Handspring introduces colour Treos

This week Handspring Inc. will officially unveil two Treo handheld models, the Treo 270, a colour upgrade to the monochrome 180, and the Treo 90, a Palm OS-based colour organizer that lacks any inbuilt wireless capability.

The 270 model will be priced at US$499 with service activation, and at US$699 without service. According to a Handspring spokesperson, this is a typical cell phone handset strategy wherein the service provider underwrites the cost of the hardware. The monochrome model is now US$399.

With the addition of colour and a beefier battery, one industry analyst believes the 270 is the answer to two of the major issues with the monochrome 180 model.

“Battery life was unacceptable. Some users were getting only an hour and 15 minutes talk time. The other issue is colour. Users want it,” said David Hayden, president of MobileWeek, a mobile and wireless consultancy in Palo Alto, Calif.

The 270 with the larger battery weighs in at 5.4 ounces, has a claimed talk time of three hours, and weighs 0.2 ounces more than the 170.

The Treo 270 is essentially a Model 180 that now incorporates a colour display. The units will come with 16MB of memory, a 12-bit, 4,000-colour display, and a backlit keyboard – a feature not previously available on the 170.

As in previous models, the 270 includes all of the Palm OS organizer applications and comes with a USB HotSync cable.

TreoMail will continue to give users access to Microsoft Exchange Server for corporate e-mail accounts, but support for Lotus Domino, the Lotus Notes server, is still not available.

Hayden likes the TreoMail service, which uses either a server side solution or a desktop redirector over Port 443. However, at a US$499 price point, the enterprise may be slow to adopt the units, Hayden said.

“Handspring can’t maintain the US$499 price point just as they couldn’t maintain the US$449 price point for the monochrome model. The 180 will probably go to US$299 and the 270 to US$399,” Hayden said.

The Treo line offers dual band, either 900/1,900MHz or 900/1,800MHz, cellular service from both Cingular and Voicestream and can be upgraded to GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) via a software download as it becomes available.

Cell phone features on the Treo line include three-way calling, speaker phone, caller ID, and instant lookup. Because the phone uses the GSM network, SMS (Short Messaging Service) is also enabled on the 270.

The Model 90 introduced along with the 270 is an organizer with a dual expansion slot for Secure Digital and MultiMedia Card devices.

The colour unit weighs only 4 ounces and includes 16MB of memory, a built-in keyboard, and infrared communications port. It too comes with all of the Palm OS organizer software.

At US$299, however, Hayden believes the price point is above the mainstream market for non-wireless capable organizers.

“Even with a nice form factor it is not going to help Handspring increase the marketshare they lost by being less competitive than with the current Visor line,” Hayden said.

The Treo 90 is also fuelling speculation that the Visor product line will be discontinued.

Product line manager, Calin Pacurariu, at Handspring in Mountain View, Calif., responded to that speculation by saying that Handspring is focused on the Treo.

Both the Model 270 and Model 90 will ship in volume later next month, Pacurairu said.