Brighthand Reviews the Sony NR70V

by Reads (6,703)

When Sony entered the Palm Powered handheld market a couple of years back, everyone had high hopes. After all, we’re talking about Sony, king of consumer electronics. But those hopes were soon dashed when Sony unveiled its first device, an uninspired Palm V wannabe that lacked the multimedia wizardry many were expecting.

Still, it served a purpose.

Sony had gotten its foot in the door, and more importantly it had learned a valuable lesson: you’ve got to raise the bar. Simply matching the leader accomplishes nothing in this era of fickle consumers; you’ve truly got to set your sights high. So raise the bar it did.

Sony eventually proved that a Palm Powered handheld could be a multimedia device, despite its underpowered processor. And it led the way in innovative design, much as it did in the 1970’s and 1980’s with its WalkMan. Now it’s pushed the bar to remarkable new heights with its revolutionary Clie PEG-NR70V handheld computer.

The NR70V incorporates a host of exciting features, from its ability to play digital music to its built-in keyboard to its integrated digital camera. Add to that a high resolution color screen, the ability to function as a universal remote controller for your TV, VCR, and stereo, and the fastest processor to date in a Palm Powered handheld and you begin to get the picture.

Still, it’s the NR70V’s inventive industrial design that steals the show. Yes, we’ve seen clamshell devices before, but nothing like this one. It’s tall rather than wide, and its screen is positioned in portrait rather than landscape mode. Flip it open, StarTrek communicator style, and it reveals a built-in keyboard. Twist the screen 180 degrees and flip it closed, and now you’ve got a mini-tablet. Amazing. But you really have to see it to truly appreciate it.

So is this the coolest PDA we’ve ever seen? Absolutely!

 

A tour of the NR70V

At seven ounces and 0.7" thick, the NR70V won’t earn a spot in the ultra-thin, ultra-light category. Still, it’s highly portable, comparable in size and weight to the HP (nee Compaq) iPAQ Pocket PC (see picture below). And because it incorporates a protective shell you won’t need a case, although I’m awaiting one from Vaja that’s sure to change my mind.


Sony Clie PEG-NR70V (left) and HP (nee Compaq) iPAQ 3850 (right)

What stands out most about the NR70V, aside from its unique design, is its display. It’s big, and it’s beautiful. At 320 pixels wide by 480 pixels tall, it boasts the highest resolution display on any PDA to date. And at 4" diagonally, including its virtual Graffiti area, it’s also the biggest. Plus, it’s beautiful, capable of 65 thousand vivid colors, and usable both indoors and outdoors.

The virtual Graffiti area is especially cool. We’ve seen it before in the HandEra 330, but Sony’s implementation takes it a step further. You can hide it completely in certain apps by tapping on the blue minimize arrow. And it’s skinnable, in a sense, with a variety of backgrounds popping up on Clie fan sites. Finally, it provides feedback for your Graffiti, mimicing your keystrokes in white on the screen.

However, there are a couple of points to consider regarding the display. First, not every application can take advantage of the full 320×480 screen. Sony’s picture viewer, PhotoStand, can, and iambic’s Action Names can, but most others cannot. So don’t be disappointed if you find that your favorite app isn’t as "big and beautiful" as you’d expected.

Second, while it’s certainly readable outdoors I struggled at times to find just the right viewing angle in the strong Atlanta sun. Also, I noticed some subtle shadowing at the top of the screen; while not a showstopper it was distracting at first. Still, it’s a fantastic display that few can match.


Sony Clie PEG-T615C (left) and PEG-NR70V (right)

The next thing you notice about the Clie NR70V is the integrated digital camera. The lens is located near the fold in the device and can rotate 300 degrees, while the capture button is located on the top left. I’ve tried a number of camera accessories for PDAs and this is the first one that makes sense, with the key being its near perfect integration. It simply works.

However, as I’ve mentioned in the past, if you’re interested in quality pictures these types of cameras are not meant as replacements for standalone digital cameras. The NR70V’s digital camera lacks a macro option and there’s no flash, and the picture quality is only fair. Still, one of the keys to snagging that one-of-a-kind inpromptu shot is actually having a camera with you, and that’s where the NR70V comes in handy. After all, what good is an excellent camera if it’s sitting at home.


Left side of Sony Clie PEG-NR70V


The next feature that strikes you about the NR70V is its BlackBerry-inspired built-in keyboard. As with any thumb type keyboard, the NR70V’s 42-button QWERTY keyboard has its nuances and may take a bit of getting used to, but it certainly does the job. Again, be prepared for a slight learning curve.

One issue I had when using the keyboard was that the NR70V tends to be top-heavy when in clamshell mode, so it requires two hands. Likewise, when using the device in tablet mode you’ll quickly discover that the Scroll and Application Launch buttons are unavailable. Thank goodness for the Back button and the Jog Dial.

For music lovers, the Clie NR70V can play MP3 files (quite well, in fact) and comes complete with a set of earbuds and remote control (see picture below). As with earlier Clie models capable of playing music, the NR70V accomplishes this feat thanks to a built-in digital signal processor (DSP), since the Motorola Dragonball chip isn’t quite up to the task.


Did we mention that it’s fast?

Under the hood of the Sony Clie PEG-NR70V is a Motorola Dragonball Super VZ processor running at 66MHz. It’s the fastest processor to date in a Palm Powered handheld and our CPU benchmarks bear that out. You won’t notice the performance boost in standard tasks, such as pulling up your calendar or list of contacts, but it’s definitely noticeable when performing processor intensive operations such as sorting a large list or recalculating a spreadsheet.

The NR70V comes with 16 megabytes of RAM (and of course there’s its Memory Stick slot for additional storage–you supply the Stick), and 8 megabytes of flash ROM.

One of the biggest concerns with moving to a larger, brighter display and a faster processor is the potential impact on battery life. While the NR70V certainly cannot achieve the longevity of the Palm m515, it is still quite good. I used an NR70V under normal circumstances for several days (including playing MP3s and taking pictures) and had no battery issues. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on usage.

As far as software, the NR70V runs Palm OS version 4.1, so there’s nothing new to add about the standard apps. And with the exception of the new Sony apps for the digital camera, we’ve covered all of the other included software in recent Clie reviews, so no need to rehash that all here.

 

What’s inside the box

Inside the Clié’s familiar lime green and turquoise box you’ll find the following items:

  • Sony Clié PEG-NR70V Personal Entertainment Organizer
  • USB synchronization cradle
  • AC adapter
  • Stereo earbuds and volume control
  • Installation CD-ROM
  • Instruction manuals

 

 

Bottom Line

OK, it’s bigger and heavier than other Palm Powered handhelds, and it’s more expensive too. But the Sony Clié PEG-NR70V does things no other PDA can. It’s even got longtime Pocket PC devotees considering the jump to the Palm OS.

So if you’re looking to turn heads, and stay organized at the same time, you’ll definitely want to take a look at the New Sony Clie NR70V. It’s absolutely the hottest PDA we’ve seen to date.


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