With a sliding cover and a sleek, all-metal chassis, the T90 makes no qualms about calling itself a stylish shooter. The brushed front cover slides down in the style of other Sony cameras, and automatically powers on the camera, though there is also a dedicated power button sleekly hidden across the top. Turn this 15mm deep camera to the back and the 3-inch wide touchscreen completes the rest of the externals. Seeing as this camera is so slim, the battery is suitably slender and slides in alongside the Memory Stick Pro at the base. There's a small tripod screw mount also at the bottom of the camera, and all the other buttons and accoutrements are similarly micro-sized. The zoom rocker is a very sleek switch, and the shutter button is elongated and juts out just above the surface of the top plate.
The T90 comes in five different colours, from a baby blue, pink, silver, black and brown. It weighs 128g which means it's perfectly sized for a pocket or handbag, and fortunately comes with an included wrist strap otherwise this slippery thing might slide out of your hands. It shares a similar design to the slightly more advanced T900, which has Sony's Xtra Fine LCD display. Like the T900, the T90's wrist strap attachment doubles as a thumb rest as the widescreen LCD takes up most of the space at the back of the camera.
Inside the camera, 12.1 megapixels is the key number with a standard CCD sensor, fed light via a 4x optical zoom lens, with a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at its widest extension. Unfortunately, the focal length of the lens is not as wide as other competitors out there — it's a relatively standard 35mm, so not wide angle. The lens is an internal folding design, which doesn't extend out from the camera body and sits snugly at the top right of the camera, but if you have rather large fingers or a propensity to hold the camera in an overly-supportive way you may find your digits sneak surreptitiously into your shots. You've been warned.
Sony's touchscreen interface is fairly intuitive, with the most common options you'll need such as flash configuration, macro mode and self-timer located along either side of the screen. The other options like the home screen (which lets you switch between shooting, playback, slideshow, print, memory and settings) and shooting set-up are located in the top and bottom left-hand corner, which are slightly more difficult to press with just the pad of your fingertip as they are so close to the edge.
We found the refresh rate of the screen to be a little slow for our liking, as it struggled to keep up with fast moving objects and panning the camera with any sort of quick motion. As expected for a camera of its class, and given its style-directive, there are no manual controls here, just the standard tweaks for exposure compensation, ISO selection and the usual face and scene detection modes. The Smile Shutter technology has been supposedly improved from previous versions that appeared on Cyber-shot cameras. There's also the option to let the camera go fully automatic for you: while in this mode, the camera chooses the most appropriate settings in scene recognition.
The T90 snuck in at just under two seconds from power-on to first shot (this was measured by pushing the sliding plate down, and powering on using the button rather than letting the plate activate the camera). Using the front plate as the power-on source increased the time from power-on to first shot to approximately 2.6 seconds. Shutter lag measures just under 0.1 second, which is fairly standard for a camera of its class.
We did find the touchscreen was overly sensitive at times, with the screen reacting to anything harder than the pad of a fingertip (like fingernails) by blurring and discolouring the surrounding area.
The image quality from Sony's previous iterations of Cyber-shot cameras hasn't been as good as we would have expected from such fully featured pocket rockets, so we're pleased to report that the T90 improves a lot upon the pictures we've seen. In terms of noise control though, it didn't cope that well, with visible artefacts occurring at ISO 200 at full magnification. There was a distinct amount of over-processing occurring as well when observing the resulting JPEGs at full magnification, thanks to the slightly smeared look on a number of our shots. That said, at reduced magnification the photos at lower ISO levels looked great, and the colour balance and rendition of detail was very good for such a small camera and lens. For the most part, colours looked natural and not too saturated when reviewed alongside the actual scene.