New Handspring Devices Play Off Predecessors Design

eLABorations: Treo 90 is remarkably pocketable, but SD limits stunt its potential

When Handspring launched its Treo 180 communicator in March, the release marked some significant departures from the Visor devices that had preceded it. Gone were the Visors Springboard expansion slot and Graffiti input area, in favor of integrated cell phone functionality and a RIM-style thumb keyboard.

Id never been a particularly big fan of the Springboard slot or of Graffiti, so yesterdays announcement by Handspring of two new handheld devices built in the image of their Treo 180 forbear caused me no consternation (of course, the same cant necessarily be said of individuals and businesses that have already invested in Springboard peripherals).

The flashier of the two new Treos is the 270—a colorized version of the Treo 180 that sports the same cell phone capabilities—but it was the Treo 90 that really caught my eye.

The Treo 90, which measures 2.8 inches wide by 0.65 inches thick by 4.2 inches long, and weighs only 4 ounces, shares the basic design of the other Treos, but lacks their cell phone functionality—an omission that lends the 90 the slimmest, most pleasant form factor of any handheld organizer Ive yet reviewed.

The $299 Treo 90 features a color STN (supertwist nematic) display that I found brighter than the reflective displays on Palms latest handhelds, but it is not as readable in bright sunlight. The Treo 90s 12-bit color display shows fewer colors than the 16-bit displays that most color devices now handle, but fewer colors make less difference on the Treo 90s low-resolution, 160-by-160-pixel display than on higher-resolution Palm OS devices from Sony or on Pocket PC-based handhelds.

One of the most exciting—and, as it turns out, most disappointing—things about the Treo 90 is its inclusion of a Secure Digital card slot for industry-standard peripheral expansion. Even with 16MB of RAM built into the device, Treo users will likely need more storage space on their devices, and the SD and MMC cards that the Treo 90s expansion slot accommodates will well serve this need. Whats disappointing is that the 90s SD slot is unsuited to serve any other need. Unlike the SD card slots in Palm Inc.s handhelds, the Treo 90 does not support SDIO (Secure Digital Input/Output), which makes it useless for non-storage peripherals like SD Bluetooth modules.

Its too bad, too, because a handheld device as sleek and pocketable as the Treo 90 would be great for pairing with a Bluetooth-enabled phone. If Handspring were to add SDIO capability to the Treo 90, the device would likely become my handheld of choice.

Which recent handheld computers have struck your fancy? Or, if youve yet to be impressed, whats it going to take to wow you? Direct you e-pistles to me at