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Sharp Zaurus SL-C760 Linux PDA

Note that the SL-C860 replaced the C760 in late Nov. 2003. In 2004 the Zaurus C3000 and C1000 replaced the C860.

—by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief, posted Sept. 21, 2003

Like other PDA fans, I was very excited when I heard about the Sharp Zaurus C700 series. A 640 x 480 landscape display, roomy keyboard and attractive clamshell design— yeehah! But then those of us in the US were sorely disappointed to learn that Sharp had decided not to sell it in the US. For those of us who think this PDA is just what the doctor ordered, Dynamism has come to the rescue, selling the C760 in the US, converted to English. Dynamism is a US company that specializes in importing the latest, greatest notebooks and gadgets normally only available in Asia. They do the language conversion for you and handle tech support, and they were kind enough to send us a C760 to review. If you're looking for a PDA with a large, absolutely gorgeous display and one of the best keyboards around, read on.

Sharp Zaurus C760

Linux, Sharp Style

Like the Sharp Zaurus SL-5600 which is available in the US, the C760 runs Linux (Metrowerks OpenPDA version 1 and Qtopia for OpenPDA v. 1.5.4 and a linux embedix kernel compiled by Sharp). It also comes with a Java virtual machine (Insignia Jeode). This makes for a powerful machine that's quite versatile and extensible unit, especially if you're a Linux guru. The terminal application allows you to issue Linux commands, edit config files and all that great stuff. If you're not a Linux guru and prefer to never see a command line, have no fear: the Zaurus line comes with a complete set of user-friendly PIM (contacts, calendar, tasks) apps and much more, making it an easy unit to use.

However, the C760 isn't for novice users who are unfamiliar with PDAs. This has nothing to do with the unit itself, but rather the fact that the manual is in Japanese, and the help files pre-installed in the Zaurus haven't been translated, so you'll see box symbols instead of Japanese or English characters. The C760 comes with PC syncing software that also hasn't been translated, and most of the onscreen text on the PC also appears as gibberish rather than Japanese or English. Installing Japanese language support in Windows won't remedy this. If you're already familiar with standard PDA applications, know a CF slot from an SD slot, and can find the power jack (not too hard!) on the Zaurus, then go for it. Of course, if you're a Japanese speaker, you'll also do well! If you've previously owned a Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 or SL-5600, then you're on your way to knowing the in's and out's of the C760. Dynamism now has a 28 page basic manual in PDF format available for customers who purchase a C7xx series model. The manual explains the various controls, buttons and keyboard settings, along with resetting the unit, replacing the battery and navigating the file system.

Zaurus C760

The Zaurus closed.

Sharp SL-C760

The C760 with the display swiveled to tablet mode, portrait orientation.

 

 

 

 

 

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If you're comfortable with the command line under Linux, you can do your own English language conversion following instructions found here and there on the Net. For most folks, the additional $100 Dynamism adds to the price of a Japanses unit plus the support and warranty they offer will be worth the charge.

Horsepower

The C760 has a 400 MHz PXA255 XScale processor, which is currently the top-of-the-line for PDAs. It's got 64 megs of system SDRAM (used like RAM in your PC) and 128 megs of storage ram, of which ~69 megs are available for you to store programs and files. The unit feels fast in all operations, and is supposed to be the fastest of the C700 series models.

Design and Ergonomics

The Zaurus C760 looks like a highly miniaturized notebook PC. It's surprisingly portable, and is in the same general ballpark as the iPAQ 5500 series and Sony Clié NX80V. The unit can be used in clamshell (notebook style) mode or you can swivel and rotate the display to use the Zaurus in tablet mode in portrait orientation. The screen hinge is stiff, so the display won't flop around when using it in clamshell mode. It locks open with the unit nearly flat, and I would have preferred an additional lock with the screen in a more upright position. That said, the unit won't accidentally open flat to the locked position when pressing the screen with a stylus. However, you may need to support the display area if you press heavily when using handwriting recognition.

Below, the Sharp Zaurus C760 left, and the Sony Clié UX50 right.

Zaurus C760 and Clie UX50

 

Display

The screen is absolutely fabulous, and is one of the best I've seen on a PDA or any other mobile device. It uses CG Silicon technology (Continuous Grain Silicon ) which is supposed to be smaller, thinner and more energy efficient. The screen is quite bright and extremely color saturated. Viewing images on it is a pleasure, and despite the large number of pixels crammed into the 3.7" LCD, text remains sharp and very readable. And it's still a rare pleasure to find a PDA with VGA (640 x 480) resolution. This makes for a wonderful web browsing experience using the included NetFront.

However, if your eyes are older or not very good, you may suffer eyestrain, despite the sharpness of the display. Text is quite small, and though you can increase the text size in Hancom Office and NetFront, that does defeat the point of having a high resolution display.

Keyboard

The keyboard on the C760 is my absolute favorite. It's the roomiest of any current PDA with the exception of the much larger NEC MobilePro 900, which isn't really in the PDA category. Compared to the Sony Clié UX50 & UX40, this keyboard's keys are easier to press, have greater spacing (since the Zaurus is larger than the UX) and offer a bit more tactile feedback. Of course, they don't light up as do the UX and recent NX Clié keyboards. The Sharp C760 has a soft membrane keyboard rather than the hard plastic chicklet-keys kind. The Zaurus has a full English keyboard, a dedicated number row, arrow keys for navigation, OK and Cancel buttons, and quick launch keys for the calendar, address book, mail application, as well as buttons for Home and menu activation. To enter punctuation and common symbols, you'll use the single function key in conjunction with one of the keyboard keys. Some of the function key items are in Japanese, but you do have a fairly full set of English characters and symbols at your disposal. You can also use the function key for cut, paste and copy functions, and there's a cap lock key. Thumb typing is a breeze on this keyboard, and when placed on the table, you can even do a slow version of touch typing.

Battery Life

The Sharp C760 comes with a 1700 mA Lithium Ion battery. This is a larger battery than the C700 and C750 models had. Since the battery pack is thicker and sticks out a bit on the bottom, Sharp has added a white plastic cover that covers the entire bottom of the PDA making for an even surface, rather than having a bulge in the battery section. You could also run the lower capacity standard battery, in which case you wouldn't use the white bottom plate, but instead use the silver plastic battery door which is included. This will reduce the thickness of the unit by 5mm.

The battery easily lasted me through the day when I used the PIM apps, Hancom Word, played some games and surfed for an hour. If you use WiFi continuously, you should get at least 3 hours run time (this will vary depending on the power efficiency of the card you use and the signal strength of your access point).

Zaurus C760 battery compartment

The underside of the Zaurus C760, with the white plastic cover removed so you can see the battery.

 

Compatibility and Expandability

The Zaurus has both an SD slot and a CF type II slot that can accommodate type I and type II expansion cards. Memory cards work fine, and I tried several CF WiFi cards that worked without additional drivers: Ambicom, D-Link and Socket (though the Socket didn't get a strong signal in the C760). The network configuration utility is very friendly and easy to use, and you should be able to get online with the Z in no time.

Many Zaurus apps written for the SL-5500 and SL-5600 models worked fine, with the exception of several games. Since these models have 240 x 320 displays, the Zaurus will run its display at 240 x 320 for these apps. All of the included applications run full screen on the C760, and there are some 3rd party apps that also support full screen display.

Software Bundle

If you've used other Sharp Zaurus models running Linux in the past, then the OS and included applications will no doubt be familiar. Dynamism has done a great job converting the unit to English, and pretty much everything but the help files have been translated. The C760 uses the same launcher as the SL-5500 and SL-5600, and has most of the same applications, including an email client that supports multiple accounts and both IMAP4 and POP3 protocols, an MP3 player, video player, Terminal (have a blast with the command line and the Z's bash shell), a text editor, image viewer and editor, voice recorder (though I couldn't find the built-in mic on the Z), a camera app (should you buy the accessory digicam module), and more. Of course, the unit comes with standard PIM apps: calendar, ToDo list, and an address book. Note that the address book doesn't sort on the English alphabet, and the quick-navigation tabs don't have A-Z, but rather tabs such as "ai", "ka", "sa" and so on, which works great if all your acquaintances are Japanese . You also get the capable Hancom Mobile Office Suite which allows you to view and edit MS Word, Excel and powerPoint documents. For Internet browsing, Sharp has included the excellent NetFront v.3 web browser, rather than Opera, which is found on the SL-5500 and 5600 models sold in the US. NetFront supports most all current web standards and allows you to open multiple windows.

The C760 comes with desktop syncing software that's in Japanese, and as mentioned earlier, is not readable even for Japanese speakers. It looks to be a combination of the usual Qtopia desktop by Trolltech, Intellisync, and some Sharp applications for such things as capturing your PC's screen on the Zaurus. As mentioned, the Z did connect via USB using this software, but I really couldn't tell what was what, even after playing with the software. Dynamism does provide support for the Zaurus, so you can give them a call if you'd like them to walk you through installation and use of the software. One easy method for syncing to Outlook in Windows is to download the SL-5500 3.1 ROM update which includes an English version of Intellisync. That version plays nicely with the C7xx series, but be sure to use the C7xx drivers that came on your CD rather than those in the ROM update when Windows prompts you for drivers.

If you're interested in additional software for the Zaurus line, killefiz.de/zaurus and docs.zaurus.com/feed are good places to start. The former gives you descriptions of the software and is categorized, while the later is a file listing which can also be accessed on the C760 (you can use it as an "Install packages via networks" location. Among commercial software makers supporting the C760, theKompany.com is probably the biggest and one of the best.

Comparing the C760 and Sony Clié UX40 / UX50:

The Zaurus is larger as you can see from the photos below, but is really an average sized PDA, while the UX is amazingly small.

The display on the Z is much better in terms of saturation and resolution (640 x 480 vs. 480 x 320).

The keyboard on the Zaurus is better.

The Zaurus has an SD and CF type II expansion slot, while the UX has a Memory Stick slot.

Hardware wise, the Zaurus wins. However, the selection of Zaurus software, especially that which takes advantage of the high resolution display is slim, while there are an amazing number of Palm applications available, and some are already supporting the UX in full screen mode.

The UX comes with very reliable syncing software that's in English. The SL-C760 comes with Japanese syncing software that displays with a lot of garbage characters when run on English Windows, and other syncing software from other Zaurus models many not prove reliable.

If you want the best hardware, and you're happy with the software that's pre-installed on the Zaurus, and aren't terribly interested in syncing your PIM data, go with the C760.

If you do need to sync docs and PIM data reliably and easily, and would like to take advantage of the wealth of Palm OS software that's available, go with the UX40 or UX50.

Conclusion

Pro: This is an amazing piece of hardware! Wonderful VGA display is a rare find among PDAs, fast processor and a good amount of memory, dual expansion slots, easy networking setup, great keyboard, good English conversion. Very friendly and useful set of inlcuded applications for PIM, Office and multimedia needs. And all this fits in the palm of your hand! Con: Manual and CD are in Japanese, as is the syncing software. Sharp should've built in WiFi on this perfect mini-Net surfer. Not a great selection of Zaurus Linux software available, though much of what is available is free or inexpensive.

Dynamism Original list price $799. Includes English conversion, unit, USB sync cable, charger, extended battery, Japanese printed manual and CD ROM.

 

Specs:

Display: 3.7" TFT CG Silicon display color LCD, 64,000 colors. Semi-transmissive, backlit. Resolution: 640 x 480.

Battery 1700mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. This battery is the extended battery, Sharp also makes a smaller capacity battery.

Performance: Intel PXA255 400 MHz XScale processor. 128 megs of RAM for storage, ~ 69 of which is available to the user and 64 MB program memory.

Size: 4.25" x 3.25" x 1.0 at thickest point of hinge, .8" for the rest of the unit. Weight Approximately 9.5 ounces (120 x 83 x 23.6mm.Weight: 250 grams).

Software: Linux-based operating system (OpenPDA). Calendar, Address Book, To-Do, and Memo apps, Hancom Office suite: Word processor compatible with Word docs, spreadsheet app compatible with Excel files, NetFront v.3 web browser, E-mail program supporting POP3, SMTP, IMAP4 protocols, ImagePad image viewer and editor, Video Player (MPEG4), Music Player for MP3s, Voice Recorder, Text Editor, Calculator, Clock, City Time and more. Java runtime included.

Audio: Built in speaker, and 3.5mm stereo headphone jack.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot. 1 CF type II slot. IR port.

 

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