Recently, the competition between low-cost handhelds has become intense. In the last month or so, Sony, HP, and Palm have all put out similar models that cost between $200 and $250. Sony’s latest is the PEG-TJ35, a model designed for the budget-conscious executive.
And that’s something to keep in mind if you are considering this handheld: it has been created to appeal to business people. It has the features Sony believes this group wants, and no more.
The sister model, the TJ25, is even more focused. It costs even less and forgoes the MP3 player.
The exterior of the TJ35 looks very professional. This starts with the black flip cover, which adds significantly to the device’s appearance. It opens to reveal a silver device that is essentially rectangular but has a few subtle curves. This is definitely something you wouldn’t be ashamed to use in front of a client.
It’s an average-sized handheld: 3.0 inches wide, 4.38 inches tall and .47 inches thick. It weighs 4.9 ounces.
Screen The TJ35 has a 320-by-320 pixel screen that displays 16-bit color. That means it has an average screen for a Palm OS device, but a better one than you can get on a Pocket PC.
This display looks its best indoors, but is still quite readable outdoors and even in direct sunlight.
Text Entry Area This model doesn’t have a retractable text entry area, as higher-priced Sony models do. Instead, you will be writing on a small area below the screen dedicated to this. You’ll be using Graffiti 2, an updated version of this text-entry system. The characters you need to draw to make the letters are a bit closer to the real letters, but the change is quite an adjustment if you are used to Graffiti.
In addition, you can use Decuma, which allows you to write more naturally. With Graffiti 2 you enter characters one at a time and you have to use specific strokes to enter each one. With Decuma, on the other hand, you write whole words in an area at the bottom of the screen and you write the letters pretty much as you would if you were writing on paper. You have to print, though.
However, because the TJ35 doesn’t have a virtual Graffiti area, the Decuma input area appears across the bottom of the screen when you are using it, taking up precious screen space.
Buttons Sony has long been dedicated to the Jog Dial, a small wheel that can be rolled up or down with a finger and allows many routine tasks to be done with one hand, without having to use the stylus. The TJ35 still has one of these, but it has been moved down to the front, rather than on the side, which is where it was on most previous Sony models.
I have mixed feelings about this move. It isn’t as easy to get to where it is now, but the difference is slight. And the change allows Sony to put Left and Right buttons to either side of the Jog Wheel, so it now functions as a D-Pad, something that’s handy for many applications, including games.
The other buttons are set flush with the front of the TJ35 and are easy and comfortable to use. These are there to launch the four main applications: Date Book, Address Book, To Do List, and Memo Pad; however, they can be reprogrammed to launch any application you’d prefer.
The TJ35 runs Palm OS 5.2.1, the latest version of this handheld operating system.
At its heart is a 200 MHz Motorola i.MXL processor. Though not the fastest handheld processor available, it is quite capable of handling the most common tasks, and also multimedia.
Long-time handheld users might be interested to know that the 200 MHz Motorola processor benchmarked slightly higher than a 200 MHz Intel XScale processor in almost every area. And, not surprisingly, it scores significantly higher than the 126 MHz Texas Instruments processor in the Palm Tungsten E.
Memory The TJ35 has 32 MB of memory, but only 23 MB of this is accessible to the user. The rest is Heap Memory, available only to applications. This might not sound like a lot, but most Palm OS applications are fairly small.
If you find yourself running short of room, you can store extra applications and files on a Memory Stick. This is a removable memory card about the size of a stick of gum. The TJ35 can use any of these that are available, even the newer ones in sizes up to 1 GB.
As I said earlier, Sony developed the TJ series with business people in mind. This is especially clear in the applications it chose to include.
Information Management One of the primary reasons people get handhelds is so they can keep track of their calendar and address book. The standard applications that come with all Palm OS handhelds handle this beautifully.
If you use a Windows computer and already have all your addresses and appointments in Outlook, you can automatically move all that information onto your handheld with an application called Intellisync Lite, which is bundled with the TJ35. Or you can synchronize your info with the Palm Desktop, an application that runs on a Windows or Macintosh computer.
PicselViewer Another of the primary ways business people use handhelds is to carry documents around. That’s why Sony included PicselViewer. 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. However, I want to emphasize that this is a viewer. You can’t edit the files.
Multimedia Because it has been designed for business use, the TJ35 has less of an emphasis on entertainment than most previous Clies. The TJ35 does not come with a video player and it doesn’t offer consumer infrared, so it can’t be used as an infrared remote.
However, it does come with an MP3 player. I guess even executives need to relax. Surprisingly, this is Aerodrome Software’s AeroPlayer, not a version of the audio player Sony has been putting on its handhelds for years. This is a positive change, as AeroPlayer allows you to play Ogg files and variable bit rate MP3s, which the Sony player does not. It also supports multiple playlists, background play, and skins, and allows you to store your MP3s anywhere you want on a Memory Stick. However, because of a limitation in the Palm OS, MP3 files can’t be stored in RAM, they must go on a Memory Stick.
You can flip the Power switch to Hold, which turns off the screen but still allows you to listen to music. This greatly extends the battery life if you frequently use the handheld as an MP3 player.
It has a standard headphone jack but it doesn’t come with a pair of headphones.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t have a voice recorder. I think of this as being a necessity in a handheld designed for business users.
This model comes with a version of Clie Viewer, an application that shows images. Combined with its high-resolution screen, the TJ35 is a good device for showing off pictures, whether they be of your company’s products or your last vacation.
The TJ35 has decent battery life. In my tests it went for over five hours of use before needing a recharge. Unless you end up becoming a serious handheld user, you’re likely to have it on for 30 minutes a day or less, which means you’ll probably need to recharge it about once a week.
The TJ35 doesn’t come with a cradle, but you can buy one separately. Instead, it depends on a power cable and a data cable.
It has Sony’s standard HotSync port, which means you can use it with many peripherals that attach to the handheld through this port. However, the TJ series is significantly wider than other recent Sony models and therefore won’t fit in their cradles.
Sadly, it uses Sony’s new stylus, which wasn’t improved by a recent redesign. This telescopes, and when it’s closed it’s just over 2.5 inches long, but opens up to be 3.7 inches long. When it’s open, the upper portion is ridiculously thin, making it uncomfortable to hold.
As I said earlier, the market for low-cost handhelds has recently become intense. Comparing this model with its competition isn’t easy, as each has its strengths and weaknesses. However, based on its feature set, I’d have to say that the TJ35 is a good value, but not a great one.
Still, I have to put this device in perspective. Just over a year ago, Sony released the T665C, a model very similar to the TJ35 in many respects. However, it had a much slower processor, less memory… and cost $400.
Sony set out to make a handheld that appeals to cost-conscious business users and I think it succeeded. Of course, there’s a lot for anyone looking for a handheld to like, not just business people. The TJ35 offers the features most handheld users are looking for at a decent price.