Sony’s latest mid-range model, the Clie TJ37, shows a new commitment from the company to offer wireless networking at a lower price. It is the first Wi-Fi enabled handheld of any platform — Palm OS or Pocket PC — to debut at $300.
And this model offers a good mix of other features, including a built-in camera, making it a well-rounded device for its price range.
On the Outside
The exterior of the TJ37 looks very professional and is definitely something you wouldn’t be ashamed to use in front of a client. Still, sometimes “professional” is synonymous for “boring” so don’t expect to be wowed by the appearance of this model.
Screen The TJ37 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 most Pocket PCs. The higher resolution screen means text looks clearer and, if you are willing to reduce the size of the font, you can get more information on a page.
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, text is entered with Graffiti 2 on a small area below the screen dedicated to this.
You also have the option to 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.
I know I’ve met plenty of people over the years who have refused to learn Graffiti and instead pull up the on-screen keyboard to do all their text entry. For these people, Decuma is definitely a vast improvement.
On the Inside
The TJ37 runs Palm OS 5.2 on a 200 MHz Motorola i.MXL processor. This puts Sony in the odd situation of having a mid-range model that actually has a faster processor than its high-end ones. Both the Clie TH55 and UX50 have a chip that maxes out at 123 MHz.
Though there are faster ones available on other handhelds, the TJ37’s processor is quite capable of handling the most common tasks, and also multimedia. I benchmarked it with Speedy 3.3 and got a much better score than a palmOne Tungsten E or Zire 71.
It has 32 MB of RAM, but just 23 MB of this is directly available to the user. The other 9 MB isn’t being wasted. It is being used as Heap Memory. This is used by all applications but the most obvious use for this is to allow the web browser to open very large pages.
When you are looking at handhelds, don’t make the mistake of directly comparing the amounts of memory in Palm OS and Pocket PC models. the Palm OS handles memory in a more efficient manner, so a smaller amount of memory goes farther. Still, 23 MB isn’t a huge amount. You’ll almost certainly wind up having to buy a Memory Stick to handle the overflow.
If you find yourself running short of room in RAM, 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 TJ37 can use any of these that are available, even the 2 GB ones when they become available.
Data Import/Export Sony provides a useful pair of apps that allow you to mount a Memory Stick in your Clie as a removable drive on your PC. This allows you to easily copy files back and forth.
Wi-Fi can totally change the way you use your handheld. Basically, your handheld becomes a mobile Internet access device. No longer do you have to run upstairs to your home office or bedroom to check your email, you can check it from anywhere in your house. Suppose you and your wife are arguing over who directed a recent movie. You can look the answer up on the Internet Movie Database in a flash, without having to get up and go across the house to your computer.
All you have to do is get a Wi-Fi access point, which you can find at any computer store. Plus an increasing number of offices, coffee shops, and bookstores have them, though you’ll probably have to pay a fee if you’re going to use a public one. Wi-Fi offers a data transfer speed comparable to what you are used to on your PC, especially as you will mostly be using it to access the Internet.
Because it doesn’t have an external antenna, the TJ37’s Wi-Fi range is somewhat limited. I can access my router from anywhere in the house, but I lose contact about halfway across my yard. This is comparable with the Clie TH55, which also doesn’t have an external antenna, but is about 30 feet less than a Dell Axim X3i, which does.
Sony has put a lot of effort into making setting up a Wi-Fi connection as easy as possible. The TJ37 has a Wi-Fi “sniffer” built into it, which looks for access points in its range and displays them for you in a list. You can then either pick the access point you want to connect to or just choose “Auto Connect” which will take care of this for you.
This is a highly capable browser that handles a long list of Internet standards and is comparable to a desktop browser. Of course, NetFront 3.1 also has some features specially designed for handhelds. For example, it allows you to choose between viewing web pages at their full width or reformatting them to fit on the TJ37’s screen.
Email The email app that comes with this handheld is best described as “adequate”. It allows you to check several POP3 accounts. It also supports filters and signatures. You can attach a picture you’ve just taken with the TJ37’s digital camera to an email, and then send it off immediately.
However, it’s a bit limited. You can’t be downloading your email while you do something else. It also lacks support for HTML messages and IMAP. Basically, it is good for light duty, but if you are going to be using it every day, I’d suggest you invest in one of the good third-party email applications.
Sony has clearly committed itself to built-in cameras, as every Clie it offers now has one.
The TJ37’s is a pretty basic camera. It is capable of taking pictures that are, at their largest, 640 by 480 pixels. Unlike some earlier models, it can’t record video.
As you can see from the samples I’ve provided, image quality isn’t all that good. Still, it’s handy to have a camera with you all the time. I enjoy snapping a few candid shots when I’m hanging out with my friends, and if any of them are particularly good, it’s easy to attach them to an email.
Don’t worry about scratching the lens when you have the TJ37 in your pocket. It has a lens cover that is operated by a switch on the bottom of the handheld. Opening the switch will turn on the TJ37 and launch the camera application.
Clie Viewer This model comes with a version of Clie Viewer, software that shows images in various standard formats. Combined with its high-resolution screen, the TJ37 is a good device for showing off pictures, whether they are ones you just took or ones you copied over from your PC.
If you register your TJ37, you can download a copy of DataViz’s Documents To Go Professional Edition v6.0, which allows it to work with Microsoft Office files. This is the first version of this application to offer native file support for Microsoft Word and Excel documents, which gives users the flexibility of using documents and spreadsheets whether they come via wireless email, are transferred from an SD card, or are synchronized from a computer.
However, the native office support still needs some work. If you use Documents To Go to open a Word document with a lot of formatting on the TJ37, most of the formatting survives, but not all of it. I tried this and the image was gone, and so was the footnote. I made a small change to the document and emailed the file to my PC, where I opened it in Word. The image and footnote were still gone. This means Documents To Go is roughly on par for handling native Office documents with Microsoft’s Pocket Word.
Documents To Go isn’t restricted to native Office documents. You will still have the option of using the special Documents To Go format. These files will be smaller than the native ones and will be able to take advantage of DataViz’s DocSync technology, which preserves all formatting on the original document, including images, footnotes, and the whole nine yards.
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. If you want to edit Word or Excel files, you’ll have to use Documents To Go.
Personal 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, including the TJ37, 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 v.4.0, which is bundled with the TJ37. Or you can synchronize your info with the Palm Desktop.
However, if you use an Apple Macintosh, you’ll need to invest in Mark/Space’s The Missing Sync. This allows the Clie to synchronize with iCal, Address Book, iTunes, and iPhoto.
Just so there’s no confusion, the TJ37 doesn’t include the enhanced versions of the PIM apps that debuted in the Clie TH55.
Audio The TJ37 is bundled with Aerodrome Software’s AeroPlayer, which allows you to play variable bit rate MP3s and Ogg files. It also supports multiple playlists, background play, and skins. 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.
The TJ37 has a standard headphone jack but it doesn’t come with a pair of headphones.
Video The TJ37 ships with the Kinoma Player 2, which can view movies that have been converted to its proprietary format. They look pretty good, though they can become pixelated when there’s a lot of movement on the screen.
However, the video capabilities of this model are somewhat limited by the fact that it doesn’t come with the application you need to create your own Kinoma files. If you want to do this, you’ll need to buy Kinoma Producer for $30.
Unlike most handhelds these days, the TJ37 doesn’t have a voice recorder.
The TJ37 has a somewhat unusual button arrangement. Like other Sony models, it has a Jog Dial, but this isn’t in the usual place, on the left side. Instead it is on the front, with Left and Right buttons on either side. I’m not particularly fond of putting the major navigation aid in the front of the device, as it’s awkward to get your thumb down to it when you want to use the device one-handed. This is true if it’s a Jog Dial or a D-pad.
However, I do like the way the Left and Right buttons have been integrated into NetFront 3.1. I’m not fond of having to scroll back and forth on a web page, but it is a bit more tolerable when it can be done with the buttons, rather than the stylus.
One of the most important facets of any mobile device is low long it runs on a single battery charge. In my testing, I found that, with typical use, the TJ37 ran for 3.5 hours before the battery dropped to the point where it would no longer allow me to use Wi-Fi. This happens when the charge reaches 25%. It went for almost another hour of non-wireless use after that before I got a low-battery warning.
This means the SJ37’s battery life is better than most other handhelds with Wi-Fi I’ve tested recently. For example, the Axim X3i only lasted for 3 hours in a similar test.
When I say “typical use” I mean I used it as my primary handheld for several days. I kept track of my schedule, did a good bit of Web surfing, checked my email, read an ebook, that sort of thing. This wasn’t some kind of torture test.
This model doesn’t have a swappable battery, so you can’t switch to a new one if you start to run out. However, you can pick up fairly cheaply an adapter that will let you recharge it if you are away from an electrical plug.
On the TJ37, it’s a piece of semi-rigid plastic that attaches to the left side. It can be folded all the way around to the back, so it’s out of your way. The TJ37’s isn’t as nice looking as the TJ35’s, but it’s not bad.
If you want to put the TJ37 in a case, the flip cover comes off.
Stylus The standard Sony stylus telescopes, and when it is closed it is just over 2.5 inches. It opens up to be 3.7 inches long but the upper portion is ridiculously thin. I’m really not fond of this stylus; it’s like a coffee stirrer with a toothpick stuck in it.
Cables The TJ37 doesn’t come with a cradle, but you can buy one separately. Instead, it depends on a power cable and a data cable. This isn’t ideal, but is the sort of thing you expect these days in a mid-range model.
Actually, I don’t use the data cable very much. I prefer to HotSync via Wi-Fi, as this seems to be a bit faster.
It has Sony’s standard HotSync port, which means you can use it with many peripherals that attach to the handheld through this port.
The Clie TJ37 is $300, making it significantly less expensive than other recently released Wi-Fi enabled handhelds. For example, the list price on the Dell Axim X3i is currently going for $350, while the HP iPAQ h4155 is $450. This is what makes me think the TJ37 is an outstanding value.
Like everything, the Clie TJ37 has its strengths and weaknesses. It is a little short of RAM, doesn’t come with a cradle, and doesn’t have a voice recorder. On the other hand, it is the least expensive Wi-Fi-enabled handheld ever released.
In 2002, Sony built a reputation for making handhelds that offered more features for less money than its competition. It may have wavered from this last year, but with the TJ37 Sony solidly returns to its old habit.