iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






PalmOS 5.0 Based Sony Clie NX60 Review

PC users keep on arguing which platform is better - Palm or WindowsCE. Several years ago Palm based PDAs were leading in the sales volumes, but now the situation is more complicated. WindowsCE based solutions are getting smaller, and the run-down time is increasing. Now Palms look like cheap organizers rather than pocket-size desktop PCs. 

PalmOS based computers equipped with slow processors and low-resolution screens didn't add new fans to them. But such PDAs had two important advantages - a low price and long run-down time. Some Sony's pocket-size computers had MP3 players and high-rez screens, even they couldn't stand against WindowsCE devices. Some time ago the developers released a new, fifth, version of PalmOS. A short time after that we got first samples of computers running under this system. They were Sony (NX60, NX70V) and Palm Tungsten T. So, today we are going to discuss Sony's junior model. 

Appearance and first impressions

Sony NX60 has a folder-type design that reminds a notebook with the matrix rotating around its axis. At this moment Sony's top solutions have the maximum of 320x480 pixels, which is twice more than that of most new WindowsCE devices. This model comes with a transreflective matrix; its backlight is not surplus but at any angle of viewing and in any lighting conditions all colors can perfectly be discern. 

The PDA's body is made of aluminum with a shaggy surface, that is why it won't slide in your hands or on a sloping surface, but it makes the device noticeably heavier (220 g together with the battery and stylus). I can't say the dimensions are miniature even when the computer is folded up (72.3x136.6x23.5 mm). It gets twice lengthier when unfolded, but you get access to the screen, application shortcut buttons, scrolling buttons and a keypad. The latter is rather small, but still, it is much handier than the graffiti. 

A hold switch, back button, scroller and headphones-out and a remote control are placed on the side panel. NX60, in contrast to NR70, has a Voice Rec button which is put onto the horizontal axis. If it were not the marking, I would hardly guess where the rec button is placed. This is a very good designer's solution. 

There are no buttons on the other side, only a neck strip eyelet on top - thus, you can carry it not only in your pocket but also hook on something. 

Above the shortcut buttons which are available only when the PDA is unfolded is a power button which goes green when the computer works. The recording indicator is on the left which blinks red if you record something. All these elements are placed on the immovable part of NX60. 

On the lower part of the lid (on Sony's logo left) are three small holes in a row which hide a microphone. The holes are located on two sides of the rotating panel ensuring good-quality recording irrespective of how the screen is oriented. Later, when we will speak about the software, we will return to the microphone. 

Above are an IR port, MemoryStick slot and MagicGate. The latter, according to the instructions, is meant for Wi-Fi Wireless LAN Cards PEGA-WL100. On one hand, it's very pleasant that they provided a connector for various peripherals. But a bit later we found out that MagicGate was a usual CompactFlash type II slot. When you install a card there, the PDA will beep meaning that it has detected exactly a memory card, but it refuses to work with it as it supports only Sony's proprietary accessories. So, if you want to expand memory of NX60, you will have to go with MemoryStick, instead of CompactFlash which is several times cheaper. I personally can understand Sony which makes more money this way, but it's a pity that a user has to pay for such crippled CompactFlash slot. Moreover, Sony's cards are heavier and a user has to carry weightier devices than he could. 

The stylus hole is in the lower part of the PDA. The stylus is made of aluminum and it is detachable. You will have to unscrew it every time you need to reboot the computer. I didn't have to do it too often, but still, sometimes it did hang :-). An interface connector is also below. A similar one also comes on older models, for example, on SJ30 or T665. 

The cradle is made of aluminum with transparent plastic in the center. NX60 rather lies than stands there. Its screen is approximately at 30 degrees to a desk top, and it's much more convenient to work, for example, run applications or search information in comparison with other PDAs which are usually at the angle of 60-80 degrees. 

Besides, there is a small adapter for charging the PDA without the cradle (it comes in handy if you are going to charge it not at home. Headphones and a remote control are also supplied. These accessories haven't changed since Clie N770. The remote control has 6 control buttons (play, pause, volume (up, down), next track, previous track) and hold switch. 

In operation

Before turning it on you are to unfold it. As I already mentioned, it becomes twice longer. If you put NX60 on some smooth surface, you will have to hold it because it can fall back when the screen is pressed on. But in exchange you get access to the keypad with the standard qwerty layout. Unfortunately, there is no a separate row with figures, though there is place for it, and you are to type all figures with the Fn button. I don't find its position convenient - they'd better put it closer to the edge (here Ctrl is on its right and Shift is below) and make it bigger (like space or enter buttons). 

I have no more complains about the keyboard (given to its size). If you hold the PDA with two hands, it's more convenient to type with thumbs. The buttons are rather tight, but it prevents from faulty pressing. The keypad has no "misunderstanding" with the software. If you need to type in a certain text or figures somewhere, do use the keypad. 

The transreflective screen has the resolution of 320x480 pixels (actually twice more than that of most WindowsCE computers). The backlight is not as bright as iPaq 3900, but the image remains contrast and colors rich. Images are well seen at almost any angles. All parameters are taken into account - such display can be considered ideal for viewing photos or any other graphical information. 

On turning it on you won't see the good old interface of PalmOS. The default shell is CLIE Launcher. Those who never used PDAs before might find it quite handy, but experienced PDA users can find it confusing. Anyway, you can disable it anytime by selecting Go To Standard View in the Launcher settings; once you do it you will see a good old desktop with pictograms of all programs installed in the PDA. The clock is in the upper left-hand corner and a category displayed is in the right-hand corner. 

Nevertheless, most users would go with the newer shell. The most part of the screen is taken by a vertical list of programs installed. You can see there an icon, a program's name and a small comment what a given program is for. In most cases it's rather clear (for example, Movie Play), though sometimes it's not simple to guess (for example, in case of PhotoStand which makes photo slideshows). But you can always choose thumbnails to be displayed: in this case the screen will show a longer list of applications but with no comments. 

The PDA and CDs bundled have a good suite of software. Let's have a look at the noteworthy ones. 

First of all, this is a standard software suite typical of any modern (and not very) PDAs: address book, date book, notes, tasks. They are all standard for most PalmOS based devices. 

Other applications recorded into the ROM can also be familiar to you. This is an ordinary calculator, information on a memory card inserted, CLIE RMC (remote control for home equipment), Graffiti, HotSync, MS Import (after starting up this program you will get a new removable storage device on the desktop - Memory Stick card), AudioPlayer 3.0 and Voice Recorder. The latter was first used exactly on NX60. This is actually an ordinary dictaphone which starts up with the left side button pressed. It's not necessary to press and hold the button like in PocketPCs - here you just press it once. If you don't want to hold it in a PocketPC you are to start recording from the menu. NX60 has pretty good record quality. It perfectly suits for recording interviews, lectures, voice notes and certain musical compositions. However, you can't adjust quality here like in Palm Tungsten T, - there are only SP and LP modes; but the quality provided must satisfy many out there. 

AudioPlayer has changed in appearance in comparison with N770, but the functions remain the same. It incorporates all functions music lovers may need, like creation of play-lists and replay of fragments. Sony AVLS (Automatic Volume Limited System), Sony's propriatery function, is also supported. Low frequencies can be adjusted - there are 4 preinstalled bass parameters in all. A full-featured equalizer would be better, but this one also suits. The sound quality is rather good. This PDA can easily be used as an MP3 player. In this case the remote control is really a necessary gadget. 

The computer contains several programs for processing images. CLIE Viewer can work with ordinary JPEG files without any problems. In this respect this PDA can be a good add-on for Sony's digital cameras. You can make a shot and then immediately view it on the computer's screen. Although NX60 resizes images (i.e. you won't see all pixels of a photo measuring 2240x1680), but it's still better than the preview mode of the photo camera. 

Viewer can also help you listen to what you have recorded and watch movies. Unfortunately, it doesn't support mpg or DivX files, but it has a converter supplied (it doesn't work with DivX, and you will have to encode movies into mpg). Files processed can be loaded into the PDA's memory. Video and sound quality can't be widely adjusted - there are only three presets: Long Mode, Standard and High Quality. But even in the last case a movie doesn't turn into a slideshow. Certainly, users will hardly watch movies here (you need more than 128 MB which is maximum for MemoryStick), but you can load some interesting video clips. Thus, a 4-minute High Quality clip takes 14.5 MB. 

The Flash player also integrated in this PDA must play various flash files. But it worked very slowly though the processor should suffice for the animation we tried (because clips of 320x240 run smoothly). 

On the whole, the computer has made very good impression on me. Its unique design remains in user's memory, and the perfect transreflective screen of 320x480 makes possible to read books and use it as a photo album. 

However, it does have some downsides. It has a full-featured CompactFlash slot but you can't use CompactFlash cards. Besides, if you are going to use it as an MP3 player you should buy a MemoryStick card. But the worst disadvantages are short rundown time (you can play patience 4-5 hours at most with the backlight set to maximum) and large dimensions (the weight of 220 makes NX60 one of the heaviest modern PDAs). 

It's interesting that Sony positions its pocket-size computers as PEO - Personal Entertainment Organizer instead of PDA; well, it's rather close to to the truth. :-) 

Andrey Klinaichev (andrey@ixbt.com)

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