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Sprint backpedals on Handspring add-on

The company debuted a version of Handspring's VisorPhone last year, boasting it would be upgradable to its new always-on data network. Now it's saying it's not worth the money.

When Sprint introduced the Digital Link last year, it boasted that the device, which turns a Handspring Visor into a cell phone, would be upgradable to the carrier's new network.

However, although Sprint's new network is now up and running, the carrier has decided not to develop the necessary software upgrade to allow the Digital Link to take advantage of the always-on, higher-speed network.

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The decision is due in large part to there being fewer than 1,000 users of the device, which is similar to Handspring's VisorPhone but debuted later and was designed for Sprint's CDMA (code division multiple access) network.

Instead of offering the software upgrade, those who purchased the Digital Link are eligible for an equipment credit of $250 toward any Sprint phone or laptop card, a Sprint spokeswoman told CNET Wednesday.

"It was just a lot more time and expense than either Sprint or the (Digital Link) developer, AirPrime, could afford," said Suzanne Lammers, a Sprint PCS spokeswoman.

Sprint said it has been notifying its customer service workers of the plan. Customers who want the credit have to contact Sprint on their own, Lammers said. She added that the credit does not apply to customers who recently ordered the device from Handspring, which is offering the Digital Link for just an $8.50 shipping fee. On its site, Handspring cautions that the device is not compatible with Sprint's "Vision" network.

However, the ability to upgrade was a key selling point of the Digital Link when it was announced in August of last year, well after the buzz around the VisorPhone had subsided.

"As Sprint PCS implements 3G (third-generation) technology nationwide by 2002, customers can utilize the Digital Link to enjoy a richer data experience with speeds up to 144kbps," the carrier said in the press release introducing the $250 device. "A software upgrade for the Digital Link is planned to be available with the Sprint PCS nationwide launch of 3G midyear 2002."

By the time the Digital Link hit the market, though, Handspring had been forced to cut prices and even give away the VisorPhone.

Sprint and Handspring continue to work together on other projects. This past August, Sprint started selling the Treo 300, a version of Handspring's Treo cell phone-handheld combination device that runs on its new higher-speed network.