Size is one of the most important issues with PDAs. Too big, and people don’t carry them, defeating their purpose. Smaller PDAs – including mobile phones – suffer from being too tiny to be useful; text-messaging or emailing from a mobile phone can be a test of endurance and dexterity. The Palm OS has an advantage by being pen-based, though the simple-to-use Graffiti software takes an hour or so to pick up. The new Treo 270 offers a great package that really gets the balance right, solving a lot of the PDA problems. The most noticeable difference between the Treo and other Palm PDAs is the keyboard. For those of you with an aversion to pen-input, the keyboard is great. Cynics will claim it’s too small for big fingers, yet it was fine for my sausage-like fingers. Unlike the previous Treo 180, the 270 has a colour screen. This might seem a bit frivolous, but for browsing the Web, it’s a distinct advantage. It probably drains the battery more quickly, but it’s rechargeable from the USB connection or optional cradle (which costs a hefty £44). Setting the Treo up for Web access is inevitably a bit of an ordeal, though I had more luck than I did with my own mobile phone. Once you’re there, though, it works well; and the browser is much better in colour. Because of the Palm OS, you can download applications such as maps, games, and databases onto your Treo – making it much more like a normal PDA. There’s 16MB of memory included, so you should have enough for all your contacts and other info. It might not sound much, but in Palm terms, it’s plenty. So, is it a PDA or is it a phone? It gets the balance right, and depending on your point of view – or how you use the Treo – it can be both. As a mobile phone, it has more features than anything I’ve seen. As a PDA, it negates the need for masses of cables or modules needed for Internet connectivity. The size is just right; any smaller, and it would lose some of its usability, though – but it could be lighter.
If we take the ultimate PDA specifications, the Treo is still a little way off. It’s small, but could lose a couple of ounces; it opens to a usable size; and the connectivity is great – which just leaves the price. At a whopping £549, the Treo 270 looks like an expensive luxury – but if you buy it with a telephone subscription, the price drops to a more manageable £299.This is actually cheaper than the Visor Prism – the other Handspring PDA – which costs £349.