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.
Like most CLIE handhelds, this model comes with an impressive software bundle. Sony's tricked-out version of the Palm OS 5.2 has all the usual PDA features, including the venerable Date Book and Address Book, rather than the updated Contact and Schedule software found in Palm's new Tungstens. You can also sync with Microsoft Outlook--but Mac users will have to purchase &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Emarkspace%2Ecom%2Fmissingsync%2Ehtml" target="_blank">an extra software package to sync with their machines. An e-mail client (CLIE Mail), a Web browser (NetFront), an image viewer/editor, a Microsoft Office document viewer, and a movie recorder are preinstalled. Other bundled apps run the gamut from useful programs--such as a world clock, an image album, and Presenter-to-Go--to various utilities and demos.
In addition to taking instant voice memos, the handheld plays MP3 or ATRAC3 sound files, as well as MPEG-4 movies. Unlike the NX73V and the NX80V, the UX40 doesn't come with a wired remote or earbud headphones. Using our test headphones, we found that the audio was rich and vibrant, though we wanted to push the volume beyond its top level in noisy environments such as the subway.
The PEG-UX40 runs Sony's new Handheld Engine processor. The proprietary Dynamic Voltage and Frequency Management (DVFM) technology is supposed to throttle the chip's operating frequency from as low as 8MHz to as high as 123MHz, thus saving precious clock cycles and battery power, depending on the demands of individual applications. Intel's XScale processors operate on a similar system but have a top speed of 400MHz. Then again, speed ratings usually don't tell the full story, and practically speaking, we had no complaints about performance. Our test movie clips and games--trial versions of GTS (a car-racing game) and Zap2016--not only looked good but played smoothly on the sharp, bright, 65,536-color, 480x320-pixel display.
Battery life was respectable but not stellar. With Bluetooth active and screen brightness set at the halfway point, the UX40 was able to run a looping video clip for 2 hours, 50 minutes. With Bluetooth turned off, the loop ran 3 hours even. While Bluetooth activation didn't seem to adversely affect those tests, when we accidentally left it active for a full 24 hours, we came back to find the battery almost completely drained. In other words, activate it only when you need it.
A short note about the 300,000-pixel camera: It's the same imaging system that's in the NX73V--that is, a VGA camera that takes passable 640x480 images suitable for e-mailing and viewing on the device. It's a small step up from a camera phone. As one might expect, since the UX40 doesn't have a flash, it does best in well-lit environments. The video is decent, but again, we're talking Webcam--not camcorder--quality.