- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2002

It seems like only yesterday but, in reality, it's been about six years since Jeff Hawkins, Donna Dubinsky and Ed Colligan unleashed the original Palm Pilot on the computing world and that world has never been the same. Mr. Hawkins, the story is famously told, carved a wooden block into the shape of the original device, determined to create something that could slip in a shirt pocket, or a purse, with ease.
While Palm Computing changed hands twice ending up as part of 3Com Corp. before being spun off the trio made another switch in 1998, founding Handspring Inc., to create personal digital assistants PDAs using the Palm operating system. Last fall, Mr. Hawkins proudly showed off the Treo 180, a tiny organizer that included a cell phone and wireless Internet capabilities.
Last week, the firm added two new models in the Treo line: a $499 Treo 270 phone with some keypad improvements, a color display and other features; and a $299 Treo 90 organizer with the flip-up lid and color screen, but no phone capabilities. Also, unlike the original Handspring Visors, neither the Graffiti handwriting system nor a Springboard expansion slot is included in either model.
When we spoke last November at the COMDEX trade show, Mr. Hawkins insisted that there was room in the market for more than one kind of PDA device; I believe he's right. The new Treo models, along with the monochrome Treo 180, are all worthy of consideration.
I've used the 180 for quite some time and am just getting up to speed with the 270 and the 90. Let's consider the PDA/phone units first.
There are substantial advantages to having the PDA combined with a phone. The most obvious is that your address book is always available with your phone. Unless you are a memory expert, it is highly improbable that you will have memorized all the names and phone numbers of your contacts. While you may have some important names and numbers memorized, it is less likely that you have every contact telephone number for a given person committed to memory.
Use the Treo 180 or 270, however, and the contact's entire directory listing is immediately available. As long as your cellular provider permits, you can progressively dial each listed telephone number and send a short text e-mail, with great ease. Add the optional Treo Mail service and you can also send and receive longer e-mail messages using a corporate or personal e-mail account. This kind of communications flexibility seems to be vital for today's "road warrior" who must be on the go, yet remain in touch with clients and co-workers.
However unlike most previous combination devices, the Treo 180 and 270 have managed the details far better. One very nice feature is found in the headset cord, where the built-in microphone includes a button that lets users answer or disconnect a call. Thus the unit can be in your pocket and you can still answer the phone easily and without distraction. This is particularly useful for those using the device in their automobiles, where safe operation is essential.
Of the two products, I prefer the Treo 270, because of its color display screen. There may be a slight trade-off in battery life versus the monochrome model (the manufacturer claims otherwise), but having full color available to more easily read the display screen, as well as engage in some Internet surfing, makes any price and battery premium worthwhile.
Such factors also lead me to believe that the Treo 90, which lacks the phone features, is another useful device for those who just want a personal digital assistant. The form factor works quite nicely; the unit is compact, yet readable. The basic features of the Palm operating system are enhanced with this unit.
Common to all three devices is the tiny, almost Lilliputian, keyboard. At first, with a product such as the blackberry pager, I found such keyboards annoying. But here, too, the Handspring engineers have made the keyboard work better. It takes a little getting used to, yes, but as an input mechanism the keyboard is easy to master and highly effective for its purpose.
Handspring is taking orders for all three devices via its Internet Web site, www.handspring.com, and the products will soon be available in retail stores. Supporting both the Macintosh and Windows platforms, they are excellent accessories for on-the-go people who need to keep in touch with their schedules, tasks and contacts.

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