Sony CLIE TJ35 Full Review

by Brian Reads (45,485)

The Sony CLIE TJ35 is the latest compact PDA offering from Sony.  It has a new, thinner shape comprised of convincingly metalized plastic and polished (real) aluminum trim where it counts.  It is sleek, functional, and a pleasure to operate.  Its appearance suits its use as a tool for business users.  To this end, Sony has also packed in some valuable features from its high-end PDAs, namely Decuma, Picsel Viewer and Palm OS 5.   The MP3 player (Aeroplayer) and headphone jack included with the TJ35 round out this impressive offering listed for $250, or $220 with Sony’s mail-in rebate.  Despite its value, it is $20 more than its competition: PalmOne’s $200 Tungsten E.  Is it worth the extra money?  These two models are very close in performance and price, and as we discuss here.  Each has its strengths.  Individuals will have to decide for themselves which of these matter most.

 Sony PEG-TJ35 Hardware Specifications
Manufacturer
Sony Corporation
Wireless
Infrared only (IrDA 1.2)
OS
Palm OS version 5.2.1
Connections
USB, Stereo headphones
CPU
200 MHz iMXL Appl. Processor
Display
320 x 320 pixels, 65,536 colors
RAM
32 MB (23 Available)
Size
4.25×2.94×0.47″
(10.8×7.5×1.2 cm)
ROM
8 MB
Weight
4.9 oz.
Expansion
Memory Stick PRO
Battery
Lithium-Ion (800 mA)


TJ35 Front view TJ35 Side view TJ35 back
TJ35 top
Multiple Views of the Sony TJ35: front, right side, back, and top.

The Evolution

The TJ35 appears to be based on Sony’s two earlier compact PDA models:  the T-series and the SJ-series.  Is it an improvement?  For the most part, yes.  In form factor is a definite improvement over the SJ-series and even the T-series.
TJ35 and T-series compared
Sony TJ35 and the earlier T-series

 The TJ-series is thinner than both earlier models and as short as the SJ-series making it easier to handle and transport.  It is a bit wider than the earlier models but only slightly.  The jog dial has moved from the side where it was on earlier models to the low center under the screen where PalmOne’s 5-way navigators are.  This provides a slightly better feel for the scrolling motion and benefits lefties by making it equally thumb-accessible, but Sony left out the ‘back’ button.  That is too bad, I will miss it.  The scroll wheel is a vast improvement over the rocker switch on the T-series, however,  and offers better tactile response than the SJ-series buttons.  The buttons left and right of the scroll wheel aren’t as well utilized as they could be.  (They could be used for an accelerated page advance or for jumping through lists, for instance.)  They do navigate between songs on Aeroplayer while the scroll wheel controls volume.  On the Sony application launcher they switch between the category list and the individual file list.  So there is hope similar functions can be found for other programs.  

TJ35 buttons
Sony TJ35 application buttons and scroll wheel.

The expansion option is no different than previous Sony offerings:  the Memory Stick format.  The TJ35 does support both the standard Memory Stick format and the higher speed, higher capacity (and higher cost) Memory Stick PRO.  Sony has engineered some cross compatibility into the TJ35.  It uses the same synchronization adaptor as the T- and SJ-series so you can use accessories designed for these models including keyboards and travel chargers.  This is a nice feature but it does not extend to the cradles.  The TJ35 is too wide to fit into earlier cradles.  TJ35 cradles are available from Sony for $30 and are not included with the TJ35.
TJ35 headphones and memory stick
Sony TJ35 view of  top back showing the inserted stylus, the IR port, headphone jack and Memory Stick PRO slot.

The Hardware

The body
of the TJ35 is noticeably thinner and shorter than most Palm devices.  Its elegant appearance combined with its functional form result in a useful business tool.  It fits so perfectly in your shirt pocket it seems to have been designed for it, although this is not an advisable place to carry a PDA.  Its light weight and small size mean it’s easy to carry almost anywhere.  The design is well crafted and its elegance is typical of what many people have come to expect from Sony.  Comparing the design to the SJ-series and my well-worn T-series, I can see where Sony has improved on various design features.  The real metal is placed around high contact areas like the synchronization port and the right and left sides, while the metal-colored plastic is on the front and back, and the simple-but-effective cover attachment mechanism snaps securely in the metal left side. Some of the corners are a bit more pronounced than other Sony and Palm models making it more noticeable when carrying the TJ35 in pant pockets.      

The bottom of the TJ35 showing metal surrounding the synchronization connector.

The screen
is the same 320 x 320 pixel hi-res screen that Sony pioneered in Palm OS PDAs before even Palm included them.  The screen has gotten progressively better and this is one of the best Sony has produced, in terms of depth of color.  Sony’s screens are not the brightest on the market.  They are noticeably dimmer when compared to the new Palm screens on the Zire 71 and Tungsten line (including the Tungsten E).  Nevertheless the screens are very good and most folks will not notice the comparative difference in intensity.  Sony has modified their launcher and proprietary  software to take full advantage of the 320 x 320 screen so that you are getting the most out of it.  That is to say the screen is more than functional, it is a pleasure to use.  The brightness setting for the screen has only four levels but you can shut off the backlight entirely using the power button.  This is a feature not found on the new PalmOne devices and extends battery life if needed.
TJ35 SCREEN
The Sony TJ35′s screen is bright enough and the integrated launcher is easy to use.  Note the LED under the memo application button (far right).

The buttons
are arranged in pairs on either side of the centrally located scroll wheel.  Each pair is connected by a short bar so that each pair looks like a barbell in shape.  This provides no advantage that I can see.  Tactile response is not helped by this arrangement.  In fact, it’s worse than the previous Sony models.  The best thing I can say about it is that you can get used to it over time.  The scroll wheel was discussed earlier as a new design feature.

The available memory
is 23 MB out of the 32 MB included.  The 9 MB of used memory is for the included Sony software, none of which you may delete.
TJ35 Memory
Tapping on Sony’s battery indicator gives additional charge and memory status information.

 The battery
is 800 mA and 5.2 V.  A 100% charge registers at 4.2 V.  Low battery warnings appear at 3.75 V and the unit shuts itself off at 3.70 V.  In the battery tests indicated anywhere between 8-20% remaining charge before shutting itself off.  The first test consisted of looping a video with brightness at maximum and the sound volume (speaker) at half until the unit shut itself off.  Under these conditions the unit lasted 2.5 hours.  Playing mp3 continuously with the backlight off and the volume at 60% (headphones) the unit lasted 5 hours and 40 minutes before shutting itself off.  Under less strenuous conditions, namely ‘standard’ PDA use, with 15-30 minutes of PIM and software functions only at 80% brightness, the unit easily lasted 5 days without needing a recharge.  The battery is what I’d call user accessible rather than swappable.  While users can access the battery through a door on the back of the device after removing a small screw, it is not designed for conveniently slapping in a charged battery when the current on runs low.  Instead, it allows the user to replace a bad battery without having to ship the unit off to Sony for the repair.  This is still a nice feature and will certainly save some users (and Sony) the expense and hassle of shipping.
TJ35 battery
The Sony TJ35 battery revealed.

The stylus
is Sony’s collapsible same stylus found on the Sony NX73 and NX 80.  It has another home in the TJ35.  While a nicely compacted metal stylus, it is very small – as in thin.  Sony’s standard styli are thinner than PalmOne’s.  Sony’s collapsible styli are even thinner.  This is uncomfortable for some users, including myself.  The inner pole is literally no thicker than a steakhouse toothpick.  It is well made, compact, and better than your finger – in a word:  useable.
TJ35 plus accessories
The TJ35 showing the side flip cover attached, the extended stylus, the charging and synchronization adaptor, and the Memory Stick


Power button and LED
are on the right of the unit.  The power button is actually a flat three position slider on right metal edge of the TJ35, that you can’t see from the front.  The TJ35 is powered on by pressing the slider down and letting it spring back into the neutral position.  By holding the slider down you can toggle the backlight on and off.  Pushing the slider up will lock the unit in power of mode so that no button presses can accidentally activate the unit and potentially waste the charge.  The LED is on the lower right front corner face of the unit and glows green when the power is on.  It glows orange when charging and shuts off once fully charged.  

The headphone jack
is present on the TJ35 and not the TJ25.  The jack on the TJ35 is nestled in a small nub popping up from the sloping back of the unit.  The TJ25 simply lacks this nub, the jack and the ability to listen to MP3s.  The reset button is located on the back, bottom center.  Mercifully, Sony has changed the size of the access hole so the stylus tip can reset the unit.  No more unscrewing the tip of your stylus for the reset pin or searching around for a paper clip.  The small speaker is also located on the back below the battery access door and above the serial number.  Like all such speakers it is ideally used for alarms and tones.  Higher quality music playback is obtained by using headphones.  The expansion slot is located top right when looking at the back of the unit.  It is designed to allow the Memory Stick to protrude slightly.  A small LED next to the slot lights when the Memory Stick is being used.  When no Memory Stick is present, a small door springs shut to cover the open slot and easily flips out of the way when another is inserted.   The infrared port is on the top side of the unit between the stylus and headphone jack.
Battery Test Graph
The battery test results:  the A/V test (movie loop) and MP3 playback (backlight off).  See text for details.


Expansion options
on the TJ are limited to Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro.  As a user of Memory Stick cards I can tell you they have had their ups and downs.  Initially they were (very) slow to come down in price as flash memory became cheaper.  However, they are currently cost competitive with secure digital (SD) cards.  Let’s hope it stays this way.  Everyone else beside Sony, seems to have jumped on the SD card or Compact Flash (CF) card bandwagon.  So forget about swapping Memory Sticks between devices unless you own many things Sony.  Alternative expansion options, like Wi-Fi cards, modems or GPS receivers are not yet available in the Memory Stick format like they are are for Compact Flash and even SD card slots.  When Memory Stick expansion options are available they are more expensive.  The fact that most other PDA Manufacturers (HP, Dell, Toshiba, Viewsonic, Palm, Tapwave, etc.) are supporting SD card expansion over Memory Stick doesn’t bode well for this format.  Future PDA demand for SD card products will be greater and more companies catering to that demand will keep products and prices competitive.  The Memory Stick format relies on Sony mustering support and interest for it.  As big as Sony is, it is no match for the free market.  The free market appears headed for an SD expansion standard.  Why does Sony continue to push their proprietary format while everyone else is standardizing on SD format? Anyone remember Betamax?  
In short, if you expect to use the Memory Stick expansion slot for any sort of expansion other than memory, think again.  As solely a memory expansion format, the standard Memory Stick is as good as SD in form and price.  The Memory Stick PRO format allows faster access speeds and more Storage (at an increased cost of course).  It is available from Sony.

Accessories


A cradle is not part of the package.  Like the PalmOne Tungsten E only a travel-type charger and synchronizing cable are included.  Because the TJ35 maintains a standard synchronization connector, a special adaptor is included  that clips into the TJ and the mini USB cable and the power cord plugs into it.  The standard connector means you can order a cradle for the TJ35 from Sony.  Because the TJ35 is wider than earlier units you will need to get the cradle specially made for the TJ.  You can use some of the other accessories designed for earlier Sony units, however.  
The included side flip cover is practical, lightweight and keeps the unit slim.  It is flexible enough to not get in the way and has good padding to protect the screen and is reinforced over the application button to avoid accidental activation.  It offers no protection for the back, right side, top or bottom of the unit.
TJ35 Cover
The included basic but functional side flip cover.

Click to go to Page 2 for Second Part of Sony Clie TJ35 Review >>


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