During my stay here in Las Vegas for CES, Sony was kind enough to lend me one of its just-announced CLIE NZ90 handhelds for about 20 minutes. While this isn’t anywhere near enough time for a full review, I hope to answer many of your initial questions about this interesting, new device.
The CLIE NZ90 is the first handheld to include an integrated 2 megapixel (1600 pixels by 1200 pixels) digital camera, and also the first to include a built-in flash. I don’t think I need to explain to you what a big advantage having a flash is. It was just on Monday that I told Steve that a built-in camera was an important part of my ideal handheld but, unlike all current ones, it needed a flash. However, with that said, I expected to have to wait another couple of years; I had no idea Sony was about to introduce one.
Image quality with the NZ90 is quite good, especially when compared to other digital cameras built into current handhelds and smartphones. (I’ve included an image I took of our table at the Sony reception so you’d at least have an example of what it can do.)
I was a bit worried about the lens until I noticed that the NZ90 has a built-in lens cover. Nice touch. I regret that, because of the short time I had with the NZ90, I didn’t get to try out its video recording capabilities. Fortunately, Sony has promised to loan me one of these in the near future so look for a full review.
Obviously, the most significant part of this handheld is the camera, and it’s significant in two ways. One, it significantly increases the usefulness of the NZ90; two, it significantly increases its size. There’s no other way to say it, this thing is big, larger even than the NX series (see picture below). It’s still pocketable, but barely.
Despite its similarity to the NR and NX series, Sony has actually made some important changes to the basic design. Almost nothing is where it was on those previous models.
As with the NX series, the NZ90 has a slot for Sony’s WL100 wireless networking card, however, now it’s on the bottom rather the top. In fact, it plugs in where the HotSync port would normally be found. The HotSync port, meanwhile, has been moved to the back of the unit, just below the bulge for the camera. Obviously, the NZ90 requires a whole new cradle.
One of the biggest complaints people have with their NR and NX series CLIEs is that when the screen is closed over the keyboard, what I tend to call tablet mode, the application launch buttons cannot be accessed. Sony has addressed this by adding four small duplicate buttons below the screen. I’m not talking about the small icons at the bottom of the screen previous models had; these are actual hardware buttons. While this doesn’t include the Up and Down buttons, you still have the Jog Dial for that.
Finally, the keyboard has also been redesigned with bigger, easier to press keys.
The CLIE line has never been famous for outstanding battery life and I’d be willing to bet the NZ90 will also use a lot of power as well. For people who want more stamina (as they say in Asia), the NX90 includes a removable Smart Lithium battery. The idea is that you purchase an extra battery or two and extend your CLIE’s usable time that way.
Because it’s a Smart Lithium battery, it’s, well, smarter than most other batteries. It can display such things as how many minutes you have before the battery is exhausted, how many times the battery has been discharged and recharged, and whether long use has degraded the battery’s performance.
I’ve already mentioned the NZ90’s slot for the WL100 wireless networking card, allowing it to tap into the growing network or 802.11b networks. Well, the NZ90 also boasts integrated Bluetooth, allowing it to participate in adhoc networks with other Bluetooth-enabled devices. For instance, I had fun at CES taking pictures with the NZ90 and then transferring them to the other NZ90 units that were in the same room.
On the Inside
While many changes have been made to its exterior, at its heart the NZ90 is essentially a clone of the NX series. Both run Palm OS 5.0 on 200 MHz XScale processors, and both have 16MB of RAM. Unfortunately, like the NX series, a big chunk of this RAM isn’t available to the user; only 11 MB can be used for storing apps and files, which practically necessitates owning a Memory Stick.
Most of the software that comes on the NZ90 is the same as was on the NX series, but there is one major change. The NZ90 comes with something called PiscelViewer, which helps you view the different types of files you may receive as email attachments, including Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, plus Adobe Acrobat and a bunch of image types. While PiscelViewer works very well, as its name connotes, its a viewer–no changes can be made to documents. This is an important distinction from Documents to Go, which does allow Microsoft Office files to be edited and came with previous CLIE models but not this one.
I hope I’ve been able to answer most of your questions about this upcoming device. Like I said, look for a full Brighthand review in a few weeks…and start saving your $800.