Sony Clie PEG-UX50 Review

The search for the holy grail
I’ve owned about every PDA imaginable – starting with Psion Series 3 and 5, an Apple Newton, the early Palms – you name it, I owned it. For the last few months, I’ve been reasonably happy with the Palm Tungsten C. The Tungsten C marked a breakthrough regarding my PDA use: the inclusion of WiFi and a keyboard made this the first PDA for years that I actually *used* instead of just toying around with. I could never be bothered with Graffiti or other pen input schemes (my most-used motion being the left-stroke), so I mostly wrote down stuff on paper, entered it into Outlook later and synced. Now with the keyboard, I actually typed texts, entered contacts and appointments and generally actively used the Tungsten C. WiFi also broke new barriers: true, I could “surf the net” with either infrared or bluetooth, but this was both cumbersome and expensive, so I really never did it. I run a software called “Netchaser” which allows you to scan your surroundings for WiFi networks. On recent business trips, I nearly always managed to find an open network that allowed me to quickly retrieve my eMail while on the road. On a trip to Frankfurt, I even managed to check my eMail while stopping at a red light.
So far, so good. There are a few things I don’t like about the Tungsten C, though: the plastic casing feels cheap and attracts scratches rather easily, and every case I tried makes it next to impossible to sync the Palm while in the case. A few weeks ago, my Tungsten’s battery showed signs of failing, so I sent the Tungsten to Palm for a warranty repair. Thinking that I surely would be weeks without a PDA, I went and bought the Sony Clie PEG-UX50, a piece of PDA that I lusted for a long time, but the price tag put me off (EUR 699). I told myself that this would save me from having to buy a separate MP3 player, and that convinced me. Here are my thoughts after a few days of using it:

One word: WOW! This is how the Tungsten C should have been built. Metal casing (Aluminium, I think), solid hinges, spacy keyboard (though I could type better on the Tungsten’s, as the keys are a bit higher there). The camera lens can be hidden by turning it to the inside, LEDs for everything (Power, voice recording, Memory Stick access, WiFi, Bluetooth), standard stereo headphone jack (you hear that, Palm???).
There are two bad things, though: The stylus seems to fall out all by itself, and somebody got something seriously wrong with the cable connections. You have to plug a Mini-USB cable into the Clie for hotsyncing, but this won’t charge the device. To charge, you *have* to put it into a cradle (which is *only* needed for charging!). There is no other way to charge the Clie, so you have to lug the cradle around while on business trips. Stupid. Plain stupid.

You name it, it’s there: 480×320 HiRes Display, VGA camera for pictures and video, voice recorder, Memory Stick slot, IrDa, USB, WiFi, Bluetooth – there certainly isn’t a more connected PDA on the market today. The screen can be tilted to transform the device into something like a mini-TabletPC.

That is definitely the best part: everything works right out of the box. I was able to hotsync via IrDa, USB, Bluetooth and WiFi. You can also turn the Clie into a virtual drive via USB, so copying files to and from couldn’t be easier. Bluetooth worked fine with an Ericsson R520m and my PC USB dongle, so I have no reason to doubt that it will work with other devices, too. WiFi was painless as well. In fact, it worked easier and more reliable than on my Tungsten C. The only downside is that Sony doesn’t seem to care about open standards too much – scanning the device via bluetooth yielded no discoverable services, and Netchaser (mentioned above) won’t work because Sony Japan apparently hasn’d told any developer how the WiFi module can be accessed.

The Sony Clie PEG-UX50 is one of the best PalmOS PDAs I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, it doesn’t yet come with the latest PalmOS version that supports multiple addresses in contacts and several other improvements. Side note: that very version is not even available as an update for the Tungsten C – guys, why do you install flash ROM when you don’t plan to update the OS???? Anyway: the bigger display is a huge advantage, although in can *only* be used in portrait mode. Not all (read: few) applications support that, but some genius wrote CodeDiver, a hack that allows older apps to run in full-screen mode. Higly recommended! Even works for DocumentsToGo.

Final judgement
If you can spare the money, there certainly isn’t a better PalmOS PDA to get. I hope that Palm sees the light and offers an enhanced version of the Tungsten C with bluetooth and a better case/screen, but right now, this is excellent. Especially regarding connectivity, this is a dream come true. Whether you’re at home, at work or on the road, you can be sure to get on the ‘net one way or another.


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