Treo 270: Handy Handspring & Phone For The Modern Road Warrior

F or the road warrior of the 21st century, having the tools to stay connected is a must. Todayis intrepid traveller must equip him or her self with the basic array of gadgets to stay in touch and get work done: a laptop, cell phone, and a PDA. The latter 2 items have become so essential to the harried traveller that business battles have been lost or won for not having these key modern marvels.

Many makers of cell phones and PDAs have attempted to combine both products with varying degrees of success. Cell phone makers tend to offer cell phone-based products with PDA functions added. These devices are useful, but they are sometimes hard to use; either the screen is too small or the applications on the device (calendar, e-mail, etc.) doesnit quite jibe with whatis on your Mac.

PDA makers take the opposite tack; they create a PDA that just happens to have phone features built in. The down side of PDA/phones is that they are often larger than the phone/PDAs, and getting to and using the phone is not as straight forward as it is with a phone/PDA.

Which device you use will largely depend on whatis important to you; size and phone convenience or PDA functions. If the latter is your cup of tea, the folks at Handspring may have just what you are looking for. The Treo 270 from Handspring is a Palm OS based PDA/phone that delivers all of the functions and features of a PDA and cell phone, and has somehow managed to strike a balance between the two devices that should appeal to many. We took a Treo 270 for a test drive and were both somewhat impressed and a bit disappointed with what we found.

That Syncing Feeling

One extremely annoying problem is that Handspring did not include the OS X version of the Palm Desktop and Sync Manager on the included CD. New owners must go to Handspringis Web site and download the software. This annoys us because we can think of no real reason why an OS X version is not included and installing the OS 9 version can cause problems, as weill elucidate in a moment.

If you use OS X and have never used a Palm device, your initial installation of the Palm Desktop and Sync Manager should probably go well. If, however, you have used a Palm device in OS 9 or have previously installed Palm software in either OS 9 or OS X, you may have a bit of a problem.

We ran into a show stopping error that forced us to dig around the Web for answers. We found our answers and were able to get the software installed, but casual Mac users may never find the answer and throw up their hands in resignation.

Trouble in Installation Land

What happened is this: When you attempt to install the Palm Desktop and Sync Manager in OS X you may get an error message that says the installation cannot continue because either access was denied or a file was not found. In either case reinstalling does no good. To save you the pain of trying to find the answers, we will tell you how to fix this problem :

  • Run /applications/Utilities/Disk Utility. Select your primary partition, the one from which you normally boot. (If you have only one then select it). Click on the First Aid tab, then click on Repair Disk Permissions. Doing this will insure that the proper file and directory permissions are set on your entire hard drive.
  • Reboot into OS 9. Download and unstuff the OS 9 version of Palm Desktop. Run the installer and select Uninstall. This will remove all Palm software on you OS 9 partition. If you have data you wish to save you might want to move it to some other folder before doing this step.
  • Reboot into OS X again, run the Palm installer and Uninstall the Palm Desktop. This step is to insure you have a clean slate.
  • Install the Palm Desktop software.

Apparently Palm Desktop in OS X can conflict with an OS 9 Palm Desktop installation. Also, your Macis permission setting can get munged over time, which is the reasoning this fix was necessary for us.

Once you have the Palm Desktop installed you might also want to install the iSync Conduit from Apple. This will allow you to sync your Address Book, Calendar and other Apple Apps with little fuss.

After all of the proper apps get installed you are finally ready to sync. Simply plug the supplied USB cable into your Mac, connect the other end of the cable to your Treo 270, and press the little grey button on the connector. You might have to insure that the Hot Sync is enabled in the Hot Sync Manager. You should then see the Palm Sync window and the iSync window with a little PDA symbol over your name. If all went well, the data you have accumulated on your Mac desktop was transferred to your Treo 270, and the fun really begins.

Buttoned Down

Anyone even vaguely familiar with a Palm based PDA will instantly recognize the Treo 270is form factor; it has about the same heft as the old Palm 3 PDA, but the Treo 270 is sleeker, a bit smaller, and has a flip-up screen protector that doubles as the cell phoneis earpiece. When the screen protector is closed, six buttons are accessible along the bottom face of the device, thereis a jog button on the left side, a power switch on the top next to the antenna, and a ringer switch. Four of the six buttons on the bottom front, normally reserved for calendar, address book, to do list, and memos, have been altered to give the user easy access to phone related features. The center two are for selection movement (up and down). On the Treo 270 the buttons are now designated phone book/ memo pad, date book/ todo list, Blazer, a Palm based web browser/time, and SMS message writer/calculator.

Flip up the cover and the Treo 270 instantly comes to life and is ready to make or receive calls or perform PDA functions. Youill also notice the thumb keyboard; it is a QWERTY configuration with the number keys, shifted characters, and PDA functions, accessible by first hitting the blue ialternate functioni key. (To use the number keys you must hold down the blue button.) We found the keys small and a bit hard to see, especially the blue numbers on the black keys, but the keyboard was very usable for short SMS messages and memos. If fact, we found it easier to input typed data using the keyboard than it was using the Graffiti on the touch screen, and thereis a nice keyboard tutorial provided to help you find your way around.

We mentioned earlier that PDA makers tend to put PDA functions first in combo devices, but the Treo 270 is an exception; it is a phone device first, with all of the PDA functions readily available by pressing the aforementioned blue button then one of the four function keys.

We really got a kick out of the jog button on the side of the Treo 270; with it you can scroll through numbers in your address book and other applications, then select an item by pressing the jog button. Cool.

Whatis not so cool is that the jog buttonis features do not work on all screens. For instance: In the main application screen in the PDA mode, you would expect to be able to use the job button to scroll through the displayed applications, and then allow you to select an app by pressing the button as you would in the phone book. Not on the Treo 270. You can scroll through the application screen (itis more like a page scroll), and you canit select anything using the jog button.

Keeping in Touch

Using the Treo 270 as a phone is no better or worse than using a dedicated phone device, and thatis a compliment. We were able to access the keypad quickly, and receiving calls was as easy as flipping up the cover. While we found that talking on the Treo 270 was as comfortable as using a fair sized cell phone, we also felt that if we wedged the Treo 270 between the shoulder and ear we might break off the cover. Fortunately there is little need for such contortions because the Treo 270 has a usable built in speaker phone. The voice from the speaker phone was tinny, but clear, adequate for a conversation with one or two of your friends around.

The SMS messaging function was a breeze to use; simply select where and to whom to send your message, type in what you want to say, then send away. The Treo 270 will make the necessary connections and send your note right off.

Receiving messages is even simpler: If you are connected to your network then the message appears on your screen, you can read it without lifting the cover. What is a shame is that, in order to erase the message you must lift the cover. It would be more convenient to allow the user to select an action via the jog button or one of the four function keys.


We mentioned that the jog button is not fully utilized, but that is not the only thing we found wanting on the Treo 270.

First on our list is the lack of a docking station. The Treo 270 comes with a USB cable that plugs into the bottom of the device; thatis OK. Whatis not OK is that to recharge the Treo 270 you must also connect a power connector into the USB cable. We believe that a charge/syncing station, or at the very least, a single cable would provide less clutter and make your desktop look a bit more professional. The provided cable is better suited for use with a laptop in a hotel room, in which case the lack of a docking station could be a boon.

We also mentioned the problems we had with getting the Palm desktop loaded in OS X. You may or may not have the problems we had, but we think that Handspring should insure that the whole installation goes well providing up to date software and information on the companyis Web site specific to OS X users. What little information we found at Handspring, and at Palm for that matter, was inadequate.

The Whole Package

The Treo 270 is a neat little phone that doubles as a neat little PDA. Once we got some initial problems, we found that syncing information between OS X and the Treo 270 was painless, and having a full fledged PDA built in to a phone has definite advantages.

We found the screen to be an absolute joy to use; it was very legible in all lighting conditions except the brightest sunshine. The colors were vibrant and text was easy to read. Of course, you can use the included stylus to navigate through the Palm OS menus and screens, and you can enter data using Graffiti, just as you would on any Palm OS based device.

Using the Treo 270 was actually fun. Handspring claims that youill get 3 hours of talk time on a full charge. We could not verify this, but we believe that most people will use the device as we did, and plug it in at every opportunity. Under such circumstances we had no complaints about losing power, but we should note that because the device is rechargeable, you canit swap out batteries.

One final word: We contacted Handspring and forwarded our praises and complaints. They told us that the new Treo 600 address many of the things that bothered us. They were especially excited about the expanded use of the jog button on the Treo 600. Handspring also explained that the reason the set-up software for OS X was not included because the software wasnit ready at the time the Treo 270 originally shipped. You should not have that problem with the Treo 600. We suggest you take a look at both.

All in all, we found the Treo 270 a very good addition to the arsenal of the modern road warrior.

Product: Treo 270

Company: Handspring

List Price: 249

Vendor Price: 49.99 (w/serv.)

Mac with USB port running OS 9 and above, OS X v10.2

Pros: Convenient and familiar form factor, Palm OS compatibility, good speaker phone. useful thumb keyboard, great screen.
Cons: OS X software not included in the package, jog button does not work where you would expect, the screen cover may not be sturdy enough for hard use.