Switched On

Back to Contents of Issue: April 2002


by J Mark Lytle

WE'VE RECENTLY TAKEN ELECTRONIC dictionaries ("Switched On," February 2002) and digital cameras (March 2002) for a test drive, so this month we opted to run the rule over a gadget that can combine both functions and plenty more besides -- a PDA. To be more specific, we looked at three Personal Digital Assistants from Sony -- that arbiter of all things cool in the world of the high-tech gadget freak.

Sony's Clie has been on the market in various guises since its first appearance two years ago as a straightforward organizer. Rather than develop its own operating system or go with the (then) universally unpopular Windows CE, Sony licensed the Palm OS from Palm Computing and opted to build on that already solid base. Sony's first tweaks were to include its ubiquitous Jog Dial control wheel and a Memory Stick slot, the idea being to integrate as seamlessly as possible with its digital cameras and Vaio computers. Half a dozen revisions later, there's a range of Clie 'Personal Entertainment Organizers' (Sony's term) each with its own subtleties and able to perform tasks as diverse as playing video clips and manipulating Microsoft Office documents.

We took our pick of the latest crop and sent our testers onto the streets of Tokyo armed with the PEG-T600C and the PEG-N750C. Their comments are entirely subjective and don't purport to represent all of the Clie's functionality; rather, their opinions reflect how the devices perform in the real world.

John Buendia, venture capitalist

Clie model: PEG-T600C

I've used PDAs at various times in the past -- mainly when something new and shiny caught my eye in a store, I must admit -- but haven't really stuck with one for any length of time. I suppose that's generally been because I've been too busy to get to grips with what are pretty complicated machines, such as the Psion series or Pocket PCs. The Clie appealed to me initially because one organizer I have enjoyed using before is the Palm V -- a PDA widely lauded for its design and the simple-to-use Palm software. Since Sony's gadgets use the same system, I had a head start.

First impressions of my T-600C were pretty damn good: I loved the color screen, which was sort of like having my old Palm V in Technicolor, and the fact that it had a voice! Other PDAs from Palm and Handspring [Another Palm OS licensee -- editor] manage little more than feeble squeaks, but this one impressed by announcing, "I am Clie" in a soothing voice when I hit the power button. Aside from looking and sounding quite nice, the Clie has a high-resolution screen, thanks to a patch to the OS, which enables it to display much sharper images at 320x320 dots. If that doesn't mean much in writing, the upshot in practice is that the screen can show twice as many lines of an email or a decent picture.

The included software is extensive -- perhaps a little too extensive and befuddling for my liking -- but I guess most folk are looking for value for money when spending JPY40,000, so functions like the Japanese-English dictionary (optional) could win many over. My favorite was actually the nifty little application that uses the built-in infrared port to control your TV, VCR or whatever -- it works in the same way as a learning remote. But when it comes to 'serious' applications, I'm pretty much an old-school user and tended to stick to the core functions of schedule, address book, task list and notepad. As I use MS Outlook in my office -- at least for scheduling, contacts and email -- it was useful to be able to synchronize those with the PDA by pressing a button on the cradle. At the end of the day, I'd definitely recommend using a Clie especially if you need a quick and attractive PDA; however, there's no denying that it helps if you like a spot of gadgetry in your everyday life.

Yoko Onodera, J@pan Inc executive assistant

Clie model: PEG-N750C

At first, I was a little surprised, as I thought the Clie I received looked quite different from other Sony products -- it's shiny silver and not the usual trademark bluey purple colors. One really cool thing for me was the built-in music player, which can handle both MP3 and ATRAC3 files. I used that a lot, but downloading music from the Web is new to me and ultimately the process of getting music from my PC to the Clie's Memory Stick proved a little tricky. One other slight problem was the fact that the cover often worked loose, but that's not exactly serious.

Overall, I enjoyed using the Clie because -- if I had fully gotten to grips with it -- I wouldn't have to carry around separate music players and organizers. There are a couple of improvements I'd like to see: specifically a picture mail function, like J-Phone's Sha-Mail service, an integrated mobile phone and perhaps a pocket mirror!

The Student
Phong Le, Tsukuba University research student

Clie model: PEG-N750C

My Clie looked great -- light and really cool -- just what I expected from a high-tech gadget from Sony. The silver color and screen layout were nice too. Another important thing was that there weren't too many buttons: If there are rows and rows, like on pocket translators, I just get overwhelmed and put it away. I guess it seemed simple to use yet high tech at the same time.

The schedule was pretty easy to use, but I don't see the practical side to it for my situation. If I was at work or school, I think putting all my schedules and details into it would take time, as I don't synchronize with a PC. However, the notepad and task list were rather useful. I also used the music function a lot and found myself going there all the time: The in-line remote control was also cool. Connecting via USB and downloading songs onto the Memory Stick (which is fantastic) was quick and efficient, even for a beginner like me. I can see that with a 128-MB stick, you could easily carry the PDA around like a Walkman while organizing your life around it, but I did find it an effective way to procrastinate!

On the down side, I found the Jog Dial on the side useless -- I really couldn't see the point -- but the addition of Sony's new digital camera add-on that fits into the Memory Stick slot could really liven things up. @

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