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Handspring to replace lights-out Treos

The back lights on two new handhelds could fail over time, making the screen unreadable. Handspring says it will provide replacements for devices whose screens go dim.

Handspring's Treo 90 and Treo 270 handhelds may go dark on their new owners.

The back lights on some of the new handhelds could fail over time, making the screen unreadable, the company said. It plans to replace those devices whose screens fail.

The failure, which caused Handspring to halt production of the devices for a time, comes from a faulty component in the Treo's display assembly, the company said.

However, Handspring--which issued a warning on the problem via its support Web site--would not say specifically which component is at fault or who its manufacturer is.

The defect comes at an inopportune time for Handspring. Just last week, the company posted a smaller-than-expected loss for its fourth fiscal quarter and looked forward to an increase in sales that could help it reach profitability by the end of the year.

Handspring expects to work quickly to remedy problems customers might have.

Owners of Treo 90 or Treo 270 devices that fail should contact Handspring via its phone support system for a replacement, the company said. Under the plan, Handspring would first deliver the replacement, then the owner would send the defective unit back.

Handspring said devices with the problem are most likely to fail within the first six weeks of ownership. Replacement should take about two weeks.

The company says it has eliminated the component and begun production of a redesigned version of each device. These should begin shipping within two or three weeks. Meanwhile, Handspring will screen its existing inventory to weed out devices with the problem.

Handspring's Treo 180 does not contain the component and therefore is unaffected, the company said. Handspring's as yet unannounced Treo 300, which will essentially be a Sprint-branded version of the Treo 270 running on Sprint's CDMA-based high-speed wireless network, will also be unaffected by the display problem, according to Handspring.

Sprint's next-generation wireless data and voice network is expected to be available this summer. Handspring will announce the Treo 300 at that time.