Facing slowed sales in the handheld computer space, Handspring Inc. is staking its future on the Treo 180, the first in a new line of products that sport cell phone capabilities in lieu of the Springboard expansion slots that define the companys Visor handheld devices.
In eWEEK Labs tests, we were impressed with the Treos innovative design—this is the first combination cell phone and handheld computer that we could imagine carrying comfortably, and the inclusion of an excellent Research In Motion Ltd. BlackBerry-style thumb keyboard in place of the Palm Inc.-standard Graffiti input area makes it relatively easy to tap out e-mail messages and the like.
Although the Treo represents impressive strides in hardware design, the Palm OS version that drives the Treo has seen few changes during the past few years.
On the plus side, this means that a world of Palm OS software applications awaits the Treo. However, this also means that Handspring will face tough competition from future smart phones running more capable and feature-rich mobile operating systems from Symbian Ltd. and Microsoft Corp.
Features such as display resolutions beyond the 160-by-160-pixel Palm OS standard have been conspicuously absent from recent high-end Palm devices, particularly so now that Palm OS licensees Sony Corp. and HandEra Inc. have built them into their own offerings.
The Treo, which is slated to ship next month, is priced at $399 with phone service activation—in the same ballpark as the larger, less slick Kyocera Corp. Palm OS Smartphone and Handspring VisorPhone Springboard module we reviewed last year. (For eWEEK Labs Feb. 19, 2001, review of the Kyocera QCP6035 Smartphone and Handspring VisorPhone, go to www.eweek.com/links.)
The Treo is definitely a cell phone first and a PDA (personal digital assistant) 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.
As with Handsprings other devices, the Treos operating system and key applications are stored in nonupgradable ROM chips—most Palm OS- and Pocket PC-based devices now offer the benefits of flash upgradability.
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 5.4 ounces.
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 light Web access.
Handspring has stated that the Treo is upgradable for use with GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) 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 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, a service that incurs a separate cost as well. The Treo is powered by a lithium-ion battery, which, according to Handspring officials, will yield 2.5 hours of talk time and 60 hours of standby time.
Technical Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at [email protected]