Last September Sony released the CLIÉ PEG-T415, a thin, monochrome PDA aimed at first-time handheld buyers. It was an excellent device at a good price, but it had one major flaw: the screen was mediocre, at best. So Sony’s engineers went back to the drawing board. What they came up with is the CLIÉ PEG-SJ20, a low-priced monochrome handheld with an improved display, just in time for back to school. Although there are a number of differences from the T415, the key change is an enhanced white backlight (that’s right, white not green) and a high-resolution screen, which did the trick. This is now a device that we can recommend.
I’ve been using an SJ20 for a couple of days now and although it’s a bit premature to do a complete review I’ve decided to offer my first impressions, since the device with go on sale (for about $200) in retail stores beginning Monday.
So let’s take a look at what comes inside the box, the basic specifications of the device, and then a tour of the SJ20 and what it can, and cannot, do.
What’s inside the box
Inside the lime green box you’ll find the following items:
- Sony Clié PEG-SJ20 Personal Entertainment Organizer
- USB synchronization cable
- AC adapter
- Soft vinyl snap-on cover
- Installation CD-ROM
- Instruction manuals
The basic specifications of the Sony Clié PEG-SJ20 are:
- 33MHz Motorola Dragonball VZ processor
- MemoryStick expansion slot
- Palm OS Software version 4.1
- Backlit monochrome LCD (320 pixels x 320 pixels)
- 16MB static RAM
- 4MB Flash ROM
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- USB/IrDA/RS232 Serial ports
On the outside
The Sony Clié PEG-SJ20 is slightly shorter and thicker than previous Clié models (this actually started with the recent SL10 model and will continue with the SJ30, a color version of the SJ20). This gives the appearance that much of the face of the device is taken up by the display; there’s little "edge room" around the screen. It’s actually a perfect size for smaller hands.
Speaking of the screen, it’s white, it’s bright, it’s almost just right. The only problem I noticed was some "ghosting," which seemed to be produced by a slow refresh rate.
Sony’s learned a lot about PDA design over the past two years, especially from a useability viewpoint. It now keeps the sides of the device relatively clear of buttons and switches, save for the Jog Dial and Back buttons on the left side, perfectly placed for activation with your thumb. The only change I would recommend (and this goes for all PDAs) is the addition of a rubberized piping along the entire perimeter of the device for gripability (is that a word?).
The less frequently accessed buttons and such are located at the top of the device. This includes the stylus, power button, Memory Stick slot and infrared port. (On a side note, the SJ20 doe not come with the enhanced infrared port (or the Remote Commander app) Sony introduced with the T series.)
The commonly accessed buttons are placed on the front of the device, at the bottom for easy access. This includes the LED indicator so that you can see it when charging with the flip lid on.
Sony’s seen fit to modify the buttons from the ones found on the T series devices. (They must have read all of the reviews complaining about this.) The SJ20’s application buttons are plastic rather than metal, and concave rather than convex — much easier to use.
The interface connector appears to be the same used in the T and NR series, so accessories that use it (such as charging cables) should be compatible.
You’ll find the reset button on the back of the SJ20, just below where you attach the included flip lid. Speaking of the flip cover, it’s much easier to attach and detach than the previous versions. Thank you, Sony. The speaker, it should be noted, is not the enhanced variety found on the T and NR series. We’ll miss it.
The SJ20 (and the upcoming SJ30) comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which appears to be accessible using the battery compartment door. (The lower-end SL10 uses replaceable AAA batteries.) Battery life has been a weakness of Sony devices (primarily because of its bright, color, high-resolution screens) so I’m interested to see how this monochrome device fares.
On the inside
The SJ20 operates on Palm OS 4.1 running on a 33 MHz Motorola Dragonball VZ processor. It comes with 16 MB of RAM and 4 MB ROM, as well as a Memory Stick slot for expanding your memory and for using accessories.
Everything worked as expected, although it seemed a tad slower than other recent Sony models due to the screen refresh delay. It comes with a slew of applications, including the Standard Edition of Documents To Go for working with Excel and Word files.
The Sony Clié PEG-SJ20 is the second model to be released in Sony’s new S line of Cliés. It sits above the SL10 in the price chain and below the upcoming color SJ30.
While we stick by our mantra "once you go color, you don’t go back," we’ve changed our opinion about monochrome. The SJ20 proves that a low-end device with a good black-on-white (please, no more dark green on light green) and plenty of speed can have a place in the market.