Related link: http://www.handspring.com/products/treo300/index.jhtml
I’ve been using a Treo 300 for over a week now. Using it is just like the experience of going from a dialup, 56k modem to a DSL line: “Oh, yeah. This is the way it was meant to be.”
The Handspring Treo 300 is a combination PalmOS PDA, Sprint PCS cell phone, and Internet handset, with an email client and a Web browser as the primary network applications. I still carry a pocket knife, but with that one exception every other useful device I carry around is collapsed into this one product. The Treo was originally released several months ago, but the Treo 300 is a significant step forward — primarily because Sprint has an excellent cellular network, and because that network features always-on connectivity (you make one connection to the network and leave it on all the time). (Steven Den Beste gives a long and interesting perspective on the different U.S. digital cellular network standards, and why Sprint has a leg up in the competition.)
For many years I’ve used a Palm V, and I’ve never really been tempted to upgrade it for much of anything. Color screens looked cool but none of the devices containing them seemed better in any other way, and usually they were worse; Springboard seemed like a neat idea but not enough for me to switch; the Palm VII and i705 seemed like substantial downgrades from the Palm V. So I waited, and waited. The Treo 300 is exactly the right sort of upgrade: everything about it is better. The screen is color and very nice; the keyboard replacing Graffiti text entry is extremely well-done and usable; the rocker switch on the side replaces a huge number of otherwise clumsy operations; having a phone in the device means I no longer have Nokia-data and Palm-data to synchronize by hand; and the added functionality of mobile email and Web makes the device much more than the sum of the devices it replaces. It’s interesting to see how easy it is to change Palm devices, too — just hotsync and you’re ready to go.
I had experienced mobile email with the Blackberry some time ago, but the added drag of the Blackberry device always kept me from really enjoying it. Now, with an all-in-one device, what I’ve found is that my ability to keep up with email has gone way up. I can deal with messages progressively during the day rather than in clumps when I get time at my desk. This is a big improvement. On the Treo, the email client polls a special server which in turn polls your mail account; this increases the lag time over the Blackberry’ push model. However, as a practical matter I don’t need to receive email more often than the app polls (every half hour) — anything more urgent can go to the cell phone, which is included.
There are some early adopter rough edges: the email application doesn’t let you “take” an address from mail you receive and easily import it into your contact list (cut and paste works around this just fine); similarly, the phone application doesn’t import information from caller ID to the contact list; the email client doesn’t recognize URLs and allow you to load them into the Web browser; Sprint doesn’t seem to have worked out SMS yet (but see Treo300SMS — let’s hear it once again for open platforms); and the device doesn’t have an SD slot (I don’t much care for SD, but the Treo 90 has a slot, and I’d rather have Palm and Handspring agree on an expansion format than not; plus I think Margi System’s Presenter to Go is cool and wish I could use it). All of these, though, are requests for improvement — not impediments to using the device.
The main thing Handspring should concentrate on is creating a full, intergrated, mobile replacement for Exchange. The Treo 300 is perfect for office environments, and having email and a calendar on one device is great. If the calendar were an Exchange-style shared scheduling system, and if the email system didn’t require Exchange to run, there would be no reason to use Exchange at all, and that is the ideal outcome for Handspring. It would be great if Handspring became the communications platform for the enterprise. They have the foundation for it; Palm doesn’t seem likely to succeed at it given the devices they’re cranking out (cute but nothing near the Treo in utility or design); and if you give Microsoft enough time, they’ll do it instead. If the Treo requires Exchange and runs off Exchange and doesn’t replace Exchange, which competitor does that benefit most? Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen — Microsoft’s PDA attempts have been far less functional and productive than their competitors’.
Great job, Handspring — this is an outstanding device and the first big step up in the PDA market since the Palm V. If you carry a PDA and a cell phone, particularly if you’re a heavy email user, you’re wasting your own time and space if you don’t go buy a Treo.
Update: Sprint today announced that they are lowering the cost of data connections for their PCS service plans. According to TreoCentral, the new plans will feature unlimited data access for $10/month.