iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Sony CLIE PEG-NX73V & NX80V PDAs Review

Everyone interested in the PDA sphere perfectly know Sony's Pocket PCs. The Japanese creative approach to their products that delivers a wide range of various PDA models makes this company one of the first players on this market. It's not the first year the company occupies the top place in providing the widest range of models (only HP looks a real competitor), which are divided into several lines.

There are 6 lines in all - UX, NZ, NX, TG, TJ, and SJ, but today we are going to examine only one of them which develops very rapidly. The high-end NX line debuted a year ago and accumulated the best features the Japanese industry had to offer (it was preceded with the NR which is not produced anymore). The NX60 and NX70V models were very advanced at their time.

Late this May Sony updated the line with the NX73V and NX80V models. Since they have much in common, we will take a closer look first at the NX73V and then outline peculiarities of the NX80V.

The NX73V is made of black plastic and measures 71.9 x 131.5 x 21.8 mm. Although it seems light, it weighs 230 g because of metallic parts. But the build quality is excellent: the case doesn't bend or squeak and it's difficult to scratch it. It looks elegant at that.

The design is a traditional clamshell that consists of a display and a keyboard. If you prefer a keyboardless design you must turn the display by 180 degrees and join both halves together. The transreflective TFT matrix that delivers 65,536 colors at 320 x 480 pixels and can be considered an optimal solution today. At least, it's the maximum for the Palm platform and twice more than Pocket PCs got. Time has not come yet for the resolutions like 640 x 480 in Sharp's models and even 800 x 600.

The thumb-up keys are pretty small but once you got used to pressing them with two thumbs, it won't be a problem for you. The keyboard has a pleasant orange backlight which is very useful for those who often make notes in the dark. There are two sets of application short-cut buttons in the NX73V: one is over the keyboard, and the other is over the display. The second set is meant for the keyboardless variant - it lacks a scroller, and its functions are executed by a wheel.

The functionality is very high, that is why it has got a lot of controls and LEDs. On the left side is an IR port and two LEDs: the red one indicates audio/video recording, the green one indicates charging. Next to them is the camera release button. The Back button and Jog Dial allow you comfortably navigate all applications including Sony or Palm launcher with just one hand. Below is the slider (combined with the Hold button) which turns on/off the PDA.

The stylus hole (the telescopic stylus is very light and thin), microphone, camera lens and flash are on top. The microphone is quite sensitive - it can record sound at the distance of 7 m when it directly looks the source, otherwise it works at the distance up to 4 m.

The camera's resolution (640 x 480 pixels) is definitely not enough for making high-quality shots. The optical system has a fixed focal range of 4.15 mm (37.7 mm in 35-mm equiv.). But the company made up for it by allowing the camera rotate at 270 degrees.

On the right is a combination of a 3.5mm audio-out and a 4-pin connector for remote control (which is bundled with the PDA). Below is a slider for the digital recorder. The Memory Stick slot (Memory Stick Pro supported) and the Reset button are under it. However, you won't have to resort to the soft reset that often, because the NX73V operates stably.

The NX73V also has the Compact Flash slot which is hidden to minimize the PDA size. You can get to it with the Open button. All limitations the previous models had are removed so that you can use almost any device of this format.

The silvery transparent plastic cradle looks stylish. It actually has the design like in the previous models. It has a HotSync button in front and a nonremovable USB cable and a standard three-pin power connector behind. The built-in stylus holder might come in very handy.

The NX73V is based on the 200MHz ARM processor Intel XScale PXA263. Unfortunately, there's only 16MB RAM (11MB available for user) and 32MB ROM. Sony probably believes that it's enough for most tasks. Well, it's actually sufficient for playing video, MP3 and reading books.

Power comes from the nonremovable 3.7V Li-Ion 1200 mAh battery. At the minimal backlight level the battery charge will last 4-5 hours if you will run modest application. The stress test lets it work only 3 hours. Remember that the PDA integrates the camera and that audio/video recording are resource hungry.

Together with the latest Palm OS 5.2 this model has all kinds of applications you may need. One of the most interesting ones is the Decuma handwriting input, a kind of the Graffiti. Several touches for a symbol deliver high recognition accuracy. You can easily customize this program.

Apart from the IR port the NX73V features the USB 1.1 interface. There are no wireless connection modules at all (except the dated IrDA). It's strange for such a state-of-the-art PDA not to have such features. However, Sony offers an optional Wi-Fi module for the Compact Flash slot.

Now several words on the NX80V. There are actually two differences: 32 MB RAM (16MB available for user) and a higher-quality camera based on the 1.27Mp CCD matrix. These changes made it weightier only by 5 g. The only difference in their appearance is the body color: the NX80V is silvery. One more difference is the Neutral Density filter which can be manually enabled: this filter improves details and contrast, and is meant for a bright sunny weather. Some advertisements also mention that the NX80 has a built-in flash, but this is actually a Capture Light which doesn't help if the environment is weakly illuminated.

The NX73V and NX80V PDAs can be considered a worthy extension of the popular Sony line. Although there are no cardinally new features, many characteristics make these modules a successful choice. The nice display, convenient keyboard, stylish design, built-in camera (especially in the NX80V) really distinguish these PDAs. Only the lack of built-in wireless connection modules and the weak battery worsen the impression. I hope Sony will continue working on its NX line.

Andrey Klinaichev (andrey@ixbt.com)

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