Even though Palm announced it would be acquiring Handspring, company spokesperson Brian Jacquet says the plans so far are to retain the Handspring branding for the device, which--like the Treo 300 which it succeeds--is one part wireless wide area network-based PDA and one part wireless phone.
I had a chance to form some initial impressions after handling the Treo 600 and several other devices being demonstrated for the first time at CeBiT.
The first wireless carrier to announce that the Treo 600 will be available on its network is CDMA-based Sprint. Handspring was also showing off a GPRS version of the phone. But, as of the writing of this story, there had been no announcements regarding whether GPRS-based carriers such as T-Mobile or AT&T Wireless would be carrying the Treo 600.
Because the Treo 600 is smaller and sleeker than the Treo 300, the 600's thumbboard is more compressed than the one found on its predecessor. The Treo 300's thumbboard, had buttons that double as numeric keys to form a physical dialing keypad (in addition to the soft-keypad that can also be displayed on the screen). The Treo 600 takes that idea a step further by coloring those keys differently from the rest of the thumbboard, making the tiny buttons easier to pick out for single-handed thumb dialing. Whereas the keys that doubled to form the numeric keypad were on the right side of the qwerty-formatted thumbboard on the Treo 300, they're on the left side for the Treo 600. This is a better design because, when holding the device with your right hand, your thumb will more naturally fall over the thumbboard's left side.
Another new feature found on the Treo 600 is a built-in digital camera for low resolution still images. I didn't take any pictures with the camera, but noticed that the display is much crisper and brighter than the one found on the Treo 300. This will not only come in handy when the device is used in direct sunlight, it will make the Treo 600's user experience much better when it comes to viewing images.
Another significant user-interface improvement is that users can easily tab through all of the fields and options shown on the display at any given time. With the Treo 300, moving horizontally between fields and selecting options at the bottom of the display like "OK", and "Cancel" was cumbersome when trying to operate the device single-handedly without a stylus.
Instead of using the pair of up and down navigation buttons that are found at the bottom of most Palm OS-based devices (including the Treo 300), the Treo 600 has a North-South-East-West jogger button (much like the one found on HP's iPaqs) that makes tabbing horizontally or vertically through all of the records, fields, and options being displayed on the screen much easier than before.
|Video: Take a sneak peek at the new Treo|
Another questionable design choice is the lack of replaceable battery. Handspring's Jacquet claims the built-in battery's life expectancy is about six hours of talk time. But, in my experience with converged PDA/phones, especially with the Treo 300, the battery drain caused by data communications outstrips that caused by voice communications. If your intention is to do a lot of data communications for accessing the Web, sending or receiving e-mail, or for wireless corporate software such as a sales force automation application, a combination of that activity along with moderate to heavy communications and some standby time could conceivably drain the battery before it's convenient to recharge it. As I said in my review of the Treo 300, there's nothing worse than finding out that your phone can't make it through the day. Whereas other PDA, phone, and converged device vendors such as HP, RIM, and Hitachi seem to be learning this lesson by going the replaceable route, Handspring still seems committed to the idea that a replaceable battery isn't necessary.
Although he didn't have anything to demonstrate the feature at CeBiT, Jacquet pointed out that the device has some strategically located depressions that allow for an external battery to be attached. While this theoretically could solve the battery-life problem, I can't yet comment on how use of such a battery may increase the device's size or the ease with which it can fit in a pocket.