The Handspring Treo: Promising, but not yet perfect

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The Handspring Treo: Promising, but not yet perfect By John Morris and Josh Taylor, AnchorDesk January 21, 2002 9:00 PM PT URL: http://www.zdnet.com/anchordesk/stories/story/0,10738,2840634,00.html The race to release the first PDA with fully integrated wireless voice and data capabilities began in earnest late last year. Initially, word of new Palm and Handspring devices began to leak out; by November, Handspring, Microsoft, and others were showing off functional prototypes at Fall Comdex. Well, here we are in 2002, and none of these devices is shipping yet. But we did finally get our hands on a real, working Handspring device–the Treo. An all-in-one handheld, cell phone, and Web browser, the Treo will be available in several different versions. The $399 monochrome Treo 180 will be available early this year (see latest prices); the $599 Treo 270 with color display won’t be out until later in 2002. Both have a Blackberry-like mini keyboard. In addition, there’s the Treo 180g (see latest prices), which looks more like a regular Visor, uses a stylus for data input, but offers the same wireless features. All of the prices require activation with one of Handspring’s GSM partners. We tested the Treo 180 with VoiceStream. ALTHOUGH WE’D ALREADY seen a few demonstrations of the Treo, it’s a whole different experience actually using one. First, it is surprisingly compact. Weighing just 5.3 ounces and measuring 4.3 by 2.8 by 0.9 inches (not including the stubby antenna), it is actually smaller and lighter than the Visor Platinum. The hinged cover provides great protection for the screen and keyboard, yet the inclusion of a clear window makes it easy to view caller ID numbers, alarms, and other info. One of the advantages to this design is that it largely eliminates our chief complaint about the Handspring VisorPhone (R.I.P.)–namely, that you wouldn’t want to be seen talking into a Visor with a big Handspring module tacked onto it. Granted, the Treo is no Nokia cigarette-lighter-sized 8890, but it is relatively unobtrusive. The flip-lid makes phone operation a lot more intuitive, and the voice features worked flawlessly. In addition to the Palm OS, the Treo includes the Blazer Web browser and a POP3 e-mail client, JP Mobile’s One-Touch Mail. Since VoiceStream didn’t offer wireless data, in order to use the Treo’s Web browsing and e-mail features, we had to enter the settings for our own dial-up ISP account, and POP3 and SMTP servers. Alternatively, you can use the built-in SMS messaging for quick blasts to other phones or devices that support SMS messaging. Third-party applications such as Vindigo worked fine, though it would be nice if you could tap the number of a restaurant to make a reservation. THE TREO STILL has a few rough edges. Under Windows XP, the setup was a little sketchy. After setup, the HotSync link-up didn’t work because Windows hadn’t yet installed the new software drivers for the device–a step omitted from the otherwise excellent quick start guide. Handspring does its best to make the Wireless Data configuration as easy as possible, but it’s still too complicated. And every time you want to edit the settings, you need to run a lengthy wizard on the host PC. Finally, the power button, which is used for three functions–device on, wireless mode, and backlight on/off–is confusing at first. Handspring won’t enjoy a first-to-market advantage for long. Earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Shows, Microsoft previewed Pocket PC devices from HP, Audiovox, and HTC (the company that makes iPaq PDAs for Compaq) that incorporate cell-phone functionality. (These devices are not to be confused with Microsoft’s Smartphone 2002, formerly Stinger, which is a cell phone that incorporates PDA functionality.) The Pocket PC handheld/phones will begin shipping in mid-2002, though at first only in Europe. Meanwhile, in an effort to generate a little buzz, Palm has reportedly been sending cryptic e-mail messages to its users about the imminent release of the i705. We wouldn’t recommend you rush out and buy a Treo just yet. Even if you wanted to, you might not be able to–Handspring is already warning customers about supply problems. But overall, the Handspring Treo is a functional and highly portable device that’ll make you wonder why you carry a separate cell phone and PDA.

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