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3-in-1 Treo Has the Future Well in Hand

Handspring combines cell phone, pager and PDA in a single nifty gadget that is sure to spur more innovation.

December 06, 2001|ELIZABETH DOUGLASS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Say goodbye to the Bat-belt and the extra heft in your purse, because the multi-gadget era is drawing to a close.

Certainly, pagers, mobile phones and hand-held computers are not going away as independent items--all three will be around for the foreseeable future. But devices that unite the three in a single package have turned a corner, and they are now good enough for everyday use.

Credit Handspring's new Treo phone with making that point loud and clear. The Treo, which is powered by the Palm operating system, builds on the successes of other hybrid products, but it goes several steps further by adding a tiny keyboard for messaging, simplifying the switch from phone to Web to address book functions, and best of all, by doing it all in a compact and lightweight package.

The Treo is not perfect, but it does many things right, and it is sure to spur greater innovations from rivals in the coming year.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday December 12, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Handspring Treo--A story about Handspring's new Treo device in Tech Times on Thursday incorrectly implied there is no easy way to dial letter-based phone numbers. The Treo's keypad does not include the familiar letters commonly found on phone dialing pads, but the device displays them on the touch-screen phone buttons.

The first versions, the 180 and the 180g, will be available in January and will cost about $400 with a service contract from Cingular Wireless or certain other carriers. The Treo also will be available from Handspring and retail stores, but the price will be higher if purchased separately from mobile service.

By making the Treo less than 3 inches wide and a tad over 4 inches tall, Handspring manages to overcome the single biggest complaint about previous models of all-in-one phones, from the earliest Communicator 9000 by Nokia to the current Kyocera QCP-6035 Smartphone.

The Treo's weight is just 5.4 ounces, less than any other hybrid device and roughly the weight of a standard cell phone. It's shape is rectangular, like an organizer, but it's not too wide to hold comfortably while making a phone call.

The Treo also earns good marks for its performance as a phone. Handspring is not the first company to put the phone functions first, but it is the first time a PDA maker has taken that route.

In the last year, most of the available hybrids could be divided into two camps: devices that added phone functions to a handheld ( a la Handspring's Springboard add-on to its Visor) or a pager (such as Motorola's Accompli 009); and those that added organizer functions to a phone (such as the NeoPoint smart phone and LG InfoComm's TM910).

Kyocera's Smartphone is an exception because it manages to handle both the phone and the PDA functions well. Samsung's new I300, on the other hand, is a beautiful PDA with slightly less credibility as an everyday phone.

With nearly 1 billion users worldwide, the mobile phone is by far the most popular electronic device. It's that popular because people want and need to make phone calls on the go, and they won't accept a combo-device as a substitute unless it works well as an everyday phone.

For the most part, the Treo fills the bill. Its cover is transparent to allow users to view information about incoming calls, and it flips open to a comfortable angle for holding the device to your ear. It also comes with a speaker phone feature and a headset.

Nice touches include the ability to answer or end a call by either opening or closing the cover, and the ability to find phone numbers by touching just a few letters.

The Treo also includes two elements that seem so obviously helpful that it's a wonder that big-name cell phone makers such as Nokia and Motorola haven't included them in their models.

The first is the addition of speed-dial buttons that are much more like those on a desktop phone, with each speed-dial number labeled by the user (mom, pizza, baby-sitter or whatever) and displayed on the touch screen. Tap or select the oval marked "mom" and the call begins.

Typically, cell phones have included customizable speed-dial slots stored under certain number keys, so you have to remember that 5 is home and 2 is your spouse at work.

The second big advance by Treo is a tiny switch on the top edge of the phone that acts as a mute button. Switch the button, and the phone won't make a peep (although it will vibrate).

Today's cell phones all include features that will mute or adjust the volume of the phone's ring, but you have to tap through several menus first--and that's not so helpful if your phone is ringing during a movie.

The phone side of the Treo is wired for U.S. and European networks using the technology known as the Global System for Mobile communications, or GSM. In this country, that means Cingular Wireless, VoiceStream and some smaller carriers--and less robust coverage nationwide than that provided by other companies.

Most GSM phones overcome the coverage issue by including the ability to toggle to analog mode whenever the preferred digital network isn't available.

The Treo doesn't have analog capability, and that's a fairly big drawback, since the phone, messaging and data functions are useless without a radio signal.

The Treo also neglects to include voice-dialing, a feature that has quickly become a must-have for people who talk while driving.

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