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Want a Treo 650? Better Sprint

Carrier has locked up the hot new PalmOne smart phone until some time after the new year.

SAN FRANCISCO--Those wanting to get their hands on a Treo 650 this year will need to sign up for service from Sprint PCS.

Sprint has cornered the market for this year, scooping up all of PalmOne's capacity until sometime in 2005. The company did not announce exact pricing, but said the device will be available nationwide in mid-November and costs under $500 with some service contracts.

"We will be the only ones with these phones for a while," said John Garcia, senior vice president of sales and distribution for Sprint PCS, speaking at a press conference at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment trade show. "We are very excited about buying a very large quantity of these."

Earlier Monday, Palm officially launched the Treo 650, which boasts a design similar to the Treo 600, but adds improved Web browsing, a higher-resolution screen, removable battery and an improved camera.

PalmOne has sold more than 660,000 Treo 600s since its launch, and Garcia said in an interview that Sprint has accounted for more than half of those. Over time, Garcia said, Sprint expects to sell more Treo 650s than that. He declined to say how large the initial order was, but said it was less than the number of Treo 600s that Sprint has sold to date. He also said the carrier should have enough to meet holiday demand for the device.

The Treo has been an important product for Sprint, Garcia said, noting that it is the most popular of the combination PDA/phone devices that Sprint sells. It is also the device that produces the highest monthly revenue per subscriber--a key benchmark in the wireless industry.

Asked why the Treo 650 does not include support for Wi-Fi, PalmOne President Ed Colligan said the company will eventually make its add-on Wi-Fi card work with the Treo 650. However, he said the company still has to write drivers to make that possible, meaning Wi-Fi support won't be there when the device launches. "We do plan on bringing that out," Colligan said.

Colligan pledged that the new device will be more reliable than the Treo 600--which suffered higher-than-expected return rates, due to complaints of various defects.

"Some things could have been done better, no question about it," he said, but noted that the company has moved to a new manufacturer. The Treo 650 is being made by HTC--the same company that makes many of the HP iPAQs as well as many of the phones running Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system.

Many of the issues with the Treo 600 have been ironed out, though, and Colligan said PalmOne plans to continue selling the Treo 600 through some carriers for the foreseeable future. Garcia said Sprint plans to sell out its inventory of Treo 600s and then phase out the product.