Always on the cutting edge of design, Sony shakes things up with the CLIE PEG-TH55 by breaking away from the traditional PDA keypad layout. The jog dial takes a backseat, and the large, high-resolution screen sits front and center, making this handheld a good choice for multimedia applications. And did we mention the TH55's built-in camera? Thanks to its generous software bundle and its well-integrated wireless features, this $400 handheld is a worthy competitor to the similarly priced Palm Tungsten T3. However, its design quirks keep it just shy of an Editors' Choice. At 4.9 by 3.0 by 0.6 inches, the elegant, dark-gray Sony CLIE PEG-TH55 has the solid feel of a serious handheld. The 3.8-inch, 320x480-pixel transflective TFT screen dominates the face of the device. Add in the Virtual Graffiti area, and there's plenty of room to view applications. The TH55 weighs 6.5 ounces, which isn't bad, considering it includes both Wi-Fi and a built-in camera. Its sturdy exterior feels as if it could endure some rough treatment. However, the translucent-gray plastic protective screen cover doesn't feel nearly as tough. And while it didn't suffer any scratches during our tests, it did show a lot of fingerprints. Plus, it feels like it could easily snap off its hinges if you weren't careful. The nice thing about the see-through cover, however, is that you can tell with a glance which alarm just rang. Sony includes a wrist strap with the PDA, but it does not include an extra protective case.
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A PDA with a view: The TH55's 320x480 display takes center stage.
Perhaps in an effort to accommodate the protective cover, the scrollwheel typically found below the screen on other CLIEs and handhelds has been relocated to the back of the device, above the digital camera (located at the top), making it difficult to use. We never felt comfortable with the new layout. And if you plan on playing games, steer clear of this handheld in favor of one with a more common directional keypad or joystick. Four traditional shortcut keys line the bottom edge of the PDA.
On the left side of the TH55 are the headphone jack (which accepts Walkman-style headphones), a Memory Stick slot, a photo-capture button, and three identical-feeling switches that control the power, the camera lens cover, and the voice recorder. Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell which switch you are using by relying on touch alone.
The TH55's case was apparently so packed that only a telescoping stylus could fit. Even when fully extended, the stylus is still fairly short, and it frequently collapsed to its miniature length while we were trying to use it.
To keep you in sync and powered up, the TH55 comes with a USB cable and a power cord, both of which connect through the dongle that clips to the bottom of the PDA. For frequent travelers, this is an ideal setup. Deskbound buyers should budget for the optional charging cradle, which is available from Sony for $30. The Sony CLIE PEG-TH55 has plenty of features to keep you connected, entertained, and organized. With its Wi-Fi radio, you can browse the Web and send e-mail. The included CLIE Mail application is extremely basic, though. While it allows you to receive attachments, it doesn't handle HTML or IMAP messages.
A built-in lens cover protects the 310,000-pixel digital camera on the back of the TH55. Like its distant cousin, the PEG-TJ27, the TH55 can save pictures in four sizes, adjust brightness, and add effects. Unfortunately, Sony didn't include its Photo Editor application, but the CLIE Organizer application suite takes advantage of the camera. You can easily add photos or voice notes to calendar entries, contacts, or notes. We also like that you can write freehand on date book pages. Yet, while we enjoyed CLIE Organizer, we would still prefer Palm's new Contacts and Calendar apps, which sync better with Microsoft Outlook, over Organizer's Address Book and Date Book.
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The TH55's built-in camera will have you smiling.
This PDA has all the multimedia features you'd want in a handheld, including MP3 audio, and AVI, MPEG, and QuickTime video. Macromedia's Flash Player is also onboard, but it doesn't work in concert with the browser, so you can't view Flash-based Web sites. All of the TH55's 32MB of internal memory are available for storage, but for multimedia files you'll quickly discover that you need to add a Memory Stick.
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Keep the tunes flowing by storing your MP3s on a Memory Stick.
Sony bundled a lot of software with this device, including PicselViewer for viewing (but not editing) PDFs, Microsoft Word and Excel files; Decuma, a cool alternative to Graffiti; and the attractive CLIE Launcher for navigating between apps. And don't miss the fine print: Sony is offering Documents To Go Professional 6.0 (to view Microsoft Office files) for download if you register your CLIE. One warning about software installation: It takes a long time, requires numerous restarts of the PC, and is far too vague about which files need to be installed, which are extra, and which are only demo versions. Less tech-savvy buyers will likely give up in frustration. There is also no support for Macs. The Sony CLIE PEG-TH55 uses Sony's Handheld Engine processor, which runs between 8MHz and 163MHz, with the CPU automatically adjusting the clock speed to optimize battery life. However, with speeds topping out at 163MHz, many apps felt a bit sluggish. The good news is that the PDA has a graphics accelerator chip, so MPEG movies ran smoothly and MP3s played back just fine. Voice recordings came out nice and clear, and you can even adjust the compression rates.
The Sony processor gives this handheld remarkable battery life. In our battery tests, where we repeatedly play an MPEG movie clip with the unit's screen brightness at 50 percent and Wi-Fi turned off, the TH55 lasted an impressive 4 hours, 50 minutes. Even with regular Wi-Fi usage and the backlight cranked up to high, we went several days between charges. Sony rates the TH55 for 15 days of normal use. Still, real road warriors will prefer a handheld with a replaceable battery.
The Wi-Fi radio has a fair range, and it can sniff out available networks and tell you which ones require encryption keys. Whether we were at home or work, connecting to a Wi-Fi network was seamless. We didn't have to change any settings; the TH55 just found the network and logged in with the appropriate key.
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Even Fido agrees: The TH55 takes decent photos.
The TH55's VGA camera took decent photos. Just make sure to give it plenty of light; otherwise, the pictures come out blurry. The bright and sharp screen was excellent for viewing photos and videos, and the transflective display worked fine in sunlight. Our big gripe is that we couldn't view applications in Landscape mode. Palm's Tungsten T3 has such a feature built in.