Handspring Unveils Treo 600

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Handspring has just officially announced the Treo 600, its next-generation smartphone. This device is significantly different from current Treo models in many ways. Most importantly, it will run Palm OS 5 and include a digital camera and an SD slot.

As a smartphone, it will combine the features of a wireless handheld and a mobile phone. There will be both CDMA and GSM/GPRS versions in the Treo 600 series.

The Treo 600 runs Palm OS 5.2.1 on a 144 MHz Texas Instruments OMAP processor. Because it has OS 5.2, this smartphone can break through the 16 MB of memory limitation that hobbled the Palm OS for so long. It has 32 MB of RAM, of which 22 MB to 25 MB will be available to the user, depending on the set-up chosen by the wireless providers that will be offering it.

Unlike Handspring’s previous smartphones, this one includes an SD/MMC slot on its top. This is compatible with the SDIO standard, which means the Treo 600 will be able to use non-memory peripherals designed to fit into the SD slot, like wireless networking cards.

Smaller is Better

Customers demand that their mobile phones be small enough that they are easy to carry around and Handspring has made the Treo 600 its smallest wireless model yet. It is 4.41 by 2.36 by .87 inches. The GPRS version will weigh 5.9 ounces and the CDMA one just over six ounces.

“In product design, making things smaller often makes the product better because it forces designers to break through old design ideas. Treo 600 truly is a breakthrough for smartphones,” said Jeff Hawkins, chairman and chief product officer for Handspring. “Our team was very creative in shrinking the product to an impressively small size, while at the same time making it more powerful and easier to use. As a phone and a data device, Treo 600 delivers the best of both worlds.”

Handspring says it was successful at creating a keyboard for the Treo 600 that makes dialing the phone and sending messages and email easier than before, even with the significantly reduced size of the product. Each key on the Treo 600 has a dome shape that gives it more surface area than those on existing Treos, and letters and numbers have been enlarged for better readability. In user testing for speed and accuracy, the Treo 600 performed on par with RIM’s Blackberry keyboard and significantly faster than Graffiti and T-9, the text input method found in most mobile phones.

With the Treo 600, Handspring switches from the jog wheel used on previous Treo models to a 5-way directional pad, similar to the one on Palm’s Tungsten handhelds. Handspring has modified all the built-in applications so they can be used with this D-pad, with the goal of allowing people to use the device one-handed as much as possible.

Unfortunately, the Treo 600 and the Palm models with a D-pad don’t share the same API, which means developers will need to separately add support for both to their applications. However, the two D-pad APIs should be united on Palm OS 6.

In order to make this device smaller, it doesn’t include a flip cover, which will certainly concern some people. Michelle White, who is the product manager for the Treo 600, said that more than a hundred of these have been in use for several months and there have yet to be any problems with broken or scratched up screens.

Multimedia is Better, Too

Because the Treo 600 has made the switch to Palm OS 5, it has far greater multimedia capabilities than current Treo models. This includes the ability to play MP3 files from an SD or MMC card, though Handspring won’t be bundling an MP3 player.

Users will also be able to view video on the Treo 600’s color screen. Like the rest of this smartphone, this screen is smaller than current Treo models, though the resolution hasn’t changed. It’s still 160 by 160 pixels, with a dot-pitch of .27. The screen is 2.7 inches when measured diagonally. This will be a reflective CSTN display, though Handspring says it is bright enough to be easily seen indoors and out.

That isn’t the end of this model’s multimedia capabilities. It will be the first Treo model with an integrated camera. This will be capable of taking color images at up the 640 by 480 pixels (VGA).

It will include two speakers. One is on the front for when the Treo 600 is being used as a mobile phone, and there’s a larger one on the back for playing ringtones, MP3s, and other audio.

Wireless Capabilities

The different versions of the Treo 600 will be able to connect to high-speed wireless networks using the CDMA 1XRTT or GSM/GPRS standards. The CDMA version will have a dual-band radio, meaning it can work with either Sprint’s or Verizon’s networks, while the GSM/GPRS version will have a quad-band one so it can be used almost anywhere in the world.

It will come with a new proxy-less version of Handspring’s Blazer Web browser. This has been enhanced with better support for frames, JavaScript, and other web standards. In addition, the GSM product will come with a new POP3 client, not Handspring’s own TreoMail.

The Treo 600 will also come with a new SMS application that can collect the messages exchanged between two people into a Chat View, making them appear like the interface people are used to in Instant Messenging applications. There will also be an MMS client for the GSM version capable of sending pictures taken with the Treo 600’s integrated camera. The CDMA version will also have a way to exchange photos.

Another critical feature of any mobile phone is battery life. The Treo 600 will include a rechargeable battery offering an amazing 1800 mAh. This will give the GSM/GPRS version six hours of talk/online time and the CDMA one over five hours. Handspring says it will be able to be used for up to two weeks on standby.

This battery is non-removable. However, an external clip-on battery will be available with an additional 1200 mAh.

For the most part, the Treo 600 will be sold by wireless service providers. Handspring has already made agreements with Sprint PCS in the U.S. and Orange SA in Europe to offer versions of the Treo 600. It is scheduled to be released by Sprint in October but when it will be available from Orange is unknown. However, the company will be offering a Handspring-branded model on its webstore. The exact pricing for the Treo 600 hasn’t been announced yet but it is expected to be between $400 and $500.

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