Review of the Sharp SL-C760
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.