Review — Sony Clie SJ33

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The Sony Clie SJ33 builds on the massive success of Sony’s entry level color PDAs by adding features and reducing the price, always a popular formula! They’ve also added a little sizzle with a sleek shiny body and integrated flip cover. But in the end, is the $300 investment right for you?

 

Form Factor

The SJ33 is a slick looking PDA. I love the shiny outside cover, my model happens to be black. The SJ33 also comes in orange and blue, if you buy from the Sony web site. I imagine the colors will eventually make it to other stores, but keeping the unique units to themselves lets Sony charge full price with no competition.

 

Body

 

 

Aside from gathering fingerprints quickly, I’m a big fan of the SJ33 body. Sony has integrated a hard plastic flip cover for the first time. It doesn’t flip all the way open, roughly 140 degrees though. I thought it might get in the way, but the few weeks I’ve been using the SJ33, that issue has not come up once. In fact at times, it acts as a screen to block sunlight or probing eyes. The cover is also translucent, so it’s easy to see though to check alarms and other notices.

 

 

Contrary to early reports, the cover can be removed, but the end result is not pretty. This design causes a host of problems for case manufacturers. Most buyers won’t even want a case. The only real benefit would be to add a belt clip.

 

 

With dimensions of 4 1/4 (H) x 2 7/8 (W) x 7/8 (D) inches, the SJ33 is slightly larger than the SJ30 it replaces. It did get heavier though weighing in at 6.1 ounces compared to 4.9 ounces of its predecessor. I found the SJ33 to do fine in my pants pocket, but it’s a little much for a chest shirt pocket. I think the unit feels sturdy and strong, although a hard drop will likely scratch or crack the case. Sony does sell replaceable covers though for $15 each.

 

In the end I think the flip cover is a great compromise of size versus protection that most users will appreciate. The body is a little fat, but looks very sporty.

 

Front

The face of the SJ33 also got a makeover when compared to the other SJ’s. The four main launcher buttons are now sunken in the body a little bit. The up and down buttons are depressed as well and look almost like a D-pad. They are not though, each is a single distinct button. At the heart of the up and down buttons is the power/charge light. When powered on, the light is a bright green. While charging it’s a more subtle orange.

 

 

I’m a big fan of the buttons, they provide good tactile feel with a stylish look. The power light poses a potential problem though. I find it to be distracting enough to notice, but not enough to diminish my ability to use the SJ33. It’s kind of like seeing something moving in your peripheral vision. Again, not a deal breaker, but some people have found the light very difficult to get used to.

 

Left Side

The left side of the SJ33 holds a number of features including the new power slider which is new to the SJ series. The power slider also doubles as the hold switch to protect from inadvertent button pushes and backlight control. The hold function used mostly during MP3 playing to maintain volume controls and force the screen to switch off. Also on the left side is the back button and now infamous jog dial.

 

Right Side

The right side contains the stylus silo, and that’s it.

 

Top

The top offers the Memory Stick slot, lanyard loop, stereo headphone jack and infrared port. There are some issues with the IR port to be aware of. I have not been able to sync via IR, but beaming contacts and such works fine. This does not seem to be an issue for all users, but if you plan on syncing on the go with a laptop, like I do, this is a problem. Sony will certainly release a patch soon to repair this issue.

 

Back

The reset switch and speaker are on the back of the device. The speaker is average for MP3’s, but really sings for games and movies via Kinoma player. I continue to pull for front mounted speakers, but I guess we’ll have to wait for the next refresh to see if Sony decides to go this route.

 

 

The back also has a larger than normal reset button that doesn’t require an “unscrew” of the stylus to poke it. This is a very small feature, but a big nicety in my book. I really don’t see the value in making the reset hole so small you have to take your stylus apart to poke it.

 

Bottom

As expected, the bottom houses the connector used for the sync cable or peripherals.

 

Performance

 

Speed

The SJ33 sports a nice upgrade under the hood over the SJ30. It comes in the form of a 66MHz Dragonball which is obviously twice as fast at the 33MHz CPU in the SJ30. The new processor helps a good deal when viewing videos on the Kinoma player, although most other speed improvements will not be noticeable to the average user.

 

Screen

The 320 x 320 pixel screen is another Sony staple. It’s not on the same level as the more expensive Clie’s, but it remains rather impressive.

 

Memory

The SJ33 comes with 16MB of RAM, of which 15 is usable. You’ll still need a memory stick for MP3’s and such, but at least they didn’t eat up the internal memory with un-removable applications

 

Battery Life

The SJ33 battery is a lithium ion polymer internal. It’s not user replaceable, but that shouldn’t be a big deal. Battery life has been pretty solid with the SJ line. In fact, Sony claims you can get 17 days out of the SJ33 if used for 30 minutes per day without backlight. That’s not very realistic for most users, but you should be able to get a week very easily without using the MP3 player. Most PDA owners are in the habit of recharging almost daily anyway, but the SJ33 won’t penalize should you skip a couple.

 

Multimedia

 

Audio Player

The SJ33 ships with an MP3 and ATRAC3 player, another substantial upgrade over the SJ30. The audio player is the same one Sony’s been using for a while, which is not a bad thing. It’s very reliable and the quality is top notch. I plugged into both headphones and my computer sound system and had nothing but great audio.

 

The audio player does require a memory stick, which is not really a big deal. You wouldn’t fit more than four or five MP3’s in the internal memory anyway. As noted before, the hold button on the outside of the device is a nice feature. It will preserve your settings and put the screen to sleep to increase battery longevity. Sony also includes their standard headphones but no remote control.

 

Video

The SJ33 ships with Kinoma player and a few demo videos. We’re not talking great quality, but I was impressed with the SJ33’s ability to keep up. The Kinoma Producer program ($20) does a great job of compression and the 66MHz processor makes viewing short clips fun. Granted you won’t want to digitize an episode of Alias to watch on this particular Clie, but it’s definitely a very nice feature to show off with a short clip from the family reunion. Sales people might also find this feature useful to demo a new product or other offerings.

 

Peripherals

 

Cables

The SJ33 comes with sync and power cables, no cradle this time. I really don’t mind the cables that much. In fact, they take up less space on my desktop than a cradle. I doubt this will be a sticking point for anyone, but if you need, you can pick up a cradle for $30. My only gripe though is I wish Sony would go the way of Handspring and build a sync button into the connector. It’s not a major hassle to find the sync software on the Clie, it’s just one of those little things that bugs me.

 

Stylus

The SJ33 comes with a nice metal stylus. This is important because often times manufactures send a flimsy plastic one to help cut costs and weight. I’m glad to see Sony include a quality stylus with this model. Interestingly they continued to ship the stylus with a removable top that has the small pointer used in resetting the device. As noted earlier, the reset button has been made larger so a small point is not required. I imagine they simply chose not to create another version of the stylus for this model alone.

 

Included Software

Sony has managed to put together a very solid software bundle with the SJ33. In addition to the standard applications, Sony includes a host of their own including: Clie Mail, Photostand, Sound Utility, World alarm clock and Memory Stick import/export. They’ve also included full versions of Bejeweled , Kinoma Player, StreetFinder Express and Documents to Go. Of this lot, the Documents to Go is huge in my mind. It seems at times Sony wants to phase out their relationship with Dataviz as the NZ90 and TG50 do not ship with Docs to Go. However, I find it to be of critical importance to be able to view and edit Microsoft Office files on my PDA and am glad the SJ33 has it included.

 

Sony also loads the installation disk with a bunch of other trial editions of software. Many of the more popular games from Astraware are in the mix, so definitely check them out if you haven’t already.

 

Conclusion

Sony has taken a popular model and not only spruced it up physically, but they have added a ton of power and functionality to the mix as well. From the sleek design to the improved CPU and added MP3 ability, the SJ33 really shines. This unit will definitely appeal to the young movers and shakers, but its design may also turn off the older crowd. In the end, I think Sony’s happy with falling into that niche.

 

Sony’s devices have really pushed the limit of what a traditional PDA can do. This time they’ve produced a unit that can function well in a business setting, but can also be fun and cool on the weekend. If you want a great mid-range Palm device with MP3 abilities and an edgy design, but don’t need all the frills like wireless connectivity, this is a fantastic option.

 

The SJ33 is available now for as low as $265. Click here for pricing information.

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