As of this writing, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion's legal troubles (read the latest news) have many users wondering how they'd exist without their regular CrackBerry fix. [Cooler heads have argued that it's not really a crisis, especially if you work outside the US - Editor].

Regardless of how RIM's legal situation works out, it's always a good idea to have a back-up plan. So this week, join me on a tour of two handheld e-mail devices that are worthy BlackBerry alternatives.

The Palm Treo
The Good: Palm's smart phone is a popular choice for many mobile professionals. Unlike the buttoned-down, corporate-feeling BlackBerry, the Treo (read our review of the Treo 650) combines a camera, MP3 player, Web browser, and, of course, top-notch PDA functionality. The Treo 700w (read Treo 700w review) is expected in early 2006, with a Windows Mobile operating system instead of a Palm OS. In addition, RIM has announced it is developing BlackBerry push-style e-mail software for the Treo, giving Treo users even more options.

The Bad: I've read complaints that the Treo 650 is prone to crashing. Also, the Treo 650 offers only a meagre amount of memory (32 Mbyte of RAM, of which only 23 Mbyte is usable), and it's chunky and awkward to use as a phone.

Costs: The Treo 650 is available in a GSM version from Cingular and a CDMA version from Sprint/Nextel and Verizon Wireless. Without a contract, a Treo 650 can cost around £400, at an online site like Orange subsidises the phone with a contract: if you pay £17 a month the phone costs £165; with a two-year £27-a-month contract the initial price is zero.

Hewlett-Packard iPaq hw6515
The Good: Like the BlackBerry and the Treo, HP's Windows Mobile-based Pocket PC smart phone, the iPaq hw6515, has an integrated QWERTY keyboard. It also has a built-in 1.3-megapixel camera, a Global Positioning System receiver, and Microsoft Pocket Streets mapping software. With pocket versions of Microsoft Office programs included, the hw6515 makes it particularly easy to carry, view, and edit Office files on the go. You get 64 Mbyte of ROM and 64 Mbyte of RAM, too.

The Bad: The handheld's GPS function lets you find your location on a Pocket Streets map; but for driving directions, you need a third-party package costing $130 or more. In addition, its integrated camera interface is awkward to use, says PC World reviewer Grace Aquino. And the iPaq hw6515, which some users may feel is too large for easy phone use, is currently available only from Cingular.

Costs: Without a discount, the iPaq hw6515 currently goes for £434 inc VAT on HP's site. As with the Treo, a contract can bring that initial price down - check at Expansys or similar sites.