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Handspring Bows New Treos

Handspring debuted two new handhelds, including the Treo 270, a color GSM communicator/organizer and the Treo 90, which is the first model under the Treo series that is not a connected, voice-enabled organizer.

The new Treo 90 appears to be a reversal of Handspring’s plan to exit the non-connected organizer market, as announced earlier this year. The Treo 90 is a color 16MB unit with a Secure Digital and MultiMediaCard expansion slot (but no Springboard slot) and a built-in keyboard. It has a transflective, color STN display and a long-lasting rechargeable battery at an estimated street price of $299.

It is joined by the Treo 270, an upgrade to the voice enabled Treo 180, which adds a color, backlit screen, keyboard and longer battery life than its predecessor.

Although the Treo was originally intended as a line of connected organizers, Handspring says it debuted the Treo 90 because it saw a market for a unique connected device. “There’s a lot of competition in the organizer business, but if you could make a unit that was smaller and lighter with a color screen and integrate a keyboard, then we though there would be a customer segment, or even a new customer segment that would be interested,” a spokesman said.

Analysts gave the new products mixed reviews. Alex Slawsby of International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass., said the Treo 90 compares favorably against the Palm m130. “It’s a solid mid- to high-end Palm-based handheld. Its slim and there’s room to lower the price against the m130 which is now at $229, but the Palm only has 8Mb of RAM and the 90 has 16Mb and a keyboard.” He noted, however, that “there’s some question as to the benefit of putting a keyboard on a unit which is not connected and the SD slot is not an IO device so you can’t add expansion modules such as a modem to make it connected.”

Of the Treo 270, he said the product “definitely has a first-to-market advantage as one of the first converged handhelds to ship,” but noted that several other phone/organizer products are due later this year from formidable competitors such as Nokia and Motorola.

Added Larry Reich, president of Digital Age, Westfield, N.J., “The 270 is a very hot product but is the market there? It’s $699 without subscriber activation and even at $499, what is the market size for that? The other issue is it’s a GSM phone and only five percent of the U.S. market is GSM.”

The Treo 270 allows up to three hours of talk time and 150 hours of standby time. It is a full featured mobile GSM phone designed for one-handed operation with 50 speed dials, caller ID and speakerphone as well as wireless messaging and email. It has 16Mb of memory and weighs 5.4 ounces. A GPRS upgrade for the product will be available later this year. The Treo 270 is available for $499 with GSM service activation or $699 without a service plan.