The impending arrival of Sony's next-generation, clamshell-design CLIE PEG-UX50 should lower the prices of vertically styled, swivel-screen models such as the NX80V and the NX73V, making them more tempting. The NX CLIEs are versatile and somewhat complicated, intended for power users who want to tinker with and grow into their handhelds. Both run Palm OS 5.0 and accept not only Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro media but also CompactFlash cards from select manufacturers. The PDAs also lack built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Of the two siblings, the NX80V is the most desirable, featuring 32MB instead of 16MB of internal memory and a better built-in digital camera.
The most-obvious cosmetic difference between the NX models is that the NX73V is black, while the NX80V is silver. User and editorial feedback also resulted in a few improvements. First, Sony reinforced the swivel hinge a bit; hopefully, it's now less damage-prone. Also, the function keys have moved to the opposite end of the screen for easier accessibility in tablet mode. When you flip the display, you'll now find the buttons below it. Finally, the camera's resolution has increased from 300,000 pixels to 1.3 megapixels.
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|Though the NX80V is smaller than its predecessors, it's still a bit bulky for a PDA.|
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|When you're not using the CompactFlash slot, its pop-up design helps the CLIE keep a low profile.|
Otherwise, the NX73V and the NX80V are identical. The 8-ounce body; the large, high-resolution 320x480-pixel screen; the swiveling camera lens for shooting stills and low-res video; and the minikeyboard are all still here. The keyboard isn't quite as tactile as the one on BlackBerry devices, but it's tolerable and certainly usable, and it's backlit for nighttime note-taking. With a little practice, you'll find typing a good alternative to Graffiti 2.0 and Decuma Input, another handwriting-recognition program Sony threw in for good measure.
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|In addition to a QWERTY keyboard, the NX80V includes a 1.3-megapixel camera with a light.|
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|You sync and charge the unit via the cradle or the dongle.|
Also shared by the NX siblings is the spring-loaded expansion slot that opens and closes like a boombox's cassette deck. This design hides and protects the slot when it's empty. Better yet, the handhelds accept not just Sony's PEGA-WL100 Wi-Fi adapter but also CompactFlash media from Lexar, SanDisk, and other manufacturers. Therefore, you can use both a CompactFlash card and a Memory Stick or a Memory Stick Pro simultaneously--finally breaking a Sony taboo.
For syncing and charging, Sony includes both a cradle and a small USB dongle, which attaches to the bottom of the device.
The NX80V runs a tricked-out version of Palm OS 5.0 and packs a speedy 200MHz processor, 32MB of RAM (though only 27MB are available for use), and 16MB of ROM. The unit also houses a 1.3-megapixel digital camera. Typically, CLIE personal entertainment organizers, as Sony calls them, come with good software bundles, and this model is no exception.
All the usual PDA features are here, including a calendar, an address book, a to-do list, an alarm clock, and software for syncing with Microsoft Outlook; an extra software package is necessary for Mac syncing. An e-mail client (CLIE Mail), a Web browser (NetFront), an image viewer/editor, a document viewer, a remote control, and a movie recorder are preinstalled, but you'll need Sony's $150 PEGA-WL100 Wi-Fi card to take advantage of the advanced communication capabilities.
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|Store your music on a Memory Stick for on-the-go listening.|
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|The expansion slot accepts Sony's optional Wi-Fi adapter and select CompactFlash cards.|
The handheld records instant voice memos, plays MP3 and ATRAC3 sound files, and, like the NX73V, comes with a wired remote and earbuds. The audio from both models is rich and vibrant, but with our test headphones, the CLIEs never reached volume levels loud enough to block out background noise, especially when we were walking along city streets.
The included CD-ROM is chock-full of programs (some are trial versions) and utilities. The best of the bunch are a world clock, an image album, and Margi Systems' Presenter-to-Go. You need to install each application separately, which is a bit of a drag, but on the other hand, you fill up your memory with only the software you intend to use.
The NX80V's Intel StrongARM 200MHz processor is fast, but it can't beat the Palm Tungsten C's 400MHz XScale chip. The 32MB of internal memory is ample for holding several additional applications, though you'll want a Memory Stick of at least 64MB to store music, photos, and videos. The handheld's support for the higher-capacity Memory Stick Pro and certain CompactFlash cards is an advantage. The 65,536-color, 320x480-pixel screen is impressive; even the smallest icons are bright and sharp. Our trial versions of GTS (a car-racing game) and Zap2016 looked good and played smoothly.
Images look rather good on the CLIE's roomy screen, but it is a power hog.
The camera is better than the NX73V's, but don't expect wonders. You get passable, 1,280x960-pixel pictures suitable for viewing on the device itself, e-mailing, and printing at small sizes. Though it doesn't take the place of a flash, the built-in light slightly helps illuminate your subject in dark environments, especially if you're shooting video. Plus, the neutral-density filter, which has an on/off toggle switch, tones down overbright conditions. The video is also decent, but again, we're talking Webcam--not camcorder--quality.
The included lithium battery, which is rechargeable and, thankfully, removable, offered average life. With the screen brightness at 50 percent, the CLIE ran a Kinoma Player movie for 3 hours, 21 minutes before the juice ran out. This is a reasonable performance, considering that the large display is a power hog and that playing video and sound taxes system resources. You can maximize battery life by minimizing backlight use.