ottaky@ottaky.com
 
HTML OK
CSS OK
 
Clié
 
ottaky.com supports..
ORG
no2id

Sony Clié PEG-UX50

Author: sjb (Steve Brown) - ottaky@ottaky.com
Date: 10th September 2003
See also: Sony's website

Update!
I just got back from Japan yesterday where I bought some toys for the UX. Click here.

What is a PEG-UX50?

It's the latest in Sony's Clié range of PDAs. It features a decent sized screen, 802.11b, Bluetooth and a low resolution camera. The screen itself is arranged in a landscape orientation, as opposed to the usual Palm portrait mode, making it look very similar to the Sharp 7xx series Zaurus.

CPU Sony CXD2230GA (Handheld Engine)
RAM 104MB total.
- 16MB storage
- 16MB system backup
- 29MB media storage
Interfaces - USB
- IrDA 1.2
- Memory Stick
- Bluetooth
- 802.11b wireless
Display 480x320 pixels, 64K colours
Camera 310K pixels, 3x digital zoom
OS Palm OS 5.2
UX50

As soon as I saw a picture of the UX50, I knew I had to get one. Sony have a knack of building really cool gadgets - I have their walkmans, MP3 players, cameras, laptops, and now one of their PDAs despite the fact that I already have the Sharp Zaurus.

I bought my UX50 over the intraweb from a company called C-TEC in Japan. It cost me 65,800 Yen, which was about 350 GBP in real money - most places in Japan were asking for 69,800 Yen, and Sony Europe wanted 600 GBP for the same item. It's a nice gadget, but it's not 600 GBP nice. The guys at C-TEC were very helpful and despatched the item the same day and delivered it to my wife's parent's house in Yokohama the very next day. When was the last time that happened when you bought something in the UK??

Given that my UX50 was intended for the Japanese domestic market, it recognises handwritten Japanese (kanji, katatkana and hiragana) as well as the more useful (to me) Roman alphabet, while the (illuminated) keyboard has only a few keys marked with Japanese.

First impressions

The first thing that struck me is that the UX50 looks like a miniature U1.

For such a small device it feels pretty solid - the case is made from (what I assume is) a magnesium alloy. It's not heavy, but it doesn't feel flimsy either. Opening the device you immediately notice how small the screen is - I was expecting it to be small, obviously, but the screen seems to be smaller than is really neccessary given the size of the lid. I assume this is deliberate so that when it's being operated in tablet mode you have something to grab hold of without getting greasy fingerprints all over the screen. The keyboard is adequate - the ridges help your fingers to find the keys, but the keys themselves are flush with the case and don't offer much in the way of tactile feedback for finger positioning. The keyboard action is OK but not brilliant in that it clicks to let you know that you've pressed the key, but it's not responsive enough to allow you to touch type. The stylus is telescopic and looks like it will break if you squeeze it too hard, but it's actually pretty tough. The rotating lid is smooth with a nice positive action and it closes with a reassuringly solid *thunk*.

Click here for a size comparison between the UX50, U1 and SL-5500.

Using the UX50

When I first switched the machine on I was worried that the backlight was broken because it wasn't working at all. I had to go through the setup and stylus calibration routine with the help of a very bright desk lamp! Once the setup was complete I was able to bring up the brightness applet and the screen burst into life - which was a double relief .. the backlight wasn't broken and it showed that the UX50's screen is incredibly crisp and very evenly lit.

The default GUI is Sony's own invention - the icons roll down the screen when you use the jogdial to navigate and it's not an entirely unpleasant effect (which you can tweak to your own preferences) but I imagine it would become quite annoying once you start to fill the machine up with your own applications. You can switch back to a more traditional Palm OS style interface if you prefer, but I'm sticking with the 3D effect for now.

I then configured the 802.11b which was very simple even though I had to enter all the network parameters manually because I don't use DHCP at home. The WLAN card is pretty good - it has decent range and doesn't appear to be prone to the pauses that can affect some cards, it also switches itself off after a period of inactivity to save battery life, although I assume that behaviour can be overrideen somewhere. The UX50 comes with the NetFront browser which is really rather good - it's certainly much better than either Opera or Konqueror running on the Zaurus - which does an excellent job of rendering most webpages. The Email client was also easy to configure, but I didn't notice any IMAP support for those of you that use it.

The PIM apps are nicely presented and seem to do pretty much everything you'd expect them to do. The default font used in most of them is pretty ugly (big), but you can change that in the Options menus.

The camera is quite low-res (300K pixels), but it handles varying light levels (there's no flash, obviously) well and the colour reproduction is not too bad. Still images can be recorded at a variety of resolutions (up to 640 x 480) with a variety of useless effects and moving images can be recorded at different bitrates. Recorded movies are low resolution but very smooth.

Here are some examples of the camera's output, click on the thumbnails for the raw images. The rather obvious displacement of the blue in these images may be due to me dropping the Clié, or it may have always been like that. Either way, the output is not brilliant, but it's usable.

tube colours interior exterior
Jubilee Colours Interior Exterior

Praise and Niggles

Nothing is ever perfect, and the UX50 is no exception. Here's my personal list of what I like and what annoys me about the UX50. I should mention that this is my first Palm device - I've noticed seasoned Palm users whinging about how the UX50 is different to the Palm devices they're used to, but I won't be doing that because I don't have anything to compare it to other than my old Nino (Win CE) and my Zaurus (OpenZaurus).

Praise

  • I like the way the 802.11 card shuts down when it's not in use. The internet applications are smart enough to prompt you to re-establish the connection when it's needed.
  • The default GUI is pretty slick and, for the most part, intuitive.
  • Setting the unit up was very easy .. even if the configuration screens were in Japanese.
  • NetFront is by far and away the best web browser I've seen for a PDA.
  • The unit as a whole has a good, solid feel to it - Sony really do know how to make things aesthetically pleasing and robust.
  • For me, the Memory Stick slot is very useful - I can pull the stick out of my camera and put it into the UX and the PDA is smart enough to start the viewer application with the images loaded.
  • Handwriting recognition is very good. Either using Grafitti or Decuma. Decuma does a very good job of recognition - especially as my Japanese writing skills are not so hot ;-)
  • Wireless range is good - it seems to be slightly better than my Zaurus and MA701.

Niggles

  • If you edit a network connection and you want to change the IP parameters, you have to check the DHCP box, and then uncheck it again to do so.
  • WLAN schemes are indexed by the SSID, so you can't have two different schemes with the same SSID. When I'm at home, the UX connects to the net via my gateway machine, but when I'm in the office I have to go through my Vaio masquerading onto the wired LAN. In both cases, the SSID is the same, but the default gateway is different - so I have to edit the scheme and change the IP address of the gateway when I move around. It'd be SO much simpler just to have named networks and specify the SSID under that name.
  • If you use the camera application, and switch to the image viewer and then delete all the photos, you stay in the viewer app .. with nothing to view. It would be better to return automatically to the camera app IMHO.
  • The battery status icon seems to be incapable of reporting battery status while the unit is charging.
  • The cradle doesn't include a data connection. This isn't much of an issue for me because I use the WLAN for HotSyncing, but it might be annoying if you want to use the USB cable.
  • You can't switch to a portrait mode layout.
  • The camera is pretty good, but a higher resolution wouldn't have hurt.
  • Although most of the applications work well with the jogdial, there are still times when you have to pull out the stylus and use that instead.

Second Impressions

OK, I've had the UX50 for 4 days now and, overall, I still like it. I've installed all of the bundled software (except Intellisync) onto my U1 and started to enter all of the contact information from my Zaurus onto the UX using Palm Desktop. I tried to install the software onto my wife's PC, but it didn't play nice with the English version of XP - one application failed to install because of pathing problems (backslashes and Yen symbols), while the others worked with the combination of usable and unreadable window text familiar to anybody who tries to run Japanese programs on English Windows. In the end I shared the DVD drive on my wife's PC and installed everything across the WLAN onto my Vaio (Japanese XP / Linux), everything went on with no problems and appears to work fine. The wireless syncing works as expected, although configuration was more convoluted than it needs to be - luckily, I found an English HOWTO here.

The Image Converter software is pretty good. It takes .mov and .mpeg files and squeezes them down to around 10% of their original size and places them directly onto the Memorystick on the Vaio. Right now I only have a 32MB stick (from my camera), but that doesn't have any problems holding 30 minutes or more of video - I have a 128MB stick on order from Picstop (less than 40 quid!) and it'll be interesting to see how much that can hold.

I put some MP3s onto the stick before I went out on Saturday so that I had something to listen to on the train. The bundled player is very nice, if unexciting. I tried to install Aeroplayer, but it doesn't seem to be compatible with the device and caused an error serious enough for the UX to reboot itself.

Talking of trains, I've installed a demo version of Westering's London Tube Guide - it 99% works, the only problem is that the graphical icons are missing at the bottom of the screen even though the blank areas do respond to the stylus taps as they should. It's a nice piece of software, but I'm waiting for a reply from their helpdesk before shelling out cash on it.

I also contacted Visualit about their London Tube Pro software. They wrote back to say that a version for the UX50 should be available in the next few days so I'm waiting to see what happens there. I tried their Toronto tube demo, but the screen was just garbled.

Update
Both Visualit and Westering have realeased UX compatible versions of their software, and both work fine.

Another excellent piece of transport related software is MetrO, a free journey planner application with databases for many of the world's cities. I used this extensively in Japan and found their Tokyo-Yokohama database to be first rate. It won't replace a native guide, but when you're on your own it's a lifesaver.

I bought a carrying pouch too - Case Logic never fail to provide something usable for whatever I buy (Nino, Zaurus, U1 etc.). They make a few items suitable for the UX, and I ended up buying an item that's not listed on their website so I have no link for you. It has a small zip pocket on the front which is handy for my headphones and "spare" Memorysticks. Their MPC 3 would also work, but you can't fit the UX and a set of headphones in at the same time. I guess a case made for the iPod might also work as the two items have similar dimensions.

Battery life seems to be OK - I've seen some people moaning about it on different Clié forums, but I used the UX quite a bit on Saturday and the battery was barely even dented. Compared to the Zaurus it seems much better.

I've noticed that the camera has problems setting the exposure if the field of view contains extremes of light and dark - which can be the case if you're outside photographing something with the sky visible. On my camera it's possible to use the spot meter to ensure that the subject is exposed correctly, or you can half press the button to set the exposure and then re-point the camera before taking the picture, but the UX isn't so sophisticated and just takes a best guess. It's not a big deal because you can check to see how the picture looks almost immediately and take another if required, but it's just something to keep an eye on.

Third Impressions

I've had the UX50 for a month now and I still like it ;-) I've experienced some unpredictable lock-ups which may (or may not) be due to having the mp3 player running in the background when I switched the machine off - nothing a soft reset can't fix, but it can be a little tiresome sometimes. Also, I've found installing applications to the memorystick can sometimes fail and cause a serious error when going back to the main screen after syncing, these also require a soft reset to cure, and I have to put the memorystick into my U1 to delete the offending application from the Launcher directory before re-inserting it into the UX. I assume, not being an old hand with Palm devices, that some applications simply won't run from the memorystick. Some software just doesn't like the Japanese databases, DateBook crashes when I try to edit certain entries. The WLAN scanning is a bit primitive, it only seems to scan the channel range once, so if a station is quiet when you perform the scan it simply doesn't show up and you have to keep re-scanning until you find it. On the other hand, when you do find an AP to connect to, you can highlight it in the list and use it straight away, the configuration seems to work quite well. The movie player software, and the image converter software on my U1, work well - the conversion of mpegs into a format suitable for the UX is straight forward and produces very good results.

Battery life, for me, is excellent. An hour and a half commute on the train each morning listening to mp3s and playing games hardly makes an impression. 6 hours of mp3s and occasional PIM usage dropped the battery to around 50% charge, which is more than adequate for my needs, so I doubt I'll be buying one of Sony's extended batteries any time soon.

Beaming information between my Zaurus and UX works - I wish I'd know that before typing all my contact info into the UX by hand.

Syncing the UX50 wirelessly with Linux

Umm .. 98% working, but the last 2% is the important bit.

First thing to do is check connectivity using pilot-xfer. If pilot-xfer is not already installed on your Linux box, download and compile it, then try ..

pilot-xfer -p net:192.168.0.3 -l

.. where 192.168.0.3 is the IP number of your Linux wireless card. Then start the hotsync app on the UX50 and hit the hotsync button. If you see a list of names go scrolling by on your Linux machine, you're halfway there.

If your UX50 is running an English OS, you'll probably find that jpilot works right off the bat for you. All you need to do is go into the preferences and, under port, use a setting like ..

net:192.168.0.3

.. where 192.168.0.3 is the IP address of your wireless card. Basically, it's the same format as used with pilot-xfer above.

However, using a UX50 with a Japanese OS on it, I found that although the sync transferred data as expected, none of it showed up in jpilot. I use SuSE, so I installed their pilot-link-devel headers and then downloaded jpilot from http://www.jpilot.org. Then it's just a matter of compiling it with the --with-japanese option ..

./configure --with-japanese --with-pilot-prefix=/usr/local/pilot
make
su
make install

.. and now the PIM data is visible.

Almost! I have a single entry in my address book where the name is in Kanji, and that doesn't show up. I'm trying to find out why.

I often swap Memorysticks between my UX and my U1 - the U1 can be patched with a firmware upgrade to allow it to accept PRO Memorysticks .. the patch doesn't allow you to use the MagicGate aspect of PRO sticks, or to get the extra speed out of them, but you can at least use them once the patch has been applied.

Software

Just a few applications that are useful or fun

  • SmbMate - "SmbMate is a SMB/CIFS-over-TCP/IP client for Palm OS-compatible devices." This is really useful. It allows you to browse Microsoft networks over the wireless LAN and copy files to or from your Clié. Of course, you can use Samba on a Linux machine and browse that instead.
  • TuSSH - an SSH client for the Palm. The author describes it as "really Alpha at this point but may still be useful to some.", but it's fairly usable for simple, command line stuff. I'm still looking for an scp implementation for the Palm.
  • Clié simulator - Neat little app for Windows that simulates the Clié. Ultimately it's not very useful, but it's kind of interesting.

Update - 06/01/2004

I spent Christmas and New Year in Japan where I bought some new toys for the UX50.

I bought Sony's PEGA-EB40 extended battery pack which, allegedly, should increase the battery capacity by 3 times. To be honest, I'd not really considered getting the bigger battery before since the standard battery seemed more than adequate for my needs, but I also bought Sony's PEGA-VR100K video recorder, so the extra battery life seemed like a good idea.

VR100K

The VR100K is a video recorder that records MPEG4 video directly to Sony's memorystick media.

It's a fairly sophisticated bit of kit that allows you to schedule recording from satellite or cable TV using an application that sits on the UX itself - you make your selections on the PDA, and then put the stick with the recording information into the recorder, which then does the hardwork for you. Since I bought the recorder in Japan, I don't expect it to work with UK satellite broadcasts, but the device also comes with a set of line level video and audio sockets so that recording from any video source is possible. I've copied movies from my brother-in-law's digicam with no problems, and it does a good job of recording directly from my DVD player (a Samsung with no macrovision).

The results are OK, but not spectacular - the video recorder will encode at varying resolutions and bitrates, but it is fixed at 15 frames per second. 15FPS is bearable but you do notice the lack of frames during action sequences - generally speaking the output is fine for most uses, but if video fidelity is important to you it's probably worth considering buying a dedicated video jukebox.

To go with the VR100K I purchased a couple of 256MB memorysticks - each of these will hold an hour of the highest quality output from the VR100K, or nearly 2 hours of the standard quality output. I suppose I could have got a single 512MB stick, but I prefer the flexibility of having 2 sticks - if a film is too long to fit on one stick it's not a big problem to split it onto two sticks.

So, now I have the ability to take my movies out with me and watch them on the train when commuting. I'll post an update when I've had a chance to try watching movies in the real world.

Oh, I should just mention that I used to use DVDX to rip DVDs to MPEGs and then used Image Converter to convert the MPEGs into something watchable on the Clié - that process gives better results (more FPS) than the recorder, but produces larger files and takes at least 3, sometimes 4, times longer (e.g. a 1 hour film takes 2 hours to rip, and another 1 hour to convert) where the VR100K does everything in realtime without tying up a PC for several hours and producing gigabytes of intermediate data. It's a far neater solution.

image image image image image image image image
image image image image image image image image
image image image image image image image image
image image image image image image image image
image image image image image image image image
image image image image image image image image
image image image