Sunday, September 1, 2002

Treo 90, a very different breed of Palm OS handheld

Details

The operating system is the Palm OS 4.1H running on a Dragonball VZ processor with a 33 MHz clock and 16MB of memory. Traditional software from Handspring and Palm, like Date Book Plus, Contacts, To Do List, Memo Pad, Silent Alarm, Advanced Calculator, CityTime World Clock, Mail, and Expense are available. And there's also a CD with a free copy of WordSmith (at http://www.bluenomad.com/ws/prod_wordsmith_details.html) and other applications like the Blazer browser, One-Touch Mail, and the Palm SMS Application.

The keyboard

Let's talk a little bit about the thumb keyboard, pictured in Figure C.

FIGURE C

The Treo 90 features a handy thumb keyboard. (click for larger image)

In the early 1990's, when Jeff Hawkins founded Palm Computing and started commercializing its handwriting recognizing system (including a version for Apple Newton), Graffiti was a very important product for the company. Today, ten years after that, Graffiti is still a very important product for Palm OS handhelds. It's easy to learn and use, and it's even present in Pocket PC 2002 devices under the name Block Recognizer. The interesting part of it is that Handspring--a new company also co-founded by Jeff Hawkins--is now releasing the first Palm OS handhelds without Graffiti.

The thumb keyboard, also present in the Treo 180, is nice. Believe me, it's very easy to get used to. But when I started using it I finally understood that the Graffiti area is not only important for text input. I found out that even though getting used to the keyboard is easy, the lack of the four Graffiti area icons is a little annoying for old Palm OS users like me.

I never noticed how important the Application icon is. To use it on the Treo 90, you have to hold the blue button (left side of the keyboard) and pres the house button on the other side of the keyboard. I always re-map the Calculator and Find icons to different applications on my Palm OS devices. This is very good for stylus navigation, especially for Hacks and small applications. And finally, there's the menu icon. As I told you before, I'm an old Palm OS user, and since I'm pre-Palm OS 3.5, I still tap the menu icon instead of the top of the screen to access menus. It's the kind of habit I could never change. So I would be lying to you if I didn't tell you I caught myself several times trying to tap these icons while using the Treo 90. I think it's a question of getting used to it.

In contrast to my love for handhelds, my wife is still the paper planer type. I've been trying to show her for years that a handheld would be much better, but year-after-year I keep seeing her with a paper organizer. And when I ask her why, I always get the same answer. She always complains about the Graffiti. But when she saw the Treo 90 thumb keyboard, the small form factor of the handheld, and the color screen, she loved it! "OK, now I can use a handheld to organize myself," she said. So, maybe the Treo 90 has a broader appeal, but isn't for us Graffiti-addicted people.