REVIEW: Sharp Zaurus SL-C750 from Dynamism

by Reads (66,091)

Review of Sharp Zaurus SL-C750 from Dynamism
reviewed for BargainPDA by Ian Giblin with help from Vince Torti

Overview

The new Zaurus SL-C750 from Sharp is a versatile, linux-based PDA incorporating an XScale (PXA255) CPU at 400 MHz. In terms of software it is similar to the Zaurus SL-5600 which became available in the U.S. in April of 2003. The hardware, though, is significantly enhanced.

Contents

The content sections of this review are listed below. It makes sense to separate hardware and software discussion in any PDA; in this case it is more important because of the customisation which Dynamism have done.

Hardware:

Software:

(back to contents)

The Sharp SL-C750 and How To Get One

At the present time this device is not available from Sharp USA. It can be bought from specialist suppliers Dynamism, who provided our review unit and have been described as the technology equivalent of an exclusive jewelery store. As well as modifying the Operating System to speak English and shipping the unit direct to you in three days (from Japan), Dynamism add lifetime free technical support, warranty coverage (they pay all shipping costs), and a wealth of experience in using these devices.

Along with the C750, another similar model called the C760 is also available; that device has a larger battery, more memory and, obviously, ten more “cool points”.

(back to contents)

Packaging

The SL-C750 comes in a simple cardboard box with no clear plastic window. Just a few colour pictures of the device and some Japanese writing. The packaging is simple, light and easily recyclable.

Inside the box is the PDA securely positioned with cardboard spacers, along wih the USB connector (not a cradle), power supply, CD-ROM, incomprehensible (unless you can read Japanese) 224-page manual, another shorter booklet which looks like the quick-start guide, and a registration card with a very Japanese-looking address on it. Somehow I don’t think it would make it to Japan from Queens. Just about the only English text on this documentation was the Zaurus name and numerous references to ezaurus.com, the Japanese support site which does have some cool animations.

First Impressions

“Not as clumsy or random as an iPaq, this is an elegant PDA from an altogether more civilised age…”

OK, I admit that the other PDA designs have come a long way, but as for first impressions, this device blows the competition out of the water. The device feels solid, yet high tech. The way the screen swivels to transition from landscape mode (where it looks like a tiny laptop) to portrait mode (where it looks more like a “normal” PDA) is not entirely new but it is so beautifully implemented that it really gives you the best of both worlds. Even though my hands are turning it, I imagine the sound of well-oiled machinery each time I re-orient the screen.

After calming down enough to turn the device on, the next shock is the quality of the 640×480 display. It’s stunning. The OS and applications respond quickly and smoothly. The device does not crash or freeze. My co-workers stand and stare in awed silence. As the effect propagates out from midtown Manhattan, taxi drivers become strangely calm, and dogs stop barking across the city.

(back to contents)

Features

  • XScale PXA255 CPU at 400MHz
  • 640×480 transreflective touch screen, 3.7″ diagonal, backlit
  • 64 MB SDRAM (for running applications)
  • 32 MB Internal Flash (for storage, equivalent to hard drive)
  • Weight 220g (8 oz), Size 128x83x24 mm
  • Compact Flash (CF-II) and Secure Digital (SD) expansion slots
  • Infra-Red port
  • 3.5mm audio out
  • Landscape/Clamshell or portrait style, hot-switchable
  • Full QWERTY keyboard with bonus Japanese characters
  • Operating System: Linux, in the form of OpenPDA from MetroWerks
  • Suite of Personal Information Management (PIM) applications
  • Suite of Office Tools
  • Broad compatibility with established Sharp Zaurus software base

I tested the C750 using an SMC Wi-Fi card, a Targus Modem card, a Viking 512 MB Compact Flash card, and a Sandisk 64 MB Secure Digital card. There were no compatibility problems.

Design: Cool to the touch

About the same size as any other PDA or equivalent handheld computer, this device oozes style. The hard black front (which houses the screen) feels like marble but is clearly made of “purest unobtainium”. Sharp have made a giant leap in design and build quality since they intriduced the 5000 series Zaurus. The image below shows the C750 in portrait mode alongside a Sharp Zaurus SL-5600. The main visual difference between the C750 and the C760 is that the display casing is white rather than black (too bad – I think the black looks a lot better). As you can see, it is a little wider and a little shorter than the Zaurus SL-5600. You can also see how much brighter and more even the screen is.


The C750 (left) and my own SL-5600.

The so-called “clamshell” design means that the PDA opens like a tiny laptop. If cigarettes weren’t so unfashionable, I’d prefer to call this a “cigarette case” design, in the style of the multi-functional gadgets used by James Bond. I showed the C750 to a number of people, geek and non-geek, and everybody liked it. It was unusally [for a computer] popular with the ladies. The next picture shows the C750 and keyboard, with the screen in landscape mode. It hardly looks like the same device as the one above left, but it is.


The C750 in landscape mode, processing words.

The screen is functional in any position but the hinge locks at each end of its travel. It snaps closed with a reassuring “clunk” and similarly locks open, where it is almost parallel to the keyboard. In this position it can very comfortably be held in one hand with the index or middle finger resting along the back of the hinge, even while typing with both thumbs. This works slightly less well for left handed users because the pivot does not lock securely (it locks, but is a little wobbly, at least on this device), so the screen can rotate clockwise if you push it with the fingers of your right hand.

(back to contents)

Display

The screen is a 3.7″ diagonal, 640×480 16-bit (65000 colour) display. The clarity and contrast are excellent, and this is the best screen I have ever seen on a handheld device. The application icons use colour very well and web pages look fine, as do photographs opened in the image viewer. There were no visible bad pixels in the review device, although I’m not sure that I would necessarily be able to see them, they’re so tiny. The dot pitch of this display (calculated from 640×480 and a 3.7″ diagonal) is 0.12 mm/pixel; approximately half that of the IBM P96 (Trinitron) 19″ display on my PC. Most of the screen shots here have been scaled down to fit the 500-pixel standard for bargainPDA.

The display is attached by a 1/4 inch pivot to a hinge, which allows it to be opened and closed like a laptop, but also rotated through 180 degrees clockwise and then closed, which means that the display is now on the outside even though the PDA is shut. This can be done without shutting off the C750, and the screen automatically transitions are redraws after a second or so. This is pretty impressive to see. You’ve already seen the portrait mode in one of the pictures above; here’s another shot where I have rotated the screen to give landscape mode in the portrait configuration. This may be useful for web browsing where you don’t really need a keyboard. This shot also illustrates the location of the CF and SD slots, to the left and below respectively.


The C750 in portrait mode, but with the screen rotated back to landscape.

The light is an excellent backlight, very even and giving good colour representation. The brightness can be varied across 6 levels using Fn-1 (Holding down Fn and pressing the 1 key) and Fn-2 if the device is in landscape mode, or using a software tool if in portrait mode. As far as I could tell there is no way to completely switch off the light from the keyboard or buttons. In contrast to previous models of Zaurus, this screen is not easy to read in direct sunlight or with the light down very low.

(back to contents)

Portrait Mode and Tap-Buttons

There are five icons marked on the plastic screen cover itself; they’re along the bottom in portrait mode where they are intended to be used (I think). They provide tappable shortcuts to Zoom (zooms in… see below), Calendar, Address Book, Email and the Home Key. All these functions are also acessible through the keyboard. If you don’t like the default function of each of these you can change it to any installed application or some other functions like OK or Cancel.


The C750 also has a limited set of hardware controls on the (now) left of the device. These are a rocker wheel which is equivalent to the up/down cursor keys, and a butterfly-style control which has Cancel and OK functions. These can be seen in the picture below, which shows the left side of the C750 in portrait mode. There is a Wi-Fi Compact Flash card in the device. You can see the On/Off button on the extreme left, then the OK/Cancel butterfly (silver). Directly below that is the rocker for Up/Down. Further to the right are the IR port (black, almost eliptical), the Secure Digital socket and the power socket.


For the sake of completeness, here’s the other side of the device, which was furthest from the camera in the shot above. There’s not much to see. It is also upside-down. About the only interesting thing is the stylus slot which you can just about see on the left hand side. The stylus is not in there.


(back to contents)

Stylus

The Zaurus stylus is pretty standard, plain black plastic, 3.7″ long. This is the same stylus as in the 5000 series. When not in use the stylus lives along the front of the keyboard (viewed in landscape mode) and slots in from the right. For left handed users like myself this is really horrible. It is very difficult to get at the stylus with your left hand when holding the C750 in your right hand.

The stylus is also a little short for left handed use. Most of the precision action on a PDA happens on the right hand side of the screen. Closing windows, scrolling up or down, etc.; all right-handed. A right handed user can rest their hand on the right edge of their PDA and accurately reach the scroll bar, but a leftie has to reach right across the screen, without touching it.

The touch-screen is accurate and sensitive and did not need recalibrating while I was testing the unit. I tested writing on the Imagepad notepad (you can literally “draw” on the screen) and it was pretty impressive. The lack of friction, and not being able to press hard made my writing a bit messy though.

(back to contents)

Memory

According to the System Info applet, total memory on the device is 96MB, divided between 32MB of Flash Memory (for Storage of programs and the OS) and 64 MB of RAM, i.e. program ececution and data memory. Initially this was confusing; it seems to be at odds with Sharp’s original press release and Dynamism’s page, which both say that the C750 has 64 MB Flash and the C760 has 128 MB Flash. If you want to see for yourself, here are the Memory, Storage and Version tabs from that applet. Dynamism technial support explained to me that 32 MB of Flash Memory is reserved (and locked) by Sharp for the Operating System, which is why the apparent Flash is only 32 MB.

In real usage the memory on the review device translates into something like the following:

Memory: Total 62120 kB, 23348 kB used, 38772 kB free

Storage: Internal Flash total 32768 kB, 9392 kB used, 23376 kB Available

So, of my 64MB RAM, less than half has been used up by the OS (hence the 23348). As far as I can tell, this is not the same memory hardware used in the 5000 series, which means that it will not survive a battery failure. So if you happen to be writing your novel, having not saved your work (duh!) and the battery falls out, you’ll lose your work.

As an experiment I tried running all the applications I could find. They fill up the icon bar and eventually start to fall off the right hand side (where do they go?). Without loading any large web pages or Word documents, the applications themselves don’t take up much memory. Here’s a picture:


From left to right these applications along the bottom are System Info, Shell Prompt, ImagePad, NetFront WWW browser, Clock, CityTime, Calendar, ToDo List, Network Config and something called Migration which seems to be something to do with a device called the A300.

Also visible is the ‘A’ with the bar under it; this is an application which seems to provide user dictionaries, but I couldn’t work it out. I couldn’t find any documentation in English.

(back to contents)

Keyboard

I was pleasantly surprised by the keyboard. From the press and review shots I’d seen, I thought it was a horrible membrane-type keyboard. In fact, it’s a pretty reasonable membrane-type keyboard… The keys are a sort of soft plastic and are part of a continuous sheet, overlaid on microswitches, but each key is a thick slab of plastic and the microswitches give good tactile response. The C750 keyboard feels pretty big compared to my SL-5600 keyboard; most of the keys can only be reached from their side of the device (for example, I can’t type D F G H comfortably with either hand – I have to use both).

In terms of the available characters, the keyboard is a little odd in that the japanese characters have displaced some of the basic latin ones, mostly to Shift or Fn subsets. Overall there are probably more visibly available useful characters on this keyboard than on the small 5000 series devices, it’s just a matter of getting used to them.

(back to contents)

Other Input Options

Aside from the physical keyboard there are Handwriting Recognition, Graphical Keyboard, Multikey and Unicode. These are software rather than hardware but I’ll cover them here.

Graphical Keyboard and Multikey seem to be basically the same thing – a picture of a keyboard. One is slightly harder to read than the other. If you have the keyboard open, you’ll never bother with these. If you have the PDA in portrait mode (with the physical keyboard hidden) I think it will still be faster to switch back, type your stuff, and revert. Here’s a picture of the Graphical Keyboard. Just remember, in Real Life, those letters look like ants…

Handwriting recognition is excellent although you may need to train it for one or two characters. For example, I write the letter ‘o’ with a clockwise circle, probably because I’m left-handed, but the Zaurus offers no match at all to that. If I remember to write it anti-clockwise, it works fine. Alternatively there is a powerful ‘trainer’ accessible by touching a button on the right of the handwriting pad, which lets you watch the expected stylus strokes for each symbol and if necessary retrain the system. I have done this with the ‘o’ which now works every time, and I just learned how to write the ‘k’ which was also not being recognised.

Unicode gives you access to a standardised, expandable character set in tabular form. Think of this as the last word in character tables. It is pretty tiny though, and doesn’t use space very efficiently. I couldn’t see any way to change the configuration. Unicode entry is shown below, where I was using it to get curly brackets while editing a shell script.


In landscape mode, there were a few instances where I needed special characters and couldn’t find on the QWERTY keyboard but generally, I didn’t find myself using the other inputs much. The keyboard alternatives are essential once the screen is rotated into portrait mode, just because the keyboard is hidden.

(back to contents)

Battery Life

The SL-C750 comes with one removable battery rated at 950 mAh. Short battery life was one criticism levelled at the SL-5500 but corrected in the SL-5600 (with an 1800 mAh battery). While writing part of this review on a plane, I used the SL-C750 continually for about 3 hrs before getting a low battery warning. The light was on and I was playing MP3s two thirds of that time. In several other tests I was able to use the C750 for something like an hour, just editing Word documents, without seeing any noticable battery drain at all. A few times I forgot to plug in the power at night and still used the PDA for two days without noticing.

The SL-C760 has an 1700 mAh battery, so it would be nice to think it will last almost twice as long.

(back to contents)

OS and Basic Screen Navigation

The underlying Operating System is linux in the form of Qtopia from Trolltech and OpenPDA (formerly Embedix) from Metrowerks. This is a very well established system and has a good user and developer base. It also benefits from a certain amount of cross-platform portability, meaning that software can easily be ported from other systems to this one.

At the top level, this looks like any PDA OS. The main functionality is organised into four Home Pages or “Tabs”: Applications, Java, Settings and Files. The Java Tab seems completely pointless. This is just my opinion though. I object to applications being sorted by language rather than function, and doubly so when the Java applications are so completely irrelevant. If Java is so great, they should have included something useful or not bothered with the tab at all. I won’t bore you with describing the three Java “applications” on the C750.

You can add your own tabs, including a custom icon from a choice of what looks like hundreds. You cannot edit the system tabs. The pictures below show the four default Home Tabs; clicking on each one will open a new window in your browser showing the actual screenshot. All these screen shots are in portrait mode, but I only did this so they’d fit the review page better. They work just as well either way.

Applications Java
System Settings The File Manager

The Home Tabs (with the exception of the basic File Manager) are also accessible through the Q icon in the bottom left of the screen, which acts like a Start button in the Qtopia environment. Any customization of the Home Pages is reflected in the menu structure. For the benefit of the Zaurus junkies out there, I took some screenshots of these menus, linked here: Applications, Java, and Settings.

You can change the theme of the interface easily using the Appearance tool in the Settings Home Page; the differences are significant but not Earth-shattering. You can also set a graphical backdrop to the Home Tabs (other than the File Manager). This doesn’t seem to slow the interface down, and it has the potential to look great on this display. I only had some in-game screen shots from Jane’s F/A-18 available (sorry, NOT running on the Zaurus!) but you can see the effect here: Applications, Java, Settings.

Zoom Zoom

One feature of the C750 which affects many applications is the “zoom” capability. Using either the asterisk tap-button, the Q menu items (ZoomIn and ZoomOut), or the key combinations Fn-3 and Fn-4, you can zoom in and out in most application displays. What this really means is scaling the font and usually some other window furniture (e.g. column markers in a spreadsheet). It is very effective, and only limited by the font you are using. I made a GIF animation with 9 frames spaced at a few seconds apart to show you just how far you can go; it is 400K and a bit silly so I’ve linked it in here rather than make it compulsory viewing. Wait for it to load into its pop-up window and it should cycle automatically.

Help? There is No Help.

There is a built-in help system but unfortunately it has not been translated from Japanese. The Japanese characters come out as little squares. Most of it looks like this, which is the help page for Migration:

Help? There is no help.

Really, the best place to look for help and documentation on any of this is Sharp’s US web site, where you can download PDF manuals for almost all the latest applications on the 5000 series, which are almost identical to those on the SL-C750.

(back to contents)

Personal Information Management (PIM) Tools

PIM Applications: Address Book, Calendar, ToDo List.

The Address book is pretty standard – adding, deleting and editing entries is easy. You can choose which fields appear on the list and their order, as well as the overall sort order. The display uses colour very well.

The address book shows its Japanese origins more than most of the applications, firstly because the quick tabs labelled a,b,c,d… in the U.S. version now appear as ai,ka,sa,ta…, and secondly because it includes extra fields in each record for pronunciation. I had no trouble synchronising my adresses but the imported list could not be jumped through at all using the tabs.

Contacts can be beamed back and forth between the Zaurus and any other IR-capable PDA easily, although only one at a time from what I could tell, using .vcf files. I was hoping that I’d be able to hold the Zaurus near a telephone and have it tone-dial a number for me, but it can’t do that.

The Calendar allows a day, week, month and year view and you can set up reminders, repeating events, and so on. In the month view you can have a text format (which soon gets crowded) or graphical, which uses colour coded stripes to show events. This works well. Having used the application for some time on my 5600, I have found a few things which are annoying. For example, setting an appointment to repeat daily results in an entry in the calendar for every day forever. It would be so much nicer if it just updated each day to indicate the next scheduled event. The high resolution screen on the C750 really ehnances the usability of the calendar, as shown in the two screen shots below.

Month view showing text labels Day view showing ToDo items

The ToDo list, like the Calendar and Adress book, is adequate. It syncs with Outlook or Qtopia Desktop and is fairly useful for managing jobs. ToDo list items appear on the calendar in “day view” mode. This is a step towards the “Today” screen which familiar from other PDAs, and is an improvement over the version of the PIM Suite in the current Zaurus 5000 series ROMs.

I know some users hate the Zaurus PIM Suite; I think it is good enough, but for a long time I used a plain text file for my address book (it’s random access, easy to search, and can contain any fields you like in any order…). From reading posts on mailing lists and newsgroups, the consensus seems to be that the bundled Zaurus apps can’t touch DateBook on the Palm platform. There are third-party applications available for the 5000 series (e.g. from theKompany) but check C750 compatibility before you try to install anything.

(back to contents)

Syncing and the PC Software

This is where I ran into some trouble with the translation. The support CD which comes with the C750 presents an all-Japanese splash screen when you start it up. I emailed Dynamism tech support who said I should install the software in the PCSOFT directory and they explained which option I should click on each screen. Fair enough, but it was a little unnerving with the screens all looking like this one:


After following the instructions, I got a setup looking like this:


As you can see there are some fairly convincing icons there on the desktop, but they’re labeled in a language that even a Real Japanese Person may have trouble understanding. I think that dialogue box says “you must now restart Windows” or something like that. By this point I was a bit nervous.

The good news is that you can actually bypass all of this scary stuff by downloading the latest package for the SL-5500 from Sharp; it includes a ROM upgrade which is no use for the C750 but it also includes the sync software in English and all the application manuals as PDF files. Here’s the page. I tried this myself (Dynamism didn’t suggest it, so don’t ask them for tech support on it!) and it worked fine. You can also then easily switch your sync method from “USB I/O” to “TCP/IP” which is much better because it allows proper shared-directory file access to the device and allows you to telnet into the C750 if you want to. This screenshot shows you a telnet window above a Filer window, both benefitting from the TCP/IP connection. The Zaurus gets an IP address of 192.168.129.201 by default, but you can change that. Below the two windows in the screenshot, you can see all the happy little icons, labelled in Eglish.

Rather than using a cradle, the C750 and C760 both use a special USB cable to connect to the host PC, meaning that they are still perfectly usable. The picture below shows the power (left), USB (bottom) and audio out (top) all connected. There’s also a Compact Flash Wi-Fi card installed, which does not come with the device.


One aspect which is not apparent from this picture is that you can plug the power cable into the bottom of the USB connector, that is, it would appear as a second cable running into the plug at the bottom of the screen. This is easier than plugging it in separately, but I didn’t realise it was possible until I was packing the device back up. It’s a nice touch which emphasises how much thought has gone into the design of the C700 series Zaurus.

The actual process of syncing with Outlook or Qtopia Desktop is very robust and quite fast. I use it regularly on my SL-5600 and it was identical on the C750. You can choose whether to synchronise both ways or just one or the other, as well as selecting which types of data are transferred, and so on. I think it’s pretty good. As far as I know the standard Qtopia software does not allow you to sync wih linux, but the very latest version does seem to allow that (as well as extra stuff like syncing over a WiFi connection) and is available from Trolltech. I haven’t tested it myself though.

(back to contents)

Bundled Software: Office Applicaions

Word Processor (Hancom MobileWord)

Hancom MobileWord provides a very high level of word processor functionality, and is an application I use a lot on my 5600 (the versions seem to be identical except for the zoom capability on the C750). You can load and save Microsoft Word compatible documents as well as Hancom’s own format which is slightly more compact. Most of the Word features I use on a desktop PC are there with the exception of an equation editor and the more exotic “Save As…” options, e.g. Save As HTML. Even with these constraints, I think that Hancom MobileWord is one of the best pieces of software on the OpenPDA platform.

MobileWord benefits enormously from the 640×480 screen and fully supports the Zoom-Zoom feature. You can now fit a full page of text across the screen; although the writing is pretty tiny, it’s still perfectly readable.

&nbsp&nbsp

The only bug I could find was that on this system it sometimes forgets the global font setting for a document; not the size, just the font name.

Spreadsheet (Hancom MobileSheet)

This is another example of a really solid PDA application. It is fast, stable and provides strong compatibility with desktop Microsoft Excel. As far as I could tell, all the functionality of Excel is available here, and that’s quite a feat. The various tool bars can be cycled through or disabled. Being able to quickly zoom in or out is great here, and the cell row and column markers are scaled automatically. Below you can see a couple of screen shots where I zoomed in and out a few levels. Click on each one to see the full sized image. These are both perfectly usable on the C750 screen.

&nbsp&nbsp

The only caveat regarding the spreadsheet is that the XScale RISC CPU does not have a Floatin’ Point Unit (FPU) and this means you’ll find disproportionate speed differences between HancomSheet and OpenOffice or MS Excel if you try anything too elaborate. This is a shortcoming of all XScale-based systems and is nothing to do with linux or Windows.

Presentation

The application which calls itself Presentation provides slide show capabilities but does not support PowerPoint files. It is installed on the C750 out of the box. It’s basic but effective; it supports playlists, full screen mode, custom timing and so on. A few screen shots are below. As before, click them to see the original in a pop-up if you like. (Note: An application called Hancom Presenter is shipped with the Zaurus 5600, although it’s not pre-installed. It can display PowerPoint files and is probably available for the C700 series).

&nbsp&nbsp

(back to contents)

Games

Games? There are no games.

(back to contents)

Multimedia

Music Player

The Zaurus Music Player can handle WAV and MP3 audio files. The MP3 sound quality is excellent though the headphones. It is good that you can close the PDA (the screen is deactivated automatically) and continue to use the MP3 player.

This application is an improvement over the one which shipped with the 5000 series but is still disappointing. You can make playlists of files, but you can’t save them. I would also have been nice to have a minimal display which was in a floating window, but I’m not sure the OS would allow this. The Music Player is definitely a candidate for being replaced witha third-party application as soon as possible after you get your Zaurus. As far as I can tell it is not possible to uninstall applications you didn’t add yourself, so even if you replace the Music Player you won’t easily be able to reclaim the Storage space. The Music Player is shown on the left below.

Music Player Video Player

Video Player

The movie player (shown on the right, above) seems to be just a different front-end for the Music Player (in the 5000 series version, they are the same application) but unfortunately this front-end has not been translated. It plays MPEG1, MPEG2 and MPEG4 movies. I tried a few but they were a bit jumpy and I had probably not encoded them with the appropriate settings, and anyway the menus are just question marks, so it’s hard to use. The Video Player is really intended to be used in conjunction with devices like Sharp’s B3 Series AQUOS LCD TV which can apparently record TV programs in MPEG4 format.

Alternative video players are available for the Zaurus series from third parties.

(back to contents)

Networking

I very easily set up a Wi-Fi connection using my SMC 802.11b CF card (model SMC2642W) and the encryption key for my home WLAN. It was as simple as putting the CF card in the slot and following the prompts in the Network Setup Wizard which came up. This is all in English, and worked perfectly for me. Below is a shot of the network settings which I configured; one is a DHCP and the other is a fixed IP (which allows me to telnet into the zaurus more easily fom other machines). The Wi-Fi hub in this case was an SMC Barricade 7004VWBR, using 64-bit encryption. VPN options on the C750 include IPsec but I did not test this.


(back to contents)

Email

This is a fairly advanced email client. It offers multiple mail boxes and accounts, filtering, download rules, file attachments, and can be used either as a stand-alone email client (if the Zaurus is networked) or as a synchronized partner application to Outlook. You can also switch back and forth between internal email folders on a CF or SD card. The email client supports POP3 and IMAP4 but not secure IMAP. The lack of secure IMAP support is probably the main problem with this emailer; in other respects it is very good.

The email systen is well integrated with the Address Book, allowing easy transfer of addresses between the two. If you haven’t networked the Zaurus then you can write “synchronization emails” offline and send them from your Outlook account. A few screenshots are below. I was hoping to fill up the mailboxes but have not had the chance (DSL got struck by lightning, then the power blackout, fate not on my side, etc etc.). Note that the empty boxes (indicating a missing translation from Japanese) are only there because that is the default mail box. You could easily set up a new one and call it something more meaningful. The “Synchronization” email box contains messages which will be sent through Outlook next time you synchronise.

&nbsp &nbsp

Although I don’t use the email client on my 5600 much, I think I would use this one on the C750 just because it has now reached the point of being able to fit a page across the screen. I don’t like the way my messages get wrapped around on the lower resolution 5600 screen.

(back to contents)

NetFront3 WWW Browser

Initially I was very disappointed to see NetFront3 on this PDA and not the excellent Opera 6.0 web browser which ships with the 5000 series Zaurus. NetFront3 has a very simplified interface and somewhat chubby icons (think Windows XP). After playing with it for a while, though, I found it to be a pretty strong piece of software. It has all the usual features – bookmarks, favourites, etc., but also has its own scaling capability which is so crucial on a PDA when you’re not viewing PDA optimised web sites. This scaling is in parallel with the zoomable fonts on the C750, so you can, for example, scale all the images and format down by 50% but then compensate for this by scaling up the font size. This results in a very usable display; combined with the high resolution screen it is a very nice way to surf the web. On the left below is an example of some of the settings (which are quite extensive) and on the right is a BargainPDA web page loaded from a CF card when I did not have network access.

&nbsp

I was successfully on-line for one evening and I took some screen shots, shown below. On the left is Dynamism’s C750 page and on the right is a BargainPDA review of a game. The game review has the settings I described above; click on each one to see the real screen shot. You should have no trouble reading the text in the right hand image, although I’m not sure how comfortable it would be to use like this for an extended period (remember, the real screen is only a 3.7″ diagonal).

&nbsp

Opera 6.0 has more features than NetFront3, but I didn’t miss them and NetFront3 is impressively fast. Neither this nor any other software on the C750 crashed while I was using it, despite some pretty frenzied tappng and typing. As a net-surfing experience, this is a great platform once you add the wireless card.

(back to contents)

Other Software

A few other applications come pre-installed. They’re pretty basic so I’ll just link a screen shot into the list:

The Text Editor is very basic and doesn’t handle file extensions well. Better text editors are avalable free.

Several more apps are on the CD. Installing extra applications is easy – copy the .ipk file to the Zaurus, run it, decide if you want to install the software internally or on a CF or SD card, and you’re done. Any application you install yourself can be uninstalled easily using the Add/Remove Programs tool, and trying to install a later package of something you already installed prompts you to remove the previous version before you get into trouble.

(back to contents)

Software: Availability and Compatibility

This is linux, and there will be people who’ll tell you that “if it isn’t available, you can just compile it [or write it] yourself…”. I am not going to tell you that. For most users, the available software will be a subset of the current SL-5000 series compatible applications, which still means a few thousand programs but does have some glaring gaps. For example, one of my criticisms of the SL-5600 is that there’s no RealAudio player. True, there is a RealAudio project for linux but there’s no client for the Zaurus yet, which means you can’t use the device as an internet radio. I really really wanted to do that.

On the other hand, there are a lot of good sites out there with Zaurus software, much of which is free. If you want to get an idea of the types of applications available, the best place to start is the Zaurus Software Index.

One significant player in the commercial Zaurus software market is theKompany, who have released new builds of many applications for the C700 series. These are not just compatible versions of 5000 series software, but are specifically optimised for the C700 format and hardware.

If all you need is the basic office functionality, you will get that pre-installed. If you’re a regular linux user and want SSH or anything like that, you can get it from the link above. If you want to run a game like Interstellar Flames, you may be out of luck – not because it won’t run, but because it runs sideways on the screen! I was pleased to find that when an application is forced into portrait mode, the cursor keys get reassigned correctly (i.e. they are rotated so that they work intuitively when you hold the keyboard sideways). That isn’t really enough to make the games usable though. I tried Interstellar Flames and Jack the Unipsychle, both of which forced the screen to portrait mode and then ran very smoothly, although they weren’t really playable.

Note to other Zaurus users: I also tested a number of other applications which I use regularly on the SL-5600 including SafeDee, which worked very well. The qpeEmbeddedConsole was fine in principle, but doesn’t fully support font scaling and the text was painfully small. Uninstalling it broke the Japanese terminal application, which I reinstalled from the CD and stuck with.

I did not notice any significant speed difference between the C750 and my SL-5600 (which uses a 400 MHz PXA250 chip), either in opening applications or viewing images.

(back to contents)

Linux Comments, or “Give Linux a Chance”

Aside from being a very stable OS (I didn’t need to reboot once in the 10 days I was using the C750), linux does have a strong following and there’s lots of support available on th Internet. I would recommend that anyone interested look at the excellent Unofficial Zaurus FAQ maintained by Bill Kendrick and the Zaurus Software Index I mentioned above.

You can completely avoid the command line on the Zaurus, but it would be a great shame to do so. The command line (usually accessed via a terminal application, which is loosely equivalent to a DOS Shell in Windows) is really very powerful. For a very quick idea of the capabilities of the command line scripting system, try the Advanced Bash Scripting Guide by Mendel Cooper. While testing the C750 I wrote a pretty substantial “bash script” (again, loosely equivalent to a DOS batch file but far mor epowerful) for converting file formats, edited a lot of C code, and frequently just opened a terminal prompt to move files around or process groups of files using wildcards – something which is very difficult to do in a standard graphical File Manager. Below are a few screen shots from the built-in terminal application. As usual, click the image to see the real screenshot.

&nbsp

I found that the OS was very familiar to me after using my SL-5600 since April (it’s bash 2.05 on both systems). Unfortunately the C750 keyboard was tough for me to use in some situations. The FN and Shift keys are a fair distance apart, making it difficult to get them both with one thumb. So, pressing Fn-Shift to get control characters Ctrl-a or Ctrl-e is very difficult at first. I’m not sure that’s a real gripe though because over all I think the keyboard is at least as usable as the 5600’s.

(back to contents)

Conclusion

This is a beautifully designed and built device with a solid, versatile OS. The translation from Japanese is not 100%, but the main things missing are help files and some address book functionality. Compatibility with Windows was excellent and transfer of files is easy once you download the right software. The lack of built-in Wi-Fi or BlueTooth may be an issue for some users, but if you’re prepared to add your own CF Wi-Fi card the networking is silky smooth and the outstanding 640×480 screen turns this into the ultimate couch (or street) surfing accessory. Above and beyond what many people expect from a PDA, if you need to edit Word or Excel documents, this device will put laptop power in your hand, literally.

Everyone has their own idea of the perfect PDA. From a personal perspective, this is a step up from the SL-5600 which I am already very keen on. It comes closer to realising the potential of true handheld computing, even if it has a few rough edges. This device does not have the strongest PIM suite on the market, but it is very usable and compatible with the Windows desktop. If Office and OpenOffice compatibility, networking (including browsing the web), programming or any kind of image viewing are high on your priority list, this is an excellent choice and possibly the best PDA for the job right now… if you can afford it.

Pros

  • Excellent screen, very high defnition
  • Rugged build does not compromise on style
  • Full QWERTY keyboard of a nice size
  • Fast, responsive OS and applications
  • Nice USB connection, doesn’t need a cradle
  • High level of office compatibility out of the box
  • Network setup is a breeze
  • Excellent PC sync. software available from Sharp
  • Hot switchable landscape/portrait works nicely
  • Good battery life
  • It’s a babe magnet. Or a dude magnet, if you prefer

Cons (General)

  • Lacks BlueTooth, Wi-Fi, microphone and SDIO
  • Screen is hard to read in direct sunlight
  • Some ambiguity over what Zaurus software will run on it
  • A few gaps in the linux software stable
  • Not well suited for left-handed use
  • No games in the retail build
  • Not exactly a bargain PDA
Cons (Translation-related)
  • Incomplete OS translation from Japanese to English
  • The bundled PC software is pretty scary to use

The Sharp Zaurus SL-C750 and C760 can be purchased from Dynamism, currently priced at $699 and $799 respectively.

LEAVE A COMMENT

0 Comments

|
All content posted on TechnologyGuide is granted to TechnologyGuide with electronic publishing rights in perpetuity, as all content posted on this site becomes a part of the community.