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Handspring Treo 180

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  • Editors' rating
    7.2 Very good

Pros

  • Well engineered and compact combination of a handheld and a mobile phone.

Cons

  • Expensive
  • bulky and short on battery life compared to a regular mobile phone.

Handspring, maker of the Visor range of Palm OS handhelds, is branching out into 'convergence' devices with its new Treo family. At first sight, the Treo 180 seems like an ordinary handheld, with its monochrome display and 16MB of memory. It comes with all the usual PDA functions too -- calendar, contacts and so on; however, its antenna tells you that it's also a mobile phone.

The Treo 180 looks rather like a Motorola StarTAC phone, with a clear-windowed hinged cover over the 16-greyscale monochrome display. Unlike the Visor, the Treo 180 uses a small keyboard for data input and a Jog Rocker for navigation (another model, the 180g replaces the keyboard with a Graffiti writing area). It's powered by a 33MHz Motorola Dragonball processor and runs the Palm OS 3.5.2H operating system, which is not flash-upgradeable. On the telephony side, there is a ringer switch that toggles between silent vibrate and ring mode on the top of the device.

The Treo 180 is little bigger than a pack of cards (11 cm x 6.9cm x 1.8cm), weighs 147g and will easily slip into a trouser or jacket pocket. And although it's small, this doesn't affect the display, which is the same 3.3in. size as the Palm m100. The screen is backlit, which makes reading comfortable, even in poor light.

The Treo 180 is well equipped with telephony applications -- SMS messaging, WAP, Web and i-Mode browsing, call log and email client. It is even upgradeable to work over GPRS networks. What's more, the telephony functions integrate perfectly with the existing Palm OS applications.

The mobile phone itself is simple to use and works independently of the standard handheld device. Numbers can be dialled manually using either the on-screen keyboard or the physical one, or with one of the configurable short-cut keys. One nice surprise is that non-standard numbers work perfectly well -- this is great for Outlook users, where phone numbers often include brackets.

We weren't able to test the phone's reception quality, but hopefully it will be as good as the rest of the device. Even SMS messaging is well designed, the ability to enter set phrases making quick answers possible. Another advantage is that you can store a large number of messages, the only limit being the device's memory. The call log works on the same principle.

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Despite all this good news, some details could have been improved. For example, accented characters are not particularly easy to generate: you have to tap the vowel and then a special key that shows a list of accents from which you select the right one. Very tiresome. Another annoying detail is that you can't select an application in the start menu with the Jog Rocker, whereas this is possible on Sony's Clié devices.

Battery life with convergence devices is always likely to be a problem, and the Treo 180 is no exception. Talk time is rated at 2.5 hours, and you get 60 hours in standby mode -- the equivalent of just two days' real use. This is a big step backwards, since today's mobile phones comfortably break the two-week barrier. If you don't use the phone, Handspring claims that the handheld device lasts for 3-4 weeks on one charge. Finally, there is no docking cradle included with the Treo 180, just a synchronisation cable and a travel charger.

Unlike the VisorPhone (the Springboard module that connects to Handspring's Visors), the Treo 180 is almost completely successful. It should appeal not only to handheld enthusiasts who crave connectivity, but also to many mobile phone users, who will be seduced by its impressive marriage of phone and PDA. The main drawbacks are the limited battery life and the lack of a docking cradle.

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