Handspring slaps extra charge on UK buyers

Palm licensee Handspring has unveiled its all-in-one wireless handheld called Treo, but it will cost half as much again in the UK as it does in the US

UK buyers of Handspring's wireless devices, which were announced on Monday, will have to pay significantly more than US buyers, the company has admitted.

As predicted by ZDNet UK, handheld computer maker Handspring unveiled details of its upcoming wireless organiser Treo on Monday. But UK gadget aficionados will have to pay about $200 (£140) more than in the US, plus separate mobile phone subscription fees.

Handspring said the pricing is different because in the US, Treo will be subsidised by mobile phone network providers in exchange for a subscription commitment, while UK buyers will have to pay the unsubsidised price. In the US the Treo 180 will cost $399 (£280), versus about $600 (£420) in the UK.

Treo builds on the success of integrated wireless devices like BlackBerry in the US and will find Handspring competing with the likes of Symbian, Microsoft, Motorola and Palm Computing in the nascent market for smartphones.

And despite its similarity in appearance to the popular BlackBerry, the communicator won't have always-on connectivity. While the UK version of BlackBerry uses GPRS for a constant connection to the Internet and email, Treo will have to dial an ISP over a wireless connection to access data -- an expensive proposition.

Handspring announced two devices, the Treo 180 and Treo 270, both to be launched next year. Both are based on the Palm operating system, which runs most PDAs (personal digital assistant) and competes directly with Microsoft's Pocket PC.

Both the 180 and 270 are available with either Graffiti for handwritten notes or a BlackBerry-style keyboard.

Treo 180, set for launch at the beginning of the year, sports a monochrome display, 16MB of memory and has a built-in 900MHz-1800MHz dual-band GSM phone. Besides integration between the phone and PDA functions like an extensive address book, Handspring touts communications features like easy SMS messaging, email and Web browsing.

No details were available on the 270, but it adds a colour display and will be launched mid-2002.

In the US the device will use the North American GSM network and will be available through several mobile phone network operators. The 180 will cost $399 (about £279) and the 270 will cost $599 (about £419). Both prices require a service contract.

The devices most similar to Treo are Microsoft's upcoming Stinger smartphone, which includes reduced PDA capabilities and uses a numeric keypad for text input, and Ericsson's R380 Symbian smartphone, which combines a phone handset with an EPOC-based PDA.

Nokia's Communicator is a more heavy-duty variation on the theme, with a clamshell form factor, larger keyboard, colour screen and high-speed wireless capabilities.

BTCellnet is currently marketing BlackBerry in the UK as purely a messaging device, although with a software upgrade it will also be capable of making voice calls.

Despite the plethora of entries, smartphones have not yet proved a success in the marketplace. Handspring has admitted that its earlier PDA-phone, the VisorPhone, has not sold as well as expected.

Some analysts say a more user-friendly solution will arrive as Bluetooth, the short-range radio technology, makes it simple for a PDA to communicate with any mobile phone.

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