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Sony Clie PEG-UX50

Mobile devices based on clamshells aren’t new. Psion had a range before they pulled out of the consumer market, and Microsoft’s Handheld PC operating system, designed for keyboarded clamshells, was supported by a number of hardware partners. In both cases PDA-like functionality was coupled with the kinds of keyboards that you could (admittedly with varying degrees of speed and accuracy) do serious word-work on.

All of which is a roundabout way of making the point that Sony hasn’t broken any ground with its new clamshell, keyboarded, pocket sized Clié the PEG-UX50. But doing so with the Palm operating system, and in quite such small dimensions, is an innovation indeed, and size and weight-wise the result is on a par with more standard PDAs.

The system specifications exhibit just as many innovations as the design side of things. The processor, for a start, was specially developed by Sony and intended to make the most of multimedia processing and battery life. On the former front, we have no real grumbles, though battery life was disappointing.

There is a total of 104MB of built in memory, but don’t salivate about this as not all of it is available to you. You can access 15.5MB of the DRAM, and a further 26MB of internal memory. An additional 16MB of memory is set aside for emergency system backup and kicks in automatically when battery life gets low. The remainder of the memory is all allocated to various system activities. You can augment what you have access to with a Memory Stick Pro.

But let’s get back to that hardware. The display delivers its 480 x 320 pixels in landscape mode – only. This is great for viewing Web pages, looking at digital images, and even reading some ebooks. Those applications that don’t support this orientation, and there are many, run in a square window, the Graffiti area popping up to their right side to fill the screen. It works pretty well. You can swivel the lid and lay it down on top of the keyboard, screen outermost, to use in standard PDA mode. The keyboard is more usable than the very small thumbpads on other Sony PDAs, but it’s not a ‘proper’ keyboard, and is too small for touch typing. Think emails, SMSs and short notes rather than memos and reports.

Wired docking, and battery charging, is achieved via a sled which on our review model didn’t lock into the bottom of the hardware very well. There is a built in camera which captures images at four resolutions up to 640 x 480 and movies at 160 x 112 30fps. Both Bluetooth and 802.11b come as standard.

As usual, Sony piles extra software into ROM. The emphasis is very much on the multimedia side of things, though you also get the Decuma handwriting recognition software and Picsel viewer for reading documents of various types including HTML and Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, PDF, JPEG and GIF.

Our battery test delivered disappointing results. Sony quotes the life as 14 days based on 30 minutes a day with the backlight turned off. We ran BatteryBench, set on full power and with the screen always on, but with wireless communications turned off, and got two hours 18 minutes of life. When we changed the BatteryBench setting to normal use we got a more respectable four hours ten minutes, but even this, when you are running wireless connections, is likely to be reduced enough to prohibit a full working day’s effective use.

Verdict

This is a very expensive PDA – and as such it needs to be absolutely top quality to get our best approval rating. It certainly wins the prize for innovative design, and the landscape form factor screen works surprisingly well. The camera is fun, and dual wireless a real boon at work and at home. Some days on test we simply loved it, other days we found it frustrating, the latter mostly because the battery life let the whole thing down: for the outlay you should be able to expect this PDA to perform for a working day with wireless on the go.

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