For the past several months, I've been gazing longingly at these little handhelds at various electronics stores.

I hadn't owned a PDA before, mainly due to the whole handwriting recognition problem -- I don't even recognize my own horrible, awful, no-good, terrible handwriting, so how could any computer? I'd tried Graffitti on a friend's handheld, with miserable results. I was fully aware that one could buy add-on keyboards, but that seemed to partly defeat the size functionality of PDAs.

But the Treo has its own little keyboard built right into the PDA. And, after messing with the demo model at Best Buy, I discovered I could actually work the keyboard with some efficiency, thanks to having thin fingers. My boyfriend has trouble with the keys; it's apparently a function of him having largish hands, so I suspect many men will have difficulties using the keyboard sans stylus. But for me, it's dandy.

So, tired of wandering around in a daze of forgetfulness with little scraps of illegible notes to myself stuffed in my pockets, I made the plunge and got myself a Handspring Treo 90 two days ago.

And I have to say, I adore the thing.

Part of my adoration comes from my history with computers. My first computers were a TI-99/4a and a Commodore VIC-20 my mom won in local raffles. Both these early PCs were essentially overgrown keyboards. They had no hard drives or floppy drives; they ran programs off insertable program modules. The VIC-20 had an external tape drive that used regular audio cassette tapes to store programs.

As a teenager, I got my first "real" computer, a 286 clone that still works and still lives at my folks' house. It has a blazing 25MHz processor and a whopping 40MB hard drive. The computer is in a huge, heavy boat anchor of a steel case; the hard drive is physically large enough to stun an ox.

When I was in grad school, I bought my second computer, a 386 laptop with a streakin' 33MHz processor and a gargantuan 100MB hard drive. It actually ran Windows 3.1!

Flash forward to today. I've got this Treo 90 sitting in front of me. It's got a 33MHz Dragonball VZ processor and 16MB of onboard memory. With the addition of a postage stamp-sized Secure Digital (SD) or MMD card, I can increase its memory to 144MB. It weighs 4 ounces and is just a little over 4 inches long.

In short, this tiny, shirtpocket-sized device, which is smaller than the calculator I've been using since undergrad, is more powerful than the first 386 laptop I ever owned.

And that's just wicked cool.

The color screen is small, but bright and crisp. The games I've downloaded for it so far -- many of which seem to be modifications of the old DOS games I played on my 286 -- look good. The PDF ebooks I've downloaded to it are all pretty readable, though if you tend to get eyestrain you might not like reading off the little screen.

There is evidently some kind of a defect in a few batches of the Treo 90s that have made it to store shelves; the defect causes the screen to entirely blank out. Handspring has fixed the problem in more current batches, and 90% of the affected devices fail very quickly. I'm hoping mine was not from an affected batch; so far, it seems to be fine.

The touchscreen works well, and seems more durable than I expected.

My only concerns about the device itself is that I wish the cover were a bit easier to remove, and I wish that the buttons were glow-in-the-dark like those of many electronics remotes. Bright as the screen is, it's not bright enough to illuminate the keyboard. When I was trying to write a note to myself in the back of a friend's car the other night, I found it impossible to find the correct buttons.

And, unlike the Visor series, the Treo won't take Springboard modules, which offered cool options for MP3 players, digital cameras, etc. Being able to play MP3s on this device would make it close to perfect for my gadget needs, but it doesn't even have a headphone jack to keep from annoying other people with its sundry beeps and blips.

But overall, the device is like buttah, as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad I waited this long to get my first PDA.

However, the experience of installing the Palm Desktop software was extremely aggravating. It seems the software version of the Desktop that came on my installer CD -- 2.6.3 for Macintosh -- is not entirely compatible with MacOS 9.0.4. The software made my computer hang, and trying to HotSynch to the Treo was a nightmare. Other programs that require a desktop installation, like WordSmith and Adobe's Acrobat Reader for Palm, likewise failed to function properly.

I sent a query off to Handspring's tech support; they responded with polite, detailed, but ultimately useless response within 48 hours. My impression is that Mac experts are hard to come by there.

So, if you're a Mac user and you experience problems with the Palm Desktop that you can't immediately fix, the best solution I can suggest is the one I resorted to -- run your Palm software on a copy of Virtual PC. The PC version of the software worked like a charm. Alternate solutions I did not explore were upgrading to MacOS 9.1, MacOSX, or running the Palm Desktop off a separate drive with just the system software and the Palm software.

Update: the Palm software runs much more reliably in MacOS 9.2, so my problem has been resolved. However, Excalibre says there are Palm desktop alternatives such as the missing synch available, but I haven't experimented with them yet. If you have, feel free to /msg me.

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