Review of the Sharp SL-C760

 in
The latest Zaurus offers the most flexibility and the best display of any available PDA.
System/OS

Prior to the SL-C760, the standard Zaurus embedded Linux version was Embeddix. With the release of the 760, Sharp has moved its OS platform to Metrowerks' OpenPDA. Unveiled at Linux World 2003, OpenPDA carries less code overhead than Embeddix and handles I/O even more quickly and smoothly. In fact, after working with OpenPDA during the two-week review period, I went searching for a downloadable version with which to upgrade my SL-5600 workhorse. To my chagrin, OpenPDA is unavailable as a standalone download. This fundamental system change clearly represents a significant leap forward for the Zaurus line.

The Good and the Less Good

The SL-C760 is fully equipped for life on the road, at work, at home and anywhere else you might have a need for mobile computing. With its quick processor and ample memory, the 760 performs more like a miniature laptop or desktop than a PDA. The installed applications include Hancom's Word, Presenter and Sheet. Qtopia also includes the terminal application in the default installation, a problematic oversight in previous Zaurus models. Although the contact manager and calendar are a bit less than attractive, they're both full featured and easy to use.

Significant improvements also have been made to the multimedia applications. These include an interface that's much easier to read when on the go and the ability to view the music playlist with the player active. Both the sound and video quality produced by these applications are top notch.

The SL-C760 features both Compact Flash and Secure Digital/Multi-Media Card slots, creating more external storage capabilities than most users are likely to need. Now that the screen occupies the full height of the 760 in portrait mode, the OK and Cancel buttons have been moved to the side. There's also a smooth-action jog wheel similar in functionality to the touch ring on earlier Zaurus models. The power button has been moved to the side, as well. The 760 also has removed one of my personal annoyances from the SL-5x00 models, the requirement to hold the power button to move into standby mode.

For all the advances these features represent over earlier Zaurus models, they don't describe the biggest and most visible enhancement. With the SL-C7xx series, Sharp has incorporated the CG Silicon display. Developed by Sharp and manufactured by CG Silicon, this hands-down is the cleanest, brightest display in the PDA space. Regardless of the brightness level, this display shows virtually zero pixillation. Fonts are rendered with the clean smooth lines of a CRT. During my review period, I was able to run the display at half brightness quite easily. At full bright, the display could serve as the headlamp for a coal miner. In short, this is the display that all PDAs should aspire to have.

The SL-C760 does have a few drawbacks. As it officially is available only in Japan, the device has been localized from Japanese to English. Some menus remain in the Japanese character set, resulting in unreadable blocks in several of the configuration screens. Further, the reticence of Sharp in releasing the SL-C760 to the US market means the included user manual is in Japanese.

From a design perspective, I found only small flaws. The first is the placement of the CF card when the PDA is used in landscape mode. Although a small card may remain unnoticed so long as the 760 is sitting on a firm surface, it feels awkward when holding the PDA and using the keyboard. I had some fear of damaging the card with my right hand. As a result, I refrained from landscape mode when the network card was in place.

The second flaw is the full travel of the screen when moving from landscape to portrait mode. It is possible, when in a hurry, to rake the corner of the display across the keyboard when twisting from one mode to the other. A quick close of the PDA in the airport, for example, easily could damage the keyboard.

Figure 4. A View of the SL-C760 QWERTY Keyboard

Unfortunately, the SL-C760 has yet to resolve two other issues from both the SL-C700 and the SL-5x00 models. Although the sound quality of the audio player is superb, the software still does not support saving playlists. With the available storage on these devices, this seems like a trivial problem to solve. In addition, like the 700, the 760 lacks an internal microphone for voice memos. This was a prominent addition to the SL-5600 and would clearly close the loop on necessary features for the 760.

Conclusion

The Sharp SL-C760 represents a significant upgrade from both the SL-5x00 series and the SL-C700. Rather than throwing the upgrade book at this new model, Sharp has devoted clear-headed resources to closing the loop on the minimal deficiencies of previous models. Out of the box, the 760 represents a logical evolution in both the Personal Mobile Tool and larger PDA spaces. At $799, it's not for everyone. If your needs include the full range of current PDA capabilities, however, the SL-C760 stands farther along the development curve than any other mobile device on the market. If those changes are the result of spot-marketing in tech-savvy Japan, then an official US release is well worth the wait.

Tony Steidler-Dennison is a PHP programmer, Linux system administrator, project manager, paralegal, spin doctor and rabid mobile Linux user. He maintains the poli-tech blog Frankly, I'd Rather Not and is the founder and co-author of the Linux site uptime. Tony currently is working on his first book, Practical Linux Administration and breathlessly awaits your comments on all things Linux-related at tony@steidler.net.

______________________

Comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Ack

Anonymous's picture

That isn't a PDA. It's a shrunken Desktop. A PDA does not have a QWERT button keyboard; it has an onsceen keyboard at most, and aboveall it shouldn't need a keyboard if the applications are built correctly.

A PDA is meant to be fast to use and quick in its low-detail graphics. These Zarus things are just portable shrunken desktop computers (PSDC). The power consumption is high and ... Well, if spending $500.00 on a under-performing desktop is your thing...

I myself bought a real PDA. It's Linux-based. Goto eBay.com, select Search->By Seller and type in the seller's name: SOFTFIELDTECH. They sell a Linux-based PDA, with 66MHz NEC VR4, 16MB ROM, 16MB RAM, 16 color greyscale 240x160 LCD backlit screen, RS232, IrDA: only needs Two AAA batteries! Runs a long time and is quick enough.

Price is as low as USD $69 and has high as USD $120 when sold direct from them through eBay.

Excellent value for a PDA. Ditch these Zaurus: Portable Shrunken Desktop Computers.

x

Anonymous's picture

are you affiliated with softfieldtech

Re: Ack

Anonymous's picture

Labels, labels. I own both a Zaurus SL-C700 and a Softfield Agenda VR3, and would like to offer a different viewpoint.

If readers think about these machines with a different frame of mind they will probably come to a different conclusion. These devices trade varying amounts of portability and convenience for varying amounts of functionality. Some people are very seldom far away from a desktop computer, so they don't need a device like this. Some people have very simple technology requirements when they are away from a desktop computer, so they also don't need a device like this.

Isn't it annoying when someone releases technology that you don't personally need? No? I didn't think so either, but to read the parent post... :-)

Think about your own life, and the instances where it'd be fun, convenient, or otherwise good to have some kind of computing power available. There are some times in your life when you have a desktop computer available. There are some times when you can't easily get to a desktop machine, but a laptop would work well. There are yet more times when even a laptop wouldn't be appropriate, but something pocket-sized would be. (such as: situations where people might bump into you, so you need one hand to hold the unit; situations where a laptop creates too much light or blocks view, so it's inconsiderate to use a laptop; situations where nobody else around you has a laptop, and you don't want to draw attention to yourself)

Vrdeb rocks and all, but I really had no clue about how capable a PDA could be until I had the Zaurus. When I bought the Zaurus I hadn't even considered the *commuications* possibilities it opens up. I was still thinking about it in terms of things the Agenda can do, only with more screen space and more computing power.

Both at school and at work, my Zaurus is always on the home network, always VNCed to my home desktop. (I couldn't figure out how to do 802.11b or VNC on the Agenda. "Real PDA" is a higher standard for me.) So I take the Zaurus out of my pocket and hit the power button. The network card flashes for a few seconds as it scans channels looking for my network. Then the light stays on solid - and a few seconds later, my VNC display refreshes. I don't have to log in again. I run my desktop at 1024x768 and the Zaurus is 640x480, but I can quickly scroll around and see if I have email or IMs waiting, check on a server, or do other desktop-computer things. I can then just hit the power button again -- VNC tells the desktop computer to stop sending data but keep the connection open, then the network card goes dark, and a split second later the screen goes dark. Back in my pocket it goes.

My Zaurus has really opened my eyes. I thought the Agenda was a good PDA too, and was constantly playing with it. With the Zaurus, my expectations of a PDA have gone way up, and now I'm constantly *doing interesting/useful things* with it. There's vast mobile-computing project potential here I haven't even scratched the surface on. I'll have to explore that stuff, once I get bored with or no longer have a use for the things I'm using right now.

(Just because this machine *can* compile and run Nessus using nothing more than what fits in the SD and CF slots doesn't mean Zaurus users just sit there compiling software all the time. This is a *useful* machine. It just has some unusual capabilities, if you need them.)

--Michael Spencer

Re: Review of the Sharp SL-C760

Anonymous's picture

I would have popped a minature track ball at the lower right of the keyboard

All that talk about the screen...

Anonymous's picture

And nothing about the resolution! Is it 320x240, or 480x320?

640x480

Anonymous's picture

That's the reason it's so damn interesting. It's not just an other pda

Ernest.

Re: Review of the Sharp SL-C760

Anonymous's picture

Add WIFI as standard and lower the price a bit and I'd be all over this if it were released in the UK.

Does anyone know if it can read Canon CF card format from the cameras?

Re: Review of the Sharp SL-C760

Anonymous's picture

Yes, it can! I share my S-230's CF with my SL-5500 and HP200LX. The image not soo good since the screen too small and the image viewer doesn't has zoom capability.

Re: Review of the Sharp SL-C760

Anonymous's picture

I don't know about the canon CF specifically or the C760 - but I had a great experience in a bar where a friend had taken some photos on his CF camera and just for shizz and grins we popped it into another friend's Zaurus. The Zaurus automatically detected the image files, opened a folder to them, and even was able to display them in a format optimized to fit on the the screen. This was on a Zaurus 5500 with the standard software install, but I would assume the same for you.

If the Canon CF format works in a typical CF reader...it will also work in the Zaurus.

Re: Review of the Sharp SL-C760

Anonymous's picture

Many thanks - that makes this unit extremely usefull for checking photos on the road.

Gah - now I just need some more money :(

Re: Review of the Sharp SL-C760

Anonymous's picture

Personally, I WANT to buy one of these (or another linux based pda) but I won't until they get Bluetooth or Wifi. I just can't.

Also, it would be nice to have a linux based PDA/phone combo, but I'll keep dreaming about that one.

Why do I want bluetooth and wifi?

1. MythTV - I could setup the PDA to be a really cool remote control (overkill, but I am a geek)
2. Remote control of media network - Controlling playlist from kitchen while computer is upstairs is always cool.

There are quite a few others, but I think you can see where I am going with this...

nice thought, but...

Anonymous's picture

I can't find a bluetooth module for mythtv, unless your planning on writing one; however, freevo has a bluetooth module, and I'm sure that one wouldn't be too hard to modify for your pda. (i have my t610 cell phone as my remote using bluetooth)

Re: Review of the Sharp SL-C760

Anonymous's picture

Aside from the pathological indecision of its maker, the main weakness of that device is the lack of integrated bluetooth or wifi capability. I appreciate it can be obtained using the CF slot, but you then lose the ability to use cheap CF memory cards. MMC are a lot more expensive.... and it also means a lot of head scratching to get these wifi and bluetooth cards working, since their manufacturers don't usually know how to spell "Zaurus"

But this device is born dead also because Sharp's lack of commitment to market it and support the line in the long run, makes it a very dubious investment for corporates and individuals alike. The lack of compatible follow-up to existing models makes it a very unattractive target for software developpers.

So a wonderful geek toy. I'm a geek but next time I'll go with something with a bit more of a future.

Re: Review of the Sharp SL-C760

Anonymous's picture

Couldn't agree with you more!

Own a SL5500 and am extremely disappointed that its useless to me now. Upgraded to Office 2003 and guess what....no longer can sync and Sharp can't or won't tell when we can expect an upgrade. Heck, I'd even be willing to pay.

In today's environment that is unexcuseable, given Microsoft had released ages ago. Reminds me of another fine company that didn't keep up with the times....Atari....loved there 1040ST!

Webinar
One Click, Universal Protection: Implementing Centralized Security Policies on Linux Systems

As Linux continues to play an ever increasing role in corporate data centers and institutions, ensuring the integrity and protection of these systems must be a priority. With 60% of the world's websites and an increasing share of organization's mission-critical workloads running on Linux, failing to stop malware and other advanced threats on Linux can increasingly impact an organization's reputation and bottom line.

Learn More

Sponsored by Bit9

Webinar
Linux Backup and Recovery Webinar

Most companies incorporate backup procedures for critical data, which can be restored quickly if a loss occurs. However, fewer companies are prepared for catastrophic system failures, in which they lose all data, the entire operating system, applications, settings, patches and more, reducing their system(s) to “bare metal.” After all, before data can be restored to a system, there must be a system to restore it to.

In this one hour webinar, learn how to enhance your existing backup strategies for better disaster recovery preparedness using Storix System Backup Administrator (SBAdmin), a highly flexible bare-metal recovery solution for UNIX and Linux systems.

Learn More

Sponsored by Storix