Handspring Treo 300
By Carlo Longino, Fri Jan 03 12:00:00 GMT 2003

Handspring soups up its Treo communicator for use on 2.5G networks.

Handspring's latest Treo is its first product to take advantage of new high-speed networks, in this case, CDMA 1x nets (its Treo 270 brother is the similar GSM model), as well as Handspring's first communicator to boast a color screen. It's a nifty device, but one definitely tailored for business users - general consumers should look elsewhere.

Ease of use: 4 /6 stars

The Treo 300, like all Handspring devices, runs the Palm OS, which in itself is pretty simple to use. The hard keyboard makes for quick messaging, especially for users familiar with RIM Blackberry devices (though this reviewer has never been a fan of Graffiti), although using the alternate keys to dial the phone takes a little getting used to, but there is a soft keypad users can use on the touchscreen.

The organizer and other included software functions work fine, and the phone software is generally integrated well with the organizer functions. One slightly annoying feature is the Treo's tendency to turn off its wireless mode, meaning if the device has done so, the user must endure a short wait while it finds and logs on to the network, something it will do automatically should you try to dial a call or access the data network. It is nice, however, to be able to disable the wireless functions so that the Treo can be used in an airplane, hospital, or other areas where mobile phones aren't allowed.

The Treo 300 does feature a slick scroll button on the side of the device, allowing for one-handed navigation through contacts and other data, letting users keep the stylus in its slot for some simple tasks, like to navigate through the 50-entry speed dial phonebook that appears when the flap is opened. But at the same time, users must use the stylus in tandem with the keyboard for other tasks (jumping between lines when entering a contact, for example), which can be a pain.

But the Treo 300 does have some drawbacks. Its radio is single-band, meaning it can't fall back on older CDMA or analog networks should the user venture out of CDMA2000 coverage, and for some business users, this may force them to carry a separate phone, negating any benefit of carrying a single device. Also, the included Palm OS (version 3.5) isn't upgradeable, but more importantly, the 16MB of memory isn't expandable. Being a Palm-based device, though, users can take advantage of the 15,000 or so applications written for the platform.

The single-band issue aside, the Treo performs well as a phone, better than some other PDA/phone hybrids we've seen. It's small enough that it can be easily used to talk, and while it features a great speakerphone, it can also be used in a standard manner as a clamshell phone. Voice clarity and call quality was great on Sprint PCS' network in the Austin, Texas, area, and the CDMA 1x data transmission was speedy.

A big selling point of the Treo 300 is its color screen, which provides rich, deep colors when indoors. When outside in direct sunlight, it doesn't fare so well - but then what color PDA really does? Battery life is pretty good, giving somewhere between 2 and 3 hours of talk time, and around 5 days on standby.

Design/style: 5/6 stars

The Treo communicators have all featured a great form factor and design - and the 300 is no exception, packing a great deal into a very small package. The device is big enough to accommodate a keyboard and decent-sized screen, but is small enough and light enough to fit in a pocket and not be cumbersome for use outside the workday even though it's bigger than standard flip phones. The 300 is also differentiated from other Treos by its sleek silver finish, which is a nice change from the standard black.

Vital statistics: 3/6 stars

Network: CDMA2000 1xRTT (1900 MHz)
Weight: 5.7oz
Size: 4.4" x 2.8" x 0.8"
Talk time: up to 2.5 hours
Standby time: up to 150 hours
Mobile Internet access: HTML, SMS (receive only)
Processor: 33mHz Motorola Dragonball
Palm OS 3.5
16 MB installed memory
Includes software: Phone Book, Date Book Plus, Blazer Web browser, To Do List, Memo Pad, Calculator, CityTime clock, Expense
PC synchronization software

Mobile Internet Browsing: 4/6 stars

Web browsing on the Treo 300 uses Handspring's Blazer browser, and the experience is similar to other PDA browsers: acceptable for pages created for the devices, pretty painful - although possible - for most general Web sites. Included from Sprint is access to their PCS Vision content, which includes a number of device-designed sites across several categories.

Astute readers will notice nothing's been said thus far about e-mail. That's because the Treo 300 doesn't include an e-mail application, even one that allows a user to transfer and read messages from their PC. Sprint PCS sells the Treo under their "Business Connection" umbrella - and the device is pretty meaningless without the Business Connection software and services. The software gives business users access to their e-mail, and allows enterprise users to set up alerts from corporate applications as well. Alternatively, individual users can stump up USD 50 per year for Handspring's Treo Mail service, which allows access to standard POP3 e-mail.

Mobile Internet-related features: not applicable

Outside the Web browser function and sold-separately e-mail capabilities, there's not a lot else the Treo 300 can do with the mobile net. As noted above, users can receive text messages, but not send them - although this is a CDMA standard and carrier issue, not a device one.

Overall: 4/6 stars

The Treo 300 performs quite well when evaluated within a certain frame of reference. For a business or corporate user whose company installs the Sprint Business Connection software (or something similar), it can replace separate mobile phone, PDA, and Blackberry or two-way paging devices. It performs great as a Palm PDA and messaging device, and well as a phone, and nominally - on par with other communicators and hybrids - as a mobile Web browser. Taken in that context, it's a great device that will surely take some territory back from RIM, so long as highly mobile users can deal with its single-band radio.

But to everyday consumers, for whom this device doesn't seem to be intended, keep looking. The Treo 300 isn't for you.

A high-resolution photo of the Treo 300 can be found on the following page: Next