Posted Feb. 15, 2003, by Lisa
The NZ90 is the most significant, innovative
and bar-raising PDA to be released since the Compaq iPAQ 3600 series
nearly 3 years ago and the Sony NR70V less than a year ago. While
in some ways it is evolutionary rather than radical, building on
the NX70V in terms of form factor and digicam integration; the
NZ90 offers so much that is new to the Clié line, and new
to PDAs, that this guy is more than evolutionary. At what price?
This is not a small or light unit: it weighs 10.3 ounces and is
1/8th" longer, wider and is considerably thicker than the
NX70V. It's also not cheap at $799, but you do get more features
and functionality than on any other PDA, so read on.
Similar Basic Specs as NX70V
The NZ90 has all the features of the NX70V,
including Palm OS 5, a 200 MHz XScale processor, 16 megs of RAM
(10.5 megs available to user), an integrated keyboard, MP3 player,
a voice recorder that records hours of very good quality audio
to a 64 meg Memory Stick, and a CF slot that accepts Sony's WiFi
Though the NZ90 looks similar to the NX70V and
NR70V, nearly everything has been moved around. The CF slot is
now at the bottom, there are separate voice recorder and image
capture buttons, the stylus is mounted in a semi-exposed silo next
to the screen, the memory stick slot is on the lower right side
of the unit, the reset button is on the left side and the IR port
has been moved to the left side (near the top, wrapping a little
bit around to the top). The jog dial and back button are on the
left side, in the same location as on the older models. Since the
NZ90 is as thick as the thickest section of the NX series, there
is no need for a hump to accommodate the CF slot. There is a hump
on the top back area of the unit where the camera and hotsync port
are located, however.
What's New? A Lot!
Here's the short list: 2 megapixel camera with flash,
built-in Bluetooth, a removable smart Lithium Ion battery and a funky
new cradle that outputs via AV to your TV and via USB to printers.
The keyboard has also improved: gone is the membrane
keyboard used on the NX and NR series. This keyboard has true mini-keys
that are easier to press and allow more accurate typing. The keyboard
area and the keys themselves look very slick and high quality.
Just when you thought it couldn't get much better than
the NX series, the NZ90 screen, with the same nominal specs of 320 x
480 resolution with 65K colors and a transflective LCD has a noticeably
brighter display. At just under 2/3 of max brightness, the NZ90 equals
the NX's maximum brightness.
The back of the NZ90. You can
see the flash and the lens to the right of the flash. The slider
next to the lens controls the lens cover. The small holes above
the flash are sensors for flash and autofocus.
The 2 megapixel camera includes a flash, auto
focus, red eye reduction, 2x digital zoom (no optical zoom) and
a max image size of 1600x1200 pixels. It also supports video
recording at 160 x 112 pixels with sound (same as the NX70V).
The video quality is nothing to write home about, but it is pretty
amazing when you consider that they were taken by a PDA. The
sound quality of the videos is truly excellent.
To take photos and videos you place the NZ90
in tablet mode (so it looks like a tradtional PDA). This way
the LCD faces you, and the camera lens faces out the back of
the unit. You could also take a self-portrait because in fully
opened clamshell mode, the camera lens faces towards you as you
look at the keyboard and screen. Unlike the older NX70V and NR70V,
the lens does not swivel, so you must move the PDA around to
get your subject framed. I miss the swivel feature, because it
was great for taking stealth pictures-- much more subtle.
How are the still pictures? Ohmygod! They are
as good as the 2 megapixel Epson and Pentax/HP cameras I've owned.
I now use a prosumer 6 MP camera, and I don't feel like I'm slumming
when I use the NZ. I'm a semi-pro photographer, and I really
didn't expect to be this impressed with the NZ's images.
Unfortunately, the camera app takes just under
9 seconds to load, which seems like a small eternity when you're
dying to take that quick candid picture. The camera app takes
about 3 to 4 seconds to write a standard quality 1200 x 1600
pixel 420k image to the Memory Stick, but it buffers the shots,
so you only have to wait about 1 second between shots. Images
taken at 1200 x 1600 standard quality range from 410k to 450k.
Images shot at 1200 x 1600 at fine quality are around 800k, but
really don't look much better! I've tried blowing them up in
Photoshop, printing them to a photo printer, and the standard
and fine mode pix look nearly identical. Perhaps the JPEG compression
algorithm used for standard mode is so good, it's truly hard
to see a difference between the two compression levels.
You can see some examples on the right. If
you wish to compare them to the NX70V images, read that review and
take a look at some sample NX photos- there is no comparison.
Bluetooth and WiFi
The NZ90, like the NX
series, has a type II CF slot that accepts Sony's WiFi
wireless Ethernet networking card. The card works just as well
in the NZ as it did in the NX. The Japanese analog CF modem
drivers floating around the Net for the NX also work on the
NZ. If you're interested in using a CF 56k modem, the Ambicom
56k EZ Jack modem (targeted at Pocket PC users, but ignore
that!) is readily available in the US at BestBuy, Amazon.com
and other retailers, and works well using the Japanese drivers.
But wait, you also get Bluetooth built-in!
Unlike Palm's packaging of Bluetooth for their SD
card and Tungsten T, you don't get a nice set of apps or
wizards for setting up Bluetooth connections. Instead you'll
select Bluetooth under Prefs, then discover devices. Since there
aren't any custom BT apps, you'll likely only be able to use
BT for activities already supported by Palm OS 5 networking:
file transfer, HotSync and using your BT enabled cell phone as
a modem. The manual does not state which Bluetooth devices are
supported, though it does tell you how to set up HotSync over
BT, and has pictures of an NZ talking with a cell phone, Sony
digicam with BT, and other NZs. I was able to setup BT HotSyncing
in about 5 minutes, using a Belkin
Bluetooth USB adapter on my desktop. It's almost as fast
as cradle syncing! I do not have a BT enabled phone since GSM
service is weak in the Silicon Valley area, so I won't be able
to report on that functionality.
Mac Users: the
Sony Clié doesn't come with software to sync to the Macintosh.
I didn't have any luck trying to connect using OS X (Jaguar)
and its built-in support for Palm OS PDAs via the cradle or Bluetooth.
You'll need to buy MissingSync from
Mark/Space to sync with a Mac. It costs $30 and does an exceptional
job in Mac OS 9 and X.
Sample photos taken with the NZ90at
1200 x 1600 resolution, standard quality, auto settings.
Click on an image to see the full sized original, unaltered
in any way. If you are interested
in viewing the full sized images repeatedly, please right
click on them and save them to your computer to help us save
bandwidth. Full size images
are between 400-450k. The flower photo was taken outdoors
on a cloudy day with no flash.
The picture below offers a challenge to
non-prosumer level digicams: water on the leaves. Many digicams
have difficulty dealing with the refraction and highlights
of the water. The NZ did pretty well.
Sammy the cat. Indoors, using filtered light
coming through the sliding door (flash didn't need to fire).
Notice the detail on his fur and in the carpet!
The NZ90 has a removable battery, which means
you can swap in a replacement whenever you need. Additional batteries
are $79 direct from Sony. It's a 1200 mAh battery that slides in
behind a door on the lower right side of the unit. It's a smart
Lithium Ion battery which means you can get detailed info about
its current state and long term life. If you click on the battery
icon on the taskbar, it'll tell you percentage of charge remaining,
approximate runtime in hours and minutes, time required to charge
it to full, how many charge cycles the battery has been through
and overall degradation (how much the battery capacity has diminished
due to number of charging cycles and age) in percentage. It also
tells you when certain functions are turned off due to low charge:
Bluetooth turns off when the battery is down to 20%, the WiFi slot
turns off at 25%, the Memory Stick slot turns off at 10%, voice
recording and MP3 playback stop at 15%, and the camera flash stops
How is the battery life per charge? With the
backlight set at 50% and Bluetooth off, the NZ90 battery applet
tells you that you have 5 hours 10 minutes runtime with a new battery
that's fully charged. I have noticed that placing the NZ90 in its
cradle while turned off for 18 hours increased runtimes. Why did
I do this? The manual mentions that it can take 24 hours to charge
a fully discharged backup battery, so I gave it a try. You should
only need to do this once, unless you let the backup battery drain
fully (which happens after 12 hours if no main battery is installed
or the main battery is totally depleted). The button backup battery
was probably increasing drain on the main battery as it trickle
charged itself to full capacity, and thus reducing runtimes. I
would imagine leaving it in the cradle overnight for a few nights
would also charge the backup battery fully.
Here's what I've found so far: with Beam Receive
off and brightness at ~40% I can use the NZ with the Sony
WiFi card to surf for about 1 hour, play games for an hour,
take 20 photos (5 with flash), HotSync via Bluetooth a few times,
use the PDA for standard stuff like accessing contacts, connect
to the TV and view images for 5 minutes, view images (30, all on
Memory Stick) with AcidImage a few times and have 20% power remaining
at the end of the day. Its about as good as Pocket PCs, but not
impressive by Palm OS standards. It's worse than Pocket PCs if
you use the camera. It is not nearly as good as the NX70V, but
some of the cool new features like outputting to the TV, taking
1200 x 1600 images with the flash and printing also are not possible
on the NX70V and do require more power. You can also swap in a
spare battery, so if these features are worthwhile to you, then
at least you can swap in another battery to extend runtimes. If
you use the camera for several shots and/or use the WiFi card,
you'll probably need to charge the NZ90 every night .
How does the camera affect battery life? Even
when using the flash, I can take 20 shots and see about 20% drain
on the battery. This should translate to about 65 top quality photos
before the NZ disables the flash at 35% remaining charge. All rechargeable
batteries will temporarily read lower than they really are after
a high drain activity, but the NZ90 shows a large temporary drop
in voltage when your launch the camera app and initialize the camera.
I've started the unit at 70% charge and fired up the camera only
to get a warning that battery level is below 35% so the flash will
be disabled! Exiting the camera app and relaunching sometimes works
to get around this problem because the voltage reading seems to
stabilize. Once you're done taking pictures, the battery level
should rebound up within 2 minutes.
Cradle, including AV output and printing
The cradle has been redesigned and resembles
a folding easel. It has a USB port that supports direct printing
to USB printers and an AV out jack that allows you to connect a
monitor or TV to view images and movies on the NZ90. The AV cable
(mini jack to RCA connectors for left audio, right audio and video)
and the USB printer cable are included. Very consumer electronics,
The only app that supports output via AV is Clie
Album, which means you can output still images but not videos.
Please Sony, give us an app for outputting video! Clie Album is
also the only app that supports printing via the USB port on the
cradle. It comes with drivers for the following Epson printers:
Photo 820, C60 and C62. Please Sony, give us more drivers soon!
I tried using the Photo 820 driver to print to my Photo 870 printer,
but the Clie told me the driver didn't match the printer (gee,
I though it'd be close enough). I was impressed at the sophistication
of the driver: you can set paper type (plain, ink jet, photo and
matte), position (centering), number of copies, scaling (in a range
of 10 - 100%), paper size (letter, A6 and A4). For the Photo 820
printer, quality is set to high and can't be changed.
Now that we've covered the cradle's neat features,
how do I like the cradle itself? It drivers me bonkers. While it's
attractive and folds down flat for great portability, it is too
light weight. I have it a few inches from the edge of my desk and
each time I remove the NZ90, the cradle falls off the desk. Why?
The sync and power cables have anti-RF interference modules mounted
about 1 inch from the end where they attach to the cradle. You
know, they're the weighty little cylindrical thingies you see on
many computer cables. They outweigh the cradle, so if they're not
supported by your desk, they'll pull the cradle over. I also find
it quite difficult to get the NZ seated on the cradle such that
it makes a good connection for syncing and charging. The NZ90 does
not snap firmly (or even weakly) into the cradle, which means if
you're carrying it around to your TV or printer, it will likely
disconnect and have to be reseated. Ugh!
CF Slot for WiFi (802.11b) card
As with the NX Series, the NZ90 has a type II
CF Communications Slots. Only the Sony WiFi card is supported,
though you can use the Japanese CF analog modem drivers floating
around the Net to get support for a few CF modem cards (the AmbiCom
CF56M-EZ being the easiest to find in the US). You can download
the driver files here.
You must install all of them. After that, just pop in the modem
card, the utility software will load on screen, and you're ready
to setup your dialup connection. These Japanese drivers were translated
by a fellow who goes by the name Pelaca on cliesource.com.
The NetFront web browser is included with the
Clié and is version 3.0, revision 1.1.30. I can't see any
difference (other than the revision number) from the one on the
NX. It's a very capable web browser that runs full screen and supports
most current web standards. It does have a few quirks. Here's one
tip: if you keep getting "page too large" warnings, set
the cache to zero in prefs. Oddly this reduces the number of warnings
and improves page loading.
The software bundle is pretty much the same as
it was for the NX series. You get the new Launcher, Sony MP3 player,
AV remote to control your home video and audio gear, Picture Gear,
Intellisync Lite (for syncing to Outlook), Movie Recorder, Movie
Player, NetFront web browser and a new product, Picsel Viewer,
which allows you to view Word and Excel documents. Documents To
Go Standard Edition is gone from the standard Clie bundle, which
is a disappointment for a high end unit at this price. While Piscel
views MS Office docs, it doesn't allow you to edit them or create
new docs, as does Docs To Go. Note that there's a bug in the Audio
Player: it doesn't show artists' names or song titles for ATRAC
recordings. I imagine Sony will issue a fix for this. MP3s do display
Since the NZ90's size and weight is somewhat
controversial, I've provided several size comparison images below.
Above: Sony SJ30,
NZ90, Dell Aximm X5 and iPAQ 3970
to bottom: iPAQ 3970, Dell Axim X5, NZ90, Clié SJ30
NZ90 in hand. Think of this as an average
man's hand since I have large hands for a woman (hey, I'm
The top of the unit, where the camera is located, is the
thickest section. Yes that section is thicker than my Titanium
Well, it just doesn't get better than this! A
320 x 480 transflective display, integrated keyboard, AV remote
to control your TV and home video/stereo components, great quality
MP3 playback, 2 MP digicam with flash, videos, and Palm OS 5 running
on a 200 MHz XScale processor. Heck, I can't believe it doesn't
have a TV tuner too, since everything else is here. What are the
cons? It ain't cheap, and it is neither light nor easily pocketable.
And please, someone find a way to get more than 16 megs of internal
memory into Palm OS PDA! I do wish the camera swiveled, as it did
in the NX70V and older NR70V. Battery life is not good, and the
transient voltage drops associated with firing up the camera means
the flash may be disabled even though the battery does have enough
charge. The camera takes a long time to fire up, which means you
might miss some spontaneous photos. Final verdict: while prefer
something I can fit in my pocket (even the NX series did), I can
forgive the NZ90 because it fits more functions and features into
a PDA than ever before. And while it is quite expensive, for $200
it does add a noticably better camera and Bluetooth to the also
x 480 pixels, 65,000 colors backlit TFT active
matrix display. High resolution.
MHz ARM processor. 16 megs of built in RAM (11 megs
available), 16 megs ROM.
(W) x 5 5/8 (H) x 29/32 (D) inches (not including
the "hump" on the back where the camera
housing protrudes, thickness at camera section is
1.3"). Weight: 10.3 oz.
included. Bluetooth is included. CF slot for optional
Sony WiFi card.
Uses a rechargeable Lithium Ion Polymer battery.
AC adapter/charger included.
Synthesizer, 16 chords, ADPCM sound (monaural),
Monaural Speaker, Monaural Microphone. Built-in
stereo MP3 Player (Memory Stick storage card required)
output through stereo headphone mini-jack. It plays
real sounds rather than only Midi synthesized sounds.
Voice recorder built-in.
OS 5 and the usual suite of Palm and Sony applications.
Sony apps: CLIE™ Album
CLIE™ Camera, CLIE™ Mail, CLIE™ Memo, CLIE™ Paint, CLIE™ Remote
Commander, CLIE™ Viewer, Flash Player 5, Image Converter v.1.0 (for PC),
Memory Stick Backup, Memory Stick Export v.1.1 (for PC), Memory Stick Import,
Movie Player, Movie Recorder, PictureGear™ Studio (for PC), PhotoStand,
Photo Editor , SonicStage™ LE v.1.5 (for PC), Sound Converter v.1.0 (for
PC), Sound Utility, Voice Recorder, World Alarm Clock. 3rd party software (not
trial, full versions): MobiPocket Reader (Franklin® Electronic Publishers),
NetFront Web Browser, Picsel Viewer for CLIE™, Intellisync Lite.
pixels: 2 megapixels
Imager: 1/2.7 CCD Image Sensor(2,110k Gross Pixels)
Lens: F2.8 focal length f=5mm
Picture Size: 1600x1200, 1600x1072(3:2), 1280x960, 800x600, 640x480, 320x480,
Movie Size: 160x112
Picture / Movie Format: JPEG(DCF), Movie Player Format, MPEG movie (playback
2x Digital Zoom / Auto Focus / Manual Exposure Adjustment (+/- 2EV, 1/3 EV
Steps)/ White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Flourescent, Incandescent, Custom)
/ Scene Modes (Normal, Twilight, Twilight Portrait) / Flash Modes (Auto, Forced
Off, Forced On) / Flash Level (High, Normal, Low) / Red-Eye Reduction / Flash
Effective Range (0.5 to 1.5m) / Picture Effect (Black & White, Sepia) /
Video Output (NTSC/PAL Selectable)(JPEG still picture only), Self Timer Function).
sync cradle, headphones w/remote, AV cable, USB
printing cable, rechargeable removable battery
and A/C adapter included.