Don’t Buy a Cheap CLIE NX80V From Japan

I’m begging you. Just don’t. You’ll fall in love with it, and then fall into a deep sadness when the camera breaks the next day. It happened to me.

The SONY CLIE NX80V was an upgraded version of their NX73V. It’s main claim to fame over it’s twin was it’s 1.3MP CCD camera, which ended up being a significant upgrade over the 0.3MP CMOS sensors SONY previously used. It also sported an extra 5MB of user RAM, allowing the use of a whopping 16MB of RAM for storage. The camera, however, would become a sticking point, as SONY used an inferior process for many of their CCD sensors around that time period, causing very high rates of failure. However, I’ll try not to focus on that too much in this article.

A Monster Media Machine

The CLIE NR, NX, and NZ series were touted as the “high-end” line of SONY’s handheld PDAs, being equipped with high-end Intel XScale processors and every whizbang feature you could imagine. These devices featured Yamaha sound chips, rotating 320×480 displays, and keyboards. Most also had built-in cameras and CompactFlash ports. In the NX80V’s case, it features a pop-out CF slot, a neat space-saving feature.

NX80V Specs

The NX80V, like most NX Clies, runs on an Intel PXA250. Nothing really interesting about it. The screen, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. A 320×480 TN rotating panel with buttons built-in, and Power and Record LEDs on the side. It’s slightly dimmer than my TH55, but that might just be the specific panel.

Styling Notes

The design of the NX80V and it’s twin the NX73V is similar to the NX70V, but the screen appears to have a convex-like crease on both sides of it, with the keyboard side being concave to match. The camera assembly takes up a majority of the hinge, seemingly to hold the larger CCD sensor. The keyboard buttons are a seperate piece frpom the body, instead of being integrated as a membrane within the body, like the NX70V.

Software Bundle

The NX80V in my possession is a Japanese model, which gives it a slightly different set of tools and applications. Using the power of Google Translate, I’ll give a general description of the non-PIM apps.

CLIE Style

This “app” is just a form with a shortcut to the Japanese Sony CLIE website. Nothing more, nothing less. This takes us to…

NetFront 3.0

This older version of the NetFront browser doesn’t seem to have too many differences from NetFront 3.1, besides menus, one less zoom option, and some slightly different icons. It appears that it was meant to be used with a CompactFlash WiFi card, the PEGA-WL1x0 series.

NetFront 3.0! Notice the Zoom icon.

CLIE Demo

Like the TH55’s CLIE Demo, this one runs using Flash Player. Nothing really special here, just a list of features, and a confirmation that the NX80V does indeed have 32MB of memory (with 16 usable)

CLIE RMC

It’s just your standard remote control app. The only notable difference here is the lack of arrow keys, and numbers 10-12 instead of 0 and Enter.

NX70v on the left, NX80v on the right.

PooK v2

From what I can tell, it looks like an ebook reader. Once again, nothing really special here, but I can’t really understand much either.

It looks like an ebook reader with DRM.

Dictionary (translated)

This is a built-in Japanese / English dictionary! How cool is that?

CF Utility

It doesn’t do much without a CompactFlash card inserted, but it appears to have links to the CLIE Mail and NetFront 3.0 apps on the bottom.

The CF Utility

ATOK Setting (translated)

I have no idea what this app does. From what I can gather, it has to do with Japanese input?

The checkboc appears to say “Use ATOK for Japanese input”

The Camera

The NX80V touted a whopping 1.3MP CCD camera, which was unfortunately prone to damage from humidity. Mine ended up dying a slow death a mere day after being exposed to the Florida weather, but I did have the time to take comparison shots!

Camera Comparison

The NX70V takes okay pictures for the time, but the NX80V has a big advantage in detail here, despite being a bit underexposed. The later TH55 has much better low-light performance in this scenario, and still retains a good bit of detail.

Is Your Camera Failing?

Many NX80V and NZ90 PDAs have faulty CCD sensors caused by Sony’s use of an inferior epoxy that absorbs moisture. If your camera exhibits these patterns, or doesn’t display a picture at all, it’s likely you have a failed CCD.

Productivity

The NX80V includes your standard set of SONY-enhanced PIMs, so I won’t be going over those. The built-in keyboard is backlit and has the option of typing in English or Romanji > Kanji translation (Is this what ATOK is for?). It feels pretty good to the fingertips, but it doesn’t quite have the sharpness of the NX70V’s keyboard. Serious typists should just use a laptop instead, but either CLIE keyboard would work in a pinch.

Documents to Go

Yes, Documents to Go works fine here. For writing lengthy Word documents, I’d prefer using a laptop, but the NX80V has a good enough keyboard to work in a pinch. Spreasdheets and presentations work just fine, as one would expect. The extra screen space comes in handy, expecially when making long, complex spreadsheets.

Final Thoughts

The NX80V is one of the better CLIE handhelds you can buy… if you can find one. With a myriad of features and cool extras, you won’t be disappointed by anything it has to offer, perhaps besides the camera. For a safer bet on the camera, buy an NX73V!

Despite the camera issues I encountered, and my lack of understanding of the Japanese language, this PDA deserves the Yutaka Channel Seal of Approval!

Fitting an S-10 Camper Shell on Another Truck

I understand this isn’t exactly technology related, but I still have an interesting article for you. I was faced with a dilemma: I have to move out of my house by the end of the month, but I can also only make one trip. So I went out in search of a camper shell that would fit my short bed Ford Ranger. I searched for about two weeks until finding the perfect camper shell: top of the line, carpeted, screen windows, the works. The only problem? It was for a Chevy S-10. In this article, I make it work anyway.

The lines don’t exactly match up, but since this is a tall shell, it doesn’t really matter.

The first problem came when I put it on: The S-10 has a bed that gets narrower as you move further back. Edges needed to be trimmed.

I already worked on this side. Note the fiberglass powder everywhere.

Using a Dremel and about 6 or 7 different cutting wheels (they keep breaking!), I slowly manager to cut through the fiberglass and make the camper fit.

Working on the other side.

Once that was done, I attached the two rear clamps to the bed, as the front two required drilling. I’ll get to them eventually.

My other main issue was wiring. I didn’t get the harness that went to the camper, so I had to cut it off and wire it the hard way.

Wiring! Note the two negatives.

The wires went to the third brake light a d the interior done light. The two black wires were ground, so I just combined both and wired it to the rear light bar’s ground.

The wiring that goes to the camper, and a few other accessories

To get the third brake light working, I found the + wire it used, then tapped off of my brake pedal. Most Rangers don’t have a dedicated third brake light wire easily accessible, so I had to do it myself. If you’re doing the same thing, use the solid green wire.

It could be neater, but it works!

The dome light was much easier, just tap off a fused 12V source. I used a 10 amp fuse on my secondary fusebox and ran a wire to the back.

Please don’t use bare wire here. This is only temporary.

And there we have it, power!

Cutie of The Month: Rize Tedeza

For this month’s Cutie of The Month, we’ll be looking at the gun-slinging, coffee-delivering Gochi girl, Rize Tedeza! The Cuties of The Month posts are intentionally shorter than most of the other content on this blog, so let’s get right to it!

Some Tidbits About Rize

Rize hails from the anime Is the Order a Rabbit?, or GochiUsa, depending on where you look. She has long, darkish-purple hair and a face of many expressions. She is also the tallest out of the main characters, making her perfectly suited for “step-on-me-mommy” material.

Rize is a cool-headed individual thought of as the brains of the group. She has a level of maturity over the others, but can be blunt with words. She also owns a gun, which may or may not be real.

The Rize Gallery

I”ll probably add more as time goes on…

Project: Panda (The Black-and-White Custom GameCube)

My first real successful modification: A black JP Nintendo GameCube shell with white accents. The innards are from a DOL-101 GameCube.

There’s a few things I did to it besides a new coat of paint, which are:

  • Replacement exhaust fan, to improve airflow
  • New intake fan, to improve airflow even more
  • Replaced thermal pads with thermal paste and trimmed the heatsink
  • Cycling RGB power LED

There was originally a third fan where the DOL-001’s power regulation circuitry was, but was removed when the shell was replaced due to insufficient airflow.

I did eventually finish the project, with good results! I didn’t open it again because there wasn’t anything new to show off.

For being my first ever mod, I think I did well. In the future, I plan to add some LEDs to the controller ports, and perhaps replace the disc drive with an SD card reader. I might replace the motherboard with a DOL-001 for component as well.

Cutie of The Month: Yutaka Kobayakawa

A fairly unconventional blog focused on retro tech products and cute anime girls.

Yutaka Channel Tagline

First and foremost, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. I think it’s about time I focused on the “other half” of this blog: Adorable two-dimensional fictional girls. On the first of each month, I’ll discuss one cute anime girl that either you or I pick, depending on how I feel.

Two of you on Twitter decided that this was a good idea:

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the girl plastered all over this website: Yutaka Kobyakawa.

Short.

A Little Bit About Yu-Chan

Yutaka (or Yu-Chan) is the younger cousin of Konata Izumi, the main character of Lucky Star. She is one of the shortest characters in the series, reaching an outstanding 4’7″. Yutaka is a secondary character in both the anime and the manga of Lucky Star.

Yutaka, despite enjoying the Internet and all of it’s glory, appears innocent and lacks knowledge on more… adult topics. She also tends to simply ignore worldly matters, and instead focuses on what’s right ahead of her. Unfortunately, as she lacks a good immune system, she gets sick often.

Yutaka… Channel?

As Yutaka enjoys the internet and spends a significant amount of time with her technologically inclined cousin, Konata, she is bound to have some knowledge on old tech. I made her the face of this blog for that reason alone.

The Yu-Chan Gallery

Let me showcase some good Yutaka artwork I have in my possession.

Should You Buy a ThinkPad X250?

The ThinkPad X250 was the second mainline X-series laptop from Lenovo that sported the “true” Ultrabook form factor (the first being the previous X240). It and it’s older twin are usually overlooked for more popular models, meaning you can potentially find a well-specced X250 for cheap! But should you buy one? Let’s talk a bit about the X250 itself, and then I’ll decide whether or not to give it the Yutaka Channel Seal of Approval.

This is my personal X250. It may look a bit rough right now, but the inside looks much better than this.

System Specs

What’s With All the U’s?

X250’s with higher specifications will be equipped with an Intel Core i7-5600U, though most will have a Core i5-5200U in it’s place. With Lenovo’s switch to ULV (ultra-low voltage) CPUs, battery life improved dramatically, but at the cost of performance. PassMark, a benchmark that aggregates various user scores, rates the i7-5600U over the i5-3320M, the default CPU used in the X230. However, the X250’s default i5-5200U is left behind quite a bit in Lenovo’s move from 35W to 15W by default. Keep this in mind when choosing your laptop.

i7-5600U: 4323 CPU points, 1660 single-threaded points
i5-5200U: 3499 CPU points, 1397 single-threaded points
i5-3520M: 4134 CPU points, 1642 single-threaded points
The i7-5600U pulls far ahead of it’s i5 brother and exceeds even a full-wattage Ivy Bridge i5.

Picking Your Panel

The X250 comes equipped with a variety of panel options. There are officially five in total, three of them have a resolution of 1366×768, while the other two have a resolution of 1920×1080:

  • 12.5″ 1366×768 (“HD”), LED-Backlight, 200 cd/m², 300:1
  • 12.5″ 1366×768 (“HD”), LED-Backlight, 300 cd/m², 700:1, IPS
  • 12.5″ 1366×768 (“HD”), LED-Backlight, 270 cd/m², IPS, Multitouch
  • 12.5″ 1920×1080 (“Full HD”), LED-Backlight, 400 cd/m², 700:1, IPS
  • 12.5″ 1920×1080 (“Full HD”), LED-Backlight, 360 cd/m², IPS, Multitouch

Data from ThinkWiki

The first panel is a 1366×768 TN panel, and will likely be the one you most commonly see. However, the last two panels have a much higher 1080p resolution and are the ones you should go for. Aside from being much brighter, you’re guaranteed an IPS panel and a usable working resolution. A multitouch panel, while allowing 10-finger touch functionality, will reduce brightness slightly and make the top of the X250 thicker.

Looking to upgrade your LCD panel? Keep in mind the Broadwell ThinkPads have a panel whitelist that will keep you from upgrading to a generic panel. You will have to reflash either the ThinkPad or panel controller to use brightness controls.
The X250’s 1080p Touch panel in it’s full glory.

How Much RAM?

Like the older X240, the X250 has a single DDR3 RAM slot. Like most other similarly-specced laptops, X250 configurations shipped with either 4 or 8GB of RAM. However, with BIOS update 1.12, the ability to “officially” add 16GB of RAM was added. This is actually a Broadwell chipset feature; Intel improved the memory controller with the Broadwell die shrink, allowing single-DIMM 16GB modules to be used.

Battery Life

Battery life on the X250 isn’t anything to write home about compared to modern laptops, but still fairly impressive for it’s time. Power Bridge functionality, first introduced with the X240, allows nearly infinite battery life, depending on your budget and carrying capacity. The Intel Broadwell-U chip gives 4 hours of battery with the internal and external 23.2Wh batteries. An optional 6-cell battery, along with the internal battery can provide 6 hours of battery life under normal use.

Build Quality

It’s solid. There’s little flex in the body, and it feels sturdy overall. What else can I say?

Real-Life Usage

While on paper, the ThinkPad X250 might seem weaker than a brand-new laptop, in real-life usage the difference is almost unnoticeable. In a Linux distribution where every other CPU cycle isn’t wasted on telemetry, even an i3-equipped X250 can fly. This section will go through various everyday tasks that one would normally do with a laptop.

Office Work

Almost any computer that can run a modern operating system can be an office worker. However, if you’re looking to infiltrate an office space and look like you work there, this is the laptop for you. While I still prefer the T440p’s keyboard for typing long paragraphs of text, the X250 still does a very good job. In fact, I typed this entire article on it’s keyboard!

Gaming

While lacking a dedicated graphics card, the X250 can still play a respectable amount of games. Any game released before 2012 will likely run well. On the emulation front, anything up to a PlayStation 2 can be emulated with no issues.

Video Editing

Likely the most processor intensive task on this list. An i7-equipped X250 will no doubt handle this well, but an i5 might struggle with 1080p content. Rendering is fairly fast, but watch your temperatures.

CAD

Please buy a W530 for this. No integrated GPU, except those from the newest Intel families, will ever be able to keep up with even the cheapest of dedicated graphics cards. You might be able to get away with simple objects, but for more advanced projects, just get a different laptop.

Closing Thoughts

While commonly overlooked for other X series laptops, the X250 is a great machine. While not quite suited to heavy processing tasks, the X250, especially equipped with a 1080p touchscreen and i7, is a portable dream machine. For that, it rightly deserves the Yutaka Channel Seal of Approval.

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!

ThinkPad T440p: A Review

A quad-core i7, 1080p IPS display, a quality backlit keyboard, and legendary ThinkPad durability, for under $350? It’s possible! In this review, I’ll analyze a Lenovo ThinkPad T440p, and determine whether it deserves the Yutaka Channel Seal of Approval.

The Basics

I received my ThinkPad T440p a few weeks ago after ordering it on eBay. Since then, I’ve had some time with it and I feel like I can give my perspective on it. I was deciding between this and the T430; which, while more upgradeable, is stuck with an Ivy Bridge CPU and TN displays without modification (a potential dealbreaker). I also ordered the new laptop with a touchpad from a T450, a 1080p IPS display, and a 500GB SSD from Western Digital. Unfortunately, I ran into a few problems with the display, which I’ll cover later.

Display Woes (And Picking The Right Screen)

My display of choice was actually recommended to me in the Thinkpad Lenovo IBM Facebook group, an AUO B140HAN01.3. Sadly, I made the grave mistake of ordering a listed “compatible” display. Instead, I received a Innolux N140HCA-EAB, a panel with worse color and brightness. Luckily, the seller accepted returns, so I sent the display back and ordered the proper AUO panel, this time checking to make sure I would actually get the one I wanted.

Taking a Look At The Display

When I initially received the laptop, it came with a 1600×900 TN panel, which I took a picture of here.

T440p before any modifications.

The colors were okay, but the screen gave me a headache after a short while, and the group suggested the specific display upgrades they liked. I followed their advice, and bought the AUO panel I mentioned earlier. The difference was major, with the higher resolution and lack of headaches.

T440p with the 1080p IPS panel installed. Did I mention there was an anime aspect to this blog?

Upgrade Paths

The T440p is one of the easiest ThinkPads to open up, unlike my W541 from the same generation. Two screws and you have access to almost any component you might want to replace. Well, except the touchpad. Being used to the W541’s touchpad, I felt like the “clunkpad” the T440p came with was unusable, especially without drivers.

Replacing the touchpad requires disassembling most of the laptop, save for the motherboard and a few other parts. I recommend following the HMM unless you’re absolutely sure you know that you’re doing. In any case, the upgrade was well worth it.

On my eBay search, I found that there were two types of “new” 3-button touchpads, one from Synaptics, and the other from ALPS. I ended up ordering an ALPS touchpad, as it came with fast shipping and I was moving very soon. This was fine, as I found that in Linux, there are no noticeable differences between Synaptics and ALPS touchpads.

T450 touchpad. The keyboard is a LiteOn backlit type.

The SSD was also very easy to install, requiring only one more screw to take out. The WD Blue 500GB I installed does the trick very well, and is actually my other recommendation for SATA SSD’s, after the Samsung 860 series. I also installed another 64GB Sandisk z400 SSD in the WWAN slot as a boot drive, and boot times are now almost instant.

Getting Work Done

The Intel i7-4800MQ is a powerhouse even today, still competitive with 8th gen Intel CPUs 4 years newer. I installed Pop!_OS, a Debian-based Linux distribution. I chose it mainly for it’s excellent support for GPU switching, as my T440p came with the GT 730M. It installed without any issues, and everything “just works”.

The keyboard is exceptionally good, admittedly even better than the non-NMB “classic” keyboard of ThinkPads past. I could type all day on it and my hands won’t get tired.

Final Thoughts

This is the perfect machine. It might be big and bulky, but it’s also packed with features and is very easily upgradeable. If you can find an i5 for under $150, or a mostly upgraded one like mine for under $250, I would definitely go for it. Therefore, the ThinkPad T440p receives the Yutaka Channel Seal of Approval.

Dead ThinkPad? Make it an All-in-one!

Recently, I came across my old ThinkPad T400. I wanted to use it again, but the chassis was in severe disrepair and I didn’t want to spend much money trying to get it working again. My solution? Remove the chassis entirely and make it an all-in-one PC akin to an iMac.

Bare setup
The project. A T400 motherboard with discrete graphics, 2 GB RAM… and nothing else. Yet.

I found an old Dell 1704FPV in my attic, brought it down, and took off the monitor, leaving the stand. After removing the motherboard from it’s mangled chassis, I then taped it onto the front of the stand. I gathered a low-voltage Intel P8700 from a previous project, 2GB of spare DDR3 RAM, and attached them onto the board.

Testing time.

Motherboard with monitor displaying the BIOS screen
Mostly assembled. I found a VGA cable for the screen and a spare keyboard to use the power button

It works. Mostly. The hard drive doesn’t stay put due to the nature of the port, so I’ll have to buy a SATA riser cable. There is no battery functionality, as the port is blocked off by the stand, requiring a low voltage CPU and a 90 watt AC adapter (as it throttles without those two things together). The UltraBay has the same problem as the hard drive, except that the extension cables are much rarer. Besides those problems, I feel like the project was a success.

Update 5/28/2019:

Some of the cables arrived! Also, a new monitor that more appropriately fits the style of the project. It’s now much cleaner from the front. If only I could find a way to crack open the monitor and stuff some of the internals inside…

It’s rough, but it works.