Sharp has always been an innovator with the Zaurus line of PDAs and the newest member of that family is no exception. The Zaurus SL-C3000 takes the utility of previous generations and extends it even further. The C3000 is a clamshell device that resembles a miniature laptop when opened and has a bright vivid screen that is wonderful to work with. Perhaps a more fitting description of the Zaurus would be that of a convertible Tablet PC since the screen swivels and folds back on the keyboard to allow operation in a more conventional slate format. Using the C3000 either way it is apparent that Sharp is clearly the leader at innovative PDA design.
The evaluation unit I have been using was supplied by Dynamism as the Sharp is only sold in Japan. Dynamism has done a good job converting the Zaurus to English and as a result there is not a lot of evidence during use that the device was originally Japanese only. I get asked if I recommend getting Japanese devices like this from an importer and if it is worth the additional expense and my answer is a resounding yes. While some people can convert a Japanese gadget over to English it is a path full of pitfalls and it is usually best to let the experts handle that when possible.
The first thing that struck me when the Zaurus arrived was how small the box was. The size of the box is always a good indication of how small the device will be and this was certainly true of the Zaurus. Unpacking the unit found very little in the box, the Zaurus unit, power adapter, Japanese manuals, USB cable and a couple of CDs. Dynamism had also included a couple of pages of useful information about getting started with the Z.
The Zaurus itself is a glossy white plastic very reminiscent of the iPod. Close inspection proves that the construction of the Z is very sturdy and well executed. The device just looks perfect in every way. It is also heavier than I expected, not that it is too heavy just that it feels heavier than the size would indicate. This is probably due to all the goodies that Sharp has put in the little jewel.
What you get
The hardware specifications of the Zaurus are impressive:
- 4 GB Hitachi internal HDD
- 3.7" VGA screen (640×480)
- Intel Xscale PXA270 (416 mHz)
- 64 MB RAM
- 16 MB flash ROM
- 1 CF slot, 1 SD, IR port
- Integrated speaker, 3.5 mm headphone jack
- 124 x 87 x 25 mm (4.9 x 3.4 x 1 inches)
- 298 grams (10.5 ounces)
A full software collection rounds out the unit:
- Linux/ Qtopia
- HancomWord, Sheet
- PIM: Calendar, Address Book, Todo List
- Text Editor
- Netfront 3.1 browser
- Music Player
- Video Player
- City Time
- Voice Recorder
- Terminal (Linux)
- No games
Power adapter (very small)
USB cable (connect to PC)
2 s/w CDs
Using the Zaurus
The SL-C3000 is heavier than expected but fits in the hand so well it is quickly apparent how good the design of the Z really is. It is a tad big in the hand in slate mode but again easily handled and the thoughtfulness of the design is reflected in the control placement. The Zaurus defaults to landscape orientation and is obviously intended to spend more time in the clamshell configuration with the keyboard available for use. The swivel screen is very easy to activate by simply swiveling the screen around and folding it back over the keyboard. Instant slate mode makes the Z even more useful to the user and the clamshell when closed completely protects the screen and the keyboard. The VGA screen is simply amazing and is so bright and vivid it is easy to see that Sharp’s monitor technology has been incorporated into the Z. It is very easy on the eyes even with prolonged use.
Sharp chose to exclude integrated WiFi in the C3000 and it was the only major disappointment I had using the unit. While it is easy to add WiFi or Bluetooth via the CF slot it would make more sense to build it right into the Z. I used an Ambicom CF WiFi card for my evaluation and the card was auto-detected and configured as soon as I plugged it in. I just had to configure my WiFi network settings and I was off and running. The WiFi worked very well and I had no problems at all the entire time I was using the Sharp.
The keyboard is an area that Sharp obviously put a lot of thought and it really augments the user experience. The keys are real keys with good tactile feedback (and optional key click sound) and are great for lots of text entry. It is easy to get up to 40 wpm with this keyboard, it’s that good. Sharp has included a full complement of keys in a standard QWERTY layout, and you also find some special keys that launch the PIM functions. On the lower right of the keyboard is a round trackpad with an OK key in the middle, and a Cancel key next to the pad. The trackpad works very well and made navigation in clamshell mode very easy to do. The keyboard works so well that after a little practice time using the Z in clamshell mode is just like using a tiny laptop.
Sharp has incorporated a lot of little touches that make using the Z very easy no matter which configuration the device is in. There is a thumbwheel control for one-handed use in slate mode, OK and Cancel buttons on the back of the unit, and the ON/OFF button on the front of the Z is recessed making it unlikely you will accidentally turn off the device. There is a little HDD activity light on the hinge of the screen that is a good way to tell if the system is doing something. I quickly got used to this and wish all PDAs would incorporate this simple yet effective indicator.
The PIM programs that are included on the Sharp are very basic and have all the standard features you normally expect. The Contact program will not sort contacts alphabetically limiting its useful completely (it sorts on the Japanese alphabet). You certainly want to pick up a third party PIM application to do serious PIM work on the Z.
Connecting to the internet is very easy to configure once the WiFi is working and Sharp has included a couple of programs to make the user productive. The Email program is very easy to configure and provides a good interface and all the basic functions you expect of an email program. For browsing the web Sharp has included Netfront 3.1 and if you have used this program on other PDAs you will feel right at home. It worked just as well and had identical features to the version I run on my Windows Mobile Pocket PC. Netfront has a couple of good techniques that fit complicated web pages to the small screen of the Zaurus and it is possible to view virtually any site on the VGA screen. While some pages rendered the text very small usually this was not a problem.
One of the first programs I downloaded and installed on the Sharp was Opera. Opera is a great mobile browser and it was super to use it on the Z. The Opera browser is very fast and really utilizes the small screen to the maximum. I never used Netfront again once I installed Opera, it’s that good.
Sharp includes a version of Intellisync on the CDs that come with the Zaurus but the program is in Japanese and thus virtually impossible to use for English speaking users. You can install an English version that you can get online but you must be sure and install the hardware drivers that come on the Zaurus CD. Once doing this Intellisync runs in English and will synchronize the Zaurus PIM information to Outlook or Palm Desktop. I had a lot of problems throughout my evaluation of the Zaurus with this synchronization which might be due to my complicated Outlook setup on the desktop. Some users report no problems syncing with the desktop and others are never successful getting their PIM data onto the Z, so this is an area that needs some improvement. Once the drivers are installed you can connect the Zaurus to your desktop using the included USB cable, and the Z appears as a removable drive on the Windows desktop which is a handy way to get files back and forth. This is much easier than using ActiveSync on a Pocket PC.
Showing its Linux roots
It is important to remember that the Zaurus is a true Linux box and if you like puttering around in Linux you will love using the Z. It is not just cool to see the Linux terminal window displaying on the Z, it is just as functional as on any other Linux box. You can do virtually anything on the Sharp you can do on your Linux desktop, and this is very powerful indeed. You have complete control over the Linux environment and can run many Linux programs on the Z. Software is installed as packages and there is a good program for installing or removing software packages on the device. I should note here that due to the C3000 being so new a lot of programs I downloaded and installed on the Z would not run, even though they would run successfully on the C3000’s predecessor, the C860. It is only a matter of time for updated versions to start appearing for the C3000.
The Qtopia interface puts an attractive face on the Sharp as it looks really good while being very functional. Users who opt to just work on the Sharp using the Qtopia interface will find it like any Palm or Windows Mobile Pocket PC in form and function. While Linux allows for the installation of other interfaces for those who don’t like the way Qtopia works, such as Cacko or pdaXrom, it is important to note that neither of those interfaces have been updated to work on the C3000 yet.
The Dynamism conversion
All in all I was very pleased with the Sharp Zaurus SL-C3000. It is pleasant to use and the battery life is very good, even with the Microdrive. The Dynamism conversion to English is very thorough and well done. They have supplied two different modes for non-Japanese users. The Hybrid mode operates in mostly English but a lot of Japanese functionality is still available, such as translation from English to Japanese. The Full English mode is just that- Japanese has been removed from the device and virtually all program menus and screens have been converted to English. This is the mode I used all the time during the evaluation. Switching between modes is a simple script execution followed by a reboot.
New Zaurus owners can find a wealth of information online through users groups and support forums. Compatible software is available from a number of sources and is usually free, one of the big advantages of the Linux operating system. The Zaurus Users Group was my favorite source of HOW-TOs, support forums, and software downloads and I highly recommend that to all Zaurus owners and even those who are trying to decide if the Z is right for you.
The Sharp SL-C3000 is a powerful, innovative PDA that begins to infringe on the territory normally occupied by laptops. The design shouts quality from every surface and the device is just perfect for working on the go. Using the Sharp as a tiny laptop is easy to do given the great keyboard, and switching over to a slate configuration makes using it as a traditional PDA very easy. Either way you will find yourself getting some real work done with this device, even though its small size would belie that. The Zaurus is a good device for those who are Linux enthusiasts who don’t mind tinkering around with the hardware and software, but novices would probably be better off sticking with either a Palm or Windows Mobile based device. The only two complaints I have with the C3000 is the lack of WiFi and the way inking on the screen works, which could be better. The Zaurus is currently $819 at Dynamism where you will also find accessories available.
Size comparison: Sony U750, Sharp C3000, Toshiba e800