Sunday, September 1, 2002

Treo 90, a very different breed of Palm OS handheld


By Vladimir Campos

It's neither a wireless communicator nor a Visor handheld. It looks like the Treo 180 family, but it's not a wireless device. It's a Palm OS handheld, but there is no Graffiti area. It's a Handspring device, but there is no Springboard slot. The Treo 90 (at is yet another Handspring innovation, and it's pictured in Figure A.


The Treo 90 is a handheld like no other. (click for larger image)

The screen

Although the screen has 160 x 160 pixels, it's smaller than the average handheld screen, measuring the same as the Palm m100 series screens. The smaller screen size and the excellent job Handspring engineering did make the Treo 90 very small. It's even smaller than the Palm m500 or Palm V series devices.

Since we're talking about the screen, let's understand it a little better. Handspring adopted a technology called Transflective STN (SuperTwist Nematic), instead of the TFT (Thin Film Transistor). The Transflective STN has some advantages over the TFT such as lower cost and the ability to use direct sunlight to enhance the brightness of the display. However, it has a slower display for graphics and a poorer viewing angle. But these are technical details that can be noticed only in a side-by-side comparison. What really matters, in my opinion, is the response of the handheld on a daily basis use. During the tests that I did, I didn't really notice any difference in the screen quality or speed.


Handspring has also opted to use a HotSync cable instead of a cradle. It was a great idea since the cable was built in such a manner that users can connect it with the USB port on the desktop and also to an A/C adapter for power. To turn the HotSync cable into a travel A/C cable, all you have to do is disconnect the power cable from the USB cable and bring it along with you.


Like the rest of the Treo devices, the Treo 90 is among the first Handspring handhelds without a Springboard slot. Handspring adopted the SD/MMC (Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard) open standard to keep the handheld as small as possible. The expansion slot is shown in Figure B.


The Treo 90 uses the SD/MMC expansion slot.

You can read more about this in my article, "Battle lines drawn in expansion war" in the August 2002 issue of PalmPower at Unfortunately, the Treo 90 SD/MMC slot doesn't have SDIO (Secure Digital Input/Output) characteristics, meaning that accessories like a Bluetooth card will not work. The slot is only capable of writing and reading SD/MMC memory cards. I contacted Handspring about this, and they told me they will be releasing software to turn the slot into an SDIO slot.