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Sony Clié model PEG-TH55

Posted March 18, 2004, by Lisa Gade Editor in Chief

Discontinued

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.

Sony CLIE TH55

Sony Th55 back view

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.

size comparision

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.

 

 

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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.

 

Camera

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.

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Above, sample photos taken with the TH55. Click on the photo to see the original full-size image, unedited.

WiFi

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 web browser, is included in ROM. It supports JavaScript, caching, 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.

Battery

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.

Conclusion

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

 

Specs:

Display: 320 x 480 pixels, 65,000 colors backlit TFT.

Performance: Sony Handheld Engine CPU (runs between 8 and 123 MHz, and has a 2D graphics processor). 32 megs of RAM and 32 megs of ROM.

Size: 4 7/8 x 3 x 5/8 inches. 6.5 ounces.

Battery: Rechargeable Lithium Ion Polymer. Not user replaceable.

Camera: .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.

Audio: Built 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.

Modem / Wireless: United States: WiFi 802.11b built-in. European model has both Bluetooth and WiFi.

Software: Palm 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.

Flip cover, USB sync cable, AC adapter/charger and software CD included.

 

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