Handspring unveils lightweight all-in-one device

Handspring has announced a line of handheld 'communicators,' dubbed Treo, that will for the first time include in a small form factor a cellular phone, a web browser, and a personal information manager.

          Handspring has announced a line of handheld "communicators," dubbed Treo, that will for the first time include in a small form factor a cellular phone, a web browser, and a personal information manager.

          The units measure 1.7cm thick by 10.9cm high by 6.8cm wide.

          They will ship in early 2002 and will be priced at $US399. A color version is expected by mid-year with an approximate price of $US599, according to Greg Shirai, director Handheld products for Handspring in Mountain View, California.

          Up until now, most of the popular PDAs (personal digital assistants) that included wireless capability required cumbersome add-ons such as the sled device for the Pocket PC units or cables that were needed to attach the Palm to a cell phone. The alternative solution was to have as many as three separate devices hanging off a user's belt. In contrast, the Treo offers all of the same wireless features and weighs in at 153g.

          One industry analyst called the Treo a "category maker."

          "First there was the PDA, a personal data assistant. This is a VDA, a voice data assistant," says Gerry Purdy, president of Mobile Insights in Mountain View, California.

          "It is a category maker with a reasonably good price point, great user interface, and designed to do a good job as a phone," Purdy says.

          The communicators will use the GSM network for both voice and data. In the United States, Treo users can subscribe for cellular service with either Cingular Wireless or VoiceStream Wireless and in Europe with BT CellNet. The phones are dual-band, capable of switching between the GSM 900 network in Europe and Asia and the GSM 1900 network in the United States, turning the handset into what is often called a "world phone."

          Phones based on the CDMA networks used by the likes of Verizon Communications and Sprint will also be forthcoming, Shirai says.

          The units include a flip-up cover that houses the speaker with the microphone located beneath the keyboard. The phone will have both a headset jack as well as speakerphone capability. Most cellphone features are included, such as speed dial, call management, three-way calling, call history, direct dial from a contact database, caller ID, and call waiting.

          The Treo 180 will include a small keyboard while the Treo 180g will retain the Palm OS Graffiti writing system for text input. Both units will use the Handspring Blazer browser and support Web sites using most of the current standards including HTML, WML (WAP), HDML, xHTML, and cHTML (imode). Only websites using Java scripting will be non-operative, according to Shirai.

          In its first iteration, the Treo devices will give users the ability to send and receive emails using internet email (POP3) accounts such as Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. However, later in the year, as GSM network operators upgrade their systems to GPRS, a packet-based network -- also known as 2.5G (generation) -- Treo users will be able to have e-mail automatically "pushed" to their Treos in a manner similar to the Blackberry service on RIM devices.

          The current models already come with support for GPRS built in and will require only a software upgrade when the service becomes available.

          According to Purdy, the benefits for business of the VDAs will come from allowing companies to buy a single device rather than many, hook it into email, and get a good service plan for voice with integrated billing for data.

          "The real benefit of these phones for access to corporate email will arrive when the GPRS networks are enabled. The circuits are in place it is just a matter of them being switched on," Purdy said.

          Other communications features include instant messaging between Treo devices and the ability to use SMS (short messaging service), a text-based instant messaging-like system available on the entire GSM network. Messages are limited to 160 characters in length.

          Also available is a feature that enables users to beam data between devices and a USB port for data synchronisation to a desktop, technology already available on the Palm OS platform.

          The units are designed from the ground up, and except for the use of the Palm OS and organiser features, do not share many similarities with the Handspring Visor. The Treo does not include a Springboard upgrade port.

          "I commend Handspring for going way beyond the Visor. They went back to the drawing board," Purdy says.

          The steel blue units come with 16MB of memory, a back-lit monochrome display, 33MHz processor, touch screen, infrared, and a rechargeable lithium ion battery with 2.5 hours of talk time, according to the company.

          Competitors to the Treo device include handhelds with wireless web browsers and voice capability such as Danger, in Palo Alto, California, with a device called Hiptop. Also available is the PC-Ephone, from a company of the same name in San Diego, and the Accompli 009 from Motorola based in Schaumburg, Illinois.

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