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Sony PEG-N610C Review
By Ed Hardy
The N610C is Sony's latest addition to its high-end N series. It has all the functions of the rest of the N series except audio playback.
As for its appearance, I think everyone should judge for themselves. I'm no art critic. Look at the pictures and make up your own mind.
Below the screen on the front of the N610C are the hardware buttons with a single rocker switch for up and down. These are a bit harder to push than I'm used to, which makes fast games that involve a lot of button pushing more difficult than they ought to be.
On the left side is the Jog Dial and the Back button. As the N610C doesn't have built-in audio playback, the headphone port that is on the N710C is missing from this model.
The right side is pretty much taken up with the stylus holder. Like all Sony models, all except the very top of the stylus is held inside the casing.
On the bottom of the N610C is the serial port with some slots to allow clip-on peripherals to attach. There is another slot on the back. This is the standard configuration for the whole N series.
Also on the back is the only place on the handheld that it says it is a PEG-N610C, along with the rest of the fine print.
The casing itself is thicker than its main competition, the Palm m505, which to me means the m505 fits better in my pocket. The N610C is less wide than the m505, though a bit taller. I think the N610C fits better in the hand, mostly because the sides are easier to grip and lack the m505's open channel slots.
It has 16-bit color because it comes with Palm OS 4.0, which has support for that many colors. Until OS 4, the only PalmOS handheld with a 16-bit screen was the Visor Prism, and that only because Handspring wrote a special version of OS 3.5 to support it.
That leads to the odd situation where this Sony device has a 16-bit screen because it is using code Handspring wrote and gave to Palm who then licensed it to Sony. The USB support in OS 4 was also written by Handspring.
The N610C's screen is just awesome. It is easily the best screen available in a Palm OS device and possibly better than that on any other handheld.
When the first Sony devices came out with 320 by 320 resolution, I'll admit I wasn't tremendously impressed mainly because there weren't very many applications available that made good use of the high-res screen. Months later, some are starting to appear that make it clear that the days of 160 by 160 resolution are numbered, at least on high-end devices.
I suggest you take a look at Crs-Launcher, a freeware app that takes the place of the default Launcher. It makes good use of the N601C's hi-res screen.
Another good hi-res app is one that will be announced later this week that I'm not allowed to talk about other than to say it that it makes great use of all the additional screen real estate, if you are willing to live with a really small font. One example of a new game that makes good use of the N610C's screen is Atom Smash 2.0. I'm sure many more are in development now.
The best advice I can give you for finding third-party apps for the hi-res screen is to join a user group like this one on Yahoo! Groups.
The N610C comes with PictureGear Pocket but not with it preinstalled. It must be loaded from the CD. I think this is odd because gMovie is preinstalled. As listening to the audio with gMovie requires buying the Audio Adapter, I think PG Pocket is much more likely to be used.
They have updated PG Pocket and it supports the full resolution and colors of the N610C's screen and they have improved its usability a bit. The demo pictures that come with the app really show off the N610C's screen's amazing ability.
The N610C also comes with a companion application: Photo Stand. This lets pictures in PG Pocket format be displayed as a slide show. It is intended to allow people to use their handheld in its cradle as an always-changing picture on their desk. You can select a set of pictures to cycle through and even display a digital or analog clock.
I'm not fond of the plastic coating Sony puts on its screens. It just doesn't make a very good writing surface. Fortunately, the solution for this is simple: get some kind of screen protector. I use the simplest one of all, a piece of scotch tape over the Graffiti area.
High Resolution Fonts
Its possible that this might cause a problem with some third-party applications so you can turn it off for each individual app or just disable it completely. I've only ever found one app that had had a conflict with Hi-Res Assist, a game.
I think Hi-Res assist is great but not perfect. Maybe it's only me but I just don't like the font that Sony chose. I really hope that future versions will give the user a choice of fonts.
Below the Jog Dial is the Back button, which does just what its name suggests. For example, if you are in an application, you can push the Back button to go back out to the app launcher.
If you enable JogAssist in the Preferences app, holding down the Back button will open the drop down menu, as if you had tapped the Menu button. Another option is to set the Back button to work as an Off switch. By default, it already works as an On switch.
Used together, the Jog Dial and the back button let you perform a lot of tasks one handed. For example, I'm in the middle of reading an ebook now with WordSmith that has each chapter as a separate file. When I finish a chapter, I hold down the Back button, which brings up the drop down menu. I use the Jog Dial to move down on the menu to Close, and push down again to select it. That puts me back out to the list of Doc files so I again use the Jog Dial to move to the next one I want to open. Pushing down one last time on the Jog Dial opens it and I can go on. I never even had to consider pulling out the stylus.
I think all the high end models should. The expansion slot is one of the main features of these models and to have them not come with a memory card is almost as bad as if they didn't come with a stylus. I'll cut the mid-range models some slack but the high-end ones, including the m505, should have a SD or Memory Stick in the box.
The N610C does come preinstalled with MS Gate, the application needed to move files between internal memory and a Memory Stick. This application is decent, though it doesn't compare to the excellent third-party app McFile.
It also comes with a pair of applications that make this handheld significantly easier to use than the competition. Memory Stick Import is an app that runs on the N610C while Memory Stick Export is a Windows app. Together, they allow a Memory Stick inserted in a N610C in its cradle to appear on as a removable drive on the PC.
This means that you can directly access the contents of the expansion card through the Windows Explorer. You don't need to go through the hassle of HotSyncing to load files onto the card or to copy them off.
With this you can use your Clie as a removable hard drive. Say you have a file you are working on at your office. You can copy it onto the Memory Stick and take it home. Assuming you have a cradle at home, too, you can copy it back off the handheld and continue working.
It also has 4 MB of Flash ROM, meaning its OS is upgradable. This is less of an issue that it is with the N710C because it comes pre-installed with OS 4.0.
The N610C's screen is powered by MediaQ's MQ-1100 Platform Controller Chip, which integrates a 64-bit 2D graphics engine, direct LCD display interface, and a USB device controller. It includes 256 KB of embedded SRAM. This chip gives the N610C's hi-res hi-color screen great performance when using demanding applications like games.
The flip cover attaches at the top and can flip around all the way to the back. It has been shaped at the bottom so the buttons are covered and the cover itself won't push them. However, I think the flip cover is poorly attached to the handheld. It's held on with two very small plastic clips that don't look like they'll go the distance. I can easily see them breaking off or just wearing out fairly quickly.
This cover provides some minimal protection for the screen but don't think for a second that it can take the place of a hard case if you are looking for real protection.
The stylus is the same one that comes with all the Clié models. It has plastic tip and top and a metal shaft. Of course, there's a Reset pin under the top. Really, there's not much to say about it because it just does what it is supposed to do without any flaws.
The cradle is the standard one for the N series. I had one of the purple models for this review and the cradle it came with was the silver. I suspect this might bother some people but not me. I usually keep the flip cover closed when I have the handheld in its cradle and with the flip cover also being silver you don't notice the two-tone look. Heck, some people might even like the look of the violet handheld in a silver cradle. (I apologize that the picture here of the cradle looks rotten and off-color.)
It gets its power from an adapter that plugs into the cradle. I think this is the best power cable available because it can also be used as a travel charger. It can be plugged into either the cradle or directly into the N610C's serial port. The prongs on the wall plug even fold down to save space.
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