Handspring Treo 90

  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent


  • Thumb keyboard
  • colour screen
  • 16 MB of RAM
  • SD card slot
  • compact and light.


  • No Springboard slot.

Handspring's Treo 90 may lack the cellphone and wireless-data features of the more expensive models in the line, but its thumb keyboard provides a unique alternative for those looking for an affordable colour Palm OS handheld. Some of the Handspring faithful may cry ‘foul’ when they learn that there's no Springboard expansion slot. But if you don't like Graffiti, the slim Treo 90 is a great choice.

The built-in thumb keyboard sets the Treo 90 apart from all other Palm OS devices. Unlike Sony's CLIE PEG-NR70V, the keyboard replaces the Graffiti writing area, which makes the screen appear smaller than those of most Palm OS devices. Although the keyboard -- which is identical to the ones found on Handspring's other Treos -- has a good, tactile feel and is easy to use, it doesn't emit a click each time you press a key. This is not a major drawback, but some users may miss that little sound.

Handspring has put a lot of effort into devising ways to use the Treo 90 with only the keyboard, but you'll eventually need to reach for the stylus and tap the screen to use almost all applications -- a transition that some users will find annoying. RIM's BlackBerry devices don't use a touch-screen at all, relying on the keyboard and a jog dial to control every aspect of the device.

The £249 (inc. VAT) Treo 90 and the £499 (without connection) Treo 270 look nearly identical, with grey cases and well-designed flip covers protecting the screens and keyboards. The 113g Treo 90 is a touch smaller than competing products such as the £195 (inc. VAT) Palm m130. We criticised the m130 for having a tiny, 2in. screen, so we were happy to see that the Treo 90 has a 2.75in. colour screen. That may not sound like much of a difference, but it makes this Handspring much easier to use.

If you're counting, you'll discover that the Treo 90's 12-bit screen is capable of displaying only 4,096 colours; all other current colour Palm devices have 16-bit screens that can display 65,536 colours. You may be able to spot the difference if you look carefully at photos, but otherwise, you're not likely to notice. The Treo 90's screen is also transflective, meaning that it is backlit for use indoors and in dimly lit situations but also reflects ambient light, making it viewable outdoors in sunlight. Even so, we could not read information on the screen in bright sunlight as well as we could with some other handhelds.

In most respects, the Treo 90 is similar to other Palm devices. It runs Palm OS 4.1H, uses a 33MHz Motorola DragonBall VZ processor, and has 16MB of internal RAM to store contact and calendar info, additional applications and data. Although that's likely to be plenty of space for most users, there's also a Secure Digital (SD) card slot on the top of the device. This means that you can add even more storage -- however, the slot does not support SD input/output devices such as the Palm SD Bluetooth card and the Margi Presenter-to-Go SD VGA adapter (for giving PowerPoint presentations). A rechargeable Li-ion battery provides approximately 10 days of use, according to Handspring.

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To synchronise with your computer, Handspring provides a USB cable (rather than a cradle) and the Palm Desktop software for Mac and PC. Chapura's PocketMirror is included for syncing Outlook on your PC. Handspring doesn't give you much in the way of bonus software: Blue Nomad's WordSmith (a word processor); the Blazer Internet browser; a Palm SMS messaging program; and One-Touch Mail. In addition, Handspring provides a one-year warranty.

Handspring's Treo models with built-in cellphone capabilities may grab a bit more of the spotlight, but the Treo 90 is a great option for those who don't care for an integrated device. At £249 (inc. VAT), the Treo 90's main competitor is the Palm m130, but we like this Handspring a bit more because its screen is larger. But even people who might previously have considered buying a more expensive device, such as Sony's CLIE PEG-T625C or Palm's m515, may opt for the Treo 90 because of its built-in keyboard.

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