The Sharp Zaurus SL-C7xx series
and C860 PDAs have a strong
cult following outside Japan, even though they're available only
through importers. The reasons are clear: the device has a very
usable keyboard, a clamshell design reminiscent of a highly miniaturized
notebook computer, a touch screen, excellent expandability and
it runs Linux. While you're greeted by a friendly interface that's
optimized for PDA use, you can run Linux shell commands and even
re-compile Linux apps for the Zaurus.
The Zaurus C series models are only sold
in Japan, but reputable importers such as Dynamism,
who supplied our review unit, sell them in the US and to folks
in other countries. The Zaurus ships in Japanese, but Dynamism
converts the units to English for you and offers warranty services,
support and repair. The SL-6000 was the last Zaurus sold in the
US, but it's much larger and has a traditional slate form factor
with an integrated thumb keyboard.
The C3000 is one of the most recent C series line, and it's very similar to the C860 it replaces.
What's different? The C3000 has a 4 gig microdrive which functions
as the C3000's hard drive. The C860 used 128 megs of flash ROM
memory for OS and data storage, so clearly you're getting much
more storage on the C3000. The new model is a little bit thicker
to accommodate the internal drive, and it sports a lovely gloss
white casing. Sharp replaced the C860's four arrow keys with
a round directional pad that's a pleasure to use. The power button
has wisely been moved to the front and the SD card slot is on
the front as well, rather than the back. The OS has undergone
only a minor increment, and the included apps are virtually the
same (though the C3000 is missing a Java VM). If you own a C860,
these improvements may not warrant an upgrade, but if you're
new to the Zaurus world or have an SL-5600, the C3000 could be
for you. The C3100 is the same as the C3000, but has a gray-black casing and 128 megs of memory to run and cache applications while the C3000 had only 16 megs. The C1000 is essentially the same as the C3100 (and mostly the same as the C860) but has flash memory for storage and not a microdrive.
The C3000 is perfect for power users, Linux lovers
and those who want the ergonomics of a (very small) notebook rather than
a slate PDA. The Zaurus can handle your PDA needs such as PIM management
and syncing, but its very capable web browser and apps for working with
MS Office documents are superior to most PDAs. Of course, there's that
excellent keyboard which is too small for touch typing but large enough
to allow multi-finger typing and faster input compared to most PDAs with
While not as turnkey as Pocket PCs and Palm OS PDAs
in some cases, if you have a little Linux savvy, you can get most anything
working on the Z and won't be limited to using devices that come with
drivers for your device in the box. Most WiFi and wired CF Ethernet cards
are supported by the OS, so you won't needs drivers— just pop in
the card and set up your internet connection. There are free Bluetooth
drivers that support several CF Bluetooth cards. You'll have to edit
a few text files and follow installation instructions to get these working,
but once you do, you can work with most any Bluetooth peripheral or mobile
phone. Just edit the scripts (if necessary) to add support for your new
phone or device.
Design and Ergonomics
The Zaurus' clamshell design lends itself to use as
a mini-notebook. Want a traditional slate PDA experience? Swivel the
display and you can use the device in slate mode with the keyboard tucked
under the display panel. The screen automatically rotates to portrait
mode when you swivel the display, and you can manually switch it to landscape
should you prefer that orientation in slate mode. The sturdy hinge is
stiff so the display panel won't flop around. It locks open almost
completely flat which is a perfect angle for use when holding the unit
in both hands for thumb-typing. The unit has a small latch that holds
the clamshell closed, unlike prior Cxxx series models. The two LEDs located
on the hinge area indicate charging status, reminders and hard drive
Above: bottom of the Zaurus. Below: front edge.
The Zaurus has a very elegant and classy gloss white
finish with chrome on the hinge. The keyboard panel sports white keys
on a silver background that extends around the sides creating a two-tone
look. The C3000 looks a bit more substantial and notebook-like compared
to the C860 thanks to the finish and the slightly thicker body. Looks-wise,
this device is a winner!
As mentioned, the power button and SD slot are on the
front, and the stylus is located on the right side near the front. Though
ample in girth, this is one of the lightest styli I've ever used, so
do consider an aftermarket replacement that adds a bit of heft. The OK
and Cancel buttons (handy when you're using the device in slate mode)
are located on the rear edge, as are the volume wheel, USB sync port
and power jack. Unlike previous C series Zaurii, the C3000 has a mini
USB connector rather than the Sharp I/O port, so your old
sync cables won't work. Of course, a USB sync cable and charger are included
in the box. The C3000 uses the same charger as the older models, and
that plugs directly into the Zaurus. The CF card slot is on the right
side and the IR port is on the left. The bottom panel is white plastic,
and the battery door is located on the bottom. Unlike the C860, you need
not remove the entire bottom panel to replace the battery. The mono speaker
is located on the bottom and the device has a standard 3.5mm stereo headphone
jack located on the right side.
The keyboard on the C860 is my absolute favorite and
the C3000 takes it one step farther. While the C860 had a membrane keyboard,
the C3000 has discreet keys that are white rather than gray so they contrast
well which improves typing accuracy. My only complaint is that the C3000's
keys have less tactile feedback compared to the C860's keys. It's quite
easy to thumb-type at 40 WPM with a few hours of practice and you'll
likely get faster in a few days. It's the roomiest of any current PDA
with the exception of the much larger NEC
Mobile Pro 900, which isn't really in the PDA category. The keys
don't light up, so you'll want to use the device in a well lit area.
The Zaurus has a full English keyboard, a dedicated number row, two shift
keys , and a d-pad for navigation. The center of the d-pad functions
as the OK key, and Cancel button sits directly to the lower left of
the d-pad. The d-pad is responsive and easy to use if you're a right-handed
user since it's located on the right hand bottom corner of the keyboard.
The Z has quick launch keys for the calendar, address book and mail application,
as well as buttons for Home and menu activation. To enter punctuation
and common symbols, you'll use the single function key in conjunction
with one of the keyboard keys. You can also use the function key for
cut, paste and copy functions, and there's a caps lock key. Thumb typing
is a breeze on this keyboard. If you like, you can turn on key click
sounds to aid you in typing.
Linux OS and Qtopia
The Sharp Zaurus SL-C3000 runs Linux, comprised
of a Lineo uLinux embedded Linux kernel 2.4.20 complied by Lineo Solutions
and Qtopia v. 1.5.4 for the graphical user interface. This makes for
a powerful machine that's quite versatile and expandable, especially
if you're a Linux guru. In fact, some users like to customize their Z
with alternate distros such as the popular Cacko ROM,
Debian and pdaXrom.
The terminal application allows you to issue Linux commands, edit config
files and all that great stuff. If you're not a Linux guru and prefer
to never see a command line, have no fear: the Zaurus line comes with
both a launcher similar in concept to the one used in Palm OS and a Start
Menu to launch programs. It offers a complete set of user-friendly PIM
apps (contacts, calendar, tasks, email) and much more, making it an easy
unit to use. But be aware that if you want to do some advanced things
with your PDA, such as set up Bluetooth networking, you may have to make
a few visits to the terminal and use the command line.
A few things to keep in mind: the manual is
in Japanese, and the Japanese help files on the unit have been removed.
Dynamism does offers a 28 page getting started guide which they can
email to you when you purchase a Zaurus. The manual explains the various
controls, buttons and keyboard settings, along with resetting the unit,
replacing the battery and navigating the file system. The C3000 comes
with PC syncing software (Intellisync) that also hasn't been translated,
and most of the on-screen text on the PC also appears as gibberish
rather than Japanese or English. Installing Japanese language support
in Windows won't remedy this. However, just as with
the C860, you can use the English version of Intellisync for the Zaurus
SL-5500 to sync to Outlook and transfer files.
Horsepower and Performance
The C3000 has a 416 MHz PXA270 XScale processor,
which is currently the top-of-the-line for PDAs. It's got 64 megs of
system SDRAM (used like RAM in your PC) and a 4 gig Hitachi microdrive
for storage with ~ 2.9 gigs free with the Japanese dictionaries installed.
Since a microdrive is a tiny hard drive with access times slower than
RAM you'll notice a slight delay when launching a program as it loads
into RAM. The delay isn't annoying or significant, and it takes about
2 to 3 seconds to launch an application which is similar to prior Cxxx
series models which stored programs and data in NAND flash ROM. The
Hitachi drive has impressive specs, offering 7MB/sec transfer rates,
which is competitive with higher-end CF cards.
In general, the unit is very responsive and runs
all applications quickly. Given the overall efficiency of Linux and
the lightweight nature of Qtopia, you won't find yourself wanting more
While the C860 has an ATI Imageon 100 graphics processor,
the C3000 uses the Intel PXA270's on-board GPU. This isn't the Intel
2700G but an on-chip solution. There is a tradeoff with dedicated GPUs
like the Imageon offering the power of a stand-alone graphics processor
vs. the fast memory bus of an on-chip solution. That said, graphics performance
on the two models seems similar. Using Dr. Z video player for MPEGs,
we get the same performance on both units. TheKompany's video player,
TkcVideo didn't run on the C3000, likely because they'll need to add
support for the PXA270's graphics processor.
The C860's CG display seemed unbeatable, but
the C3000 is even better. The display is even brighter and whiter
than the C860's! Sharp's CG Silicon technology is wonderful:
it's incredibly sharp, vivid, color saturated and bright. 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
The Zaurus comes with the same apps we've come
to know and love on the old C series models. 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
C3000 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, movie player (only plays .ASF MP4 file format which is
used by the Sharp video recorder sold in Japan), Terminal (have
a blast with the command line and the Z's bash shell), a file
search application, image viewer and editor, E/J English - Japanese
translator, Zdict (a large full-featured 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. Surprisingly, the C3000 doesn't
include a Java VM, which was standard on other Cxxx models.
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
Above: the NetFront 3.1 web browser,
using the "Just Fit" viewing option. You can also use the standard
view which makes for larger text and images or the Smart Fit view
which is sometimes smart and sometimes not so smart at improving
layout for the small screen.
Note that the address book doesn't sort on the
English alphabet. When you first sync your contacts from Outlook
to the Z, they'll be alphabetical. However newly added contacts
will be appended to the bottom of the list, regardless of their
place in the English alphabet. The address book's quick-navigation
tabs are labeled "ai", "ka", "sa" and
so on, which works great if all your acquaintances are Japanese .
You also get the capable Hancom Mobile Office Suite which allows
you to view and edit MS Word and Excel files and view PowerPoint
documents. For Internet browsing, Sharp has included the excellent
NetFront v.3.1 web browser. NetFront supports most all current
web standards and allows you to open multiple windows. It can handle
web pages encoded in Japanese as well as English, and it's very
cool to visit a Japanese web site, copy the text of the page then
paste it into the included E/J Translator. E/J is a very good translator,
and beats Bablefish (Alta Vista's web-based translation service).
It's also quite useful if you're trying to learn Japanese or travel
to Japan frequently for business. NetFront on the Zaurus offers
a near-desktop browsing experience which can't be said for Pocket
PC or Palm OS PDA browsers.
How about syncing to Windows desktops? Don't
use the software on the included CD ROM in most cases. The best
method for syncing to Outlook in Windows is to download the SL-5500
3.1 ROM update which includes an English version of Intellisync.
That version plays nicely with the C860 and C3000 series, but be
sure to use the drivers that came on your CD rather than those
in the ROM update when Windows prompts you for drivers.
The C3000 comes with a user replaceable 1,800
mA Lithium Ion battery, model BLC11. That's 100 mA more than the
C860's battery and this device needs it to power the microdrive
and bright display. Surprisingly, the C3000 has
very good battery life despite the large display and microdrive.
It doesn't rival the superb battery life on the C860, but it's
better than many Pocket PCs. I surfed the web for 2 hours using
a CF WiFi card with brightness set to ~60% and still had 55% 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 four
hours with the screen dimmed.
Compatibility and Expandability
The Zaurus has both an SD slot and a CF type
II slot that can accommodate type I and type II expansion cards.
Note that you can use the SD slot for memory cards, but it doesn't
support SDIO. I tested several brands of SD and CF memory cards
and they worked fine. I tried several CF WiFi cards that worked
without additional drivers: Ambicom, D-Link, SMC and Socket .
The network configuration utility is very friendly and easy to
use, and you should be able to get online with the Z in no time.
While the networking utility doesn't offer site survey, it does
allow you to use an SSID of "any",
so you can pick up any available open wireless network.
In addition, the Socket 10/100 Ethernet and Low Powered 10 baseT
wired Ethernet cards worked perfectly with the Zaurus, as do standard
56k dial up modem cards — no extra drivers needed. Be warned
that while WiFi, wired Ethernet and dial up PPP modem networking
support is built into the OS and requires no hacking, you will
have to install free open source 3rd party software (BlueZ) and
edit a few files in the terminal to get Bluetooth up and running.
A new version of BlueZ that supports the C3000 should be out shortly.
USB host is hot these days: few PDAs have it
but every power user wants it. The Zaurus SL-6000 has USB host
capability that's fairly turnkey as long as you can find the obscure
cable it requires. The SL-C3000 supports USB host and it has a
standard mini A USB port which means finding a cable won't be quite
so hard. Once you do get the cable, you'll need to enable the USB
mass storage driver using the command line. We weren't able to
obtain a cable in time for our review but some merchants who carry
the C3000 say they've gotten a standard USB keyboard working and
some users have reported using flash drives with the C3000.
Many Zaurus apps written for the SL-5500 and
SL-5600 models worked fine. Since these models have 240 x 320 displays,
the Zaurus will run its display at 240 x 320 for these apps. All
of the included applications run in VGA on the C3000, and there
are quite a few 3rd party apps that also support full screen display.
And of course Cxxx series software works fine. Applications written
for the Cxxx series Zauri are the perfect match for the C3000
since these are VGA apps intended for the clamshell models, and
little has changed with the C3000. You can read our Must Have
Applications for the Cxxx Series here.
Call the C3000 a super-PDA. It can handle your
PIM needs and do much more. The large display, keyboard and clamshell
form factor lend themselves to serious computing; be it web browsing,
working with MS Office documents or watching videos. If you're
good with Linux, the possibilities are almost endless.
Pro: Robust Linux
OS, fast performance, awesome VGA display, great keyboard, 4 gig
microdrive for lots of storage. Dual expansion slots, very good
battery life. There's really nothing like the C3000!
Con: No integrated
WiFi. While Bluetooth isn't very popular in Japan, WiFi is, so
why leave it out? The keyboard could use more tactile feedback
though it still beats most PDA thumb boards by a mile. Initial
syncing setup isn't for novices. While there's a large selection
of free and open source software, there are many more Palm OS and
Pocket PC titles (though you generally have to pay for those).
Price: $899 from Dynamism, translated into English,
1 year warranty from Dynamism.
CG Silicon display color LCD, 64,000 colors. Semi-transmissive,
backlit. 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,
4 gig Hitachi microdrive and 16 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, ImagePad image viewer
and editor, Video Player (plays one flavor of MPEG4),
Music Player for MP3s, 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.