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The Future?

Wed Jun 12, 2002 - 12:32 AM EDT - By Michael Ducker

What a pleasant surprise it was to come home from my last day of school and see FedEX box waiting for me! While a full review will have to wait, here's a quick preview.

Inside the box was a Treo 90: a new kind of PDA from Handspring. Taking its looks and keyboard from the other Handspring Treos, it adds an SD/MMC slot and a color screen. Of course, just these specs don't mean much, except that it has an incredible lightness; and is the smallest color Palm OS PDA available.

The shape and size are the first things you notice about the Treo 90. Handspring's design has definitely evolved from the "brick like" Deluxe and Prism to this new streamlined form. The back of the Treo 90 almost looks like a Palm, but at any other angle there is nothing else like it. The weight is unbelievable! It feels as if it doesn't exist in my pocket - or even in my hand!

The screen is very good, yet it appears to have a slightly slow refresh rate. For example Zap2016 seems much less sharp on the Treo 90 than on the Prism. Also, my screen has a slightly brownish tint. I have been assured from Handspring that this is a flaw of the pre-production unit. Nevertheless, the screen is excellent. Indoors it's bright and easy to read; outdoors the contrast is just right to use the device. This entire article was written in the bright Minnesota sun, as I took my 10 minute breaks from lifeguarding (yes, I actually have a REAL teenage job!).

The keyboard on the Treo 90 is not backlit, but it still has the same excellent feel that the Treo 180 keyboard has - I recently had a 2 week demo of the Treo 18; so by now, I'm an expert Treo typer. Both the 180 and 90 share the exact same keyboard with the exception that the 90 has larger numbers.

SD/MMC is FAST! I'm shouting this because it really is. Most of us are used to painfully slow backups with the Handspring Backup module. Using an MMC card from my Minijam, I reformatted it and installed BackupBuddy VFS. In just under 2 minutes, 5 MB of data was backed up. After that it takes about 15 seconds for a backup. I have it set to backup whenever I turn off the device - a nifty feature! Running apps from the card is also possible if the Treo 90 has enough room to temporarily copy it. I've noticed no problems while running Zap 2016 from the card.

Overall, the Treo is an amazing new handheld that really sets itself apart. Other handhelds are thinner, or have higher resolution but the Treo 90 is the only one that is made for word processing, internet, organization, games and more - yet it keeps its super small size. But the release of this device certainly suggests that Handspring is finally abandoning the Springboard, and Graffiti - the basis of the original Visor.

I do feel the emptiness under my thumb from the lack of a jog-dial. Why Handspring didn't put it in there I don't know. I also hoped for a backlit keyboard, and SD/IO, but, you can only get so much and you'll always want more. Right?

The Treo 90 comes with the same hotsync cable and charger as all other Treos. I really like this hotsync cable, because of its large easy to press hotsync button. The Treo 90 has Palm OS 4.1H. It is available now for $299. Again, a full review of this amazing PDA will soon follow.


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