GeckoBeach's Sister Site
IHateTaxis.com: Arrive Stress Free
Be a smart traveller and know your ground transportation options, from airports, train station, terminals, and tourist destinations.

Treo 180 Review
9 Visitors Online

Treo 180The Handspring Treo 180 is a combination PDA and cell phone. The wireless components of this unit are for use with GSM +GPRS wireless networks. Many thanks to KORE Wireless who allowed me to review this unit as it is one of their newest PDA's for sale on their Canadian GSM network.

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.

Comparing the Treo 180 to a Palm IIIxe
Note the presence of a keyboard on the Treo 180 and a Graffiti pad on the Palm IIIxe.
The flip screen shows the display panel through a transparent opening and when opened, a miniature QWERTY keyboard can be found under the 160 x 160 pixel monochrome screen. There's also four quick-link buttons that will bring you to certain applications, such as email or wireless mode. In addition, there are up and down scroll buttons under the keyboard plus a scrolling dial on the left side of the unit that defaults to the same functions as the scroll buttons on the front, but this dial can be programmed to do other functions as well. Like any other PDA, you'll find a stylus tucked away in a slot on the right and this is used on the touchable screen for various functions (software dependent) or to enter data.

The Treo 180 has a microphone on the lower left side for voice calls and a speaker on the top of the flip when opened that can either act as an earpiece or a speakerphone. The unit also comes with a hands-free headset that plugs into the side if you don't want to hold the PDA up to your ear when you are having a conversation. On the bottom of the unit there is a socket that allows you to connect either the HotSync cable or the charger (I'll talk more about the HotSync functions later on). The top of the unit has a switch to turn on and off the ringer plus a power button that not only turns on and off the unit, but also activates the wireless mode.

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.

Wireless Mode

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.
The Treo 180 defaults to having the wireless mode inactive on boot-up. This is for several reasons, including increased load on the internal battery and of course in locations where you would not want wireless mode on (meetings, on an airplane, in a hospital, etc). To activate wireless mode on the unit the power button at the top is held down until a tone is heard and a network search begins. While the Treo is in wireless mode a green LED on the top of the unit flashes to remind you that it is on.

The Treo 180 acts like a regular phone while wireless mode is on. Like any other cellular handset you have a keypad (not numbers on a keyboard, but rather numbers on the screen that you touch with the stylus) to make calls and a personal phone book (either from the SIM card or downloaded lists). The Treo also features a speakerphone option that is activated on the screen with the stylus. Both the regular earpiece speaker and speakerphone use the same speaker in the top of the flip and the sound was clear and crisp using either option. A very nice feature indeed and something that might be very useful if you need to have a conference call or any other reason where it is impractical to use either the regular built-in earpiece or the included hands-free earpiece. I should mention that the speakerphone does tend to draw a lot more on the battery life, so if you are a regular user of this option, just make sure that you charge the unit more frequently.

The phone portion of the Treo 180 has all the usual features of most cell phones currently on the market. You can pick one of several different ring or message tones, set the vibrate function, recall your last dialed numbers and the call durations, plus a whole lot more. During a call, various options appear on the screen, including switching to speakerphone mode, adding additional callers for conferencing, or even activating the notepad so that you can take notes while listing on either the speakerphone or via the hands-free earpiece.

GPRS Services

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.

So, just what can you do with this unit with GSM +GPRS services? Well there's the usual that you'd expect, such as sending SMS messages. But there's a lot more since the Treo 180 also includes a miniature browser. Type in your favourite website in and hit the go button and within seconds your website will be on the screen. Many of the more popular websites, such as Canada.com and Yahoo.com have special pages that are geared towards wireless users. These websites are graphically-limited and often do not contain banner ads and load quite fast. Other websites that do not have a specific page for wireless users will also load and graphics will be reduced to fit the screen size. Pages that contain JavaScript tend to not load the JavaScript components, so some items may tend not to show up on certain pages. As an example of a page, have a look at the two pictures above that were captured off the GeckoBeach.com main page. You can also bookmark any site on the Treo as well.

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!

HotSync and IR Communcations

HotSync is a function that is available on many PDA units. Since a PDA is often used away from the office, often one would like to synchronize what is on their computer with what is stored on their PDA unit. If this still seems to be a bit confusing, let's try an example of what I did. I use MS Outlook as my regular email program, which besides email, also stores all my contacts information, such as their email address, phone/fax/cellular numbers and birthdays, in addition to my calendars, schedules and other important information. When I first HotSync'ed the Treo 180 with my computer, all information between MS Outlook and the PDA was transferred. So now, if I wanted to look up an email address for someone that is stored in my contacts list of MS Outlook, I could just look it up on the Treo 180 plus type up and send a message to that person on the PDA. If I wanted to call that same person, I could easily look up their phone number and dial it. If their birthday was coming up, I could tell the Treo to remind me to call them on their birthday. The HotSync functions depend on both your PDA software and what your wireless service provider includes with your PDA. Some of the above features were included as part of the Zero Gravity package that I tested.

Now say that I am a meeting and someone wants to give me their email address. I could just type the email address into my contacts list, or alternatively if the other person had a PDA as well, they could beam their contact information to my PDA. Beam is the term used to describe IR communications between IR-enabled devices. Most PDA's are IR-enabled as well as are many notebook computers. Not only could this person beam me their contact information, but say they also took notes at the meeting on their PDA. They could then beam the notes to anyone else that also had an IR-enabled PDA.

Treo 180 with HotSync cable and USB plug

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.