Handspring Treo smartphones give Graffiti the thumbs down

Blackberry's micro-keyboard more popular

Handspring has taken the wraps off its Treo smartphone - its first product not only to embrace integrated wireless comunications but to turn its back on the Graffiti character-entry system the company's co-founder, Jeff Hawkins, invented.

The Treo actually emerged last month when the US Federal Communications Commission posted details of the device on its Web site. That was part of Handspring's attempt to gain FCC approval for the device.

The Treo announced this week is substantially the same as the prototype posted by the FCC but pulled soon after at Handspring's request. Two versions will be offered, one with a tiny RIM Blackberry-style keyboard, the other (the Treo 180g) with a standard Graffiti text entry pad. Handspring staffers reckon the keyboard version will outsell the more traditional PDA data-entry system.

Both will cost $399 with a cellular network access package or $549 on its own.

The device integrates a 16MB Palm OS-based PDA with a dual-band (900MHz and 1900MHz; or 900/1800MHz for the European market) GSM phone. Expect the Treo to be upgraded to support GPRS at some point in the future, for always-on Net access. In the UK, Cellnet already has GPRS, so it's feasible the GPRS version could appear over here sooner.

The PDA side of the rig will run Palm OS 3.5.2 on a 33MHz Dragonball VZ processor. The screen is 16-greyscale monochrome, but Handspring says there's a colour version in the works. Bundled apps include email; Handspring's Web browser, Blazer; and an SMS utility.

The hardware includes what Handspring calls a "Jog Rocker", but is essentially Sony's Jog Dial controller. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, but we wonder how long it will take Sony to become sufficiently annoyed at the cloners and takes action. Just as soon as the patent applications come through, we guess.

Treo itself is set to ship early next year. ®