In depth – Sony Clie UX50

by Reads (50,901)

While it won’t be announced here in the North America until later today, the new Sony Clie UX50 is already making waves from it’s debut in Japan. The tiny clamshell-shaped handheld is the first Palm-powered PDA to include dual wireless, and uses a form-factor previously excluded from the Palm world.

The UX50 will feature an ARM processor that was custom designed by Sony explicitly for use in multimedia applications. Though it’s clock speed, fluctuating between 8 and 123 MHz depending on need, is low compared to other handhelds running Palm OS 5, it includes a Digital Signal Processor specifically for MPEG audio and video, and a dedicated graphics acceleration chip onboard. This reputedly enables the UX50 to playback MPEG video at a full 30 frames per second, as well as produce high-quality 3D graphics via a version of OpenGL.

According to first reports, it has no less than four different banks of memory. The first is 16 MB of traditional memory, the same as on almost any Palm device. All of this is available to the user. The second is an additional 16 MB of RAM that is used for the built-in applications and system heap space. None of this is available to the user. Third, a 22 MB section of internal flash ROM, which acts as a kind of internal Memory Stick. It uses a file system, and can have files such as MP3s placed in it that can’t be put in normal memory. And fourth, there is an additional section of flash memory, not user accessible, which acts as an automatic backup, saving the contents of your RAM if the battery gets low.

If you’re confused, don’t feel bad. This is an awfully complicated system. We can summarize it this way: the UX50 has 16 MB of usable RAM, and a 22 MB internal memory card.

The screen is a 480 x 320 pixel LCD of the type used by Sony in their NX series, though here the screen is placed in a landscape orientation. This marks the first time Sony has used a landscape screen, and is possibly the most significant support for running landscape on the Palm OS ever. We have yet to see how this new screen orientation will affect existing applications.

The new Clie also features two forms of wireless communication, making it the first Palm-powered handheld to integrate both Bluetooth and WiFi.

The physical casing and machinery is 4 inches long by 3.4 inches wide, 0.7 inches thick when closed, and weighs just 6.2 ounces despite it’s magnesium casing.

The UX50 contains a rechargable Lithium-Ion battery which Sony claims will provide 7 hours use between charges. Tests seem to indicate that this may be an attainable amount, assuming that wireless is turned off and the backlight kept at minimum. The UX50 will also have an optional extended battery pack that will double it’s available power. See below for a photo.

We have no firm word on U.S. pricing, however the Clie UX50 is expected to retail for US $699, based on the price in Japanese Yen and previous equipment markup rates. Release date is August 9th in Japan, sometime in September for the U.S..

Let us also take a look at the main body of the UX50:

UX50 closed top

That small round wheel on the front of the case is the jog dial. It’s a most unorthodox design,  as they’re usually a disc placed on the side, parallel the case.

Here’s something that’s noticibly absent–the traditional PDA docking connector. Unlike previous Clies, the UX50 has no sync connector. This begs the question: how do you sync it to a PC? The answer may be found on the left side of the UX50.

UX50 left side

On the bottom right corner of the case in this photo is a cover over a USB connector. It’s possible that this is how the UX will sync, using a USB bridge cable to the desktop PC. I’m not sure though–if you look at the following picture, you’ll see the charging attachment for the UX50. If you were going to have a physical cable connection, you would want to do it cleanly, and the best way to do that would be through the bottom charging connector. However, with only two pins, this doesn’t seem possible either. I think that Sony is banking on the idea that anyone who buys the UX will want to sync wirelessly, with WiFi or Bluetooth.

UX50

Unfortunately, another effect of the lack of a sync port is that all the previous Clie accessories are useless with the UX. No serial cables, no cradles, no sync/charge cables.

Here is two pictures of the UX50 with the optional extended battery, the first picturing them side by side.

UX50 with extended battery

The second shows the battery attached to the UX. It appears to increase the thickness by about 60%.

UX50 /w attached battery

The keys appear to be larger and possibly rubberized, and reportedly are backlit similar to the keyboard lighting on the NX73/80 models.

UX50 open front view

Here is a glimpse at Sony’s new user interface, and the wireless status LEDs on the front panel.

UX50 launcher

Here are a series of three size comparisons between the new UX50 and the NX80.

UX50 size comparison 1

UX50 size comparison 2

UX50 size comparison 3

 

Thanks to ClieClub in Japan for the pictures. More from the set are available here:

http://www.clieclub.jp/review/rev_ux50/index.html

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