The PEG-NX80V is the latest edition to the high-end of Sony’s Clie line of handhelds. It follows the same general form as previous members of the NX series but it boasts a 1.3 megapixel camera, a unique, retractable CompactFlash slot, more RAM than any previous Clie, and a new system for handwriting recognition.
I’ve had the NX80V for just a few days, so I’ve only had time to gather some first impressions. But you can expect a full Brighthand review in a week or so.
Sony positions its handhelds as devices for personal entertainment, which is why it integrates digital cameras into so many of them. The camera in the NX80V is a 1.3 megapixel type, which means it can take pictures at a maximum resolution of 1280 by 960 pixels. While this isn’t as high a resolution as you’ll get in a full-fledged digital camera, it is far better than the ones you’ll find on mobile phones.
Sony took the unusual step of adding what it calls a “capture light”, not a flash. This is intended to allow the NX80V to take pictures in low light. Basically, they have added a mini flashlight. This is useful if what you want to take a picture of is fairly small and relatively close to the camera. As you can see, I took a picture of one of my cats in a dimly lit room and got a decent enough picture. However, I also tried to take a picture of a group of my friends outside at night and got nothing useful.
By the way, the two images I’ve attached here that I took with the NX80V’s camera aren’t at its maximum resolution. Those turn out to be about half a megabyte in size, which is a little too big for thousands of you to be downloading them. However, the large pictures of my cat and the tree haven’t been touched up in any way. They are exactly as they came off my Memory Stick.
Retractable CompactFlash Slot
I wasn’t surprised when I first learned that the NX80V has a CompactFlash slot because previous handhelds in the NX series had one, too. But when I found out this slot could be used for memory cards, not just Sony’s Wi-Fi card, I called up my priest to find out if Hell had frozen over. Sony is so dedicated to the Memory Stick I would have bet a substantial amount of money that it would never have a handheld with another kind of memory card slot. But Sony has proved me wrong.
A CF card still can’t be used for everything a Memory Stick can. For example, you can’t play an MP3 from one. But Sony has made a lot of progress. You can store and run applications directly from a CF card, for example. And you can use it for storage, moving files back and forth between a CF card and your Memory Stick or RAM.
The CF slot on previous versions of the NX series made those models rather bulky. The one on the NX80V is retractable, so it can be closed when not in use. However, it can’t be closed with a card in it.
On the Inside
The NX80V has a 200 MHz Intel XScale processor. It technically has 32 MB of RAM, though only 16 MB of this is directly available to the user. However, the remaining 16 MB isn’t going to waste. It is being used as heap memory, which is available to applications. Previous NX series models had 16 MB of RAM but only 11 MB was available to the user.
This is a decent amount of memory. Not great, but decent, especially when you can store applications and files on both a Memory Stick and a CF card.
The NX80V uses Palm OS 5.0. Despite this, it includes Graffiti 2, which normally comes with OS 5.2. Graffiti 2 was introduced earlier this year and is supposed to be easier to learn than the original because the symbols used to make letters look more like the letters themselves.
However, Graffiti 2 isn’t your only option. The NX80V also comes with an additional form of text entry called Decuma. Rather than forcing the user to learn a new way of writing, as both versions of Graffiti do, Decuma allows you to print letters and words as you always have.
I’m still getting used to Decuma and at this point I’m slower with it than with either form of Graffiti but I think it has enormous potential. I’ll be able to give a much more complete report on my experiences with this method of text input in my full review of the NX80V.
Of course, you don’t have to fool around with either Graffiti 2 or Decuma if you don’t want to because this model has a built-in QWERTY keyboard. Sony has been putting keyboards on its handhelds for over a year now and it’s getting pretty good at it. The keyboard on the NX80V is the best I’ve used on any Sony model. The keys, though small, have enough separation that I rarely hit two keys at once. And they aren’t so hard to push that it’s hard on my fingertips.
Sadly, Sony is still making an elementary mistake. The keyboard on the NX80V makes you hold down the shift key while pressing another to make a capital letter. This works fine on a full-size keyboard but not on one you have to use with your thumbs, like the NX80V’s. Fortunately, you can get a handy little app called OKey for free that takes care of this problem.
The CompactFlash slot on the NX80V can be used for more than memory cards. You can also plug a Wi-Fi card into it and access the Internet if you have a Wireless Network in your home or office.
There is one caveat, though. You have to use either the WL100 or WL110 Wi-Fi card from Sony itself, not any of the others on the market. This costs about $150.
Once you get past this, though, I have to say that wirelessly surfing the Web on the NX80V is a dream.
First off, the range is amazing. I have an El Cheapo wireless access point but I was still able to connect to it with the NX80V not only from anywhere in my house but from anywhere in my yard.
Next, the Web browser that comes pre-installed is the best I’ve used on any handheld. This is a version of NetFront 3.0, which handles a long list of Internet standards and, most importantly, allows you to choose between viewing Web pages at their full width or reformatting them to fit on the NX80V’s screen. Plus, I have yet to get one of the “page too large” errors that cropped up all to often on previous Clie models.
And finally, NetFront lets you surf using the full 320 by 480 pixel screen. Viewing Web pages designed for desktop computers on a handheld can frequently be a frustrating experience but the NX80V’s large screen makes this bearable. I just wish you could rotate the screen 90 degrees, as so many web sites are laid out with a horizontal orientation.
Clie Mail, the email app that comes with this handheld, allows you to check several POP3 accounts. It also supports filters. You can attach a picture you’ve just taken with the NX80V’s digital camera to an email then send it off immediately.
By now you are probably familiar with the NX series’ “flip and twist” design. If not, this design allows this handheld to assume a variety of shapes.
When it’s closed, its screen and keyboard are protected inside. It opens into a clamshell shape, with the screen on one side and the keyboard on the other. This is the configuration for when you want to enter text with the keyboard; however, using Graffiti in this configuration isn’t easy. Fortunately, the handheld has another trick up its sleeve. The screen can rotate on a second axis located just above the hinge and then close down over the keyboard, putting it into the tablet shape most other handhelds are in all the time. On previous NX series models the application launching keys are inaccessible inside when in this configuration. With the NX80V Sony has added a second set just below the screen.
One of the most important decisions that has to be made when choosing a handheld is small size or lots of features. Though designers have made tremendous progress in miniaturization, they haven’t reached the point where they can fit all the features in the NX80V into a super-slim casing. As is, this model is 2.8 inches wide, 5.2 inches tall, .86 inches thick, and about 8 ounces.
At this point, it’s too early to draw any firm conclusions about the NX80V’s battery life. Nevertheless, so far it seems fairly good. I’ve been able to use this handheld for hours, frequently accessing the Net with a Wi-Fi card, without totally draining the battery.
After only a few days I’m not ready yet to make my final verdict on the NX80V but I will say that, at this point, it has been very impressive. If my evaluation continues along its present course, the final review is going to be quite a positive one.