Brighthand Reviews the Sharp Zaurus SL-C760

by Ed Hardy Reads (81,518)

Zaurus SL-C760 Open Sharp calls the Zaurus C760 a “Personal Mobile Tool,” which is like calling a Lamborghini a “Mode of Transportation.” While true, both fall woefully short of truly describing what is being offered. The SL-C760 looks like a miniature laptop and, honestly, it comes closer than any handheld I’ve ever used to truly being able take the place of a laptop.

Sadly, Sharp decided to not release this model in the U.S. But all is not lost. It’s available from Dynamism, a company that specializes in importing gadgets that otherwise wouldn’t be available in this country. It has also modified the user environment from Japanese to English. Dynamism was kind enough to loan us an SL-C760 for this review.

On the Outside

The Zaurus SL-C760 has the general look of a tiny laptop, including the clamshell shape. In addition, the screen can be twisted around and closed down over the keyboard, allowing it to be used in tablet form.

Zaurus SL-C760 in Tablet Form There is no doubt that the SL-C760 is significantly larger than most handhelds. It is actually 4.7 by 3.3 by 0.9 inches. At almost an inch thick, it isn’t going to slip into your shirt pocket. It even created a noticeable bulge in the pants pocket I carried it in. But considering how much this device has to offer, rather than concentrating on how much bigger it is than a handheld, you should think about how much smaller it is than a laptop.

Screen Sharp is on the cutting edge of handheld displays and has incorporated its best one into this model. It uses a CG Silicon display, which is a type of LCD developed by Sharp and the Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co. These screens can pack twice as many pixels into the same space as a TFT LCD while using less power.

The SL-C760 has a 640-by-480 pixel, 3.7-inch screen capable of displaying 65,000 colors. It’s this VGA screen that transforms this device from a big handheld into something close to a small laptop. You don’t realize how many compromises you have to get used to when using small handheld screens until you get a model like the SL-C760, where you don’t have to compromise.

When this device is in the clamshell shape, the screen has a landscape orientation. But when it is switched to the tablet shape, it is reconfigured to portrait mode. This is exactly how a device like this ought to work.

Keyboard Because the SL-C760 uses a clamshell shape with a landscape orientation, it has room for a fairly big keyboard. It isn’t so big that you can touch-type on it, though. You’ll still need to hold the device between your two hands and type with your thumbs. But there’s room for almost 60 keys, including a row of number keys, and all of them are large enough that even people with the largest hands should have no problems.

I found the keyboard quite easy to use, once I had some practice with it. Of course it uses the standard QWERTY layout but many of the punctuation marks are in odd places. It doesn’t use “sticky” keys, which means you have to hold the Shift Key down to capitalize a letter, but it includes two Shift keys, which makes this relatively easy to do. Unfortunately, the keyboard isn’t backlit, so it isn’t easy to use in dim lighting.

Zaurus SL-C760 Open Buttons The SL-C760 has been designed to be used in both clamshell and tablet modes. Therefore it includes buttons on the keyboard that can be used to launch applications plus a set of icons on one edge of the screen for the same purpose.

One of the hassles of using handhelds with built-in keyboards is when you are typing you can’t hold the stylus, but you frequently have to pull it out to tap something on the screen. To minimize this, the SL-C760 has OK and Cancel buttons on the keyboard and also on the side. In addition, it has dedicated directional keys.

To make one-handed operation easier when in tablet mode, this handheld also has a jog wheel.

The Power button is on the hinge. Unfortunately, this means it’s partially covered when the screen is all the way open.

Zaurus SL-C760 Card Slots The SL-C760 has slots for both SD/MMC cards and for CompactFlash cards, giving it a wide variety of options for memory cards.

In addition, its CompactFlash slot can be used for other types of peripherals. Because finding drivers for these can sometimes be a challenge, Sharp has an agreement with Socket Communications that ensures that Socket’s CompactFlash plug-in accessories are compatible with Zaurus handhelds.

In fact, the drivers for many of these come pre-installed on the device. I popped a CompactFlash Wi-Fi card in, ran through a wizard, and I was connected to my wireless network. I did the same thing with a CompactFlash Ethernet card.

On the Inside

The SL-C760 uses an Intel XScale PXA255 processor running at 400 MHz. While the applications themselves perform nicely, launching apps is sometimes a bit slow. But I’m talking about a second or so. While this may be slower than on most handhelds, it is faster than on most desktops.

It has 62 MB of RAM and 128 MB of Flash ROM, of which 69.6 MB is available to the user. The SL-C760 does not use RAM for storing both applications and files. Instead, RAM is used only for applications, while the roughly 70 MB of ROM space is where files are stored. These can also go on any of the various types of removable memory cards.

Operating System At its heart, the Zaurus line runs Linux but you won’t ever have to deal with that if you don’t want to. On top of its Linux underpinnings is Trolltech’s Qtopia environment. This provides a user interface and a collection of built-in applications.

Qtopia Application Launcher If you are familiar with the Palm OS or Pocket PC, Qtopia takes a bit of getting used to. Still, it isn’t that much different. This is good as you are mostly going to have to figure things out for yourself.

Sharp’s decision to not release a U.S. version frequently makes using this handheld somewhat challenging. Dynamism has mostly translated its operating system and applications into English, but not every single bit of it. And it hasn’t even attempted to do so with any of the documentation. This model does not come with a user manual that most Americans are going to be able to read.

Still, I’m very impressed with the Linux/Qtopia combination. During the several weeks I used this device, I never had to reset it a single time.

Built-In Applications People expect handhelds to come with a basic collection of applications and the SL-C760 delivers. It has a calendar, address book, to-do list, calculator, and more.

These are pretty good, though the internal speaker is weak, so alarms aren’t very loud in the calendar. You can set repeating events, though not repeating alarms.

It also comes with a desktop application that allows you to synchronize your data with Microsoft Outlook or the Palm Desktop. The one that comes with the SL-C760 is in Japanese but the English version Sharp released with its other Zaurus models works fine.

HancomMobileWord Office Applications In addition, this model comes with a suite of applications by HancomLinux Inc. that is almost completely compatible with Microsoft Office.

As a test, I created a document in Microsoft Word with a bunch of different types of formatting, then emailed it to the SL-C760 and opened it in HancomMobileWord. Almost everything came across unchanged. Of course, it handled Bold, Italics, and Underline without a qualm. It also kept the left, right, and center justifications. I was most impressed, though, by the fact that the embedded image also came through. It would have gotten a perfect score but it didn’t display the footnote.

Next, I made a couple of small modifications and emailed the document back to my desktop, where I opened it in MS Word again. It mostly survived the round trip, with a few exceptions. The embedded image was still there but HancomMobileWord had messed it up a little bit. Mostly it looked like the image’s resolution had been reduced. And the footnote had been deleted. Other than that, the document looked pretty good.

My only real disappointment with HancomMobileWord is it doesn’t include a spell checker.

NetFront Internet This handheld comes with a version of the NetFront web browser. Versions of this appear on many different handhelds but this one is the closest I’ve ever seen to a desktop-quality one. It has most everything you need in a browser: multiple windows, bookmarks, CSS and SSL support, JavaScript, the whole enchilada. Add in the fact that it is running on a 640-by-480 pixel screen in landscape or portrait mode, and it’s the best browsing experience I’ve ever had on a handheld.

The built-in email application isn’t bad. It supports different accounts, filters, and attachments. Plus it allows you to assign separate user names and passwords for your incoming and outgoing servers, which is necessary for some people. But it doesn’t support HTML formatting in messages.

The SL-C760 is multi-tasking, so you can be downloading your email in the background.

Multimedia The SL-C760 comes with an MP3 player. It has an internal speaker but this is of low quality so you’ll need to get a pair of external headphones. Fortunately the port is the standard size.

It also has a voice recorder and a video player.

Third-Party Software When I showed the SL-C760 to my friends, the usual first question was, “Is there any software for it?” Actually, there is a surprising amount. There are several companies, like HancomLinux and theKompany.com, that write very professional applications for the Zaurus line. And there are numerous hobby developers. Handango even has a whole section of apps written for Linux, many of which will run on the SL-C760. In addition, it can run Java applets.

But don’t get me wrong, there isn’t close to the number of software titles available for the Zaurus line as there are for the Palm OS or Pocket PC.

Etcetera

Battery Life The SL-C760 comes with a 1700 mA battery, which gives it a good battery life, even with occasional Wi-Fi use. It will easily last me a full day of heavy use, and much longer with minimal use.

Zaurus SL-C760 The battery is switchable, and you can buy a second 1700 mA one from Dynamism for $115. Or you can get a 950 mA one for $59. Though obviously this will give you a shorter battery life, it is physically significantly smaller. This allows you to dispense with the large battery cover and use a smaller one that reduces the thickness of the whole handheld by about 0.2 inches.

Accessories Because of its shape, the SL-C760 doesn’t have a cradle. Instead, it has a pair of cables, one for power, one for data. If you are going to take this handheld on a business trip, you are really going to want to bring along the power cable, so it’s nice that the power adapter on this is quite small, and the plugs fold down to save even more space.

The stylus is of a good size but it’s just plastic. A handheld this expensive should really have a nicer stylus.

Value

Dynamism is charging $800 for the SL-C760, which I know is going to push it out of the reach of most people. But I don’t think that makes it over-priced. This handheld provides a screen that most handheld users can only dream of and a large, easy-to-use integrated keyboard. It also comes with a collection of applications that definitely covers everything you’d expect a handheld to do and most of what you’d want a laptop to do. For all that, $800 doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Conclusion

It has been pointed out by others that the SL-C760 looks like a laptop for a Barbie. If so, she’s getting a heck of a powerful machine, and certainly no toy.

I can easily see someone who does a lot of business travel or generally has a very mobile lifestyle preferring an SL-C760 to a laptop. This device can’t do everything that a regular laptop can do. However, it can handle just about all the commonly-used functions. And it can do something no laptop can do: slip into your pocket and go with you everywhere. I did a test and I could do almost my entire job with just an SL-C760. If its word processor had a spell-checker, I really could do my whole job with it.

Still, the fact that this model doesn’t come with a user manual or any documentation in English is going to severely limit its mass-market appeal in the U.S. But for those willing to take the challenge, it’s a great handheld.


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