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Fiferboy's thoughts

This review focuses on my opinions of Sharp's new PDA, the Zaurus SL-5000D. I reserve the right to spell how I wish, and any new words that result are ©Fiferboy!

I will start off with a summary of Sharp's new PDA. In general, it rocks! Lets take stock of what is here. Lets see, it runs Linux and has a hardware ascii keyboard attached. What else does it need? Overall my opinion is that this is an excellent product, and I hope that it does as well as it deserves. It is still being tested, but it does everything I want, it's fast, good looking, and reliable

Availability

Obtaining one of these units at the time I purchased mine was stressful to say the least. They were only offered to developers, which was no problem as I was planning to write some applications for it. The hitch was they were only available in the US and the UK. Living in Canada I thought I would be able to have a US unit shipped here. I was wrong, they need an American address on the order form. No problem, I will pay for it and ship it to my Uncle in the States. Wrong again, they could not accept international credit cards. Eventually I had to get my uncle to order it on his credit card (don't remind him, but I haven't payed him back yet) and ship it to me in Canada. This was the only painful part of the entire experience, and when it is released for consumers this problem will no doubt be eliminated.

Appearence

Now to the actual meat of this review. The unit itself is simply beautiful. I had a Compaq Aero before this, so it may seem to you that any PDA is beautiful in comparison, but in this case it just happens to be true. It is painted a high-tech, futuristic colour of gray, and is nice and small. It comes with a blank (I call mine "Blankey") for the compact flash slot, but none for the SD slot. That's right, you heard me correctly: TWO EXPANSION SLOTS! It also comes with a built in stylus (which was a luxury broken on my Aero) and a display cover to protect the, you guessed it, display. There are seven buttons on the front, and also a navigation pad that acts like a cursor pad and enter key (kind of). The port in the bottom is a proprietary Sharp I/O port, and there is a spot to plug in an external power supply, as well as a 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack. All this is very nice, but how does the thing work, you may be asking. Well, read on dear reader, and I shall tell you a tale...

Functionality

Beneath the beautiful exterior of this PDA, or as Sharp calls it PMT (personal mobile tool), there beats the heart of a champion. An Intel StrongARM processor (the same as used in the latest generation of windoze PDAs), 32 MB of RAM (the consumer version will have 64 MB), a rechargable lithium-ion battery, a built in acsii keyboard, and the best display Sharp could throw at you, make the hardware of the Zaurus very up-to-date and capible. On the software side, it runs Lineo® Embedix™ for the Linux kernel and Trolltech's Qtopia for a desktop environment. The Qtopia is a beautiful environment, while being very easy to use, and easy to write applications for. That's another advantage that the Zaurus has. Instead of having to buy development software from micro$oft, you can download it from Trolltech. I got a free copy of Embedded Visual Basic and Embedded C/C++ from school, but I never wrote a single program with them. After I eventually did get them to work, I couldn't get the emulator to work, and it became more of an effort than I was willing to put in. I have written about 5 or 10 simple programs for the Zaurus using C++ and the Qtopia SDK from Trolltech. I love it. Nothing is better than writing a program to solve a 5x5 matrix, and then bringing it to math class on your handheld.

To actually use the device is very simple too. Navigating with one hand is no problem, and navigating without the stylus is possible (and actually more convienient) in most programs. The calender needs som work, though. I put in birthdays, appiontments, and my school schedule, but after something is in there it is hard (if possible) to edit it or delete it. At one point I had a guy with six birthdays a year because everytime I tried removing extranious birthdays it would just add new ones. I found two ways of actually changing and deleting calender events. One is to go to the XML file where they are stored, and remove repeating events. The other, recommended by me, way is to sync it with your desktop and then edit your calender in the desktop software. Then sync again, this time overwriting the calender on your Zaurus. Other than that, to todo list seems to be, how can I say this, useless. I put some tasks in there that I wanted to remember, but to actually be reminded of them I had to open up todo list and look at them. It seems to me that if I want to write something down because I am not going to remember it, I probably won't remember that I have to check todo list either. It would be nice if there was someway for the Zaurus to remind me that I have things to do in the todo list. Those were two of the problems I found with the software that comes with the Zaurus. Keep in mind that this is still in development, so the software on the consumer version should be improved.

Syncronization

Now here is where I think the most work is needed for the Zaurus to become successful. While it is the only PDA I know of that can sync in both Windows and Linux (and presumably Mac soon) it certainly doesn't make it easy. In Winblows I installed the USB drivers that cam on the CD, but couldn't figure out what to do to actually get the computer to recognize the Zaurus. Apparently you have to boot the computer up with the Zaurus in the cradle, turned on, for the computer to detect it. After that they sync perfectly. Perfectly, that is, until I take the Zaurus off the cradle. Then if I want to re-sync it, I need to reboot. That is, I needed to reboot until very recently. Someone has discovered if you use winipcfg to release your IP, the computer will detect the Zaurus again. If I had known this earlier I could have save a lot of rebooting. To get the Zaurus syncing in Linux was another hassle. I downloaded a kernel patch that would detect and identify the device, compiled the new kernel and modules, rebooted into the kernel, and set up the Zaurus to sync. Actually, that doesn't sound that bad, does it? Well, when I rebooted after the second time configuring my kernel (the first time wouldn't boot at all) I couldn't get into a graphical desktop anymore. Re-compiled my kernel, correctly this time, rebooted, set up the Zaurus and everything is okay. Or is it? I can now successfully connect with and sycronize my Zaurus, but I can't seem to use my CD-ROM. Now I don't care about this, as this is the best Linux has ever been setup for me, but I think some people would have a problem with that. When the Zaurus is released I sure hope it is easy to sync it in both operating systems. If it does, I think it will be a big hit.

Pros and Cons

Pros Cons Neutral
  • Looks very good. Good size and weight, and nicely rugged.
  • Hardware is very current, competitive, and powerful. The 64 MB RAM version would be very welcome.
  • Software is extremely usable. Each updated version I use gets better. Much better than embedded windoze.
  • Overall: it has the right amount of power, very nice, usable, software, and good ergonomics. I can see this thing going far. As a developer, I hope that there are many people willing to develop for this device and make it a force in the PDA marketplace.
  • Calender and todo list need work. Calender is hard to edit/delete, todo list seems pointless.
  • Syncing with either OS should be easy. Syncing software in Linux should included KMail and Evolution, at very least.
  • Quality Control needs to be improved - I and many other people have stuck pixels on their screens. I don't care, some do.
  • Overall: I think that if the sycning and PIM apps are improved that this would easily be the best PDA on the market. However, there are a lot of developers that have found problems. Hopefully Sharp listens.
  • MAny people have a problem with the battery life. It lasts me a full days use, which is all I ask. I have no problem with the batter, although I would welcome and increase life.
  • The cradle design is alright, except you can't use the keyboard when it is in the cradle. This seems like a flaw to me, but it would be hard to design a cradle that would allow for keyboard use. If Sharp comes out with a syncing cable, that would be good enough for me.
  • The stylus is held very losely in the silo. I have never come close to loosing it, but I can see how people would. This may require attention.

Final Notes

Keep in mind that this is all still in the development phase. Also, there are many features that I did not touch on. A list of other features follows: