As handhelds continue to add features, manufacturers are trying to design fairly compact products that allow consumers to make better use of all that functionality. Sony's answer to the features/design dilemma is its next-generation CLIE, the PEG-UX40. With its horizontal rather than vertical orientation, this Palm OS-based "personal entertainment organizer" looks more like a minilaptop than a handheld. Say what you will about the ridiculously expensive $600 list price, but the CLIE manages to be a slick yet highly functional gadget. The only things missing are Wi-Fi access--available on the otherwise identical PEG-UX50 for $100 more--and a built-in phone.
Like its not-so-distant cousins, the NX73V and the NX80V, the UX40 features a built-in digital camera for shooting pictures and low-resolution video clips; you'll also find a sharp, high-resolution "flip and rotate" screen. But as noted, the UX40's 480x320-pixel display has a landscape (horizontal) rather than a portrait (vertical) orientation, which makes it more suitable for viewing Web content, pictures, and video.
Measuring 4.1 by 3.4 by 0.75 inches and weighing 6.2 ounces, this model is more compact than its cousins, but the backlit keyboard is more tactile. The keys are generously sized, easier to depress, and better spaced, thanks to the landscape orientation. Instead of the side scrollwheel found on most CLIEs, the UX40 has a well-placed "barrel scroller" at the bottom of the keyboard next to the ever important Back button and three customizable quick-launch buttons. A small stylus is stealthily sheathed in the front-right corner.
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The screen of the PEG-UX40 can fold under for protection.
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Like the screen, the UX40's VGA camera can be rolled out (as shown here) or turned in to protect the lens.
In the hinge, you'll find the VGA camera's barrel lens, a quick-launch camera button, and a stereo headphone jack. Conveniently, that quick-launch button doubles as a shutter-release button and a start/end record button when the UX50 is in camera and voice-recording modes, respectively. There's no opening for CompactFlash or Secure Digital media; thus, the Memory Stick Pro slot--located on the right side--is the only option for extra memory and peripherals (such as Sony's forthcoming Memory Stick Wi-Fi card). The power/hold button, the IR port, and the mini-USB jack are all found on the unit's left side.
The UX40 comes with a lightweight charger cradle that clips on to the bottom of the unit. Because data can be synced via a wireless Bluetooth connection or the USB jack, the cradle and the AC adapter need to be lugged around strictly for recharging; an extended battery is available as an accessory, however.
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Charging the UX40 requires the snap-on cradle and an AC power adapter.
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The small keyboard is surprisingly well spaced and usable.
Given the UX40's somewhat cluttered interface, even experienced Palm users will need a few days before they feel comfortable navigating through the unit's myriad features and settings. And we were disappointed that this expensive handheld came with only a wrist strap, not a full carrying case. Those quibbles aside, the UX40's design is a substantial improvement over that of Sony's earlier swivel-screen models.
The UX40 doesn't have every feature, but it isn't missing much. It runs on Palm OS 5.2 and comes with an impressive 104MB of total memory, 29MB of which are available for media storage. Another 16MB are reserved for system backup.
Unlike its pricier, Wi-Fi-enabled twin, the UX40 features only Bluetooth connectivity. As such, it will be most useful to those who have a data-ready, Bluetooth-equipped cell phone. If you're signed up for data services with your carrier, you'll be able to wirelessly retrieve and send e-mail while in the coverage area. Needless to say, it's a slower, more cumbersome Web-surfing experience than with a broadband Wi-Fi connection, but it gets the job done. Bluetooth-equipped PCs can also sync with the UX40 wirelessly and--if you happen to have a Bluetooth-equipped camera--you can take pictures remotely from up to 30 feet away.