6K bps—too slow for aggressive Web browsing, but good enough for e-mail and some light Web access.

Handspring has stated that the Treo is upgradable for use with GPRS networks, which will boost data rates and enable always-on e-mail delivery.

The Treos application set resembles that of the VisorPhone and includes Handsprings very good Blazer Web browser and the One-Touch Mail e-mail program, as well as applications for sending SMS (Short Message Service) messages and managing the Treos phone-specific features.

To connect to the Internet, we had to configure our Treo to dial a separate ISP (Internet service provider), a service that incurs a separate cost as well.

The Treo is powered by a lithium-ion battery, which, according to Handspring, yields 2.5 hours of talk time and 60 hours of standby time.

The device synchronizes with a desktop computer via a USB cable and with Palms standard HotSync Manager software.

The Treo ships with a hands-free headset jack, with which we could access PDA functions while making voice calls. We could not, however, make voice and data calls at the same time.

Technical Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at [email protected]

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