Review — Sony Clie NX60 and NX70V
Sony owns the record for the most PDA’s ever to be released in one year. The Clie NX60 and NX70V mark the ninth and tenth PDA’s to be released under the Sony brand this year. At this breakneck pace you expect some to be winners and others to fall short. Common sense tells us that no one can be perfect…or can they?
The Clie NX60 and NX70V are roughly the same device, so this review covers both of them with one exception. The NX70V has a built in camera, so any camera related comments apply to the NX70V rather than the NX60. I’ll also compare the NX’s directly to the Palm Tungsten T and not much else. High-end Palm buyers only have two choices – an NX or a Tungsten, so I’ll do my best to make comparisons where appropriate.
Packaging/In The Box
Sony continues to package in their familiar bright green box. While it’s not as elegant as the Tungsten packaging, it’s efficient and should please a few more environmentalists than the Palm effort. I normally wouldn’t even note something like packaging, but it was quite a spectacle with the Tungsten. Let’s just say Sony remained on their minimalist path, which is fine with me.
The cradle is large and will take up a decent sized footprint on your desk. I was a little disappointed to learn Sony opted not to include their new cradle with integrated speaker. Who knows, maybe that will make it in the next version.
The stylus is the Sony standard. It’s a bit light for my liking, so I have replaced it with one from Proporta. It’s much heavier and makes PDA usage much better.
The controller fits into the Sony adaptor on the Clie which controls volume, fast forward, skip and such. Sony also includes a set of headphones that plug into the controller. The headphones are pretty cheap, I think you’ll want to replace them immediately.
The NX’s use roughly the same body as the popular NR70 and NR70V. Those of you who have handled the new NX series will quickly realize my pun. The NX is oddly rough feeling in the hand. Sony moved away from the silky smooth case of the NR series for some reason. In my first thoughts article, I mentioned that the roughness may help prevent dropping. I don’t have scientific evidence to prove this theory, but I have not dropped the NX70V that is my test unit…yet.
I do have to point out one issue with the body. I’m not tough on my PDA’s by any means, but the case of the NX70V I have seems to scratch very easily. Nothing major, just a bunch of blemishes on the body as it’s rubbed against things in my bag or pocket. I strongly recommend a case, when they come out, to protect against this issue.
For the unfamiliar, the NX’s have a clamshell design that reveals a QWERTY keypad when opened. The keyboard half of the PDA also holds the four main application launcher buttons along with the up and down buttons. The bulge with the hinge contains the power button, which also controls the backlight, the microphone and recording light and in the case of the NX70V, the camera with capture/record button.
The left side of the body houses the audio out, which continues to rely on the Sony-only MP3 adapter. I’m not a big fan of their implementation and wish they would move to a standard stereo jack. The other left side features include the jog dial, back button and hold function. The jog dial is great for navigating long pages of content, especially when browsing the Web. I never used the back button much, but did remap it to take me to the main launcher screen, which doubled it usefulness for me.
Across the top you’ll find the standard Memory Stick slot, IR port and the compact flash slot. At the time of this review, the only use for the compact flash slot is to house the Sony CF WiFi card. There is a lot of speculation that the CF slot will support any CF card for which drivers are written. I’m sure that will turn out to be true, but no one’s released anything yet to prove the theory.
The back of the device contains the speaker, which is strong enough for game and system noise, but hardly suitable for listening to music. The other problem is that the speaker is often covered by the hand while in use, so sounds are frequently muffled. The backside also has the reset button, serial number and other info. The bottom of the device has the adaptor that slides into the cradle for syncing and into peripherals for expansion.
Sony has stepped up to the table with a ton of power. The NX’s are powered by a 200 MHz Intel XScale processor. This horsepower doesn’t mean much to most users though, unless you’re in to the multimedia aspects of the Clie. Pictures save very fast, at a touch over a second each. The NX’s really shine when it comes to video though, streaming off of the Memory Stick with no problem.
Sony wants to sell accessories with all of their products, that’s no secret. However, their intentions are quite obvious given the memory configuration of the Clie. The NX’s come with 16MB of memory, which is not much for a color Palm OS device. It gets worse though, as 4MB of that memory is used with system applications that cannot be deleted by conventional means. Want salt in the wound? Another 1MB is reserved for the virtual memory of sorts that the Memory Stick uses to run its programs. It’s not unfair to expect to buy memory for your PDA, but your options are very limited and you’ll need the memory quickly. I strongly suggest buying at least one 128MB stick for programs and another for MP3’s.
Sony did include flashable ROM though, which might be nice. What that means is when Palm OS 6 comes out next year, you might be able to upgrade. I say might, because it should be technically possible, but there’s no official word from Sony regarding support for this operation or cost.
There’s little to be said here. The screen is great as usual and the NX again takes advantage of the virtual graffiti area which makes a big difference. I’m very happy to see improved support for the virtual graffiti area in the standard Palm applications. There’s not much outside support yet, but I’m sure we’ll see that continue to grow. For now, be happy that it’s used at least twice as much as the NR series.
Keep in mind the screen also swivels, which lets you have a number of configurations for the PDA, including the standard-feeling position which hides the keyboard.
Where the Palm Tungsten fails, the Clie NX series sings, literally. The Tungsten didn’t ship with any MP3 software, so alas you cannot use the assumed MP3 ability. Sony has been using MP3 software and hardware for many moons now, it’s a shame Palm couldn’t learn something there. Anyway, the MP3 player works very well and the process of copying songs to the memory stick is simple. Your PC will treat the Memory Stick as an external hard drive, just drag and drop to the right folder and you’re in business.
The NX camera has been upgraded essentially three times over the NR. The NX version sports 310,000 pixels, which in comparison to digital camera is weak. So don’t expect a bunch of great photos. The camera should be thought of as a fun tool to catch something at the spur of the moment. Pictures can be taken up to 640 by 480 pixels.
The swiveling head design is the same and continues to add a good deal of flexibility. That is unless you have the WiFi card in place, which blocks the camera from looking out the back, or straight ahead, depending on orientation.
While the pictures can be fun, the movies can be a lot of fun. The ability to record video is a nice upgrade the NR series does not have. Recording a movie is little different that shooting a picture. With an lightly used memory stick, I had the option to record almost an hour of footage with sound. Again, we’re not talking great quality (160 x 112 pixels), but the playback is quite nice and can be made full screen.
Here’s another upgrade that Sony threw in this time, but I can’t help but wonder why it wasn’t available before. Audio clips are saved as WAV files, which given Sony’s proprietary nature, is nice. The audio clips can of course be exported or put into use on the Clie for things like alarms.
I touched on the speaker earlier but I’ll add a few more comments. It has been moved up slightly in comparison to the NR series so it’s not blocked in the cradle. Your hand will still often times cover it though, muffling it. You’ll never get great quality, but Sony’s still not on the level of many Pocket PC’s.
A brief note. Most of your Palm OS 4 and later applications will work in OS 5. However, many will not, leading to frequent crashes and fatal errors. Check with the software manufacturer before installing to see if there are any updates available. Astraware, Cutting Edge and others have all released Palm OS 5 compliant updates, although some are still hit or miss. Just know that it will take a little time for the software to catch up with the hardware.
Sony does ship the Clie’s with a bunch of extra software and a few things stand out:
Launcher — Sony went out an a limb to redesign the venerable Palm OS application launcher. The gist of the launcher is that you scroll through all the applications with the jog dial. You can add up to twelve shortcuts to a “favorites” type menu for easy access. The drop down in the upper right hand corner on most PDA’s has been moved to the left and is used as the main category navigation.
I’m not a big fan of this new launcher. If you have more than the standard compliment of programs, you’ll find the menu system to be quite tedious. There are tons of third party options available if you want to modify the launcher, so I suggest you go that route and also suggest Sony leave it alone. At least you can quickly switch to standard view with large or small icons.
Flash Player — The release of the NX devices was delayed by at least two weeks so they could be enabled to play Flash movies. In concept this sounds great, but the support does not exist for the Web browser and I’ve found little use for the Flash player outside of the Clie demo that comes with the device. Good first step, but not much here, yet.
The big W. This is where the Bluetooth compatibility of the Tungsten shined and where the WiFi card and Clie hid in the shadows. As it stand now, to go wireless you have to buy Sony’s WL100 wireless card, street price $149. The card install and configuration is fine, but it does block the camera as noted above. The software side of the equation includes Clie Mail and NetFront 3.0, the Web browser.
The Clie Mail program is actually pretty nice and runs well on the WiFi network. It’s easy to navigate and is integrated with other Clie functions quite well.
Now, regarding the Web experience. It just plain sucks. How NetFront got to version 3.0 is beyond me. It seems they just skipped the first two versions. It is virtually impossible to browse any Web site using this software. How you ask? Imagine going to any page. Yahoo, ESPN, CNN, whatever. Now, as the page begins to load, things are looking great until you get this error, “Page too large. Content may not be displayed properly. Continue?” At this point you can either continue or cancel. By continuing you might figure, well, I’ll take my chances with poor display. So you hit Ok and wait…and wait…and wait. Nothing happens.
This issue happens on almost every page I tested with the exception of pages designed for a WAP browser. But what’s the fun in having a nice color high-res machine if you can’t use it, coupled with WiFi to browse the Web? While I’m at it, how about letting us change the orientation of the page? Most Web sites are designed to be wider than they are tall. So why not recognize this with the browser?
There are many other misses and I won’t go one, just know that unless you turn off the images, browsing will stink. I’ve heard PalmSource is on the case, but who knows when we’ll get relief.
Here are the two questions I’ve been getting a lot.
1) I want to buy a Palm OS 5 device, which one should I get?
The Clie is superior to the Tungsten in almost every way, the one major way being the wireless options. If you have a Bluetooth phone, or plan to buy one and the wireless connectivity is important to you, buy the Tungsten. Real has announced plans to get a player for Palm OS 5 out very soon, so the MP3 problem will be solved in short order.
If you want the WiFi for email access on your local network only, the Clie is a great choice. A new Web browser is on the horizon, we’re just not sure how long it will take to get here. Also, if you like the gadgets like the camera and video ability go with the Clie.
2) I currently own a Clie NR series PDA. Should I upgrade to the NX?
I answer this question with another. Do you have a ton of dough that you don’t care about? If so, go for it. If not…hang tight, you’re not missing much. That advice also goes for those of you debating whether or not to take advantage of great pricing on the NR or to step up to the NX. The upgrades are not that many, for most users I say save your money for next time.
There is one single variable though, that could turn this entire ship around. Whether or not anyone will support Bluetooth on this device. Sure you can import a $250 Memory Stick Bluetooth adaptor, but no one wants to give up the Memory Stick slot. What I’m talking about is CF support. If that happens in the near future, everything I said about the Tungsten goes out the window, and I’ll sell mine as quickly as possible. Unfortunately I don’t see this happening in the next few months, maybe not ever, so don’t hold your breath…I’m not.
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