The Clie NX70: My Impressions

Well, I’ve had my new Clie for a little over a month now, and I have to say that I’m really impressed by the unit over-all. Of course, I came from a Palm IIIx, so things like the screen, the resolution, and, oh, maybe colour are bound to have an impact. There’s some stuff that I’m not so impressed with, though. Read on to find out what I like and what I wish Sony had done a little differently.

So here’s what I’ve got (so far): The Sony Clie PEG-NX70V/U, and all that comes with, the PEGA-WL100 wireless LAN card, a Lexar Media 128M memory stick, and the Boxwave minisync.

I’ll start off with what I like about it, keeping in mind I’m comparing it to my old Palm III, so mind the gap. This thing is fast. With a 200Mhz processor, it’s no wonder, but even routine operations are instantaneous. I had always kept a novel on my palm, and the refresh from one page to the next always took a noticeable amount of time. Not any more.

The screen is wonderful – lots of real estate (in 320×480 mode), and bright and easy to read. The colour adds to most apps, rather than distracting, and I love the virtual graffiti area. I’ve found that, for some reason, having the trace of the pen stroke on the screen has improved my accuracy. This could simply be because the digitizer on my old Palm was so bad, but it could also be that I can now see what works, and where I went off.

I’m a bit of pack-rat, so not only is the 11M of memory great, but having removeable media, and therefore virtually unlimited storage, means I don’t have the previously-constant memory battle.

Briefly, as for the rest, the camera is a nifty novelty. I had originally thought: “great, if ever I want to remember something, in a store, etc. I don’t have to write it down, I can just take a picture!”. Yeah, nice rationalization. I actually have used it for that once or twice, but mostly it’s a great novelty, and a great conversation piece (it’s fun to watch people’s faces when they find out there’s a camera on your handheld!). I like having the wireless card, although I wish there were more apps (see cons, below), and the keyboard is nice to have.

A Few Cons

OK, so there’s a few things that bug me, but the main one isn’t even a problem with the design. We’ll get to that in a minute. First off, the application (memo, schedule, etc) and scroll buttons are almost useless. I usually have it in tablet mode (clamshell open & screen roatated and folded down), and yes, I have OKey installed (still waiting for the silkscreen plugins), but here’s the problem: when you’re playing games, where do they usually map the controls? Yup, the hardware buttons. Even when you’re not in tablet mode, the size and position of the buttons make it hard to play. I guess Sony already knows about this, given that you can buy a game controller that plugs into the cradle port. I don’t play that many games, so I can’t decide if I should invest in it, and then there’s yet another thing to lug around…

I have two major problems overall. The first is well known to NX owners: Sony’s propriatary nature. This mostly comes in the form of a lack of drivers for compact flash cards. The only card that works in the slot is currently Sony’s wireless card. I should mention that Sony never claimed in their marketing that it was a compact flash slot, merely that it was for “wireless expansion”. I don’t mind buying memory sticks, but if Sony changes the form factor with their “next-generation” memory sticks such as to make them incompatible with the Clie, then drivers for compact flash media would be useful. The other problem is a seeming lack of API disclosure to developers for things like the audio subsystem and other things that are unique to Sony and the NX series.

Now, I realise that this is a new processor, running a new OS, and Sony was in a hurry to get to market with these units, so maybe all we need is a little time to let things catch up. I hope that’s all it is.

My final beef really has nothing to do with Sony or the unit (actually, it’s probably partly my own fault for buying a bleeding-edge device), but mostly with the developer community. I should preface this by saying I have absolutely no problem with people writing software and selling it. If that’s how they make their living, then they have every right to charge what they think their creativity and time is worth. But (and I’m coming from the Linux community, where there’s a lot of quality software that’s free) why is so much of even the mediocre Palm software either shareware or commercial? And this seems to be a fairly recent thing, as even software packages that I had on my old Palm IIIx seem to now be asking for money. Oh, I’m aware of, and others, but in a lot of cases, the quality just isn’t there. The most frustrating thing was all of the software included on the Clie CD suddenly expired without warning. Um, Sony? I just shelled out $600+ for this thing. You think you could include some unrestricted software titles?

Anyway, hopefully as PalmOS 5 catches on, there will be more quality, useful freeware released. Oh, and I’m not just complaining. I’m going to try my hand at some of this. I’m not really a C++ guy, and it’s been awhile since I’ve written any C code, but I grabbed the SDK, and I’m reading the docs, so hopefully I’ll be able to do something useful. And I’ll even give it away.

Well, that’s my $0.02 worth for now. Feel free to post comments.