This is the first PDA unit that I have ever reviewed on this site. In addition, I have never personally owned a PDA before, so I have approached this review for someone that is either thinking of becoming more organized with a PDA unit or someone that has the needs of wireless data and voice access in combination with a PDA unit.
Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)
PDAs are small electronic organizers that allow to store your day-to-day appointments, meetings, and phone numbers at a minimum. Most PDAs these days allow you to do a lot more, such as write messages, download your appointments from your computer, download custom software so that you can do a quick translation from English to Spanish while in Mexico, or beam information between your PDA and someone elses. PDAs have really taken off in the last few years as more and more people want to stay organized, but want more than what a simple daily diary can offer.
The Treo 180 is a combination PDA and cell phone. The combination of both a PDA and a cell phone was bound to happen and the Treo 180 is one of the newest combination units. Beyond just a cell phone integrated into a PDA, the Treo 180 is enabled with GPRS so that wireless data can be seemlessly be transferred between the unit and any GPRS-enabled GSM network.
Dimensions and Design
The Treo 180 features a flip panel that is opened to expose the keypad and buttons. When closed, the unit's overall dimensions are 110mm x 69mm x 18mm, excluding the antenna which adds about 18mm. This particular PDA weighs in at 147g, which is marginally more than a typical cell phone at ~110g, but well within the standard weight for other PDAs currently on the market.
Screen and Data Entry
This particular PDA has gone away from the Graffiti pad that has become commonplace with many PDA units. If you are not familiar with the Graffiti pad, many PDAs have a lower section of the screen that one can enter text with the stylus (see the picture of the Palm IIIxe above). Every letter and number has a particular Graffiti stoke that is translated by the PDA into text. Being familiar with the Graffiti pad, I was first rather disappointed that I now had a keyboard to enter text, but I quickly found that I could enter text at a much faster rate than my Graffiti pad entry rate. I should mention here that Handspring does have another model, the Treo 180g, that does come with the Graffiti pad for those die-hards.
Although the keyboard is quite small, entering text was easy and even someone with big thumbs wouldn't have a problem. Each letter requires a good positive press, so even if you end up hitting the surrounding letter keys, only the key with the firmest press will be recorded. I found that using the thumbs was the easiest way to enter text, although this did mean that I was often putting the stylus down, or worse yet, into my mouth and chewing on it! Of course, if the unit is on a table or desk top, then you can always enter text with your fingers.
As mentioned above, this particular unit comes with a 16 shade grey scale screen. Compared to a cell phone, the screen is quite large at 160 x 160 pixels. Most functions and settings are activated by tapping the stylus on the top of the screen and a menu appears. In many applications, there are also shortcut keys located along the bottom of the screen. The resolution is quite fine and the screen is a nice size to do most of the work that you would need to do on a PDA.
As part of my testing process of many cell phones and this PDA, I like to hand the unit off to get their opinions. Several people asked if there was backlighting on the unit and neither myself or anyone else could figure out how to activate the backlight or even if there was one on the unit. Honestly, I was getting rather disappointed with the unit since there didn't seem to be a backlight function. Quite by accident one day I ended up hitting the power button quickly twice and viola, a beautiful green backlighting! Have a look at the pictures below for examples of the normal and backlit screens.
As an added bonus to this PDA, there is a built-in wireless mode that allows you either to make phone calls or access data services via a GPRS network. The Treo 180 uses a GSM network to access both the voice and data services. On the back of the PDA there is a small hatch that is opened and a GSM SIM card is inserted to allow your PDA to register with a GSM network. I should mention here that the Treo 180 is a dual-band world phone, operating both at 900 and 1900 MHz, so you will be able to use the phone features overseas in many locations, as well as within North America.
As mentioned above, the Treo 180 uses GSM networks for its wireless services (a CDMA version is also available on special order, but currently no CDMA networks in Canada support this unit). I tested this unit with Zero Gravity's GSM and GPRS service. Zero Gravity is a Microcell reseller in Canada that is offering both GSM phones plus integrated phones and PDA units, such as the Treo 180. Since this unit uses Microcell's GSM network, it will work anywhere in Canada that Microcell currently offers service and almost anywhere else in the world where there is a presence of either a 900 or 1900 MHz GSM network. Users should note that GPRS service may not be available in some overseas locations, so internet surfing will not be available on the unit, but phone functions will still be.
Internet browsing speeds are comparable to dial-up speeds, so the Treo (or any GPRS-enabled handset) isn't ideal for heavy surfing. But websites that do have special wireless pages load very fast and information can be quickly obtained. This makes the unit ideal for those that need to check on the latest news, stock prices, ferry schedules, movie times or whatever.
The Treo 180 I tested also came with Zero Gravity's SkyBrowser software. In addition to the internet browsing mode in this software package, there's also a full email application. You type in a regular email address, a subject line, and your message and hit send. You can even add custom signature lines and just about anything else that you could do with an email application such as Outlook. For the SkyBrowser software, your return email address is through Zero Gravity and people can just write to you at that address and the message will be instantly delivered to your PDA when you are in wireless mode. Now you can catch up on those emails when you have a few minutes!
When I get back to my usual computer, I could HotSync again and information from the PDA and the computer would be synchronized and that contact information that I received at the meeting would be added to my Contacts list in MS Outlook. Even the notes I had beamed to me could be transferred directly to the computer so that they could be printed. If someone had added a scheduled meeting to my MS Outlook calendar, that would be uploaded to the Treo and would show up when I next checked my schedule on my PDA. The possibilities are endless!
The other thing I should mention here is that the Treo 180 comes with 16 Megs of memory. Although this might seem like not very much, it is more than you'll likely ever need. All software on the Treo is stored in the memory and you can add and/or remove software. Remember I mentioned that a little English to Spanish utility program might be nice if you were taking a trip to Mexico? Well, just download the PDA software onto you regular computer and then use the HotSync cable to upload it to your PDA. Need some games on your PDA? Like the translation software, you just upload them to your PDA and they are ready for use. The Treo is completely customizable depending on your needs.
From the fact sheet, this model should get up to 60 hours standby and up to 150 min talk time when wireless mode is on. As mentioned above, if you plan to use this unit primarily as a PDA, then your battery life will likely be greatly increased. The battery is internal and as such, you can't swap batteries if you find yourself getting low. Actual talk and standby times vary by network, phone location, and use, so your experiences will likely vary compared to the optimal values stated above. Handspring recommends charging the battery nightly, but I think it really depends on what you plan to use the unit for.
I found this combination cell phone and PDA a real treat to review. I found the Treo 180 easy to use and the idea behind wireless services on the PDA rather neat. If you are in the market for a new PDA and cell phone, then the Treo 180 might be a very nice combination. If you already have a cell phone on a contract, then you can always pick up this PDA and use it to be better organized and to take advantage of the internet and email options available on GPRS. Zero Gravity even has a "data only" option on their monthly plans if you just plan to use GPRS services on your PDA.