Palm Treo 90 review: Palm Treo 90

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.7
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 8.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Thumb keyboard; small and lightweight; color screen; Secure Digital card slot; 16MB of RAM.

The Bad No Springboard slot.

The Bottom Line If you're not fond of Graffiti, this is an excellent alternative to other Palm OS handhelds.

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Handspring's Treo 90 may lack the cell-phone 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 color Palm OS PDA. 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 Treo measures 4.2 by 2.8 by 0.65 inches--about the size of a deck of cards.At 4 ounces, it's about the same weight, too.


Because there's no Graffiti area, extra functions are added to the keyboard.

The built-in thumb keyboard sets the Treo 90 apart from all other Palm OS PDAs. Unlike Sony's CLIE PEG-NR70V, the keyboard replaces the Graffiti writing area, which makes the screen appear smaller than those of most Palm devices. While 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.


Have cable, will travel: No cradle comes with the unit.

The Treo 90 and the wireless Treo 270 look nearly identical, with gray cases and well-designed flip covers protecting the screens and keyboards. The 4-ounce Treo 90 measures 4.2 by 2.8 by 0.65 inches--a smidge smaller than competing products such as the Palm m130. We criticized the m130 for having a tiny, 2-inch screen, so we were happy to see that the Treo 90 has a 2.75-inch color screen. That may not sound like much of a difference, but it makes this Handspring much easier to read.

Don't go looking in the box for a cradle--there isn't one. Instead, Handspring supplies only a USB cable and a charging cord.


You can add memory but not SD I/O devices such as cameras.

In most respects, the Treo 90 is similar to other Palm devices. It runs Palm OS 4.1H, packs a 33MHz Motorola DragonBall VZ processor, and has 16MB of internal RAM to store contact and calendar info, additional applications, and data. While 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 (I/O) devices such as the Palm SD Bluetooth card and the Margi Presenter-to-Go SD VGA adapter (for giving PowerPoint presentations).

To sync with your computer, Handspring provides a USB cable instead of a cradle and the Palm Desktop software for Mac and PC. Chapura Pocket Mirror is included for syncing Outlook on your PC. Handspring doesn't give you much in the way of bonus software: Blue Nomad WordSmith, a word processor; the Blazer Internet browser; a Palm SMS messaging app; and One-Touch Mail.


Pen your next masterpiece with WordSmithSync and surf via the Blazer browser.
As noted in the Features section, the Treo 90 runs on Motorola's 33MHz DragonBall VZ processor, which isn't as zippy as the 66MHz processor found in certain Sony CLIEs. However, even though it's a color model, the Treo 90 isn't really designed to be a multimedia PDA, and users will find the processor to be quite sufficient for most applications.

Battery life is decent for a color device, with Handspring promising up to 10 days of use between charges, where an average day consists of powering up the unit 10 or 15 times and using it for a few minutes each instance. In our tests, the Treo's battery lasted 5 hours, 40 minutes before giving up the ghost. At first blush, that pales in comparison to the 12-hour battery life of the Palm m130. On the other hand, the Handspring's screen is both bigger and brighter than the Palm's, so it uses more energy.



The Treo's 4,000 colors still make for a realistic image.

If you're counting, you'll discover that the Treo 90's screen is capable of displaying only about 4,000 colors; all other current color Palm devices can display roughly 65,000 colors. 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. However, we could not read information on the screen in bright sunlight as well as we could with other PDAs.

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Palm Treo 90

Part Number: 1027NA Released: May 28, 2002
Pricing is currently unavailable.

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  • Release date May 28, 2002