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Handspring Treo 180 Review: Part 3
This last section covers what others have written about the Treo 180, as well as my more general comments about the device and what it represents. [Last modified: 19 March 2002]

Other Reviews
The Treo 180 is a very deep device, and a very personal device. Using one for a couple of weeks is probably the best way to understand it, but if you can't do that, the next best thing is probably to read what a variety of people have to say. There are many reviews appearing in the press, and in the following paragraphs I link to some of them. What I found interesting is that sometimes a problem one reviewer complained about is addressed differently by another. Some features (like the phone lookup) most everybody addresses, others only interest one or two. Reading one review is not enough.

Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal is a well respected reviewer, writing from the perspective of a "normal" person, not a techie. He gets to try a large percentage of the latest devices. He wrote two reviews of the Treo: A preview review in late November 2001, and another similar evaluation right after the Treo shipped in March 2002. He likes it.

Philip Greenspun is a software developer, photographer, writer, and entrepreneur. His review is more critical. He didn't find the rocker switch one-handed dialing sufficient for calling while driving, and wanted even more features for integrating parts of the phone and address book. He didn't know about a trick another reviewer found for displaying the date and time on the initial phone display. He wanted an integrated GPS, and more. Given his exacting requirements when he writes about photography, his uncompromising view of the Treo is in character and understandable. For me, his review is a "half empty" review. Mine and Walt's are more of a "half full" review, given the desire for a single small device today, and a willingness to view the Treo as a platform (see my comments, below).

Other reviews:

Shawn Barnett's review in Pen Computing. A very detailed, in-depth look at the Treo. The end has a "sidebar" where he gives the trick for displaying the date and time on the speed dial screen that he learned from Handspring executive Jeff Hawkins. (It works, as you might notice in a picture in Part 2.)
Keith Shaw of Network World Fusion wrote a review in early February 2002.
ZDNet has a review from late January 2002. It is much shorter than the others.
 
Comments
I think the Treo is important because it is not a "device" in the sense usually used by consumer electronics. It is more a "platform" in the sense that a personal computer is a platform. Handspring understands that at the highest levels, and I think that is what will make them and their products different than normal phone manufacturers and their products.

While discussing problems with a home phone system made by an electronics company, Bob Frankston wrote, in "Lessons from the GigaSet", "I found it very annoying that software problems could only be solved by swapping equipment and there simply wasn't the concept of a software update...This is a strong example of the cultural gap between consumer electronics and the PC industry. All problems are treated as hardware problems and are thus very expensive and inconvenient to deal with...By treating the product as a closed system, there is no real evolutionary path."

After using traditional cell phones and then the Treo, I was reminded of the dedicated word processors of the late 1970's and early 1980's (like those from Wang) and the reason we all switched to the more flexible personal computers. Being able to move your data and programs from generation to generation of hardware, and choose your software to improve or add capabilities to existing hardware, is what makes a product a platform and something that people like and trust.

I remember being at an event with Bob Frankston and Handspring cofounder Donna Dubinsky. Donna was telling us about their new Blazer browser for the Palm and her VisorPhone. While Bob had brought a Visor to be Handspring friendly, he also had a Kyocera Palm OS cell phone/PDA. Donna excitedly offered to let him try it on the spot, beaming a beta copy to him from her VisorPhone to his Kyocera (it worked fine). She understood the idea of a platform.

Donna Dubinsky adding capabilities to Bob Frankston's cell phone/PDA
When I first received my preproduction Treo, I complained to Donna that the standard Palm OS Preferences screen couldn't set which application was brought up with the Application keys modified by the Option button. You were stuck with the defaults. I didn't tell her another problem, how much I disliked that opening the flip cover always brought up the phone application, losing my position on a calendar or memo. She emailed back with a simple application attached that not only let you set the actions of the Option Application buttons, but also let you set the cover opening to bring up a different application, or better yet, do nothing. Just what I needed! I now run with that application, as well as with one of the unmodified buttons set to bring up the "Home" application menu, so I don't have to do the two-keystroke "shortcut" to choose an application not assigned to a button. (Some reviewers complained about the lack of a "Home" key, but forgot to check the normal Palm Preferences setting for changing this.)

Similar applications are available already from PalmGear (search for "Treo"): TreoButton and Buttons-T. There's also PowerJOG, now in free beta and later to be $15 shareware, that claims to let you use the rocker switch to "single handedly" choose from a pop-up list, push dialog buttons, launch applications, and more. There are numerous applications for creating ring tones. There are a variety of mail programs. This for a machine that just shipped. (I haven't had the time to try these.) Of course, normal Palm OS applications run on it. In addition to all the email and web applications I've mentioned, I'm running a calendar enhancement for Jewish holidays, a couple of word processors, a spreadsheet, and a special personal data collection application, all from third parties who developed for regular Palm OS devices. The "enhanced" Handspring standard applications are nice, too. I like the "floating" entries feature in the calendar application that lets you use it for simple "to do's" and more.

You can see how this type of device will quickly evolve through the help of third parties and internal development, just like the personal computer.

What's special about the Treo for me is that it not only has this platform mentality behind it, but it also has the keyboard and extra buttons that open up a vast area for innovation without obsoleting old hardware. Not only that, but it also is a great physical package. It really feels good in the hand. Instead of the tension between a stylus in one hand and the device in another at just the right angle for writing and reading with the right pressure, you can use either or both hands for most operations. You squish it in your hands (like a GameBoy? Squishy toy?) pushing as hard or soft as you wish. Most touch screen operations can be done with a finger tip or a light tap of a fingernail, so even for that you don't need the stylus much. As I explained in Part 1, the keyboard is very forgiving and accurate -- surprisingly so to most people who try it and let themselves stray from the tendency to think that you must only touch the center of one key pushing perpendicularly to the keyboard. It just feels so friendly and powerful and responsive, especially given the price and size.

Does it have problems? You bet. Like everything, there were lots of compromises. It's initially GSM only. No GPRS yet. No 802.11. You'd like the battery to last longer and be replaceable instead of built-in. The screen is not anywhere near as contrasty as the RIM 957 or beautiful as the backlit color Samsung Palm OS/phone combination. It would be nice if it was smaller to take up less space in a pocket, purse, or on a belt. It would be nice if it had a bigger screen for old eyes like mine. The earphone sound could be better and have adjustable tone. It could use even more keys and a wheel instead of, or in addition to, the rocker/jog switch. It would be nice if it was more rugged without a glass screen. $399 isn't bad, but $199 would be better. More case color options would be nice. Etc., etc.

Why did I buy one? Easy. I was tired of needing to carry two devices, at least, for my daily electronic needs (personal and for work). I make too many errors with Graffiti. I liked the RIM keyboard. I want to learn about devices I think teach us about the future. As a technology commentator, I could "justify" spending the money on "keeping up with what's happening with technology" alone (look at all the readers this review is getting), just like I justify getting the Wall Street Journal and New York Times delivered to my home every day. I just loved how right it felt when I first touched one. Walt Mossberg really liked it, and I respect his opinion in this area. Stewart Alsop told me he liked it and we both agreed on some of the nice touches. (After I ordered mine I found others who've reviewed it whom I also respect who seem to like it, but by then it was too late -- I'd already spent my money.) Finally, when I tried one, it worked well enough as a phone that I was willing to take a chance depending upon it, especially since the PDA part was so much better than what I had already. I've gone from phones (and keyboards and screens and cars and...) that were better in some respects than newer ones in order to meet other needs before, so I wouldn't require a new device to prove to me in advance that it is better in all respects than a previous device (they often aren't). When Donna sent me the "button" application it drove home how the Treo will evolve and improve without buying something else expensive. Finally, the data I collect using it (contact information, memos, email, and schedule) will surely be moveable to future devices, so I'll take a chance because it's a platform that others will need to import data from in the future. A little over one month in as a PDA and a little over one week in as a phone, I feel I've made the right decision.

-Dan Bricklin, 19 March 2002

For my feelings two months later, read "Handspring Treo 180: Two Months Later". Bottom line: I'm very happy I bought it.

 -Dan Bricklin, 28 May 2002

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