By: Ryan Kairer
September 15, 2003
Immediately, the first thing that struck me about the UX50 was it's size. The thing is really small, much smaller than I imagined it would be from the pictures. It's only slightly larger than a compacted Tungsten T. It is compact, solid and well constructed device without being too heavy or bulky.
The UX50 physical dimensions are 4" x 3.4" x .7" inches (103 x 86.5 x 17.9mm). It weighs 6.2 ounces (175 grams). It is very pocketable and won't put a big drag on your pants. The casing is a light silver color and is made of magnesium. It is very smooth and is both scratch and fingerprint resistant.
The UX50 features a wide screen landscape orientated design. The screen lifts up to reveal the keyboard. The screen can also be rotated around to use the handheld in a tablet like manner, but you still have to use it in a horizontal orientation. The screen is surrounded by a black, presumably magnesium border. To the right are two status LED's that indicate a bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection.
The hinge is a bit like a cylinder, the left end hides the swivel camera and the other side has a dedicated capture button for the camera and a 1/8th inch headphone jack on the side. Underneath is the typical logo area, the speaker and the battery contacts for the cradle.
The left side of the UX50 has the power/hold slider and a bicolor LED to indicate power and recharging status. Next is the IR port, which is a standard IR port, not the enhanced one that sony typically uses. Next is a the mini usb port which is hidden by a attached flip out cover. To sync the device you have to use this port as the cradle does not include a syncing port.
Coming around to the front of the handheld on the immeadiate left is a rather large lanyard loop. I guess the Japanese really like to wear their PDA's around their neck or belt or something, because I have never understood the constant need for these loops on a pda. Next are three small openings for the internal microphone, a jog dial, back button and three application buttons (web, email and the datebook). The right edge contains the stylus silo. Around to the right side is the memory stick slot and two more LED's, one for memory stick activity and a recording indicator.
Sony includes a new flat cradle, which is more like a docking station. However, it is only used to attach the power chord to charge the handheld. The included stylus is sony's small toothpick thin metal stylus. It has been miniaturized even further with a manual expand and compact design. IMHO, this is the worst iteration of a stylus ever.
The built in keyboard is the largest and most spacious found on a clie. There are 5 rows of keys with a dedicated number row at the top. Using the keyboard is not half as bad as some early reports would lead you to believe. The keys themselves are large and are the same silver color as the case. They have an orange backlight for night typing that will shut off after 10 seconds of inactivity. Overall, the keyboard is comfortable and easy to use with your thumbs, however it is far from perfect.
The keys do offer some tactile feedback, but not very much. The keys are large enough that even with pretty big fingers you won't have a problem with unwanted letters and hitting two keys at a time. The keys are absolutely flush with the casing and do not really protrude at all. While the actual keys themselves are not raised, the different rows of the keyboard are slightly pronounced. This makes it easier to tell where your fingers are but doesn't do much for the ease of pressing the keys.
One final note is that Sony needs to put much more work into using the keyboard to do common task that require a stylus tap. There are too many instances where you have to grab the stylus and readjust your hands, just to do a single tap on the screen. With as large a keyboard area that sony had to work with I'm very surprised they left out a d-pad that could control on screen events and taps.
One major design discussion that takes some of the "fun" out of the device is the lack of the four standard palm os buttons and the up and down hardware buttons. Sony only includes three application buttons and decided to leave out the traditional up/down buttons. There are software up/down buttons on the on screen "status bar" or you can also use the keyboard for page up/down. However those two workarounds are not always a suitable substitute for the real buttons. Because of the lack of buttons, many games will be incompatible, uncontrollable or might even be uncomfortable to play.
Processor and Memory
The UX50 has a system total of 104 MB or RAM. Of that 16 MB is available for traditional storage of files and programs, another 16MB is used for the dynamic heap. Another 16 MB or non-volatile memory is dedicated for system back up to save the contents of RAM when the battery is low. Finally, there is an additional 29 MB available for media storage, that acts as a traditional memory stick and allows you to store native pictures and music files.
The UX50 debuts Sony's new handheld processor system, suitably dubbed the handheld engine. The engine combines a Sony manufactured ARM926 based processor, a Digital Signal Processor (DSP), and a CXD2230GA graphics accelerator. The processor speed varies between 8 MHz and 123 MHz, depending on the demand. The system and the dedicated graphics chip support a version of OpenGL.
So far I can say that the performance is just about on par with Clie's that run the 200mhz XScale PXA255 processor. I've yet to test some of the more demanding games, but I've yet to experience any slowdown. The system ran great while I surfed the net over Wi-Fi and listened to a mp3 at the same time with no lag.
The screen is a swivel design that can be rotated and used in both the flip up and tablet mode. It is a TFT color backlit display with 480x320 pixel, 65k color screen. The screen itself is very small and the pixels are packed in densely, creating a very crisp display.
The screen is bright and very evenly lit, there are no "stage lights" or light waves in the display at all. The screen is pretty bright, though at full strength is a little less bright than it's NX series cousins. It is best suited to indoor and office use, and slightly fades in sunlight, but is still usable.
Now here comes the kicker, the display can only be used in the horizontal landscape mode. While some may gawk at the lack of a portrait mode, I've found with use that most of the time I am using the keyboard and only need landscape mode. However, it would be nice to have a portrait mode so you can use the device like the traditional clamshell clies in tablet mode. I hope Sony can address this with a software update and add screen rotation.
Sony has updated all of the core palm os applications to take advantage of the widescreen display. Programs that work with the high res+ format will not work with the new screen orientation and must be make "UX" aware. All other "square" apps will run just fine, with the input area and status bar on the right or left side. Most of the Sony specific software has also been updated to take advantage of the screen including the movie player, Netfront, Flash, Clie Mail and others.
The UX50 has both integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b) and Bluetooth (v1.1) wireless. The UX40 model only includes Bluetooth and is $100 less. Having dual wireless is really excellent and very convent. You can use high speed Wi-Fi from home or the office and use Bluetooth with a mobile phone while on the road. The Wi-Fi range is excellent and is much more receptive than the range of the Palm Tungsten C.
The digital camera is a 300k pixel camera and has 3x digital zoom. The camera supports up to VGA (640x480) resolution, You can also record and play back video (MPEG4, 30 fps, 160x112). While not the highest resolution camera out there on a PDA the UX takes excellent pictures for a VGA camera. It easily bests most VGA camera phones as well as the Zire 71 in both quality and color accuracy. Here is a unedited sample image.
So far I've only been using the UX50 for less than a week so it's hard to make an informed battery life call. So far I've gotten roughly 4-5 hours of use out of a full charge. That is with heavy use, with lots or wireless and camera action going on.
For those that can't live with the standard battery life, There is an extended battery clip on accessory, the PEGA-ED40 that will increase battery life up to 3 times the standard capacity. It costs $120 and attaches to the bottom of the handheld.
So far I have really enjoyed using the UX50. In fact, it's the first handheld to come out that I'd consider replacing my Tungsten T with. The dual wireless, camera, great screen and large keyboard in a small form factor make a very useful and productive device. At $700 the handheld is not cheap, but you get a lot and you pay a lot. Stay tuned for more in our upcoming in-depth full review.
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