The TG50 is Sony's attempt to appeal more to the corporate users who want to interact with wireless services like email with a keyboard instead of graffiti. As a result the package is professionally done in a stunning brushed aluminum. But does the TG50 really fit the bill and is it worth $400?
Sony's been busy so far this year, just like normal. The TG50 is the first Clie to include Palm OS 5 and a keyboard in a non-clamshell design. They've also stuck with the flip cover similar to the one found on the SJ33 series. But do not be confused, the TG50 is targeted squarely at business users who have determined two devices, a PDA and cell phone, is the route they wish to take.
The minute I took the TG50 out of the box I was very impressed. I love the brushed aluminum look, which is very stylish right now. It certainly looks more appealing than a Treo or Tungsten W, presumably the core non-Clie competitors to this device. I think any business user will feel comfortable wielding the TG50 and its understated design.
At 2 7/8 x 5 x 1/2 inches, the TG50 is tall, but remains relatively thin. The cover doesn't add bulk which is nice. It also doesn't add much weight, as the unit comes in at a manageable 6.2 ounces. The TG50 fits will in the pants pocket and is doable in a shirt pocket, but still a little tall and heavy for my liking.
As mentioned, the TG50 is protected in the front by a flip cover. The cover should do a fine job protecting the screen and will certainly stop any inadvertent button pushing on the front. It is removable, but like the SJ33, the end result is not pretty. The process of removing the cover does put a good deal of strain on the cover and the base. I don't recommend taking in on and off any more than absolutely needed. As a result of the cover, I don't see needing a case, unless you want to wear the TG50 on the hip.
Along the top of the face, there is a Bluetooth indicator that blinks blue, of course, when this feature is turned on. There is also an orange charging light or green power light, depending on what the device is doing. A bright red recording light is next in line followed by the built-in microphone.
Some of the most interesting features of the TG50 reside right below the 320 x 320 pixel screen, more on that later. Two small circular buttons with dimples made for styli depressions have taken up the slack for the application buttons that usually are found in the graffiti area. To the left is the home button, that when held for a second also opens the menu selector or drop down control. The second dimpled button enables the selection of a virtual graffiti area while inputting text or when held down the search option.
Let me take a minute to address the graffiti comment above. This unit does not have virtual graffiti like many have used in the clamshell model Clie's. This option in the TG50 allows you to select graffiti input, via dimpled button on the right, when the cursor is in a text area. So in effect, you may move from text field to text field, like entering in a new contact, and still use graffiti if that is to your liking. The only problem is that you have to push the launcher button every time. Other than that, the graffiti works quite well, it's just a shame the screen is not larger to accommodate a "real" virtual graffiti area, but that's not the point with the TG50.
In between the two dimpled buttons in a single row are the four standard application launchers and the rocker switch. The four launchers are fine, but the rocker switch is a terrible implementation. It has a raised metal knob that is supposed to be managed by a finger. It's almost sharp though and takes a good deal of pressure to move either up or down. I found it better to use a thumbnail, if you have one, to manage this switch. I imagine most people will prefer to use the jog dial on the side of the device anyway, but this is a disappointing oversight that renders the button almost useless.
The core, and most controversial, feature of the TG50 has to be the QWERTY keyboard. It's very similar to the implementation done in the NZ90, but unfortunately not as usable. The keys provide adequate response and I actually like the feel of the material. It's even pretty easy to pick up right away, with the exception of entering less common characters. However, it's hard for me to tell which keys I am depressing with my thumbs. I resolved this issue to a degree by using my thumbnails instead, but I feared women with nails would find the TG50 keyboard utterly unusable. In fact I found a couple who tried it for a bit who confirmed this guess. I found the best input method with the keypad was to peck at it with two index fingers, but that requires the TG50 to sit flat, which is not always an option.
A few other issues and notes. Most of the keys have multiple functions. In addition to a shift and control key, there are also black and red shift keys that leverage special characters, numbers and the like. It's a little tough to get the system down, but that will improve with extended usage. The backspace key is next to the "m" which is a little counter intuitive given the layout of most keyboards. Worse, the enter key is under the backspace, so I often found myself backspacing instead of entering. One more little complaint, the tab key does not move you between fields. This is not a huge issue and will likely be something a software hack can fix.
I really love the fact that it lights up though, which makes low-light or dark operation possible. All in all, keyboards and their use are highly subjective. I strongly recommend purchase from a store with a liberal return policy.
The left side of the TG50 houses another very nice design feature. The record launcher, jog dial and back buttons are all surrounded by a sleek and shiny silver casing. The record button is made of the same material which creates a very sharp looking effect. My only complaint about the record button is that it actually starts the recorder, not just the application. I prefer the Tungsten T implementation where it simply launches the program and waits for further input to begin a recording.
Along the left side is also, the now standard for this price range, power slider with the hold option. The hold is great for protecting against accidental recordings of the TG50 rattling around in your pocket all day, or until the memory card fills up! This also allows for playing MP3's wile disabling the screen. There is also a plastic battery cover held on with a small Phillips head screw. The battery can be easily replaced, although it is not meant to be done by end users and may void the warranty.
The right side of the TG50 houses the downward facing stylus silo and the lanyard slot at the top. I'm not sure if it's just my unit, but the stylus slips out pretty easily. When I slide it in, there's a little clip, but not a snug fit. Fortunately I have not lost it yet.
The top of the TG50 houses a slightly curved IR port Bluetooth activity light, memory stick slot and the stereo headphone jack. This Bluetooth light has been the subject of much debate, as there is no way to activate the Bluetooth without this constant beacon flashing away. Just like the one on the front of the TG50, I really don't mind it much and it turns out to be an interesting conversation starter for the un-initiated.
The back houses the above average speaker and reset button. The speaker is great for games and not too shabby for videos or MP3's, but lacks the bass needed to make those truly enjoyable. In the end it is serviceable and a slight upgrade over prior Sony speakers. Its position is such that the speaker will normally be covered by your hand. This is usually the part of Clie reviews where I beg for a front mounted speaker, but it's getting old, so I'll pass on it this time.
Along the bottom is the standard Sony T-connector that will let you add peripherals like a game pad and also serves as the cradle connection.
The TG50 uses a 200 MHz Intel XScale processor, which is becoming a Sony standard for high-end Clie's. As a result it runs Palm OS 5.
The 320 x 320 pixel screen (measures 3 inches diagonal) continues to be a Sony staple. There is some very noticeable shadowing though, which hard core Clie owners will find frustrating at first. Along the bottom edge of the screen, where the backlight is, there are wavy lines that will lead to either an "I don't really care" or an, "Man, that is really annoying!" I fall in the first group. The waves are clearly noticeable, but really don't impact the use of the device and after a few weeks I doubt you'll notice them at all.
The TG50 ships with a Clie-standard 16MB of memory of which only 11MB is user accessible. Once you add in NetFront at a robust 2+ MB and a few other apps that run best in system memory, you'll be dry. This used to upset me, but I've come to expect this with Clie's so it's not really a big deal. You're obviously going to want a memory stick or two for files, games and other applications.
One new feature is the TG50 Memory Stick slot. Not the slot really, but the ability to accept the new Memory Stick Pro format. Sadly there's no way to test this, as this new format is not yet available in the states. They are shipping in a few countries, but the cost may be prohibitive to many. Anyway, Sony says they'll work, so I'll take their word for it. As a side note, the new Memory Stick Select units are about to ship. The MS Select is two memory cards in the standard form factor. It has a little switch to basically pick drive a or b. Currently Lexar has a 256 Select model for $90. Many Clie owners will find this to be a more economical way to employ larger storage options.
The TG50 is Sony's second PDA to come with embedded Bluetooth. I'm a huge fan of Bluetooth, so I always get excited when devices leveraging this technology come to market. I'm hoping Sony continues down this path with all of their mid-range devices and higher.
I was able to connect to my Sony Ericsson t68i without issue. The configuration is a little hairy, but once you get used to it, it's not a big deal. Sony recently addressed this problem by releasing a wireless configuration tool than runs on the desktop and Clie which is a must download. It simplifies the setup process which is very nice, especially if this is your first time setting up wireless connections on a Palm. I was also able to connect to my PC via Bluetooth, syncing without issue.
There are a number of applications that will let you leverage the wireless connection. The most important are the NetFront web browser and Clie Mail. Much like my review of the NZ90, I continue to find the NetFront browser to be hit or miss. It continues to be one of the most robust browsers for the Palm OS with a bunch of options and fast loading pages. However, many sites don't load well leading to the dreaded page to large error that plagues NetFront. PalmSource has a second generation browser designed for use with Palm OS 5.2, but it's not yet available.
Clie Mail continues to be pretty solid. It handles attachments well, through the Pixel Viewer application. My main problem with the program is that you either have to leave the messages on the server or pull them all down to the device. There's no way to delete a message on the handheld and the server like there is with Versa Mail on the Palm's. The Clie version looks much nicer though and has a few other nice nuggets like a display showing the connection status.
The TG50 also ships with a Bluetooth application called Remote Camera. This program allows you to control a Bluetooth enabled camera. Unfortunately I do not have a BT camera to test with, but let me give you a quick rundown of its capabilities. First of all, you can connect to a camera to control taking still photos. Pretty cool, but nothing compared to the second feature, which allows setting the camera to take a photo every time movement is detected. Very cool software and a nice add-on from Sony, assuming you have a compatible camera.
The TG50, like the NZ90 is a little light on included Bluetooth applications, but at least they've shown progress. I would really like to see them include a Bluetooth chat client (there is an SMS application) and a few other goodies. I'm sure we'll see more in this area with the next Sony BT device.
The TG50 features a standard internal Lithium-ion polymer rechargeable battery. I have nothing very scientific to report, but the life is much better than any other high-end Clie I've used. I was able to use the backlight at full strength, occasionally playing MP3's and doing standard PDA stuff for an hour or two a day for nearly a week without needing a recharge.
The TG50 ships with a very good audio player that plays Sony's ATRAC3 format as well as MP3's. There's a stereo jack on the device that works with normal headphones. This time Sony opted not to ship the remote control and basic headphones. I'm fine with that as I never used the headset they sent and rarely used the remote functions. The jack is standard size, so any headphones you have will work.
As I stated before, the voice recorder has a special launcher button which is a little annoying. Rather than just opening the application, it starts recording immediately, which means more trouble to delete unwanted recordings later on. The record and playback quality is impressive though and it has both standard play and long play recording options.
The TG50 also includes Flash player, which is nice, but quite underutilized as in the past. A few test movies ran fine, but I find myself waiting for software companies to do something with this option. As I said in my NZ90 review, this is an amazingly cool tool for sales professionals to be able to show off a brief demo on the go. When someone asks to hear your elevator pitch, show it to them on this device and they'll be amazed. Other than that, we'll just have to wait for the software options to catch up.
Like other Clie's, the TG50 also leverages the remote control program that's been around for a while. I am very pleased to report that I got amazing range using this program. While the NZ90 worked only a very short-distance, I got almost 25 feet with the TG50 controlling my TV. I think it helps that the IR port is completely mounted on the top of the device, rather than rounded off on the corner like the NZ90.
Another fun tool that comes with the TG50 is Movie Player. It allows you to play MPEG videos on the Clie and works very well. It even allows you to switch the video to landscape mode which isn't real important on the TG50, but a nice feature anyway. I found the processor kept up well with most movies, even ones with a high degree of action. An interesting note, Sony has opted not to include Kinoma player with the TG50, which they had been doing on every other unit. I really liked Kinoma, but perhaps they realized people don't want to buy a $30 application to convert videos to a non-standard format. Of course, if you've made the investment in Kinoma, the player is a free download.
Beyond all the software that's been covered already and the basic Palm applications, the TG50 boasts a few other programs worth noting:
Sony also tosses in a number of freebie demos from Astraware and others that will certainly entice you if you haven't tried these already.
Disappointing though is the fact that Sony has opted not to include Documents To Go with the TG50. With a device so targeted at business and professional users and the integrated keypad, I find this move to be almost incomprehensible. The Picsel Viewer program is decent for viewing all sorts of files including Microsoft Office files, but it does not allow for things like the creation of a Word document and falls very short in the usability category.
The TG50 ships with a pretty straightforward USB cradle, though I must admit I'm a little sad they didn't include the printer port that was found in the NZ90.
The stylus is quite standard, but as noted before my unit has a strong desire to fall out often. I'm hoping this is an isolated issue, but be aware of it anyway. Worst case, buy a multifunction pen/stylus to solve the problem. The other stylus/cradle issue is that due to the bottom mount, you cannot remove the stylus while the unit is in the cradle.
As a whole, the TG50 really is a great unit and will certainly be a hit with corporate users who want wireless access to critical applications like email. They've also integrated their standard multimedia applications which add a lot of fun and weekend usability. There's no doubt that Sony has taken a chance with the TG50 though.
A potential sticking point may be the screen. The shadows at the bottom will be a problem for some and completely unimportant for others. This is simply an issue of use it to be sure it doesn't bother you too much. They cause only a mild problem for me, not enough to reject the unit on this issue alone. The keyboard is a different story though.
The unit packs in great features but it has also polarized the audience with the keyboard. It seems either people love it, or hate it and unfortunately I fall in the latter group. I just could not use the keypad, the way I wanted to, very efficiently. That said, if the TG50 looks like it will meet your needs, just go to your local electronics store to try the keypad or buy from on online retailer with a liberal return policy.
In the end, the feature set is a little high for the $400 price tag. The lack of Documents To Go is a significant omission as most users will have to buy this program or something similar for the $50 retail price. If the TG50 feature set sounds like something that might work for you, I'd wait until you can buy it for under $350 and just be very sure the screen and keyboard issues noted above are not a problem for you.
TG50 Spec Sheet and Price Comparison