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!

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!