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A First Look at the Treo 90

By Ed Hardy

I want to start this off by pointing out that this is a preliminary review, and will mostly be my first impressions of the Treo 90 since I've only had one for a couple of days. There will be a full review out next week.

HandSpring Treo 90 - Click for larger image In some ways, the Treo 90 breaks new ground for Handspring. It is the first of their models to include an SD slot or run Palm OS 4.1. At the same time, it is a return to the company's original focus: handhelds, not smartphones.

The Screen
The Treo has a 12-bit color screen at the regular 160 by 160 resolution. I think this screen looks great. True, there are fewer colors but I can only tell when I made a point of comparing it with a 16-bit color screen. It isn't like it's a 265 color screen; it can display over 4,000 colors.

To make the handheld smaller, Handspring reduced the size of the screen about 20%. While some people might find this unacceptable, I didn't even notice for about a day. I ought to point out that the Treo 90's main competitor, the Palm m130, has a screen about the same size, though the m130 has 16-bit color.

Indoors, the Treo 90's screen displays colors well. None are weak or washed out and white background looks very white. However, outdoors is a totally different story. In direct sunlight, the screen is almost unusable. This is because it depends on a backlight and if ambient light is brighter than the backlight, the screen can't be seen.

Speaking of the backlight, it is controlled by an on-screen slider. Contrast is also adjustable the same way. Because the screen depends on the backlight to be viewable, there is no way to turn it off while the handheld is on.

The Keyboard
The Treo 90 has a built-in keyboard rather than Graffiti. Unlike the Treo 180, Handspring isn't going to make two versions, one with Graffiti and one with a keyboard.

Fitting a keyboard into a handheld isn't an easy process. The one on the Treo 90 is only 2 .5 inches across. There is no question of touch typing. Instead, you hold the keyboard between your two hands and type with your thumbs.

Getting used to a new keyboard is always a time-consuming process. It isn't finding the letter keys that takes practice, it is all the others. I'm having a slightly hard time getting used to finding the "Shift" key under the "Z" and "X" ones but, with more practice, maybe it will be easier.

I'm going to write as much of the final review directly on the Treo 90 as I can, which should give me lots of practice with the mini-keyboard. I'll let you know how good I get with it.

Because the Treo 90 lacks a Graffiti area, it also lacks the silkscreen buttons. These functions are available through the keyboard but I think it was a mistake to not give the "Home" key its own button. Whenever you want to go to the application launcher, you have to push the "Option" key, then the "Command" key. This is too much for a function that I use more than any other. I think I'm going to have to remap the the Date Book button to open the Launcher.

The Casing
I don't think I can easily express how small and light the Treo 90 is. It is 4.2 by 2.8 by .65 inches (10.8 x 7.1 x 1.6 cm). It weighs only 4 ounces, making it the lightest Palm OS device available. It is the first handheld I ever used I didn't have a problem carrying in my shirt pocket.

The casing is made of dark grey plastic and it looks very professional. And slick. I really like the looks of this thing. Every part of it looks good.

The SD/MMC Slot
Handspring put the last nail in the Springboard's coffin by not including a Springboard slot on this model. While this was extremely controversial, if it allowed the company to make the Treo 90 this small and light, it was worth it to me. As always, your milage may vary.

Instead, Handspring followed Palm's lead and put in an SD/MMC slot. This allows memory cards to be used to store additional applications and files.

The Treo 90 doesn't have support for SDIO. This means it can't use non-memory card peripherals that plug in to the SD slot. The only one of these currently available is Palm's Bluetooth wireless networking card but others are in the pipeline. A Handspring spokesperson said they would consider adding SDIO support later.

The Motherboard
The Treo 90 has 16 MB of RAM, which is a nice amount for its price range. With the ability to store additional files on an SD or MMC card, users aren't going to be hurting for space.

As I said earlier, this is the first Handspring model ever to use Palm OS 4.1. I suspect this made including the SD slot much easier.

It's ROM isn't flashable, which means the operating system can't be upgraded but that was pretty much a moot point, anyway. PalmSource has already shipped OS 5 to the licensees and it requires a completely different type of processor. The Treo 90 couldn't run it even if it did had flash ROM.

The Other Buttons
I'm going to mention the other buttons on this model mostly to say they are just fine. The ones across the front are very near the bottom, which doesn't make gameplay tremendously easy, but other than that they are good.

I've very disappointed that Handspring didn't include the jog dial from the rest of the Treo series. This would have made the Treo 90 significantly easier to use.

The Accessories
It comes with a flip cover quite similar to the one on Palm's III series. I can't tell if it is supposed to be removable or not. I couldn't get mine off without risking breaking it. It covers the keyboard but not the other keys. This means there is a potential for them to be pushed while the Treo is in your pocket, turning on the power. If this happens enough, your batteries will get drained. Fortunately, Handspring thought of this. Holding the Power button down for two seconds will disable the keys. Holding it down again re-enables them.

The Treo 90 doesn't come with a cradle. Instead, it comes with USB and power cables. The power cable plugs into the USB one, allowing the handheld to be both charged and HotSynced at the same time.

The power cable has one very nice feature. It is relatively small and the plugs fold down. This means it can do double duty as a travel charger.

Handspring may have a bit of a problem on its hands with the stylus: it comes out of its slot much too easily. After just a couple of days of use, it has loosened up to the point where just holding the Treo 90 upside down will cause the stylus to fall out.

The stylus itself has a metal shaft with a plastic tip and top. Unscrewing the tip exposes a reset pin. Oddly enough, I think this metal shaft is contributing the stylus falling out; it's really heavy, especially considering it is only 3.5 inches long. I predict thriving sales of much lighter plastic styli that won't fall out so easily and get lost.

The Applications
Along with the standard Palm OS apps, it comes with Datebook+ and a new app called Contacts, which is an improved version of the Address Book. It also comes with the Blazer web browser; One-Touch Mail, which is POP3 compatible; and the Palm SMS messaging app. I haven't had much of a chance to play with these yet. More about them in the final review.

The Treo 90 is bundled with a copy of Blue Nomad's WordSmith word processor, which is very good. Take a look at my review some time.

The Conclusion
So far, I think the Treo 90 will do well. The combination of a small, good looking handheld with a decent color screen and an SD slot, all for $300, will play well with people who want a color screen but can't afford to pay big bucks to get it.


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Universal Connecter?

I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 1:51:41 PM #
Does the Treo 90 (or the other Treos) use the Universal Connecter that is now standard on Palm devices?
RE: Universal Connecter?
ardiri @ 6/13/2002 1:53:19 PM #
no :)

i have had my Treo 90 for over two weeks now (makes me wonder i never did a review) :P overall its not a bad little device - but, if you want it for gaming, you'll definately want to consider SONY. the treo 90 is very small, feels nice in the hand, but the screen isn't the best :(

// az
aaron@ardiri.com
http://www.ardiri.com/
http://www.mobilewizardry.com/

RE: Universal Connecter?
Ed @ 6/13/2002 1:55:30 PM #
I'm sad to report that, despite its name, the Universal Connector is far from universal. The UC is owned by Palm Inc., not PalmSource, and Palm isn't sharing.

One of the major advantages Palm has over its competitors is the much larger number of peripherals available for its handhelds. If it allowed Handspring to use the UC, that advantage would be removed.

I believe that a single connection port would be a tremendous benefit for the entire Palm platform. Trouble is, I don't think PalmSource can enforce any hardware requirements. If it made up a new one, there would be no way to get the licensees to use it and they are unlikely to make the switch voluntarily. While I believe there would be long term advantages for all of them to use the same connector, in the short term it would hurt all of them, especially Palm. So this is unlikely to happen.

---
News Editor

RE: Universal Connecter?
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/14/2002 2:02:28 PM #
That depends. If someone could convince Palm to let other companies use the Universal Connector in other handhelds, that would diminish the short-term impact, since that would mean many peripherals designed for Palm's devices would fit. As we've seen with HandEra's experience when they wanted to use it, though, it doesn't look likely.

FWIW, while I think the idea of the Universal Connector is great, I don't like the design they used. With most devices, you can lift it off the cradle one-handed. Here, you need to use both hands or you lift the cradle along with the handheld.

Hotsync Cable / Charger ?

I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 2:06:28 PM #
"Instead, it comes with separate USB and power cables, both of which plug into the HotSync port. Unless you want to buy a cradle, you can't charge the handheld and HotSync it at the same time."

The Treo 180's charger plugs into the hotsync cable allowing simultaneous charging and hotsync. Did they do this differently on the '90?

RE: Hotsync Cable / Charger ?
Ed @ 6/13/2002 2:14:29 PM #
You are totally correct. I screwed this up and I've just fixed the review. Sorry and thanks at the same time.

---
News Editor

I don't get it

I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 1:57:19 PM #
So it's not wireless? I would need a Bluetooth SD card, and purchase a phone with Bluetooth? and get an ISP. Or use some cable? Kinda lame? What should I get?
RE: I don't get it
Ed @ 6/13/2002 2:13:28 PM #
As I covered in the review, it doesn't support SDIO, which means you can't use the SD Bluetooth card. You only options are infrared or a cable to connect to your mobile phone.

I get the impression that Handspring would prefer you to get a Treo smartphone if you want to have wireless access.

---
News Editor

RE: I don't get it
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 4:45:38 PM #
Do you think they intentionally have left out SDIO support in the Treo 90 to keep people from buying it, a bluetooth card and a bluetooth phone instead of one of the higher end models?

The Treo 270 is attractive to me because of the combo nature, but not being able to expand it with extra memory or SD cards is a big factor.

I'm beginning to think the most attractive possibility would be an m515 (or its Palm OS 5 successor), a bluetooth card and a bluetooth phone.

RE: I don't get it
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 5:05:11 PM #
Treo 90 = $300
Bluetooth SD = $210
Treo 90 + BlueTooth SD = $510

I don't see the reason why you want to buy a BlueTooth SD with the Treo 90. It's better off buying a smartphone, or if you're rich enough, you wouldn't go for this mid-range product either.

RE: I don't get it
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 5:10:13 PM #
Uh, the Bluetooth card is only $125 in the US. While the MS Bluetooth card is still in the 220+ range, the Palm one is pretty affordable.

Sure the new unit doesn't allow the use of the Bluetooth card, but many of us use a simple Voice Stream IR enabled phone (almost free with service sign up), their voice and internet accounts are now in the $34 a month range, and your choice of 'affordable' Palm/Handspring/Sony devices gets you way way under that 500+ range listed above.

RE: I don't get it
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/14/2002 2:30:43 PM #
And with AT&T and Cingular going GSM, there will be more choices and greater coverage (since they're supposed to share it). Now, if they'd just get the whole thing rolled out...
RE: I don't get it
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/15/2002 7:00:15 PM #
If Handspring's waiting or not going to release an SDIO upgrade, how likely is it that someone else might write a program for it? If so, who might do it? How much might it cost?

Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit

I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 2:14:41 PM #
>I ought to point out that the Treo 90's main competitor, the Palm m130, has a screen about the same size, though the m130 has 16-bit color.

Ed, you need to spend some time reading the forums on your own website:
http://www.palminfocenter.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=5351

RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
Ed @ 6/13/2002 2:23:23 PM #
I've been following that thread but you haven't convinced me yet that it's true.

---
News Editor
RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 2:24:05 PM #
64.000 colors means 16 bit display
4.096 means 12 bit display
256 means 8 bit
16 gray 4 bit

I think you're wrong, m130 is 16 bit display as well

RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
ImpReza M3 @ 6/13/2002 2:33:42 PM #
maybe you could run a story (rumor) about it, Ed? it's an interesting issue.

_______________
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Off-Topic Forum Moderator
Sony Clie T615C
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L.A. wins Finals 4-0.
Congratulations to the L.A. Lakers and their Threepeat!!!!
RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 2:36:39 PM #
>I've been following that thread but you haven't convinced me yet that it's true.

Well, assuming you are open to the possibility that it's true, please tell me what is the proof you need to be convinced?

RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 3:02:49 PM #
The Palm m130 can display 25k colour at a single time out of a palatte of 64k colours. The OS can display colours from a 16-bit palatte and the m130 screen is also capable of doing so although it can only show 25k at a single time. However it is true the m130 IS a 16-bit colour PDA.
RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 3:41:17 PM #
Correct, the m130 can display 25600 colors at a single time. Like any other 16-bit 160x160-PDA.

160 x 160 = 25600

So 25000 is the number of pixels on the screen, that means the PDA can not display more than 25k colors.
Questions?

RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 4:27:16 PM #
The resolution doesn't determine the color depth. The m130 is 16bit because each PIXEL contains 16bits of color information. This allows more hues of color to be produced per pixel.

All of this is mostly irrelivant due to the horribly limited resolution, but you get point.

RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
jontz @ 6/13/2002 4:40:07 PM #
Since you posted anonymously, I'll just call you Richard. So, Dick, what proof do you have that the m130 is only 12-bit? It can display 65,000 individual colors, albeit not at the same time. Since it has a 65k palate, and not 4096, that makes it a 16 bit display. Show me documentation stating otherwise and I will conceed that you are right. Otherwise, stop giving Ed. crap just because you have some inferiority complex.

RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 4:43:35 PM #
Hey ... its Ed. Give the guy a break. We all know he will make mistakes.
RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 5:13:54 PM #
I don't think he understands what color depth really means, and the picture he uses isn't correct either. It would be more properly if he uses LCD Analyser to draw a 16-bit (65,500) color form over his Palm, and then draw a 12-bit (4000)color form over the same Palm so that he can *see* the difference.

Also, JPEG format is a compressed format, so it losts a lot color of color even if the original image was a 16-bit image.

RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
cyruski @ 6/13/2002 5:36:57 PM #
look. i advocate this thing too. and i'm not anonymous.

i have an m515 and an m130. the m130 in the same exact conditions, shows some colors with dithering, whereas in the m515 they are solid.

http://www.geocities.com/an0nym0vs

this explains it better. ALL of my photos have dithering on the m130. if the m515 is 16-bit, WHY does the m130 dither the same photo being 16-bit too?

i'm not an m130-basher, i indeed like it very much. however, it didn't suit palm to do such a cheap marketing trick. why don't they advertise it as 16-bit, but (capable of up to 65000) when the m515 is explained as (65536 colors) ?

cyruski!

RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 6:11:04 PM #
I'm not going to say I have enough technical proof to answer this definitively, but the available information makes me think the Treo 90 and the m130 are the same.... that they can pick from a 16 bit palette, but can only display 12 bit (4,096) colors at a time rather than the full 25,600 pixels that would be available.

-You can run a 16bit app on both, and the colors come out different than on a Sony NR70 or a Palm m515. Check out close gradients in particular.

-Both screens are 160x160, transflective, STN, color. Does anyone really think Handspring would pick a different/inferior component, being that the requirements (m130/treo90, cost vs. functionality) are so similar?

In my mind, it doesn't really matter, besides the fact that I believe Handspring wins bonus points for up-front honesty (if it ends up being proven the m130 is in the same boat.)

With a solid pre-processing app, you can make a very decent looking 12 bit color photo. Many apparent dithering issues go away if you use something more advanced than the little desktop apps that tend to come with Palm picture viewers...

RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
Edward Green @ 6/13/2002 6:58:27 PM #
Hmmm,

Am I right in saying both devices run 16bit Applications? If the displays are only 12bit then that must be sorted by the LCD controller, choosing the closest 12bit colour to the 16bit source.

Edward Green
--
http://www.khite.co.uk

RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 7:06:24 PM #
Edward, yes you are right both devices can run 16-bit apps.

I'd also agree with your conclusion...

RE: Palm m130 is NOT 16-bit
cyruski @ 6/13/2002 9:09:05 PM #
well, i don't use desktop tools to convert photos.

i use pixview to convert my palmpix photos to photosuite format. but i'm very willing to know the desktop apps which will help me produce decent looking photos.

cyruski!

Screen Quality

plaid @ 6/13/2002 2:19:01 PM #
How would you compare the screen quality/brightness to the m130? I'm planning to purchase a new palm in the next few weeks, and will likely not get to see a live model of the Treo in Canada by that time. I didn't like the ghosting and the somewhat fuzziness of the text in the m130. Is the text on the Treo pretty sharp? I hear that the screen is slightly bigger than the m130.

RE: Screen Quality
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 2:36:21 PM #
For the same price, get a Sony T-615. You won't regret it.
RE: Screen Quality
Ed @ 6/13/2002 2:50:24 PM #
It is hard for me to do a direct comparison because I haven't had the m130 for a few monrths, so I'm going on memory. Both models use passive matic screens, so there is a bit of ghosting going on. It didn't interfer with me playing Zap!2016. I don't remember any fuzziness on either model.

p.s. The T615C at $300 is a good deal but you need to hurry because it is about to be discontinued. This hasn't officially been announced yet but the writing is on the wall. According to rumor, its replacement, a U.S. version of the T650C, will be announced later this month. It will sell for at least $400.

---
News Editor

RE: Screen Quality
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 2:56:52 PM #
How does the screen brightness compare to the Visor Prism? The Prism has one of the brightest screens at the hightest level. Is the Treo 90 as bright or did Handspring have to reduce the brightness because of the size of the Treo?
RE: Screen Quality
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 3:04:39 PM #
It depends, comparing T615 to Treo 90 is a non issue. Some people already owns SD products which means getting a Treo 90 is a none issue. it is also light. For some Hi-Res is more important so getting the T615 is important.
RE: Screen Quality
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 3:10:22 PM #
It's definitely no Prism, but that's not surprising because it is a different type of LCD.

My first impression when I looked at my Treo 90 was that it was "muddy". But I've decided now that I actually like it a lot. And the size... it's so much fun to hold. It's significantly brighter than an m505. And honestly I think the reds are much stronger than on a T615. I've never seen an m130 in person so can't compare to that.

One thing that disappoints me is that the backlight is uneven. At least on my unit, there is a bright white spot in the upper-right-hand corner, and the bottom-right side is dimmer than the rest of the screen.

I also noticed that the R-G-B triplets are oriented differently (top-to-bottom instead of left-to-right). I'm sure that will irritate the software developers who are trying to do sub-pixel-rendering.

Screen Quality
plaid @ 6/13/2002 3:58:50 PM #
Re: Sony615
Already looked into this. Doesn't look like I can get this in Canada.

RE: Screen Quality
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/13/2002 7:44:07 PM #
>For the same price, get a Sony T-615. You won't
>regret it.

Just got mine. Best $275 I've spent in a long time. I'm kinda glad I held out for another color pda to drop below $300 (that's my pda-buying sweet spot). I'm sure the M130 is good but I had pretty good luck with my Clie S320 so I stuck with Sony.

RE: Screen Quality
plaid @ 6/13/2002 11:44:53 PM #
"I also noticed that the R-G-B triplets are oriented differently (top-to-bottom instead of left-to-right). I'm sure that will irritate the software developers who are trying to do sub-pixel-rendering."

Anyone looked at a doc on the Treo in Wordsmith with font highres turned on? Does it look ok? Any better than on a palm iiic?

RE: Screen Quality
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/14/2002 9:16:17 AM #
In WordSmith on the Treo 90, the fonts look kind of weird -- there are brown and blue fringes to the left and right of the verticals. They're pale but noticeable.

RE: Screen Quality
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/14/2002 5:50:13 PM #
With the Treo 90 compared to the M130, get the Treo 90. The screen on the Treo is just a tiny bit larger. But, I actually recommend the Prism, even though it is bigger, you get 16bit color, more expansion, and a bigger screen.
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