Sony freshens Clié PDA

Sony has packed both wireless Lan and Bluetooth, as well as a new processor designed for use in handheld computers, into its...

Sony  has packed both wireless Lan and Bluetooth, as well as a new processor designed for use in handheld computers, into its latest Clié personal digital assistant, the smallest yet in the series.

The design of the PEG-UX50 is a departure from previous PDAs, which are slab type devices with a few buttons or sometimes a small keyboard underneath the main display.

The new Clié looks something like a shrunken notebook computer and consists of two slabs, one with a display and the other with a keyboard, hinged together lengthwise. This form factor makes it similar, albeit at a different size, to some of the Zaurus PDAs from Sharp.

Like the Zaurus or some of the latest Tablet PCs, the upper slab housing the display can be swivelled around through 180 degrees and folded back down to cover the keyboard so it faces outwards. The 3.2 inch TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) has a wide aspect ratio and resolution of 480 pixels by 320 pixels and can display 65,536 colours.

At the heart of the PDA is a new processor, the Sony Handheld Engine.

Designed and developed in-house for use in Clié PDAs, the processor includes an ARM926 core and is capable of adjusting its operating frequency and voltage to match the task in hand. The technology which, Sony says, means the processor draws less power than a conventional chip, has been called DVFM (dual-voltage frequency management) and can adjust the frequency between 8MHz and 123MHz.

The processor also includes 64Mbits of DRAM (dynamic random access memory), the Clié's graphics engine and the interfaces for the camera and MemoryStick slot, thus cutting down on the number of chips inside the PDA.

A built-in digital still camera with 310,000 pixel resolution is included in the hinge. This can take images up to VGA (640 pixels by 480 pixels) quality. Wireless support for both Bluetooth and WLAN (IEEE802.11b) is included and two small illuminated lights on the right of the display indicate when they are in use. Other networking options include an infrared and USB (Universal Serial Bus) port.

The PDA has 96Mbytes of memory split between a 32Mbyte bank of SDRAM (synchronous DRAM) and 64Mbyte bank of flash memory. After space has been claimed by the operating system and preinstalled software, there is a total of 38Mbytes available to users, split as 16M bytes of SDRAM for applications and 22Mbytes of flash memory for storage of multimedia files.

Installed software for the PDA, which runs on version 5.2 of Palm.'s operating system, includes a movie player, movie recorder, photo editor and album, digital music player supporting MP3 or ATRAC (Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding), Picsel Viewer to access Word, Excel and PowerPoint files and the Netfront web browser.

The internal lithium ion polymer battery provides enough power for 14 days' use, which Sony calculated by running the information manager program each day for 30 minutes with the backlight switched off. Battery life with the backlight switched on, which draws more power but is the way most people use their PDAs, was not available.

The PEG-UX50 will go on sale in Japan next month and is expected to be priced around $593. Plans for overseas sales are expected to be announced at a Sony event sometime later today.

Martyn Williams writes for IDG News Service

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