Retro Review: SONY CLIÉ TH55

Released in 2004, Sony’s top-of-the-line Palm PDA was a masterpiece of engineering, only being rivaled (at the time) by Sony’s own UX50. I managed to get my hands on one a while ago, and today I’m going to review it, and see if you could still use one now.

PDA Specs

Sony’s Handheld Engine

The CLIÉ TH55 runs on a custom 123MHz Sony Handheld Engine SoC, similar in nature to a modern-day Apple A-series SoC. While slower than Intel’s PXA chips, it did offer exceptional power savings. For the first time, power saving features usually found on laptops of the era such as dynamic clock speed and dynamic voltage scaling were used in a handheld. The HHE was able to downclock itself all the way down to 8MHz without screen flicker when idle. To supplement the HHE’s rather weak video rendering performance, a 2D graphics engine was integrated into the SoC.

Screen

The screen used in the TH55 is a TN panel with a resolution of 320×480 capable of 16 bit color. While barely noticeable, the panel is actually slightly larger than the Palm T|5’s panel. Viewing angles are very good for a TN, with some color shifting at more extreme angles.

TH55 LCD, good color representation.

Camera Quality

The TH55 has a 640×480 pixel CMOS camera protected by a sliding shutter on the back.

CLIÉ TH55, open shutter.

Camera quality is far from exceptional, due to the fixed focus and low resolution. Outdoor shots fare the best with this camera, while low-light shots may not show up at all in some cases.

Productivity

The TH55’s home screen is unlike any other. When you first press the software Home key, instead of being taken right into the Applications menu, you’re taken to a program called CLIE Organizer, which contains the following:

  • Date Book
  • Contacts List
  • To-Do List
  • Free Notes (a handwriting memo program)
  • Memo Pad
  • Picture Viewer
  • Reference Sheet (for measurements, etc.)
  • Applications
The TH55’s CLIE Organizer screen.

With the Organizer, you can do most of your PIM tasks without leaving the home screen! Of course, you can also access the PIMs in the normal way by either going to the Applications tab, or clicking the Applications program, which will take you to either SONY’s proprietary home screen or the Palm OS default home screen, depending on your settings.

Additional Features

These features aren’t quite as significant as the ones I mentioned earlier. I’ll mention all of these below, however small they may be.

Infrared Communication

The TH55, due to it’s unique hinge (not unlike a modern laptop), has it’s IR port on the side. Unfortunately, neither Remote Commander nor NoviiRemote work on this device. I haven’t tested OmniRemote, but I’ll probably get the same result.

Media Consumption

SONY includes a built-in Audio Player program on most of their MP3-capable Clies, and this one is no exception. MPEG-4 video playback is handled with hardware acceleration, and SONY has included an application, with the help of a separate PC utility, to play videos.

While not quite as good of a media player as a CF-modded LifeDrive, provided you have enough Memory Sticks, the TH55 can make a decent media player.

Voice Recorder

Yep, it has a voice recorder. I tested it out myself against another Palm I own (a Palm LifeDrive), and it sounds better, though this may be due to codecs.

If you’re adventurous, you might be able to hack in a cellular modem to the bottom port and make calls.

Battery Life

Despite the paltry 1200mAh battery, the TH55 has excellent battery life, in no small part due to the lack of a power-hungry Intel PXA chip. If you turn off the backlight, you can go a few weeks on the battery, depending on your usage.

Final Thoughts

The Clie TH55 was a productivity powerhouse in its heyday. Nowadays, with modern smartphones taking over that role, a TH55 may be more suited to someone who is security-conscious or prefers the PIM functions of old.

Final Verdict: You can definitely use a Clie TH55 today! Since the older Palms don’t connect to the Internet for every function and the batteries are user-replaceable, their expiration date isn’t when online servers shut down, but when the system clocks hit their limit.

P.S. As of this posting, the cheapest TH55 I could find was $399.99!

One thought on “Retro Review: SONY CLIÉ TH55

  1. Personally, I like this form factor more than the UX50 and NX90 – but I think the permanent flip cover was a bit goofy – some of the TH55 I find seem to have had their cover removed, and from memory Sony sold a kit to help with that process. Its a shame the camera is so paltry! They had 1.3MP in some of the other Clie, and the NX90 had a fantastic 2MP camera. Nice retro review 🙂

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