Review of the Sharp SL-C760

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The latest Zaurus offers the most flexibility and the best display of any available PDA.

I've been to Japan twice, spending a month in the land of the rising sun over the past two years. On both occasions, I've been amazed at the ubiquity of cool technology. The tiniest cell phones, smallest DVD players, lightest laptops all seem to be available in Japan long before they cross the marketing ocean of the Pacific to the shores of the US. It's truly a country of tech-savvy early adopters and is perhaps the perfect testing ground for the latest and greatest in cool devices. If you want to know what's ahead for technology in the next few years in the US, you have to look to Japan.

Few devices sit farther out on the cutting edge than does Sharp's latest update to the Personal Mobile Tool product line, the SL-C760. The SL-C760 upgrades the SL-C700, reviewed in depth by Guylhem Aznar in the June 2003 issue of Linux Journal. The review below addresses multiple significant upgrades and changes in the SL-C760 model. Those changes push the Sharp line even farther into the future than its Microsoft and Palm-based competitors. After a rigorous two-week round of testing, in which my SL-5600 sat idly in its cradle, I have some additional thoughts to share on the changes to the SL-C760.

True to form, the SL-C760 officially is available only in Japan. Fortunately for western-world customers, this stout little Linux-based PDA is available in the US and North America through Dynamism. Sharp's reputation for tight inventory control is, by the way, well-earned--supply of the SL-C760 is far less than demand. It took some tough negotiation to convince Dynamism to part with a review unit for a short two-week loaner period. However short the review period and tough the negotiation, the SL-C760 was well worth it.

Side View of Sharp's SL-C760 with a Quarter for Reference

Design

The physical design of this new Zaurus is much the same as its predecessor: unique, extremely functional and, in the end, quite sexy even to a mainstream PDA user. The 760 is 5mm thicker and 25g heavier than the 700, primarily due to a new extended life 8-hour battery. The display operates in both landscape and portrait modes, swiveling from one position to another with an effortless twist. The desktop display layout follows this change seamlessly, activated by a tiny switch in the pivot hinge. The screen continues to function with touch capability in either mode.

Figure 2. The SL-C760 in Landscape Mode

The touch screen, however, becomes almost irrelevant in landscape mode. With the screen oriented horizontally, the SL-C760 looks much more like a highly miniaturized laptop than a PDA. Changing to landscape mode uncovers a full QWERTY keyboard complete with number and arrow keys, plus hot buttons for calendar, contacts, mail and home. The tactile response on these buttons is very satisfying, producing a noticeable click at the bottom of travel. The keyboard provides an extremely usable input alternative for the stylus-impaired. Put to real-world use in my favorite Wi-Fi coffee shop, the rotating display and hidden keyboard left mainstream PDA users staring, mouth agape. Much like the hidden keyboard of the SL-5500 and SL-5600, Sharp has hit a design home run with the form of the SL-C760.

Figure 3. In landscape mode, the SL-C760 looks much like other PDAs.

Let's look at the improvements to the SL-C760 since the release of the SL-C700 in June. These upgrades primarily come in the form of changes to the hardware, expansion of both user and flash memory and upgrades to the OS.

Hardware

Processor: In its original release, the SL-C700 utilized a 255MHz Intel XScale processor. Later releases upgraded the processor to Sharp's current PDA standard, the 400MHz XScale. The SL-C760 utilizes the 400MHz version of this cutting-edge Intel PDA processor. Applications launch quickly, and there is no significant speed decrease when launching multiple applications.

Memory: The 700 shipped on release with 32MB user-available RAM and 64MB system flash memory. Sharp's intermediate SL-C750 upped the memory ante, shipping with 64MB of both user RAM and flash. It's interesting to note that system flash in any Sharp Zaurus exists primarily for applications and data storage, providing a rock-solid means of preserving applications and data in the event of a power loss. The SL-C760 steps up memory significantly. With 64MB user RAM and 128MB flash, the 760 has more than enough room for additional third-party applications. Furthermore, the Qtopia's desktop required 16MB of the installed 32MB user RAM on the 700, leaving little for the user. With 64MB, the 760 runs the desktop and other applications with ease.

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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!

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