Memory Lane: Sony U70 — Still Valid Today

Sony U70 docked front

While it is true that I’ve been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, my excitement for them didn’t peak until they got quite a bit lighter. In 2004 Sony released a mobile device that changed my mobile world completely. The Sony U70 ultra-portable PC was such a ground-breaking mobile device that it set the tone for all such gadgets to come. Today I have been taking a trip down memory lane, and it hit me that if the Sony U70 was released today it would still be a viable solution for many. The U70 was so advanced for its time that it could probably survive still today.

If I compare the Sony U70 with a device currently available, it would be the Viliv S5. I have tested the S5 extensively, so I can make a good comparison between the two devices. I am comparing the S5 to my memories of using the Sony, so you may have to give me some slack as that was a long time ago. I will admit that the Sony U70 was so revolutionary that the memory is still vivid, so the comparison should be valid.

 

Both devices are slate tablets, designed to be used in the hand. They are roughly the same size: the Sony U70 had a 5 inch screen and the Viliv S5 a 4.8-inch widescreen. Both devices are roughly the same thickness, and memory tells me the U70 was slightly heavier due to the metal bezel; the Viliv is all plastic and thus a bit lighter. The Viliv has a higher resolution screen, 1024×600 vs. the 800×600 of the Sony U70. Both screens are resistive touch screens and both devices shipped with Microsoft Windows XP, although I believe the Viliv may now be shipping with Windows 7.

The Sony U70 had an Intel Pentium M processor running at 1 GHz, and shipped with 512 MB of RAM. It only had a 20 GB hard drive, which was standard at the time. The Viliv S5 has an Intel Atom processor running at 1.33 GHz, and has 1 GB of RAM onboard. There are models of the S5 available with SSDs, or a 60 GB hard drive is available, I believe.

The Sony had a set of controls on the screen bezels that were the best I have ever used on any handheld device. There was a real joystick accompanied by three mouse buttons, along with several other buttons that provided very useful functions. The Viliv has mouse buttons, but the joystick on the left is more of a D-pad in function and not quite as useful. The Sony had a ROTATE button that instantly rotated the screen into any orientation, and also rotated the functions of all the buttons on the bezel. This made it a joy to use as the button functions always matched the current screen orientation. Device makers should always do this if they provide screen rotation. Another very useful control on the Sony was the scroll pad above the joystick. This provided 4-way scrolling in any program, without having to use program scroll bars.

The Sony U70 shipped with a full dock that handled external monitors and peripherals. It was an instant desktop solution with the dock, especially when coupled with the folding USB keyboard that was also included. With the dock, the U70 could drive an external monitor with a resolution up to 1600×1200, a decent desktop solution. The Viliv S5 does not ship with a dock, nor with a keyboard. Of course, the Viliv is about $600 vs the $2,700 for the U70 six years ago.

The price alone shows the biggest change in the handheld tech world over the past 6 years. Gadgets have gotten a lot cheaper. As I take this look back at the Sony U70, I am shocked to find it still capable by today’s standards. Actually, it could give most handheld slates a run for the money even today. That shows how far ahead of its time it was. I wonder how cheaply Sony could produce a device today with all of the functionality of the U70. I’d be first in line.

Related research from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

The State of the Smartbook

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