MegaZone (zonereyrie) wrote,

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Sony Clie NZ90 - backstory and first impressions

I recently decided it was time to replace my faithful Visor Deluxe with something a little more modern. I've had the VDX for three years or so, and it replaced a Palm IIIx that I'd had for a couple of years prior. It worked OK, but the speed, screen resolution, and lack of color were starting to bug me as I saw an increasing number of nicer devices coming out. Additionally, I wanted to try out mobile data access. Options for the VDX were limited (running PalmOS 3.1 meant no VisorPhone, etc.) - besides, accessing the net at 160x160 in greyscale didn't sound thrilling. My cell phone was about due for a revamp as well - for over four years I'd been carrying an original Digital StarTac. I got one the first day Bell Atlantic (pre-Verizon) offered them, and it cost me $500. This was the original model - no WAP, etc. Just a fairly basic CDMA phone, which was astonishingly small for the time. And, to top it off, I'd been casually interested in replacing my APS Elph camera with something digital - I always had PhotoCDs made anyway.

Back when Sony first released the NV line I checked them out in stores and decided I rather liked the form factor. But I knew OS5 was just around the corner, and I couldn't see replacing my VDX for basically the larger screen and a slight speed gain. But after seeing the Hi-Res+ (320x480) screens I decided that my next system should be Hi-Res+, or at least Hi-Res (320x320). When the NX series came out, basically the NVs upgraded to OS5, I took notice and started seriously thinking about making the switch. But it took a while for things I used every day - especially AvantGo - to be ported, etc. Plus I lacked full time employment from June 2001 until November 2002, which put a crimp in my spending. Once I'd been working for a few months, which was early this year, I started thinking about it again. By then the NZ90 had appeared, and the Tungsten|T was also something to consider.

As an aside, I originally was gung-ho about a converged PDA/phone. I looked at the original pDQ when they came out, but they were bricks. The Treo lacked expansion and, while I liked the idea of a keyboard, I didn't like not having Graffiti as an option. The pDQ2 aka Kyocera 6035 was better than the pDQ, but it didn't offer more than my Visor as a PDA. Then the Kyocera 7135 was announced last year it looked like the device I wanted - color screen, fairly compact, etc. Even though it was 160x160 I figured I'd deal OK. And if Verizon had carried them last fall, as original expected, I probably would've picked one up. But they didn't get them until April of this year - by which time several OS5 devices were out, and when I tried one it just seemed like too little, too late. If someone makes a GSM/GPRS module that works with the NZ90, I might consider it.

So I decided on the NZ90 - just in time for the Tungsten|C to be announced and give me a fit of indecision. But I overcame that an decided to go for the NZ90 when I spotted someone selling their unit in the Clie Source forums. I ended up picking up a nearly new NZ90, WL100 Wi-Fi card, extra charger, and two 128MB Memory Sticks for $725. And I'm extremely happy with the deal. Especially since I then determined that the Palm SDIO BlueTooth card does not yet work under OS5, so I wouldn't have been able to use the T|C for mobile data.

Once I'd decided on the NZ90 I needed a new phone for BlueTooth. While I've been happy with Verizon's service, they disqualified themselves by not carrying any BT phones. The told me they didn't carrying any, and had no plans to in the near future. But I might be able to find a Motorola TimePort 270 on eBay, then buy the BT module for it, and they'd let me subscribe it to their network. Um, yeah, OK. In my area there appear to be two providers who offer BlueTooth phones - T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless. Both of them offered the Sony Ericsson T68i (amongst others), which was my top pick from my research. Both of them offered comparably priced plans - T-Mobile slightly better, but they wanted $299 for the phone while AT&T was asking $149. (Both also had a $50 rebate off those prices.) In the end I went with AT&T Wireless, primarily because the sales rep I spoke with came across as a lot more knowledgeable and helpful than the guys at T-Mobile. (Emily Benoit - AT&T Wireless, 291 Turnpike Road (Rt9), Westborough, MA) I've had the phone for a little over a week and it is rather nice, I recommend it - I also picked up a Jabra FreeSpeak BlueTooth headset for it.

After watching the package bounce around UPS's tracking system for a week, I received the unit yesterday. I'm very impressed with it. The screen is incredibly sharp and the backlight is bright. Next to the Dell Latitude C840 I have at work the Clie's screen looks both brighter and sharper. And that's with the backlight on the Clie turned down, and the laptop up. The NZ90 is a little bit bit, and it has heft, but not annoyingly so in either case, IMHO. I am a big guy - I'm 6'6" and fairly big all around, so someone tiny may not feel the same way.

At first use I wasn't sure what to make of the Jog Dial. It does take some getting used to, but after only a day I'm already finding it fairly easy to use and very nice for things like scrolling a long article in AvantGo, etc. I've also got to get used to using the 'Hold' slider - with buttons on three edges, it is fairly easy to hit one with the unit closed.

A couple of pointers for someone first getting one of these:
1. Remove all the demos, FAQs, tours, etc, from the unit. Or move them to a Memory Stick or something. They take up a few MBs of the RAM, which you'll probably want to use. I figured "11MB - my Visor only had 8MB and I never had many problems!" Yeah, I also didn't have things like NetFront using 2MB+, etc.

2. As soon as you finish installing the softeware from the CD, get thee to SonyStyle's support area and download all the patches and such for the unit. Also, if you intend to use BlueTooth or Wi-Fi, you definitely want the configuration tool they have for download there. It makes life VERY much easier.

Setup was simple and direct for anyone with PalmOS experience, and probably for newbies as well. I had no trouble installing my apps (once I freed up some RAM), doing my first sync, etc. And by the end of the evening I was connecting to the net via BlueTooth GPRS and the T68i. Works like a charm!

Today I configured the Wi-Fi card to work with our 802.11b network in the office. I was walking around, browsing the web, syncing up AvantGo, POPping email, etc. Fantastic. I also configured a T-Mobile HotSpot profile, just out of curiosity, and went to lunch at the Boston Market up the road - which is next door (as in, divided by a wall) to a Starbucks. It connected no problem - I didn't feel like paying for an account, since I don't see myself using it often, but it is nice to know I have the option.

Overall, I'm very impressed with this unit. I've played with the camera a bit - both still and MPEG4 video - and I'm still getting used to the keyboard. But the screen, performance, and connectivity are everything I'd hoped for.

Now, that's not to say it is perfect:
1. I wish they'd made the CF slot full depth, and either provided an eject button or a cutout in the back for a finger-tip to pull it out. Instead it is designed to have a bit of the card sticking out so you can grab it to remove it. Which means a LOT of the Wi-Fi card sticks out. I'd like the card to sit flush, with only the antenna sticking out - it'd look much nicer and wouldn't be as awkward.

2. I worry about losing the stylus. Externally mounting the stylus worries me - I like the silos. I'm still getting used to it, but it does seem a bit more awkward to remove, and certainly harder to put away. With a silo you just line up the point and slide it home with no effort. This is more fiddly.

3. More RAM would be nice. I managed to fill all 11MB last night - and I still hadn't installed everything! I moved a lot of stuff onto a Memory Stick to free up space. I need to look into something like JackFlash to push software into the Flash ROM.

4. I wish there was another button with the Jog Dial to switch context. For example, I can use the dial to select AvantGo from the launcher and launch it. Then the dial will scroll the screen up and down - but there is no way to scroll to an item in the screen and select it, you have to tap. Once in an entry, say CNet, same thing - it scrolls the screen, you can't select a link. Once in a link, you can scroll the article. I'd like to be able to toggle between 'scroll' and 'select', for true one handed operation. (OK, this is where people scoff at the Clie newbie and tell me I'm missing something obvious.) Ugh... like using the 'memo' button if you have 'remap buttons' turned on in AG. (Why didn't I try that before?) Still, it isn't one handed in tablet mode, and not all apps do that kind of thing.

5. I've seen the external battery pack over at SonyStyle, but what I'd love to see is something that clips on the back of the unit and holds a row of AAA batteries. The cradle/camera bulge is already about that thick. It'd just plug into the cradle connector and hook into the two holes on the bottom of the unit where the units clips onto the cradle. You should be able to fit 6, maybe 8, AAAs on the back. Why? For those times when you need to charge on the go, or you know you're going to take a lot of flash photos, or you're on that flight from Boston to Sydney and want your MP3s, etc. I can't be the only one who thinks that'd be a useful add-on, right?

OK, that's about all I have to say for now. I got a 25% discount coupon from SonyStyle for registering the unit (the first owner never did), so I ordered a second cradle for home, along with screen protectors and a stylus pack. I figure having a spare stylus will be insurance - as long as I have one I'll never lose the original. But if I didn't, I'd lose it at the worst time.

So far, so good. This is a nice PDA - and the combo with the T68i makes for a good team.
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