Sony has just announced the PEG-SJ33, an updated version of its SJ30. This is the first time Sony has introduced a handheld with a built-in MP3 player for a mid-range price.
The SJ33 also includes a 320 by 320 pixel screen, a 66 MHz processor, and 16 MB of memory.
When compared with its predecessor, one of the major changes in this model is the outward appearance. I think the look of the SJ33 is a significant improvement.
Actually, this wasn’t very hard as the earlier members of the SJ series weren’t very attractive. The SJ33 looks like it has been designed to appeal to a young and hip audience. The press release on it even says this model is supposed to remind you of Sony’s popular Walkman line.
Just about all the edges are rounded and the device sits very well in my hand. At 2.75 by 4.2 inches the SJ33 is a relatively small handheld, though its flip cover makes it .8 inches thick.
The SJ33 is the first Sony model to include a hard plastic flip cover. Previous models had semi-rigid ones.
I’m very much in favor of flipcovers, as I think they are the best compromise between protection and convenience. The one on the SJ33 seems sturdy enough that I doubt there will be much of a market for third-party hardcases.
Unfortunately, you can’t flip the flipcover all the way around to the back. The one in the image above is open as much as it will go. You can remove it, though the hinge that remains at the top of the handheld is a bit unsightly.
The shiny black plastic most of the SJ33 is covered in looks cool, but it really shows finger prints. On the other hand, I really like that the flip cover is translucent, as you can see why an alarm has gone off without having to open the cover.
Another major improvement in this model is the inclusion of an audio player that can play MP3 files.
As I said earlier, all previous Sony models with MP3 players have been high-end devices. However, the company is facing competition from a new generation of mid-range Pocket PC models, all of which have MP3 players. Sony needed something like the SJ33 to stay competitive.
The SJ33’s Audio Player can play music in either MP3 or Sony’s ATRAC3 format. These files must be stored on a Memory Stick, not in the handheld’s memory.
This handheld has a few extras to make it a better music player. One of these is the Hold button. This shuts down the screen but allows the handheld to still run, saving on battery power.
In addition, it comes with a pair of earbud headphones with a small volume adjuster integrated into the cord. It doesn’t depend entirely on these, though. It’s built-in speaker is decent, too.
The SJ33 also has a better processor than the SJ30. It includes a 66 MHz Dragonball processor, twice as fast as its predecessor.
Keep in mind, though, this handheld isn’t on the cutting edge. The SJ33 has Palm OS 4.1. High-end handhelds that run Palm OS 5 have processors at 144 MHz or 200 MHz. On the other hand, those OS 5 models cost at least $100 more than the SJ33.
The 320 by 320 pixel screen is a signature of Sony’s handhelds. This gives the SJ33 more screen real estate than comparably priced models.
This screen is a transflective LCD, which means it looks good both indoors and outdoors. It does, however have a blue tint.
The SJ33 has an internal, non-replaceable Li-Ion battery. I tested its battery life under a variety of conditions and it turned out to be pretty good.
With the backlight on full, it lasted for 4 hours and 40 minutes before the first low battery warning. This doesn’t mean it was on for over 4 hours straight. People don’t use handhelds like that. Instead, I used the SJ33 intermittently while an application kept track of how much time it was on.
Next I tested it with the backlight on what I think is the useable minimum, about 25%. This makes the screen about as bright as a Palm m505. At this setting, the SJ33 lasted for almost 9 hours, which is probably at least a week’s use for a regular user.
However, I should warn you that playing lots of audio files will really cut into this battery life.
Fortunately, Sony has committed to including jog wheels in all of its handhelds, and the SJ33 is no exception. The Jog Dial, as Sony calls it, makes one-handed use of the device a breeze. You can scroll through long pages, lists, and even launch applications with just the Jog Dial.
The buttons on the front of this handheld are a bit small but this doesn’t affect their usefulness. I played a few basketball games with LEDhead and had no problems.
Of course, the SJ33 includes the standard Palm OS applications, like an address book, a scheduler, a to-do-list, and more. You can also read and compose email.
It also comes with a copy of DataViz’s Documents to Go, which allows you to transfer the contents of Microsoft Word and Excel files onto your handheld, read and edit them, then transfer them back to the originals on your desktop.
Sony emphasizes the multimedia capabilities of its handhelds so of course the SJ33 has to come with a video player. The Kinoma Player can show video at up to 320 by 320 pixels. Unfortunately, it only supports videos in its own proprietary format. These look pretty good, small of course but good. However, you’ll need to buy an encoder for $20 if you want to covert your own movies to watch. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, be sure to invest in a big Memory Stick, like a 128 MB one.
It also comes with a copy of Astraware’s very popular game, Bejeweled.
The mid-range for handhelds has become very competitive lately. Several companies have introduced models with good features sets at the same price as the SJ33 or even a bit lower.
However, I think the SJ33 stands up pretty well. It offers an above-average screen, a good audio player, a very good set of built-in and bundled applications, and an attractive and relatively small casing.
Sony didn’t reduce the size of the screen to save money as Palm did with some of its models, however, the SJ33 doesn’t come with a cradle. It depends on a pair a cables for power and HotSyncing.
I think the SJ33 will be popular with its intended audience: students and other people looking for a reasonably priced handheld with good multimedia capabilities.
Sony is now taking preorders for this model at SonyStyle. It should be available in stores in a few weeks.