Brighthand Reviews the Sony Clie TG50

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TG50 The new Sony PEG-TG50 is the company’s latest Palm OS 5 model. It includes a high-resolution screen, an integrated keyboard, and Bluetooth wireless networking.

Appearance

Sony has combined several elements from other Sony models into the TG50. Its high-resolution screen is typical on the company’s models but this is the first time Sony has included a keyboard in one with a tablet shape.

It comes with an integrated flipcover, as all handhelds should. The TG50’s is quite solid and covers the entire front of the handheld. I don’t think most people will see a need for an additional case. This flipcover is removable, though it leaves a large hinge at the top.

This is a relatively small handheld, considering all it has to offer. Its casing is 5.0 by 2.8 inches. It is .6 inches thick with its integrated flipcover closed, or .5 inches with it open. It weighs 6.5 ounces. This means it’s a bit longer than the T665C.

Screen

The display on the TG50 is decent but the one I have has a flaw that I suspect will be on most of the ones sold.

It’s a 320 by 320 pixel display which is quickly becoming the norm for Palm OS devices in all but the entry-level. This high-resolution screen leads to crisp, easy to read text and good-looking images.

Its a transflective LCD, which is a compromise between two other types. It looks very good indoors and pretty good outdoors, though not great.

Now for the downside. The flaw is one that has appeared on LCDs from Sony in the past; The backlight leaves wavy shadows on one edge of the screen. These are quite noticeable when background is white, which unhappily is most of the time. (Take a look.)

Also, the screen is a bit smaller than the one on previous 320 by 320 Sony handhelds. The T665C’s screen is almost exactly 3 inches, while the TG50’s is 2.8 inches.

Keyboard

The integrated keyboard is easily the most controversial part of this handheld. Many users were hoping for a model with a larger screen that includes a virtual Graffiti area but no keyboard. Sony may yet deliver a model like this at a later date but it won’t be as easy to use as this one.

With the TG50’s wireless networking capabilities, users will frequently be writing text messages and even long emails on it. Graffiti is all well and good for entering small amounts of text but a keyboard is faster for anything longer than two or three words. After a bit of practice, I’m already faster with the TG50’s keyboard than I am with Graffiti.

Of course, there is no question of touch typing. Instead, you hold the TG50 between your hands and type with your thumbs. The keys, while pretty small, are big enough that they don’t make your finger tips ache after a while.

The keyboard has a backlight, making it pretty easy to use in even complete darkness. To make life easier on the battery, the backlight automatically turns itself off after a few seconds if you don’t hit any keys.

Still, if you absolutely must use Graffiti, pushing a button on the front opens a pop-up Graffiti area. However, unlike the virtual Graffiti areas Sony’s other models, this takes up half the screen. But you can fairly easily use Graffiti if you want to.

Other Buttons

Because this model has no Graffiti area, it doesn’t have the buttons that are normally silk-screened on it, like Home, Find, etc. On the TG50, these are round hardware buttons located just below the screen. Each of these needs to do double duty. Pushing the one on the left opens the application launcher, while holding it down opens drop-down menus. Pushing the one on the right activates the on-screen Graffiti area I just mentioned, while holding it down pulls up the Find screen.

TG50 Buttons

In between these are the buttons for launching the standard Palm OS apps. These look similar to the much-hated ones from Sony’s T series but are much better. The Up/Down buttons are still combined into a single rocker switch, which isn’t popular with gamers, but I had no problems with it.

TG50 Side View

On the left side of the TG50 is a Jog Dial. This works a bit like Up/Down buttons but is more convenient because it can be done with the thumb while you’re holding the handheld. For example, you can scroll through the list of available applications and launch one by pushing down on the Jog Dial with just one hand.

Below this is the Back button, handy for when you are using the Jog Dial.

Also on the left side is the Power button. This does double duty as a switch that turns off the screen but lets the rest of the handheld continue to function. This means you can play music with a minimal drain on battery life.

Motherboard

The TG50 runs a 200 MHz Intel XScale processor, which makes it one of the fastest Palm OS handhelds available.

Because the it has that XScale processor, it needs Palm OS 5. Some people were wondering if the TG50 would use Palm OS 5.2, which includes Graffiti 2, a new version of PalmSource’s text entry system. It turns out that the TG50 still uses OS 5.0.

It has 16 MB of RAM; unfortunately, 5 MB of this isn’t available to the user. This just doesn’t leave enough. I frequently ran into problems with inadequate memory. For example, the NetFront Web browser takes up over 2 MB of this scant memory, and some of the other apps are equally large. Sony has got to find a way to implement OS 5 in a way that lets the user access more RAM. It’s possible; the Palm Tungsten T has 15 MB available.

Memory Stick

The TG50’s Memory Stick slot does help those who need more Storage space. Memory Sticks can be used to store files and many applications can be run directly from them.

Sony says this is compatible with the new Memory Stick PRO format. There’s no way to test this, though, as none of these are available yet. Too bad, they are supposed to be much faster than current memory Sticks.

Not that the TG50 is slow at this now. It got a VFSMark score of 149, where a regular score for an OS 4 device is 100.

Multimedia Applications

The TG50’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 I mentioned earlier. This shuts down the screen but allows the handheld to still run, saving on battery power.

Of course you can play MP3s in the background while doing other things.

Now I’ve got good news and bad news. Unlike previous Sony models that have the headphone port on the side, the TG50’s is on the top, which means this device fits more comfortably in your pocket while you listen to music on headphones. However, it doesn’t come with a pair of headphones. The port is the standard size so you won’t have trouble finding a pair that fit.

TG50 Top View

You don’t have to use headphones; the TG50 has a built-in speaker that’s pretty good.

It has a built-in voice recorder, too. This allows you to save voice memos, handy if you want to remind yourself of something and you don’t have both hands free. Like Pocket PC models, it has a dedicated button just to launch this app.

It comes with a video player that shows MPEGs that have been put on a Memory Stick. I copied over some videos I got off the Internet and they looked great. This app can even rotate them so videos, which are almost always wider than they are tall, can be enlarged to almost fill the screen.

It also includes Clie Viewer, Sony’s app for displaying images, audio, and video. This would be a great app if the developers could find a way to speed it up. It displays thumbnails of the images, which would be handy if it didn’t take so long to generate them. This goes so slowly that, if you have more than a few images stored, this app is just about unusable.

One of the frequently overlooked apps is the Macromedia Flash player. Flash is something that started out as a way to make small, animated movies and has grown to the point where full-blown applications and whole websites are written in it. I downloaded several Flash files designed for handhelds and all of them worked beautifully. Currently, the only way to get the Palm OS version of this app is to buy a Sony handheld.

Sony began including a simple drawing application with its handhelds a long time ago. Photo Editor is a much more advanced version of this. It isn’t exactly PhotoShop for the Palm OS but you can do some actual photo editing on it and it doesn’t have the size restrictions the old drawing app had.

The TG50 even includes an app that lets you use the TG50 as a universal remote for your TV, VCR, or other pieces of home electronics.

Bluetooth

Without any fanfare, Sony appears to have committed itself to Bluetooth. This is the second high-end model in a row to include it.

Bluetooth is a short-range wireless networking standard used to allow devices to connect together without wires. It’s frequently used to allow a handheld to use a mobile phone as a modem to connect to the Internet. An increasing number of Bluetooth-enabled devices are coming on the market, such as GPS receivers, hard drives, and keyboards.

I don’t have a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone so I wasn’t able to test that function.

However, I did go buy a Bluetooth dongle for my PC so I could wirelessly access the Internet. After some initial setup hassles, this works very well. It’s a bit slower than Wi-Fi and doesn’t have even close to the range but I’m able to get my email and surf the Web reasonably quickly. I’ve also been HotSyncing wirelessly.

I’d love to get a PicoBlue Bluetooth access point, which would give me a range comparable to Wi-Fi.

Over the coming years, Bluetooth is going to replace infrared as the default way for handhelds to exchange files. I transferred all my personal information from a Bluetooth-enabled m500 series model to the TG50 this way. Frankly, it wasn’t much more convenient or quick than doing the same thing by infrared, though it was nice to not have to worry about lining the ports up.

Internet Apps

Whether you connect through mobile phone or your PC, you’ll need some apps to make use of the Internet once you are online. The TG50 comes with NetFront 3.0, which is one of the best handheld Web browsers I’ve used. It renders pages amazingly fast, close to the speed my desktop does. It also supports all the prevalent standards, like SSL, JavaScript, and CSS.

Fortunately, I’ve run into fewer problems trying to load large pages than I did on previous versions.

Of course, Web surfing is only half the equation. Clie Mail handles the rest. This allows you to send and receive email from a variety of POP3 accounts. It also comes with a conduit that transfers email to and from your desktop email application.

The latest version of Clie Mail can be set to automatically download your mail on a schedule. This is convenient, though it needs to set off an alarm to let you know you have new email, which it doesn’t do now.

One of the most difficult things about reading email on your handheld is attachments. The TG50 handles this beautifully. Clie Mail lets you save them to a Memory Stick, then you can look at them with PiscelViewer.

This app can display files in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint formats, as well as Adobe Acrobat, TXT, GIF, and JPEG. It has a very unusual user interface which takes some getting used to but it does its job very well. It displays the files exactly as they would look on a desktop. Of course, it allows you to zoom in on them until they are readable.

This is the absolute best tool I’ve ever seen of this type. However, I want to emphasize that this is a viewer. You can’t edit the files. Documents To Go, the app Sony included on previous handhelds for editing Microsoft Office documents, doesn’t come with this one.

Other Applications

Of course, the TG50 includes all the usual Palm OS apps, like the Address Book, Date Book, etc.

One of the most popular categories of Palm OS apps is replacements for the application launcher. Sony has created one of its own that displays a list of all your applications which you move through with the Jog Dial. If you put in a Memory Stick with apps on it, they will be added to the list. I think it has been designed for beginners because it also offers a brief description of the built-in apps. If you don’t like it, the regular Palm OS app launcher is still available.

Sony has taken a page from Palm’s book and included Clie Memo, an app for drawing quick notes for yourself. This is a handy way to make small drawings, too.

Battery

Unlike many previous high-end models from Sony, the TG50 has a good battery life. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find an application that exactly tracks battery life and runs under Palm OS 5 so I’ll have to estimate.

Under normal use, with the backlight down at about half strength and Bluetooth off unless I’m actually using it, the battery life is quite good. I gave the TG50 a full charge three days ago and have been using it as my primary handheld ever since. Currently, the battery is at 55% and I definitely have several days more use before I have to recharge it.

Under the most demanding conditions, with the backlight on full and Bluetooth always on and frequently being used to connect to the Internet, I got more than six hours of use before needing to recharge.

Fully recharging takes a while, like about four hours. Fortunately, after an hour the battery is over 50% so you can get a usable charge fairly quickly if you are in a hurry.

Peripherals

TG50 The TG50 uses the standard Sony stylus, which I call the “coffee stirrer”. It’s a good length but so thin that it isn’t comfortable to use for very long.

The cradle is a fairly standard one for Sony, in black plastic this time.

In a nice touch, it comes with a small adapter that lets you plug the AC adapter from the cradle directly into the handheld. This means you don’t have to bring the full cradle along with you on trips in order to recharge.

Value

The TG50 sells for $399, which is right on the dividing line between mid-range and high-end devices. About 6 months ago this would be an outstanding price for a device with these capabilities. However, several lower-cost Pocket PC models have been putting a lot of downward price pressure on the market. The TG50 has a few advantages over these models, like an integrated keyboard and Bluetooth, but still the best I can say is I think it’s a decent value, not a great one.

Conclusion

I believe this device will sell well with executive types who will like its professional look and built-in keyboard. Many hard-core Sony-philes are going pass over it, though, hoping for a version with a 320 by 480 screen.


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