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Sharp Zaurus SL-5600

(discontinued, replaced by the Zaurus SL-6000)

By Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief, posted May 8, 2003

The Zaurus SL-5600 is the updated version of the SL-5500. Like the 5500, it runs Linux and has hardware specs similar to Pocket PCs. While not a big seller in the US, the Zaurus Linux PDAs enjoy a devoted following of those who want the power and versatility of Linux in a handheld.

If you're new to the Zaurus, you can expect a PDA that's turnkey and user-friendly, with PIM apps and Office software to meet your everyday needs. For those familiar with the SL-5500, the 5600 adds an XScale processor running at 400 MHz, more reliable USB syncing, a built-in mic and the ability to play MP3s through the built-in speaker as well as headphones. The Zaurus is a more polished, feature rich unit than the Yopy YP3700 which also runs Linux.

Sharp Zaurus SL-5600
back of the Sharp Zaurus SL-5600

 

Horsepower

The SL-5600 has an Intel XScale processor running at 400 MHz, which is plenty of power! The built-in apps and OS have been optimized for the new processor. The unit feels snappy and responsive, except program launching, which takes a few seconds. It has 32 megs of RAM and 64 megs of flash ROM. The ROM is a non-volatile area where the OS is stored, but you can store data and apps on the unused 35 megs of flash ROM, bringing total built-in storage up to ~ 65 megs.

Display and Multimedia

The Z has a 3.5" 65,000 color front lit LCD that's viewable indoors and outdoors. The resolution is 240 x 320 pixels, same as a Pocket PC. Unfortunately, it is not a transflective display and isn't as color-saturated and bright as PDAs with transflective screens. I was disappointed by the dimness of the display.

For you MP3 fans, there's a stereo headphone jack and Media Player which can play MP3s and MPEG videos. You can play MP3s through the built-in speaker or headphones connected to the standard 3.5mm stereo mini jack. Sound is quite good, though Media Player doesn't offer any bass boost, treble or balance adjustments. You can turn off the display when listening to MP3s to conserve power.

Keyboard and Controls

The thumb-type keyboard is there when you need it, and concealed when you don't. It integrates beautifully into the device. It has a standard QWERTY keyboard layout with a numlock key (yay!) and a function key to enter in symbols, numbers, and punctuation. The keys are made of hard plastic and offer good tactile feedback. As with many thumb keyboards, the keys are small, and you'll probably need to use your thumbnails rather than the flesh of your thumb to type accurately.

The Z has a 5 way d-pad that's great not only for games, but navigating on-screen. There are buttons for home, calendar, address book, mail and a button which activates any drop-down menus in apps. The calendar button also functions as the voice recorder button— press and hold to bring up the Voice Recorder app and start a recording. The menu button also functions as the backlight button: press and hold it down to turn the backlighting on or off.

Software and Syncing

You'll get the usual PIM apps: Calendar, Contacts, Memo and To-Do, along with the Opera 6.0 web browser, email client, MP3 and video player, Image Viewer, and Hancom MobileOffice, which includes a word processor and spreadsheet program that are compatible with MS Word and MS Excel. You'll also get 7 games, including Asteriods, Go, and Patience. To check out additional 3rd party software available for the Zaurus, visit Handango's Linux PDA software section and killefiz.de/zaurus. If you want to use a terminal to issue shell commands, check out the additional software installation on the CD for a free terminal program that even has a popup selector to enter common UNIX commands like ls, pwd and more. There's also a File Manager on the CD that you'll want to install, along with HancomPresenter for PowerPoint presentations. Opera 6, perhaps the best PDA browser, is included with the SL-5600. It supports SSL, Javascript and handles page layouts on small screens extremely well.

The Z can sync to the included Qtopia Desktop or Outlook via Intellisync, which is also included. Qtopia is a desktop PIM application that syncs with the address book, calendar and Todo list on the Zaurus. It supports categories, and all the fields most of use will ever need for contacts. The calendar supports alarms, repeating events and categories. Tasks offers priority levels, start date, completed date, due date and categories.

 

 

 

 

 

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If you're an Outlook user, you'll likely want to use Intellisync for Zaurus, which can sync contacts, calendar, email, tasks and notes with your Zaurus. The Zaurus Linux PDAs only come with Windows software, there's no Linux or Mac support in the box. There's an early version of a 3rd party sync solution for Mac OS 10.2 and higher users, which you can find here: http://maczsync.sourceforge.net/.

To install applications and files on the SL-5600, you'll use the Zaurus File Transfer application on the desktop. This app gives you a folder view of the Zaurus' internal flash memory, and any expansion cards you have in the PDA. You'll drag files to these folders to install them on the Z. To backup and restore the PDA, you'll use the aptly name Backup and Restore application on the desktop.

Handwriting Recognition

Just in case the physical keyboard isn't enough, you'll also get an onscreen software QWERTY keyboard, handwriting recognition, a pickboard (hard to describe, but it reminds me of T-9 on steroids) and unicode character entry system. While handwriting recognition wasn't good on the SL-5500, it's definitely ready for prime time on the 5600. It allows you to write natural lower case print characters and has very good accuracy. It's very similar to character recognizer on Pocket PCs.

Expandability, Networking and Accessories

The unit is very expandable: it comes with a both internal CompactFlash type II slot and an internal MMC/SD slot. These will allow you to use accessories memory cards, modems and network cards (including wireless network cards) simultaneously if you wish.

Networking and WiFi cards are well-supported. The D-Link, Socket, Symbol and Linksys cards work without any additional drivers. WiFi speeds are great with the Zaurus, surpassing Pocket PCs. However, like the SL-5500, the 5600 can't connect to base stations whose SSID's have spaces in their names.

You can buy an optional $169 digital camera which plugs into the CompactFlash card slot. Its resolution is 1/3 megapixel (350,000 pixels). If you're interested in wide area networking, you can purchase the CF Sharp Mobile Modem Card, which is an Enfora Spider IIC CF card that runs on the CDPD network at 19.2k and connects to the Sharp Mobile Network service. A 3g (1xRTT) CF card for the Zaurus is upcoming.

Battery and Cradle

The SL-5600 has once of the largest standard batteries available on a PDA: 1700 mAh, and it is user-replaceable. I've gotten runtimes of about 5 hours continuous use per charge. Connectivity is via USB, and the Zaurus comes with a cradle that allows you to sync and charge the PDA. A $39.95 serial cable is available as an accessory should you not have USB ports on your PC. USB syncing on the SL-5600 has been very reliable.

Conclusion

Pro: Both an SD slot and a CompactFlash expansion slot built into the unit-- you can use a modem or wireless card at the same time you've got a memory card installed. Battery is replaceable. Built-in support for wired and wireless networking is very good. Integrated keyboard is neatly designed and only there when you need it. Con: Not much software out there yet for this operating system. UI has a learning curve. Window close and cancel widgets are way too small, just as with the SL-5500.

List price is $499 in the US.

Read our Linux Game Reviews for Zaurus!

 

Specs:

Display: Reflective TFT color LCD, 65,536 colors, Screen Size Diag: 3.5", Resolution: 240 x 320

Battery Lithium Ion rechargeable 1700 mAh (that's big!). Replaceable.

Performance: Intel XSCale 400 MHz processor, 64 MB Flash ROM, 32 MB RAM

Operating System: Linux2 based embedded OS (Embedix3) Qtopia, Personal Java4.

Size: 2.9”W x 5.4”H x .9”D. Weight Approximately 7.1 ounces.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Media Player included.

Software: Linux-based operating system. Calendar, Address Book, To-Do, and Memo apps, Hancom Office suite: Word processor compatible with Word docs, spreadsheet app compatible with Excel files, Opera 6 web browser, E-mail program supporting POP3, SMTP, IMAP4 protocols, ImagePad image viewer and editor, Media Player for videos and MP3s, TextEditor, Calculator and more. Java: PersonalJava™ and Insignia Solutions Jeode™.

Syncing software: Qtopia™ and Intellisync for Zaurus (synchronizes with Outlook). Syncs with Windows only.

Expansion: SD/MMC slot, CF card slot (TYPE II)

 

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