Reviewed August 16, 2006 by Lisa Gade, Editor
It seems that we're in an evolutionary rather than revolutionary period when it comes to PDAs. Witness the Sharp Zaurus SL-C3200 which is basically the same as the Zaurus C3100 it replaces, and the C3100 was quite similar to the Zaurus C3000 it replaced. In fact all three are very, very similar to the now discontinued Zaurus C860 (I still own and use one of these) but the C860 lacked the hard drive. And so from the C3100 to the 3200 we get a 6 gig rather than 4 gig hard drive. For upgraders, there's nothing terribly compelling save the additional hard drive space which is nice for those who want to carry a collection of MP3s or videos for playback on the go.
The Zaurus is in a class by itself, being a cross between a PDA and a handheld computer. Rather than running a somewhat limited PDA operating system, it runs Linux which means the CPU and RAM are the only real limit for running Linux applications. Linux apps must be recompiled to run on the Zaurus but that's not a daunting task, and we've seen many useful ports and open source software for the Z emerge over the years. In fact, there are several ROMs available for the Z as well (modified versions of the OS and even different Linux distros).
This is an instant-on machine (no waiting for a computer to boot) with a VGA touch screen and an excellent miniature keyboard. Like a PDA it has full PIM applications, and adds very capable MS Office editors, the NetFront web browser, email client and more. The Zaurus' web browser is much more like a desktop web browser in presentation and layout, though it doesn't support the full range of desktop plugins. That said, it beats PDA browsers by a mile and you can install Opera to further broaden your browsing options. Given the screen resolution, killer keyboard, desktop-like web browser and strong Office suite, the Zaurus really crosses over into handheld computer territory and is more powerful than a basic PDA.
Sharp doesn't sell the Zaurus in the US, they left the market several years ago and the SL-6000 was their last US offering. The clamshell design C series Zaurii have never marketed in the US, but they are available from importers such as Dynamism, who provided our review unit. Dynamism offers a warranty and translates the Zaurus into English (since it's a Japanese market product, it ships in Japanese, though it's not terribly hard to switch it to English). Currently, they sell the Zaurus for $899 in the US.
The Zaurus C3200 vs. the Nokia 770
Though little has changed over the past few model revisions, the Zaurus is still a very useful machine and the C series at one point was way ahead of its time. Even today it competes well with the Nokia 770, which was born several years after the C series Zaurii. Both the Zaurus and Nokia run Linux, but the Z has a much faster CPU, an excellent keyboard, a CF and SD slot (the Nokia has only an RS-MMC card slot), and clearly more storage and memory. The Nokia is the new kid on the block relative to the Zaurus, but is has a few tricks up its sleeve, most notably a much, much lower price tag, a higher resolution display, Bluetooth and WiFi 802.11b/g.
Design and Ergonomics
The Zaurus is a large PDA or a very, very small handheld computing, depending on how you look at the device. It's about the same size as the i-mate JasJar (HTC Universal) and much smaller than the OQO model 01 and Sony Vaio UX180P. Like all other C series Zaurii, the C3200 has a clamshell design like a notebook and the display can swivel and lay flat for use as a tablet in either portrait or landscape orientation (like a Windows XP convertible Tablet, but Sharp did it first!).
The Zaurus SL-C3200's keyboard is still the best we've used on a handheld (and yes, it has English characters). it's roomy but not too widely spaced, with large keys, good tactile feedback and an overall design that hits the sweet spot. I can type 50 wpm on the Z. If you've used previous C series models, the keyboard is similar. The circular directional pad on the front right section of the keyboard is easy to use and a great improvement over arrow keys. It has a center Enter key and a Cancel key just beside it. Though I'm a lefty, I found it easy to use. The keyboard isn't large enough for touch typing but is perfect for thumb typing (or two index fingers when the Zaurus is resting on a table). My age old gripe is that CF wireless card networking cards stick out the right side and forces a big right thumb stretch when typing.
The C3200 is finished in sliver with a black bottom. The casing is made of sturdy plastic and you need not remove the entire bottom cover to replace the battery as with older C series models. The chrome finished hinge is extremely robust and the display can be set at any angle when in clamshell mode and it locks at approximately 30 degrees short of flush. You can swivel the display and lay it flat against the handheld's body to use it in tablet mode (both landscape and portrait modes are supported).
The Zaurus has quick launch buttons in the "wrist rest" area for calendar, address book, mail, home and menu activation. The SD card slot is located on the front edge and as we noted, the CF card is on the right side. The power button is on the front left end and OK and Cancel keys are on the back edge for use when the device is in tablet mode. A handy scroll wheel is located near the afore mentioned buttons and the mini USB sync port is on the back. The IR window is on the machine's left side and the 3.5mm headphone jack is on the right. The stylus slides into a silo that's accessible from the left side.
Horsepower and Performance
The Zaurus runs Lineo Linux with kernel 2.4.20 and Qtopia window manager by Trolltech v. 1.5.4 (the same versions found on the C3000 and C3100). The machines runs on an Intel XScale PXA270 processor clocked at 416MHz and has 64 megs of RAM (used like RAM in your PC) and 128 megs of flash ROM. You may install programs to flash memory or to the 6 gig internal microdrive. As we received it, the Zaurus had 67 megs of free flash memory and 4.5 gigs free on the hard drive. It's a responsive handheld and the only delay you'll notice in average use is the 2 seconds it takes to launch a program from flash memory or the drive (programs in RAM switch instantly). For those of you who've used other C series Zaurii, it's similar in performance. The C3200 can handle simultaneous web browsing with multiple windows, MS Office document work and even a PDF run in a viewer. It only slows down if you have long documents (say a 50 page or more Word doc), and then the delay is the actual document open (and occasionally scrolling).
The display in portrait mode.
The Zaurus has a type II Compact Flash card slot and an SD slot for further memory expansion (but will you need it with a 6 gig hard drive). More likely you'll want to use the CF slot for a WiFi or Bluetooth CF card. Miraculously, through many iterations of the C series, Sharp has never added internal WiFi or Bluetooth. The Zaurus used the embedded graphics processor in the Intel XScale CPU and lacks a dedicated GPU (most PDAs don't have dedicated graphics processors either, but the older Zaurus C860 had one). The Zaurus supports USB host mode, as did prior C3xxx models but you will need to find the proper cable and enable the driver at the command line to use USB devices (generally, keyboards, mice and USB hard drives, card readers should work).
Display, Sound and Multimedia
The Zaurus uses Sharp's CG Silicon display. It's extremely bright, sharp and vivid. It's
a true pleasure to look at this screen. Though the unit squeezes
640 x 480 pixels into a small 3.7" panel, the screen is sharp
enough to maintain easy readability. That said, text is still
small on this device so if your eyes aren't very good, keep that
in mind. The Zaurus does offer 5 levels of zoom so you can enlarge
text as needed and the included Office apps and web browser support
zooming too. When you swivel the display to tablet mode it automatically switches to portrait orientation, which is great for eBook reading. The switch is faster than Windows Mobile devices, and if you prefer, you can switch back to landscape orientation when the device is in tablet mode.
The Z has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack for music and soundtrack playback and the quality is quite good. With 6 gigs of space, the C3200 makes an ideal converged portable music player. It acts as a USB 2.0 mass storage device when plugged into a PC with the included USB cable, which makes music transfer fast and easy. Sharp includes a music player application and there are open source and commercial video players that get decent though not mind blowing performance from the Zaurus. QVGA videos encoded at 600 kbps or less play very well, but VGA videos encoded at 1,000 kbps will stutter.
The Zaurus comes with the same apps we've seen on prior C3xxx models and adds software to help Japanese speakers learn English (text to speech, training for the TOEIC). As always, Dynamism
has done a great job converting the unit to English, and pretty
much everything but the help files have been translated. The
C3200 uses the same launcher as the SL-5xxx and Cxxx models,
and has most of the same applications, including an email client
that supports SMTP authentication and multiple accounts and both
IMAP4 and POP3 protocols, a backup app, a text editor, an MP3
player, a very capable movie player, Terminal (have
a blast with the command line and the Z's bash shell), a file
search application, image viewer and editor, a large Japanese dictionary,
voice recorder (though there is no built-in mic on the Z, so
you'll have to use an external mic), City Time, a calculator,
handwriting recognition (supports English and Japanese) and more.
Of course, the unit comes with standard PIM apps: calendar, To
Do list, and an address book.
Want do check out some of the many free software
titles available for the Zaurus? Visit killefiz.de/zaurus/.
While there aren't as many titles available for the Zaurus as
there are for Palm OS and Pocket PC PDAs, most Zaurus titles
Syncing isn't the Zaurus' strong point in the US market. The included syncing software is in Japanese and doesn't work on English Windows. You can install an old version of Intellisync meant for the Zaurus SL-5500, by downloading the SL-5500's
3.1 ROM update from the web (if still available) . That software includes an English version of Intellisync which works with the C3200. However, you must install the drivers from the included CD rather than the ones in the download file to get this all working. Not for the faint of heart. But the Zaurus is more of a mini-computer than a PDA, so syncing PIM data isn't its prime role.
Surprisingly for a device with a 6 gig hard drive, fast CPU and large display, battery life is decent by notebook and high end PDA standards. The C3200 comes with a user replaceable 1,800
mAh Lithium Ion battery, model BLC11. I surfed the web for 2 hours using
a CF WiFi card with brightness set to ~60% and still had 45% battery
remaining! You should be able to watch a 2 hour movie with brightness
set one notch from the top, or listen to MP3s for at least five
hours with the screen dimmed.
At $899, the Zaurus C3200 isn't for everyone. But if you need a mini-computer that really does fit in your pocket, then it's worth a look. We would really, really like to see Sharp add WiFi and Bluetooth to the Z, so we need not carry a collection of CF cards. These days, most every mobile computing device has these two wireless standards and power users (the Zaurus' target audience here in the US) need these. The Zaurus is extremely stable, has a great VGA display (true VGA, unlike Windows Mobile) and there's a nice selection of open source free software. The machine is attractive, durable and has the best keyboard we've used on a PDA-sized device.
Pro: Fantastic keyboard and good navigation controller. Excellent VGA display. Has both CF and SD slots and many WiFi cards work out of the box (no drivers required) though Bluetooth cards are a bigger challenge. Linux is powerful, stable and QTopia puts a friendly face on it. Built in browser gives near desktop rendering and Opera can be found on the Net for the Z (also an excellent browser). Lots of storage space and plenty of RAM to run multiple programs simultaneously. Fast CPU.
Con: WiFi and Bluetooth aren't built-in. The design and features haven't evolved over the years sufficiently to incite Z owners to upgrade. Expensive. Syncing PIM data is a challenge and the address book doesn't sort alphabetically in English (since it was intended for the Japanese market).
Price: $899 from Dynamism translated into English with 1 year rescue warranty
CG Silicon display color LCD, 64,000 colors. Semi-transmissive,
backlit touch screen. VGA resolution: 640 x 480 pixels.
Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Uses battery EA-BL11.
PXA270 416 MHz XScale processor. 64 megs of RAM,
6 gig microdrive and 128 megs NAND ROM.
x 3.4 x 1.0 inches (124 x 87 x 25mm). Weight: 10.5
ounces (298 grams).
uLinux embedded Linux operating system. Qtopia for
the GUI. Calendar, Address Book, To-Do, and Memo
apps, Hancom Office suite: Word processor compatible
with Word docs, spreadsheet app compatible with Excel
files, NetFront v.3 web browser, E-mail program supporting
POP3, SMTP, IMAP4 protocols, Image viewer
and editor, Video Player (plays one flavor of MPEG4),
Music Player for MP3s, handwriting recognition, Voice Recorder, Text Editor,
Calculator, Clock, City Time, backup app and more.
in speaker, and 3.5mm stereo headphone jack that
can also accommodate a microphone.
SD (Secure Digital) slot (not SDIO). 1 CF type II
slot supporting type I and II cards. IR port.