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Sony CLIÉ PEG-NZ90 review: Sony CLIÉ PEG-NZ90


5 min read
While the majority of handheld makers seem to be targeting the sub-$300 market, Sony hasn't been shy about going after high-end buyers. Last year, the company delivered the superslick but pricey CLIE PEG-NX70V ($600), and by the end of February, it'll begin selling the step-up NZ90, a CLIE with a swiveling screen. This top-tier handheld also boasts a built-in 2-megapixel camera, a keyboard, and Bluetooth support, as well as a whopping $800 price tag. This is neither your everyday PDA, nor is it meant for the average user. And while the NZ90 is clearly loaded with features and offers top-notch performance, it's too bad that Sony didn't include built-in Wi-Fi--especially at this price. Sony's step-down NX70V isn't very pocket-friendly, and the NZ90 is even less so. While Sony has moved the CompactFlash slot to the bottom of the device, this is still a pretty thick handheld. And at 3.0 by 5.6 by 0.9 inches and 10.3 ounces, the NZ90 is more likely to be toted in a briefcase than in a pocket.
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A giant among handhelds: As a PDA, the NZ90 is gargantuan.
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Thick as a brick: The NZ90's thickness poses portability problems.

Aside from its imposing size and 3.9-inch screen, the unit's preponderance of buttons, switches, and ports makes it a gadget lover's delight and a neophyte's nightmare. The NZ90 features a full thumb keyboard, two sets of the classic Palm-function buttons, a scroll wheel, a back button, a record button, a camera shutter, and a hold switch to pause MP3s. Ports are scattered all over the CLIE's body: a Memory Stick slot at the base; a CompactFlash slot on the bottom; and an infrared port near the top of the unit, opposite the headphone jack.
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What floor, please: The unit has more buttons than a high-rise elevator.
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The flimsy yet stable cradle also sports a USB output and an A/V port.

The most prominent and impressive elements of the NZ90 are its built-in digital camera and removable, rechargeable Smart Lithium battery. You can snap shots at resolutions of up to 1,600x1,200 pixels with the 2-megapixel camera. Unlike earlier integrated PDA cameras, this model includes a lens cover and a flash.
The NZ90 ships with several cables and accessories. A flimsy-looking but stable cradle charges the unit and collapses for easy transport. The cradle also includes an A/V output jack for watching your captured clips on a television, although Sony doesn't bundle an A/V cable. The headphones come with an in-line remote to control audio playback, and there's even a USB cable that allows you to hook up the CLIE to various printers.

Oh, snap! Click away with the CLIE's 2-megapixel camera.
For the gadgeteer, the NZ90 is bursting with features. Such perks include Palm OS 5.0 and Sony's improved user interface/launcher; a 200MHz processor, currently the fastest available in a Palm OS-based handheld; a Memory Stick slot for adding storage beyond the 16MB of built-in RAM; integrated Bluetooth; the aforementioned 2-megapixel camera with a flash; MP3 support; and a slot for adding an optional Wi-Fi card.
The NZ90 has the same large, impressive, swiveling, 320x480-pixel screen found on the NX70. And although this display's performance is identical to that of the NX70, Sony has managed to improve the video quality--the MPEG-4 clips that you shoot with the camera now play back at a smoother 15 frames per second. Sony's removable lithium-ion battery has the same precise battery-level indicator found on its camcorders, so you know exactly how many minutes of juice are left and how long the cell will take to recharge.
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Sony's proprietary remote lets you control the audio.
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Loose slots: Add a Memory Stick or a Wi-Fi card.

Though the software bundle is powerful, it's a hassle to install and a little tricky to use. As a result, some patience is required to extract the full benefits from the NZ90. Programs such as Photo Editor are nonintuitive and lack simple staples such as drop-down menus, forcing you to click through icons to discover the functions. Memory Stick Import and Export must be running on both your PC and your CLIE to work properly, and the camera takes an uncomfortably long time to load up and shut down. As noted, the Sony houses an Intel StrongARM 200MHz processor, the fastest we've seen in a Palm OS-based product. However, we would have liked more than the 16MB of internal memory. You can add more RAM via a Memory Stick, but you can't record movies until you do so. Worse yet, this CLIE won't support Sony's higher-capacity Memory Stick Pro media. As expected, the 65,000-color, 320x480-pixel screen is great eye candy, offering a bright, sharp image down to the smallest icons.
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What's not to like? The NZ90's display is big, bright, and sharp.
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Twist and shout: The CLIE's screen is set on a swivel.

The NZ90's camera snaps fairly impressive shots. At the camera's highest setting of 1,600x1,200 pixels, pictures looked clear and had minimal speckling and noise, thanks to the built-in flash. This camera won't take the place of a dedicated Sony 2-megapixel digicam such as the Cyber Shot DSC-P31, but it is the best integrated camera that you'll find on a handheld or a phone; its image quality compares favorably to that of certain entry-level cameras in the $150 to $200 price range. Though you'll get better video quality than with Sony's step-down NX70V, the clips are still small and a tad choppy. However, the sound quality is solid.
The integrated Bluetooth worked as expected. We easily got the Sony to communicate with other devices via Bluetooth, and we even shared text messages and pictures with Nokia's 3650.
Sony's Smart Lithium rechargeable battery offered longer life than we expected. With the screen brightness set at the halfway point, the CLIE played MP3s for 3 hours, 27 minutes before the music stopped. We also expected the camera's flash to exact a harsh toll on the battery, but we squeezed out 107 shots before the camera winked out--and there was still a 35 percent charge left, according to the meter.


Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8