MobileTechReview.com PDA, Notebook and Phone Reviews and buyers guide

PDA Phone Notebooks Gaming Gadgets iPhone & iPad Shop Discussion

Advertisement

Sony Clie UX50 and UX40

Sept. 16, 2003, by Lisa Gade, Editor-in-Chief

Discontinued

On July 18th 2003, Sony announced two groundbreaking new handhelds in the Clié family: the UX50 and UX40. The UX models are the first landscape orientation Palm OS PDAs that resemble mini (and I mean MINI!) notebook computers. With 480 x 320 color displays, a relatively roomy miniature keyboard and an integrated VGA digital camera, these units are quite compelling. But it doesn't stop there: the UX50 has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth wireless networking, and the UX40 has Bluetooth. They are otherwise identical except that the UX40 has a silver bezel surrounding the display, and the three quick launch buttons on the bottom edge map to the standard PIM apps instead of Internet apps and calendar. The UX50 sells for $699 US, and the UX40 will sell for $599. The UX50 was released Sept. 12, 2003 in the US, and the UX40 was released Sept. 26, 2003.

Sony has designed these models as communications oriented PDAs. While they offer many of the same multimedia features found in other high end Cliés, the wireless capabilities, good keyboard and landscape display make them ideal for web browsing and email. The lower end Cliés and NX and NZ line of Cliés will co-exist with the new UX models. Sony targets the TJ models toward users with more basic needs, and the NX80V and NZ90 target serious multimedia users. Of course, the NX80V and NZ90 have communications capabilities when used with Sony's WiFi card, and Bluetooth in the case of the NZ90.

Sony Clie UX50

UX50

Horsepower: Processor, Memory and OS

The UX models runs Palm OS 5.2 and have a Sony CXD2330GA ARM family processor. This processor, produced by Sony, works in conjunction with a 2D graphics chip, and integrates directly with the digicam and other components, allowing for a very small design with a reduced chipset. The processor, which Sony calls the Handheld Engine™, 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, depending on application load and demand. Thanks to the companion graphics processor, Sony says it's able to output 30 fps video, despite the relatively unimpressive clock speed. However, I found I got around 15 fps when playing 320 x 240 MPEG1 videos, which is quite watchable. How does it feel? Plenty fast enough, even playing games like Warfare Inc., Ricochet and movie trailers. Though the NX and NZ models have faster processors, I generally couldn't feel much of a speed difference between the UX and these models. NetFront was the only app that ran perceptibly slower, with a few "page too large" warnings, despite the fact the UX has 16 megs of heap. Pages did render correctly in NetFront, despite the warnings and it's still plenty fast enough to be usable. Picsel Viewer loads slower on the UX50 than on the NX80V as well.

The UX40 and UX50 have a total of 104 megs of RAM: 8 megs embedded in the CPU, 32 megs of DRAM and 64 megs of NAND Flash RAM. How is all that divided up for use? 16 megs are available to the user to store programs and files. 29 megs are available to store multimedia files such as movies, images and voice notes. 16 megs are reserved for backup and another 16 megs are for heap (heap is like RAM on your PC). 8 megs are embedded in the CPU and 19 megs are reserved for storing the OS and embedded applications.

Design and Ergonomics

The UX models have a micro notebook design. You can use them in notebook mode, or swivel the display to use the unit in tablet mode. Though you can swivel the display to use the unit in tablet mode (see photo, right), the UX series only run in landscape mode; they don't support portrait mode. The keyboard slab is slightly longer than the display, allowing access to the jog dial, quick launch buttons and back button even when in tablet mode. The launch buttons are assigned to Netfront, email and the calendar on the UX50, but you can reassign any application to these buttons.

keyboard

The keyboard. Note the jog dial, back button and quick launch buttons at the front edge.

 

 

Deals and Shopping!

 

 

Questions? Comments?
Post them in our Discussion Forum!

 

Clie UX 50, Sharp C760, Gameboy

Size comparison: top Game Boy Advance SP, below left Sharp Zaurus SL-C760, right Sony Clié UX50.

The UX50 is amazingly small. It actually looks and feels smaller in person than in photos. It's comfy in the hand, and you can type while the unit is resting on a table, or operate it one-handed in tablet mode. The bezel surrounding the display is quite large, and houses two LEDs that indicate WiFi and Bluetooth connections. The casing is made of Magnesium alloy, just like the NX models. It's a very attractive unit and well designed, but to my eyes it doesn't look as classy and "expensive" as the NX73V and NX80V.

Sony Clie UX50 with battery pack

Side view of the UX50 with the optional battery pack attached

 

To charge the UX, you'll place it in the included charging cradle (a flat plastic base that clips onto the UX). The charger plugs into the cradle and can't be plugged directly into the UX, which means you'll have to bring the cradle with you when traveling. Alternatively, you could also purchase the extended battery which triples run times. To sync the UX, you'll use the included USB cable. The PC end is a standard USB connector, and the end that plugs into the UX is a standard mini-USB connector. You can't plug the USB cable into the cradle, you must plug it directly into the port on the UX. The port has a rubbery cover that's permanently attached to the unit so you won't lose it. Since the UX doesn't use the same sync connector as other Cliés, you won't be able to plug in accessories meant for other models.

Keyboard

The keyboard is quite good. After typing on it, I found switching back to my NX80V awkward (and I like the NX80V's keyboard). It's roomy, and the wavy surface design places the keys at the top of the waves, making it easy to type and hold in the hand. The keys are relatively large and have decent tactile feedback, though not a great deal of travel. They're a bit hard to press, but don't require as much force as the Clié TG50. It's got dedicated number keys on the top row, and one shift key on the lower left (same as other keyboarded Cliés). A single function key on the lower left allows you to enter punctuation and page up/down. The function key can be locked on. The keyboard isn't as good as the Sharp Zaurus C760, for those of you who are considering both units. The keys are backlit, and backlighting remains on for a few seconds after you press a key. You can turn off the keyboard backlighting feature if you wish.

Display and Battery Life

The display is quite nice and sharp given the small size of the LCD. While the NX and NZ models offer the same resolution, they have larger 3.8" LCDs while the UX has a 3.25" display. It's remarkably sharp given how many pixels are packed into such a small area! That said, if you have older or not terribly sharp eyes, you may find it tiring looking at such a small display. The display is about on par with the SJ series models, and isn't as bright or color-saturated as the recent NX models and the NZ90. That doesn't mean it's dim, but you'll probably use it on a higher brightness setting than you would an NX80V. Unlike previous Clié including the NX and NZ models, the display doesn't have a blue tint-- it's quite unbiased and that's lovely!

All the Palm OS 5 and Clié friendly apps I tried on the UX50 worked fine, and displayed in a 320 x 320 window with the Graffiti area filling in the remainder of the display. Version 1.2.8 of Palm Reader supports the full screen on the UX. AvantGo! runs slowly and the fonts are a bit hard to see, but I'm sure we'll see an update for the UX.

Sony states that the unit should have pretty impressive battery life when not using wireless communications. So far, ours has been less than stellar, and definitely can't compete with the NX73V and NX80V, which have great battery life. With brightness set at 90%, we got about 2 hours on a full charge when playing intensive games like Warfare Inc. We were able to play Warfare for 3.75 hours on the NX80V with brightness set at 40%. Yes, the brightness setting does effect battery life, but we ran at these settings so the games looked about the same on each unit. WiFi runtimes were comparable to other PDAs using built-in or add-in card WiFi, and we got about 2.5 hours of surfing on a charge (not allowing the connection to drop out for power savings during periods of inactivity). Keep in mind that when you read long web pages, the connection may shut off to save power, thus extending battery life. If you need more power on the go, you can purchase an extended battery which is a slim slab that mounts on the bottom of the PDA.

The UX has an option which allows you to first backup the unit to the backup area of memory, then put the unit in "Power Saving Mode", which uses virtually no power since this mode doesn't power internal RAM to preserves its contents. The NAND Flash area is non-volatile, so the backup and 29 megs of storage area will not be erased in Power Saving Mode. When you turn the UX on again, it will restore the backup to the unit and thus restore the UX. The usual Clié MS Backup application which allows you to backup your unit to a Memory Stick is absent on the UX models, the Power Saving Mode backup is what you get instead.

Sony states that the UX will automatically back itself up if battery power becomes dangerously low, but I wasn't able to find any settings for this, and the unit in fact didn't automatically backup when power dropped low enough to cause data loss. Be sure to rely on the manual backup features.

Digital Camera

The digicam is a .3 megapixel VGA CMOS camera capable of taking photos up to 640 x 480 in size. It has 3x digital zoom and is also capable of shooting videos. These are the same specs as the NX73V and the picture quality is identical (check out the NX73V review to see sample pix). There is no flash or capture light. The camera lens is located on the front left edge and rotates up and down, giving you a good deal of flexibility in taking shots.

Sony doesn't intend this to be a cutting-edge camera. Rather it's there so you can take pictures and attach them via email (remember, this is a communications device). The unit has an SMS application, but it doesn't have an MMS application, so you'll need to use email (likely the included Clié Mail application) to send pictures.

MP3 Player and Voice Recorder

As with other mid and high end Sonys, the UX models play MP3 and ATRAC format audio. The device comes with Sony's own audio player. You can rip MP3s using the included Sony desktop software, or better yet, use your favorite MP3 app and drag the files to your Memory Stick. The player application has the same features as other MP3 capable Clié models: e.g. you can use AVLS and bass boost. The MP3 player can play in the background so you can listen to music while using the PDA for other tasks. Neither headphones nor remote are included, but the unit has a standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack so you can use any headphones you wish. The Clié remote from other models won't work because the jack on the remote doesn't fit the UX port.

These models can record voice notes, and support polyphonic alerts.

Wireless

The UX40 has Bluetooth, and the UX50 has both Bluetooth and WiFi 802.11b. The Bluetooth configuration is similar to other Sonys. I used it to HotSync, and connect to a Red-M Bluetooth access point and the Nokia 3650 for Internet access. When Bluetooth is enabled the LED flashes blue, and when the unit is connected to another Bluetooth device, the LED is solid blue.

The WiFi configuration is more full-featured than previous Cliés, and supports auto discovery and listing of available access points. The Scan button finds available access points and lists their names, whether they use WEP encryption, channel and signal strength. If you choose to connect to an access point that uses WEP, the UX50 will prompt you for the WEP key. There's also a Status button that tells you the UX50's MAC address, IP address, access point name, channel, WEP status and signal strength. When WiFi is turned on, the LED lights solid green. The system is relatively turn-key and made connecting and surfing a breeze.

Expansion

The UX40 and UX50 have Memory Stick slots that accept standard and Memory Stick Pro media. There are no other expansion slots. Since the UX models don't have sync connectors like past Cliés, you won't be able to use existing accessories designed for that port.

Software

The unit comes with a new "3D" launcher. I found it unattractive and a bit hard to read, and quickly changed back to the standard Palm OS launcher view. When you rotate the jog dial, the center row of applications seems to bulge out in a 3D-like fashion. If you're a fan of 3rd party launchers, ZLauncher works well on the UX. Picsel Viewer is pre-installed, which offers read-only access to MS Office files and Acrobat PDFs. Picsel does have its good points: documents look lovely on screen with formatting preserved, and it can read native Word and Excel docs, with no conversion (or formatting) loss.

These models offer both Graffiti 2 handwriting recognition and Decuma. Graffiti 2 offers a more natural way of inputting printed characters compared to the original Graffiti. The Graffiti area is on the right side of the screen instead of the bottom. While it looks sideways, you don't have to rotate the unit to use Graffiti. If you're a lefty like me, you can relocate the Graffiti area to the left side (go to Prefs -> Extension to do this). Decuma is excellent! It has virtually no learning curve, and as you enter characters, Decuma turns them into text in the input area first, so you can correct any mistakes before telling Decuma to enter the text into your current document. You can write several words at once, or one word at a time. Decuma first appeared on the recently released NX73V and NX80V, and has been well-received by users.

The NetFront 3 (rev. 1.1.54) web browser is included with the Clié and it does an excellent job of rendering pages. And yes, it runs in full screen landscape mode on the UX models! While you'll still have to do some scrolling since most web pages are designed for a minimum 800 x 600 display, it is more pleasant to browse in landscape mode. Netfront offers support for HTML 4, .css, frames and cookies and it runs full screen.

For email, you get Clié Mail, which is a decent app that supports multiple email accounts, POP3, signatures, filters and syncing to your desktop.

The UX40 and UX50 do not come with an AV remote application or enhanced IR.

You get an SMS application, and Remote Camera, which allows you to control Sony cameras such as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-FX77 and Sony Handycam DCR-TRV80 that have a Bluetooth BIP interface.

NetFront, Decuma, Picsel Viewer and Flash Player 5 are installed in ROM. Most of the built-in applications run full screen. Those that don't include Clie Memo, Movie Recorder, Audio Player and WA Clock. Currently, most 3rd party apps don't take advantage of the full screen, but with a wonderful $10 utility called CodeDiver, you can make many apps runs full screen in landscape mode.

Conclusion

Pro: If communications and particularly web surfing is your thing, then you'll likely love this unit. The keyboard is very good, it has by far more memory than other Cliés, the high res plus landscape display is perfect for web browsing, gaming and reading, and you even get a camera for emailing pix. Add on the MP3 player, video recording and playback for a lot of multimedia fun as well! Con: It's expensive. The small LCD display may be hard on your eyes, and you'll need to set the brightness near the high end, which can shorten battery life. Battery life isn't very good. Other than the built-in apps, not many yet support full screen landscape display mode, so you'll be working in 3rd party apps and playing games mostly in a 320 x 320 pixel window for now (unless you get CodeDiver).

 

Specs:

Display: 3.25" 480 x 320 pixels, 65,000 colors backlit TFT active matrix display. Hi res plus.

Performance: Sony Handheld Engine CPU. 104 megs of RAM. 16 megs available for programs and files, 29 megs for multimedia files and 16 megs for backup. 16 megs of heap.

Camera: Still image resolution: 310,000 pixels (1/3 megapixel) image sizes of 640 x 480, 320 x 240, 160 x 120, 320 x 480. Movies with audio recorded at 160x112 pixels. White balance, brightness and several effects settings are available.

Size: 4 1/8 x 3 1/2 x 23/32 inches, 6.2 oz.

Wireless: UX50 has WiFi and Bluetooth. UX40 has Bluetooth only.

Battery: Uses a rechargeable Lithium Ion Polymer battery. Not user replaceable. AC adapter and charging cradle included. You can use an optional battery pack to extend battery life.

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.

Software: Palm OS 5.2, Palm Desktop 4.1 for Clié (Windows only) and the usual suite of Palm and Sony applications. Sony apps: CLIE™ Album, CLIE™ Camera, CLIE™ Mail, CLIE™ Memo, CLIE™ Viewer, Flash Player 5, Image Converter v.1.0 (for PC), Memory Stick Backup, Data Export (for PC), Data Import, Movie Player, Movie Recorder, PictureGear™ Studio (for PC), PhotoStand, Photo Editor , SonicStage™ LE v.1.5 (for PC), Sound Converter 2 (for PC), Sound Utility, Voice Recorder, World Alarm Clock, SMS and Remote Camera. 3rd party software ( full versions): Macromedia Flash 5, NetFront 3 Web Browser, Decuma handwriting recognition, Graffiti 2, Picsel Viewer, Intellisync Lite.

USB cable, charging cradle, rechargeable battery and A/C adapter included.

 

Back to MobileTechReview.com Home Questions? Comments? Post them in our Discussion Forum!