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Two new colorful Handsprings

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Time to rejoice, Treo fans. Handspring has finally announced its much-leaked secret — the Treo 270 Communicator with a color screen. But those sneaky folks had something else up their collective sleeves, something that no one was really expecting. Here comes the Treo 90.

InsertArt(1500954)FIRST, LET’S TALK about the 270 communicator. Basically it’s a Treo 180 with a color screen. Both are GSM cellular world phones and have 16MB of memory, 33 MHz Motorola Dragonball VZ processors, rechargeable batteries, plus built-in organizer, e-mail and wireless Web services and both run on the Palm 3.5.2H operating system. Both have the now famous Star Trek-esque ‘communicator’ look and feel. It’s a terrific design.

Then again, there are differences. Aside from the obvious — a 12-bit (more than 4,000) backlit color screen — both the Treo 180 and the new 270 have the same exact dimensions! No small feat (pun intended). There’s only one small difference — the 270 weighs 5.4 ounces, just two-tenths of an ounce more than the 180. That’s pretty amazing.

Other differences: The 270 comes with a keyboard on the bottom. Handspring does offer a black-and-white 180g with the famous Graffiti alphabet-input system. Plus, the 270’s keyboard is backlit, which means you can actually see all the keys is less than perfect lighting conditions.

Handspring claims up to 2.5 hours of talk time and up to 100 hours of standby time from the older 180’s batteries. Those claims have been the basis for some of the early complaints about the 180. Handspring changed the battery for the 270. Now they’re claiming up to 3 hours of talk time and 150 hours of standby. Remember, those numbers are for a color screen which draws a lot more power than a black-and-white display. So far in my testing those numbers seem to be pretty realistic.

Why would someone opt for the $499 (with phone activation) color Treo 270 instead of saving $100 on the black-and-white screen 180? All you need is one look and you’ll know why. Despite what long-time PDA users might tell you, there’s more to color screens than just a little bit of color. You can really see them! The one way to understand what I mean is to run to a Handspring retailer and see the difference for yourself. By the way, without phone activation through Handspring, the Treo 270 retails for $699.

No one was expecting Handspring to come up with a phone-less PDA based on the cool-looking Treo communicators, but that’s exactly what they’ve done. Enter the Treo 90, a color organizer with 16 MB of memory, a built-in keyboard and a SD/MMC-card expansion slot.

Handspring says the 90 is the smallest color Palm-based organizer on the market today — 4.2 x 2.8 x 0.65 inches — weighing in at 4 ounces exactly. It too has the 12-bit, 4,000 color screen and rechargeable lithium-ion battery (Handspring claims 10 days of battery life) and comes in a cool bronze color. The Treo 90 runs on the Palm 4.1H operating system. Synchronization is via USB cable, which means it’s fast and easy. The 90 is set to retail for $299.

I’ve had a chance to play with pre-production models of both the 90 and 270 for the past few days (less than a week). The 90 is a pleasure. It did everything I asked it to, and was fun to use. For people who’ve never really mastered Graffiti, it’s easy to become “all thumbs” and become masters of the built-in keyboard. The 90’s price may seem high, but this is meant to compete with the $279 Palm m130. 16 MB of memory vs. 8MB and the built-in keyboard vs. Graffiti. The choice is up to you.

The 270 worked perfectly too. I charged the battery Friday, and it lasted — with light call usage — throughout the entire holiday weekend. And, I can report that despite Handspring’s warnings that the screen and antenna on my 270 weren’t the final/production parts — the screen looked great and the phone seemed to pull in the signals in my remote weekend location.

My only problem with Handspring communicators (as well as the new Blackberry phone) is that they depend on GSM cellular and the new GPRS data networks. In this neck of the woods that means VoiceStream, who’s service is spotty in some areas and OK in others. It’s not so bad in the New York City area, but I wonder about how good the coverage is outside of large cities.

At least Handspring has deftly avoided the lack of GPRS high-speed data network availability (which cripples the new Blackberry) by delaying the roll-out of the GPRS features in their Treo communicators. Of course, while you’re waiting for GPRS networks to catch-up with your hardware, you could hope for Handspring Treos to work on other cellular networks. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long.