Handspring Treo 300 Review


My Motorola Timeport was showing its age, and my 1-year contract with Sprint recently ended, so I was in the market for a new phone. The “3G” services that were popping up caught my eye, and I pretty much decided I’d like my next phone to use one of them. It was a choice between GSM (GPRS) or CDMA (CDMA 1x), and I much prefer CDMA because the coverage area is much greater, and I’d get to stick with Sprint, who has treated me well.

Sprint has several “3G” phones, most of which are sort of crippled in that they have very limited space for the storage of any applications, causing the user to re-download many times. This not only eats up your monthly data allocation, but they also charge you to re-download, if it has been more than a month since you first purchased the application. (This information came from Sprint’s site, and as I’ve not used the lesser 3G phones myself, I cannot say for certain if this is the exact situation.)

One Sprint “3G” phone that did catch my eye was the Handspring Treo 300. The only drawback was that it cost significantly more than the other “3G” phones, at $499. The price initially turned me off and it wasn’t until a month or so after the Treo 300 was released did I actually buy it. In my opinion, it is worth every penny.

First, let’s get the specs out of the way:

  • Processor: 33MHz Dragonball VZ
  • Network Technology: CDMA 2000 (1xRTT) 1900MHz
  • Memory: 16MB (flash size unknown, it probably doesn’t have any)
  • Battery: Built-in lithium ion (not removable), published capacity: 2.5 hours talk time, 150 hours standby. Using it as a regular Palm yields a pretty decent amount of battery life, too.
  • PalmOS Version: 3.5.2H
  • Built In Software: In addition to the typical Palm built in stuff, it includes Blazer, City Time, Advanced Calculator, Date Book Plus, and a custom Phone application, used for dialing and address book features.
  • Display: 12-bit color, backlit, described as “over 4000 colors”.
  • Extras: The built in keyboard is backlit; has a built in speakerphone (which seems to be just a higher volume output and higher mic gain); and my personal favorite – a physical switch dedicated to guaranteeing your PDA/phone will be 100% silent.

I went to a local Sprint store and within 15 minutes walked out with the Treo 300 box. I opened it when I got home, and it was packaged very nicely, with separate sub-boxes inside. In addition to the handset, manual, and Palm Desktop CD, it also comes with a vehicle charger, and a hands-free headset. The vehicle charger itself sells for $29 separately. The hands-free headset is of the cheaper variety, which is to be expected of a freebie. It consists of a single length of wire, with a 2.5mm 4-conductor connector on one end, an earbud on the other end, and an in-line microphone in the middle. I have used these headsets before and they work surprisingly well. I don’t know why this one has a 4-conductor connector on it, as only 3 are needed. What was not in the box was a cradle, it comes with only a USB cable. You can buy a cradle from Handspring’s site for $50 (ouch).

The Treo itself, being like any other Palm with a built in battery, had to charge for a while before I could do anything with it. I was surprised by how short the charge time was – in about 45 minutes it was fully charged. I called Sprint customer support and they walked me through activating the phone, and changing my account over from the old phone to the new one; I even got to keep the same phone number. At this point I was assigned a username for use with their “Vision” service (Sprint’s name for their “3G” stuff) which was based on the first letter of my first name, my last name, and a two digit number (dparsonsxx). They then walked me through putting this particular information into the Treo. Once that was done, the phone call was over and I tried some web browsing.

The Treo comes with Handspring’s Blazer browser, built into the ROM. It is a pretty decent browser, and works with just about every page I throw at it. Blazer has trouble with some pages, and this is where another browser — Xiino
http://www.ilinx.co.jp/en/products/xiino/index.html shines. I use Xiino when Blazer can’t render a page, but Xiino can’t render everything either – including Slashdot. Both browsers use a proprietary proxy, provided by their respective companies, to preprocess the requested web page before it is sent to the unit. This means that your unit doesn’t have to download a gigantic image that its only going to resize later, the proxy does most of that work for you, saving you CPU time and network time. Connections from Blazer show up as coming from blazer-fetch.handspring.com and Xiino, from ilxcon1.ilinx.co.jp. Note that Xiino only uses its proxy if you have the Load Images option enabled, otherwise it directly connects to the requested site.

Before you can use any Internet application, your phone must be in Wireless Mode. This is activated by holding down the button on the top of the unit, next to the antenna. Once this is done, the unit has to connect to the data portion of the network. This takes about 6 seconds or so, and once its done, doesn’t really ever need to be done again. Whenever you attempt to use the Internet after this point, it’s pretty snappy.

Having the ability to turn wireless mode entirely off has its benefits, like if you wanted to use the PDA features on an airplane. Unfortunately, there is no way, out of the box, to cause the Treo to go into wireless mode automatically after a reset; you have to press and hold the top button again. I had to use a third-party application to cause an automatic re-connect, known as TreoTools, which isn’t free. You can, however, have the Treo automatically connect to the data portion of the network once Wireless Mode is activated.

Now for some network information. My phone gets a different, real IP address every time it connects to the wireless portion of the network. Sprint has just about every useful incoming TCP port firewalled, which isn’t really a drawback on a PDA. Many of the IPs I’ve been assigned have had no reverse DNS, but my latest one did: 000-014-974.area1.spcsdns.net. They seem to organize the IPs by geographical region. I don’t really have any way of measuring exactly how fast the connection is, but its definitely faster than 9600bps.

Because this phone has a real, TCP/IP Internet connection, you can run any TCP/IP-using PalmOS application, with no problems. Things I’ve used, in addition to the two previously mentioned web browsers, have been AOL’s Instant Messenger client for PalmOS; upIRC, an irc client; Qualcomm’s Eudora for PalmOS, a free smtp/pop client; Treo300SMS; ptelnet ; and Top Gun SSH.

upIRC works perfectly, and is pretty fun too, with the keyboard. Eudora works well too, but I wasn’t able to use Sprint’s smtp server. Apparently I haven’t been added to that subsystem yet. You have to use SMTP AUTH to relay through it, which Eudora supports. I setup pop-before-smtp on one of my boxes at home to handle this until their service works for me. ptelnet and Top Gun SSH work very well too.

Treo300SMS is a very amazing and useful program. Without it, you cannot send SMS messages from the Treo. You can only reply, and in my experiences the built in mechanism for that doesn’t work very well. I have tried SMSing many people through Treo300SMS, and it has worked for all of them, including people on different carriers (Cingular, ATT, Verizon so far). It costs $20, but is worth it if you have any desire to use SMS. I find it amazing that I can send a message to a friend, across the country, wirelessly even, and have him receive it within 3 seconds. I’ve carried on conversations with a few people this way, and there is almost no noticeable delay.

The Treo 300 has another nifty feature, which they call “polyphonic ringtones.” I believe this means that the unit can play more than one MIDI instrument at the same time. In practice, it sounds a lot cooler than most cell phone ring tones go. There are a number of sites out there that are selling ringtones specifically for the Treo, and charging anywhere from .99 to $2 for each. I am going to show you how you can make your own ring tones for free.

First thing you need to get is a program called Palm Midi Desktop. Using this program requires that you have a Java runtime installed; apparently the one that comes with Internet Explorer can work. Next, you need a utility known as Ringo. It is also shareware. I have tried some other Treo ringtone managers and Ringo is, so far, the only one that actually works on the Treo 300. I was unfortunate enough to register MonkeyRinger without trying it first (I couldn’t find a demo), but at $6 I said, what the hell. Well, it doesn’t work with the Treo 300, so I guess I’m stuck. Anyway, on to the next step.

This is the creative part. You can either make your own MIDI file, if you know how and have the inclination, or you can find a MIDI file off the net to use. There are many, many, many MIDI files people have created that sound very much like popular songs, I even found a site dedicated to Rush MIDIs, The Rush MIDI Project. My phone now rings with the beginning of Bastille Day 🙂

Follow the directions in PalmMidiDesktop to get it running, then do File/Open and pick the “treoringtones.com-sample.pdb” file that comes with Ringo. Then click File/Import, and find your MIDI file. Finally, do File/Save, and install the resulting .pdb file in your Treo, and use it in Ringo. One thing to note, is that most MIDI files found on the Internet are too long for use on the Treo. If you attempt to put one that is too long in the unit, it will tell you about it, but let you put it in if you really want to. It then crashes when your phone rings, so I don’t recommend doing that 🙂 A utility I found that lets me shorten the length of a MIDI file is known as The JAZZ Midi Sequencer, and is free. Using it for this purpose required some strange input on my part, but if you’re crafty you’ll figure it out.

For this last section, I’d like to cover some very useful hacks I’ve found. None of these are Treo specific, but some of them make using the Treo a lot nicer. The first one is AutoShiftHack, which prevents the Palm from ever automatically putting you in capital letter mode. What finally drove me to do this was what I interpret as a bug between the Treo and Eudora. When you enter the body section of a new email composition, Eudora puts your Palm into capital letter mode. The problem is that capital letter mode doesn’t stop after you type the first letter – it stays on until you turn it off again! That was terribly annoying, and this hack fixes it. Another nifty utility is ClockPop. It displays a screen with clock, date, and some other optional information, when you hold down the configurable trigger button. Once you let go of the button it disappears. If the Palm was off when this was activated, it will turn itself back off when you let go of the button. To summarize, it lets you quickly view the time on your Palm, which is pretty handy on the Treo because you don’t have to open it to see the screen. The next hack is my favorite, named Switcheroo. It is freeware, and one of the best hacks I’ve ever seen. It lets you assign a letter to any application. You can then launch it via one of two methods: the first is via a graffiti gesture, which obviously will not work on the Treo 300, which has no graffiti area. The other is via a keyboard button combination, in the case of the Treo you press the Blue Button, and spacebar at the same time. Then hit any keyboard letter, and it will launch the app you specified. It may sound a little drawn out here, but in practice it’s very fast. The last hack-like thing I’ve used is PowerJOG, which works as well on the Treo as it does on a Clie, though they do have a Treo specific version, I believe.

One more thing: Jot. Anyone who is turned off by the Treo for lacking a graffiti area should take note of this. It lets you draw Graffiti characters anywhere on the screen, and it works pretty damn well. The Gadgeteer reviewed it, as well.

And lastly, let’s cover the telephone part of it. By default, when you flip open the cover, it brings up the Phone application. This program has multiple views: speed dial, dial pad, contacts, and call history. If at any screen, while you are in the Phone app, you begin to dial a number, it automatically switches to the dial pad view and starts accepting your input. When you are finished dialing, you hit spacebar and it calls. Voice quality is very good, and I’m told people can hear me pretty well too. The volume on the speaker can go very loud, louder than some cell phones I’ve used previously, and the speakerphone volume is extremely loud. The Speed Dial screen has five pages, of 10 speed dial buttons each, which you can navigate with the jog dial. If you put &time or &date as the Name of a speed dial button, the button turns into a text label, containing the current time or date.

Battery life so far has been very good, but I haven’t done any extensive testing in that area. Screen quality is pretty nice too. It is useable outside, but doesn’t look as good as a black and white mobile phone screen, under those conditions. Indoors it is beautiful.

In short, this device is one of the most innovative and actually useful gizmos I’ve ever bought, making me feel a little less bad about spending $500 on it. I have been a little dissatisfied with the recent crop of PalmOS devices, not because of their amazing hardware features, but the lack of entertaining or useful software. This lack makes any device not very interesting to me, since there isn’t much to do with them. The Treo is so wonderful to me because it has Internet access, which is more useful and fun than any software someone could make.

I would like to apologize about the lack of original Treo 300 pictures in this review, as I do not possess a digital camera worthy of the name.

Price: $499

Always-on, “3G high speed” Internet access
Back-lit keyboard (I type faster than I can write, I suspect this happens to other people too)

Price (both the unit and the service plans are high)
No memory expansion
No graffiti area (some people might miss it)


Product Information

  • Always-on, "3G high speed" Internet access
  • 16MB RAM
  • Back-lit keyboard (I type faster than I can write, I suspect this happens to other people too)
  • Price (both the unit and the service plans are high)
  • No memory expansion
  • No graffiti area (some people might miss it)
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