Posted March 18, 2004, by Lisa Gade Editor in Chief
Here's what many Sony fans have been waiting
for: a high res+ Clié in a slate form factor. While Sony
has been offering Cliés with 320 x 480 displays for a few
years, they've always come in a clamshell form factor with integrated
thumb keyboard. Those who wanted a large display in a slim design
without the keyboard had to wait or go with the Palm
Tungsten T3. In Feb. of 2004, Sony introduced the TH55, which
not only offers a high res+ display in a slate design, but adds
an integrated camera, enhanced PIM (personal information management)
applications and WiFi. These features will give the similarly priced
Tungsten T3 a run for the money.
The camera lens is located on the back
of the TH55 (round silver item near top center).
Design and Ergonomics
The TH55 has a matte black casing that's got
enough texture to prevent the unit from slipping out of your hand.
The bezel surrounding the display is gunmetal colored, and the
unit has a translucent smoke colored plastic flip cover. You can
see the display through the cover, especially in sunlight, but
you'll need to flip it up to do serious work with the PDA. The
flip cover is mounted via two hinges and it is removable, though
it's not easy getting it off and on, so you'll do best to settle
on using it either with the cover on or off all the time. I like
the cover, because I can put the TH55 in my pocket, with the hold
button switched on (this prevents accidental button presses) and
not worry. If you carry the PDA in a bag or briefcase, you may
want to invest in a case, but the cover does a great job of protecting
the display when carried in your pocket.
THe TH55 is surprisingly slim at 5/8", and
not too heavy at 6.5 ounces. The display takes up most of the front
face, and the PDA is attractive with a techno-modern look. The
unit has the usual four Palm OS application buttons, but rather
than being mounted on the front face, they're located on the bottom
edge of the unit. There is no front mounted d-pad or navigation
rocker. Gamers will no doubt hate this button arrangement and lack
of d-pad. Sony is the king of the jog dial, and lately they've
experimented with the jog dial's location. The UX50's jog
dial is at the front edge, and the TH55's is on the back! Strange
as that sounds, it works well and is equally friendly to righties
and lefties. The jog dial is near the top, just above the camera
lens, and your index finger naturally rests on top of it, making
it easy to use. The jog dial also acts as a rocker switch, and
pressing the right edge moves the cursor right, while pressing
the left side movies it left in most apps. There's a Back button
to the right and a bit below the job dial.
Above, the Palm Tungsten
T3 and the Sony Clié TH55
Like all Cliés, the TH55
has plenty of buttons and switches. On the left side you'll find a
capture button (for taking photos), a slider switch that opens and
closes the lens cover, the sliding power/hold switch and the voice
recorder slider switch. The Memory Stick slot (compatible with Memory
Stick and Memory Stick Pro media) is located between the lens cover
switch and the power switch. The IR port is located on the top right
side of the unit as is the door that covers the non user-replaceable
battery. The standard stereo headphone jack is on the left side near
the top. The stylus silo is on the top right, and the stylus is the
usual Clié telescoping toothpick that's loved by no one. Just
above the display you'll see a thin strip of clear plastic mounted
flush on the bezel. Lighted power, Rec and WLAN indicators live under
this plastic strip.
Horsepower and Expandability
Like Sony's UX40 and UX50, the TH55 uses Sony's Handheld
Engine processor. This CPU features Dynamic Voltage and Frequency Management™ (DVFM).
According to Sony, "Depending upon the application, the new processor
automatically operates at a frequency that draws minimum power supply
voltage by monitoring its operation speed, resulting in the world's first
commercialization of voltage control functions". What does this
mean? These new units can run at clock speeds appropriate to a given
activity, and draw little power. The processor runs at clock speeds of
8 to 123 MHz. The Handheld Engine incorporates a 2D graphics processor
that helps the TH55 take pictures quickly and play back movies at good
frame rates. In fact, it feels snappy and responsive in all tasks and
does do a very good job of playing movies. While it may not be as fast
as Palm OS models with 200 MHz or 400 MHZ processors when playing demanding
games such as Warfare Inc. and emulators,
it's responsive in every other way. Given the button and jog dial layout,
this isn't a serious gamer's device anyway.
The TH55 runs Palm OS 5.2.1, and has 32 megs of RAM.
Some Sony value-added programs are permanently stored in ROM, not in
RAM area, so the full 32 megs of RAM is available to the user.
The TH55 has a Memory Stick slot that works with regular
Memory Sticks and Memory Stick Pro media.
The unit uses the same connector as all recent Cliés,
so existing peripherals should work with the TH55. The unit comes with
a USB sync cable and no cradle. A cradle is available separately if you
prefer a cradle rather than a cable.
Mac Users: the
Sony Clié doesn't come with software to sync to the Macintosh.
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.
We've come a long way, thanks largely to Sony
when it comes to integrated digicams. While other brands of PDAs
with integrated digicams tend to be larger to accommodate the
camera, recent Cliés such as the TJ27, TJ37 and
UX models are remarkably small. Sony has the best line of integrated
cameras, and they take very good quality photos by PDA standards.
I was impressed at how well the TJ27, TJ37 and TH55 (they use
the same camera) did with low light indoor shots even though
they don't have a flash or capture light. Outdoor pictures were
pleasing, though some overexposure and fuzziness is apparent
on extremely bright daylight shots. Since PDA cameras are typically
VGA affairs with CMOS sensors that have been shrunk down to fit
in a handheld, don't expect to throw away your standalone digicam.
That said, the Cliés continue to beat the competition.
The TH55 has a CMOS .31 megapixel VGA digicam
capable of taking photos at a maximum resolution of 640 x 460.
Unlike the Clié UX models, it cannot shoot movies.
To take photos, simply press the capture button
on the side of the TH55, or launch the Clié Camera application.
If you forget to open the lens cover, the Clié will remind
you when you launch the app.
The TH55 can save images in 640 x 460, 320
x 240, 320 x 480 or 160 x 120 size to either internal memory
or a Memory Stick. 640 x 480 images average about 100 to 125k.
You can let the Clié set brightness and white balance
automatically, or you can tweak the settings yourself. The unit
offers two effects: B&W and Sepia (higher-end Cliés
offer more effects).
Display and Sound
The screen is a backlit TFT hi-res 320 x 480
pixel, 65,000 color TFT. The screen is colorful, sharp though
not as bright as the older NX73/80 and NZ models. Colors are
saturated and pleasing when viewing JPEGs, and it makes a wonderful
image viewer. The screen has a fairly neutral cool color bias,
and is evenly lit with no stray light coming from the edges of
the display. The TH55 works in portrait mode only, and unlike
the Tungsten T3, can't be rotated to landscape.
MP3, Sound and Video
The TH55 has a single speaker capable of playing
polyphonic audio, and has a stereo headphone jack. Sony's own
MP3 player is included for MP3 playback. It's the same player
used on models such as the NX series, and supports AVLS, bass
boost, and looped playback. Sound is excellent using Sony's player
and a decent set of headphones.
For video playback, the TH55 comes with Sony's
Movie Player. This capable app can playback Quicktime (which
is the format used by Cliés with video recorders and Image
Converter on the desktop) and MPEG1. It's the same app found
on older high end Cliés and the UX series. It supports
full screen playback and is a speedy performer.
Above, sample photos taken with
the TH55. Click on the photo to see the original full-size image,
While Palm OS PDAs have lagged behind their Pocket
PC counterparts for WiFi support, much of Sony's current
Clié lineup has integrated WiFI 802.11b wireless local
area networking. Thank you Sony! WiFi configuration works similarly
to the high end Clié UX50,
and it supports both 64 and 128 bit encryption, power saving
mode (the radio turns off after periods of inactivity), DHCP
and static IPs. You can enter the name of the access point you
wish to use (SSID), or you can use the "Auto Connect" profile
which will connect to any available access point that doesn't
use encryption using DHCP (great for Starbucks or the airport).
The TH55's WiFi radio performed well, offering good range and
throughput. I was able to connect to a variety of access points,
including our own using WEP encryption.
For email, you get Clié Mail, which is
a decent app that supports multiple email accounts, POP3, signatures,
filters and syncing to your desktop. NetFront 3.1, an excellent
cookies, SSL and you can even change its user agent string if you
wish to fool sites into thinking you're using a desktop browser.
The browser also offers best fit, zoomed and text-wrapped page
viewing, as well as allowing you to drag the page around with the
stylus if you prefer that to scrolling. NetFront ran reliably and
quickly on the TH55, and made browsing a pleasure.
The unit has a Lithium Ion Polymer rechargeable
battery that is not user replaceable. It should last a few days
on a charge using PIM and office apps. Gaming and video playback
will shorten battery life, which is true of all PDAs. When using
WiFi, I was able to surf continuously for three hours even with
the WiFi power saving option turned off. Three hours is quite good
by today's standards, and overall the TH55 has very impressive
battery life for a feature-full PDA.
Software and Sony's New PIM Apps
The enhanced PIM apps (Date Book, Address Book,
To Do List, Memos) are quite ambitious. Palm offers enhanced PIM
apps on their Tungsten T3 and Tungsten
E models, and those are modest yet important enhancements.
Sony seems to want to do even better, and their PIMs represent
a bold innovation for Palm OS built-in PIMs. Instead of using the
standard Palm OS launcher or the Sony launcher, the TH55 uses a
tabbed interface with tabs located on the right side of the screen
for Date Book, Address Book, To Do List, Free Notes, Memos, Viewer,
Reference and Applications. The Date Book supports several new
features, including ink (just scribble your meeting into the calendar
and erase mistakes), Stickers (an included collection of iconic
clip art) and photos. A scrolling image viewer which shows all
images stored on the unit and Memory Stick at the bottom of the
Date Book (and Free Notes) screen allows you to select and drag
any photo onto a date book time slot. Date Book has single day,
week, month and yearly views, and indicates notes and images for
an appointment in day, week and month views. The address book also
supports attached notes, Free Notes and images in an intuitive
way. Free Notes is a new Sony application that allows you to draw
in digital ink in several colors, drag photos onto the page and
enter text into a Free Note. Text remains editable and you can
add more ink/photos/Stickers to a Free Note or remove them whenever
you wish. Memos is the familiar Palm OS app, and with the TH55
version you can open text files stored on Memory Sticks using Memos.
Viewer shows you thumbnails of images and Free Notes, and functions
as a launcher to open those files. Reference is a curious app that
lets you view included references (view only image-based works):
Conversion Table, Sizes and Temperature. Unless more references
are created for the TH55, I'm not sure how useful this app will
be. The Applications tab takes you to the Sony launcher that's
been included on most Cliés in the past year. I like these
new applications quite a bit, which merge the best elements of
paper organizers with the digital world. I think folks will find
themselves using the PIM apps with more flexibility and creativity.
You'll get Palm Desktop 4.1 for PCs (not Mac),
Intellisync Lite for syncing to Outlook, Clié Image Viewer,
Memory Stick Backup, Clié Launcher, Graffiti 2 handwriting
recognition, the usual Palm OS PIM apps and Clié Memo. In
addition you get Clié Mail, NetFront 3.1 web browser, Decuma
handwriting recognition (a very nice input system that allows you
to enter whole words or groups of words at a time), Picsel Viewer
(allows you to view MS Office documents as well as PDFs), Sony's
Movie Player and their MP3 player. If you want to edit MS Office
docs on the Clié, you'll be happy to hear that users who
register their Clié will receive a registration code and
download link for a registered copy of DataViz® Documents To
Go® Professional Edition version 6.0 for free. You'll also
get Macromedia's Flash Player 5 built into ROM, along with NetFront
3.1, Clie Mail, Clie Files (a file manager) and Sony's Sound Utils
for working with system sounds.
If you're a Mac user, you'll either need to give
iSync a try, or get MissingSync from www.markspace.com to
enjoy full syncing capabilities with your Mac.
Comparing the TH55 to the Palm Tungsten T3
The Tungsten T3 and TH55 are clear competitors
since both are slate design Palm OS 5 devices with 320 x 480 displays.
While selecting a PDA is a matter of personal choice, we'll outline
some of the salient features which may help you select a model.
Pro TH55: The TH55 has a lot of popular and sexy
features such as the integrated VGA digicam and WiFi, while the
Tungsten T3 has neither. Let's face it: most of us don't need a
camera, but it's really fun and handy for capturing special moments.
WiFi is ever-popular in the US, so if you have a WiFi access point
at home/work or want to surf from the airport or your local Starbucks,
the TH55 is the way to go. Battery life is quite good, beating
the T3. While both units have an MP3 player, the TH55 sounds a
bit better and louder.
Pro T3: The T3 does have Bluetooth, which is
perfect if you want to access the Net using a Bluetooth mobile
phone rather than via WiFi. The T3's screen is brighter and supports
both portrait and landscape orientations. If you're a gamer or
just crave serious power, the T3 is your model: the 400 MHz processor
and 52 megs of available RAM make it a top performer. The d-pad
and button arrangement are great for gaming. When closed, the T3
is smaller than the TH55. The T3 has Java support.
Pro: A lot of great features in a mid-range,
compact PDA. Good performance and a generous amount of RAM. Has
built-in WiFi 802.11b wireless networking, an MP3 player with great
sound and an integrated VGA digital camera that takes good shots
by PDA standards. Attractive design. You can use Sony T, SJ and
NX series accessories. Excellent software bundle: NetFront and
Documents To Go are great. Con: The screen isn't as bright as the
Sony Clié NX73, NX80 or Tungsten T3. Battery isn't user
replaceable. The application button design and jog dial location
mean this isn't a good unit for playing many action and arcade
games. Wish it had support for landscape orientation!
List price: TH55 $399
x 480 pixels, 65,000 colors backlit TFT.
Handheld Engine CPU (runs between 8 and 123 MHz,
and has a 2D graphics processor). 32 megs of RAM
and 32 megs of ROM.
7/8 x 3 x 5/8 inches. 6.5 ounces.
Rechargeable Lithium Ion Polymer. Not user replaceable.
.31 megapixel CMOS VGA 640 x 480 camera for photos
(not movies). F2.8 lens with 3.6mm focal length (equiv.
to a 35mm lens on a 35mm film camera). Focus range
.23m to infinity. White balance: auto, outdoor, indoor
A (incandescent) and indoor B (fluorescent). Picture
effects: none, B&W, sepia. Brightness: auto and
5 steps of manual adjustment from -2 to + 2. Self-timer
and 2x digital zoom.
in speaker for alarms. Built-in stereo MP3 Player.
It plays real sounds rather than only Midi synthesized
sounds. Voice recorder built-in. Standard 3.5mm
stereo headphone jack.
States: WiFi 802.11b built-in. European
model has both Bluetooth and WiFi.
OS 5.2.1 and the usual suite of Palm applications,
including Palm HotSync, Address Book, Date Book,
Clock, To Do List, Memo Pad, Calculator and Graffiti
2 handwriting recognition software. In addition,
you get Sony Software: enhanced PIM apps, Audio Player,
Movie Player, Memory Stick Backup, Data Import/ Export
(for mounting Memory Sticks on PC desktops), Clié Viewer
(for images), Clié Mail
and a lot of trial/demo software. 3rd party software
includes NetFront 3.1, Picsel Viewer and Decuma handwriting
recognition software. Documents To Go 6 Professional
can be downloaded for free upon registration of the
Clié. Desktop software: Palm Desktop 4.1 for
PC (not Mac), Intellisync Lite v. 4.0 for syncing
to Outlook on the PC.
cover, USB sync cable, AC adapter/charger and software