Sony Clie UX50 – Hits, Misses and Wishlist

After getting the brand new UX50, and before it’s made obsolete by Sony’s weekly batch of new models, I thought I’d write a list of the things I like, dislike and would like in the new little thingy. It turned out they were quite a few but, truthfully. I do like the little bugger.

Sony Clié: Hits, Misses and Wishlist

Ok. I just got my Sony Clie PEG-UX50. First Palm and Clie in a LONG time and the first I have actually decided I HAD to have.

Clie has had a very busy story over the last two years. New Clies have come out with new features so often it’s become a common joke among reviewers. From time to time it’s even seemed like a joke. Sony releases a Clie with audio playback but no recording, then another one with audio recording but no backlight, then another one with a camera but no video recording to Memory Stick, later on one with a high-quality camera but no video.

It’s seemed to me this last two years that Sony either were being too candid («we just managed to put this into the Clie! Let’s release a new model!») or they’ve been too clever, pacing their new features onto as many not-so-well-paced Clie models.

The Sony Clie PEG-UX50 seemed to me like the pinnacle. Nothing else can be added to this thing without it being downright silly. I might have been wrong, but not for much.

I like the Sony Clie UX50 a lot, and feel it was a good choice. I can’t help but thinking, tho’, that Sony still has one or two models up its sleeve before it runs out of ideas.


Let’s see what Sony did well first. I’ll try to get here what the machine gets right. I won’t include things taken for granted in all Palmtops («It has a stylus and touch-sensitive screen! Wow!») but will comment on what I find good or above design choices.

  • Screen Quality: The 65K Color screen is top-notch. It’s crisp and clear and the fact that it’s smaller than the recent trend in Palm and Clie is actually a benefit, as it looks better (same number of pixels more densely packed: Crisper image). It doesn’t wave or flicker, even when looked through polarized/tinted glasses (which frequently expose imperfections in LCDs). Backlight is great too.
  • Keyboard: A lot of people are complaining about the keyboard. I don’t see the point. It’s a keyboard in a Palm, so it’ll never be great. Most of the complaints have focused on the keys being too level or flushed against the wavy surface of the lower part of the clamshell. This makes it harder to locate the keys by touch alone or to know if you’ve pressed it correctly. I find this is not so much of an issue as it’s made up to be, as the keyboard lights up and the lack of relief in the keys is made up with the actual relief felt when they are pushed down. I think this is more a thing of both taste and what people are used to vs. the more aesthetic approach of the Clie.=20
  • Placement of «peripherals». The placement of the ports and slots is very smart in the Clie, and space is not wasted at all. Connection-related ports are on the left side (IR and USB) as well as the on/off, where as media ports are on the right (Memory Stick and Headphone Jack). Camera and Capture button are on top/hinge and stylus. Microphone, shortcut keys and lanyard hoop are on the bottom/front of the unit. The bottom has the cradle contacts.
  • I may probably be the only person in the world that clearly likes the lanyard hoop. Not that I use it or even intend to. It’s just that it finishes the overall look of 80’s sci-fi tech the little unit has. I love it, people are mystified by it..:) I have even thought it might have to do with wireless reception as well, but I could be mistaken
  • Speaker volume is excellent and audiojack volume is also very well balanced. One of the best speakers I have heard in a Palm in the last years.
  • Microphone Sound capture is crisp and clear, and almost instantaneous. A wait of one or one-and-a-half seconds is clearly enough to start yammering at the unit..:)
  • The web browser, NetFront, is gorgeous to look at, supporting a lot of high-end features and rendering crisp, near-desktop-quality pages. It misses here and there with CSS and/or JS but overall an excellent web browser, if a little slow.

Sony did some decisions that have not been very welcome to different degrees, from obvious design blunders to minor opportunity areas:

  • The Sony Clie does not recognize the Sony Ericsson T610 phone right out of the box. It can’t communicate with it via bluetooth nor can it use it for Internet Connectivity. Ironically the support from it has to be found from PalmOne’s own phonelink app, which comes with drivers for it. This is so ironic (whomever buys a UX50 right now like to stay cutting-edge, and the T610 is hardly new, yet it’s the flagship product of SonyEricsson).
  • Screen Rotation (lack of): Enough has been said about this. The landscape layout is not bad and is actually very practical for Web browsing, e-mail handling and «Documents To Go» manipulation (BTW, Sony! What’s with not including a license of Docs To Go any more!?) but it’s pretty obvious that at some point portrait orientation was not only planned, but designed around. Other Clies have screen rotation and this is obviously something that exists currently for PalmOS, so the decision was actually conscious to not include it here, but the whole bottom/front row just screams of portrait orientation. The scrollwheel is located in a place that makes it comfortable to roll with a thumb or the middle finger on average-sized hands (depending on your hand orientation). The shortcuts buttons likewise imply finger control and are too cumbersome to use when in clamshell mode. Luckily landscape supports the graffitti area to be on either side of the screen.=20
  • Design not really intended for one hand operation: This is obvious from the clamshell mode, which implies two-handed operation, but it seems it should’ve been easy to design the case to work reasonably well when in tablet mode with one hand. This means the scroll wheel should be more useful, arrows (or a sonyericsson-type joystick) could be on the outside and, again, portrait should be supported (easier on the hand, as it’s narrower and not as tiring). As it is I’m willing to buy one of those «finger-stylus» that are put in the index finger, thimble-style, to make it easier to use the machine.=20

  • The stylus could use some redesign, the hand hurts after a while of using it.
  • The USB port is hard to open and flimsy, the port cover could be easily broken.
  • The on/off/hold switch is not easily movable and frequently moving from the «hold» position will result in the unit being turned off.
  • As with the USB cable mentioned elsewhere (used for power) the cradle should have a USB port itself and a hotsync button. I’d actually like for the connection to the cradle to be USB itself but this seems to be out of the question, for some reason I can’t readily see.
  • File management is a mess, interapplication communication for data files (graphics files, mostly) is a joke. I wish this was improved. I copied image files with the «send to handheld» application and the files are there sitting with other files, yet the album and viewer can’t see them.

There are a few things I’d like to see in future versions of either the Clie Software, Palm OS or, in extreme cases, the Clie hardware itself (although this last one would mean I wouldn’t have access to it in this unit)

  • Standard Connectors in the unit. There is ZERO backward compatibility between this clie model and past models. No peripherals work with it if they relied in the older unit connectors. I can’t believe this wasn’t raised as a concern when the units were being tested. There is a great GPS-and-car peripheral for Clies that can’t be used with the UX50 and can be argument enough for people not to upgrade (it would be for me).=20
  • Higher-resolution camera: This would be a good addition in the future. A flash would help as well. Battery usage will have the kick it needs to finally be almost useless but would be a good addition.

  • Quick toggle for bluetooth and wireless settings. As it is right now you can forget about them and the battery will drain incontrollably. I’d make the current status LEDs actually be mode buttons. Press with the stylus and you turn it on, press again and you turn it off. Easy.
  • Charge through the USB port: Come on, Sony, you don’t expect us to keep on buying cradles and bring them over with our laptops, do you? It’s enough hardware as it is. They’re not cheap either. The current in the USB port is enough to keep the battery at its current level, if not charging it (heck, I have a coffe mug warmer here that uses USB electricity for it’s operation and I know there are electric brushes, fans and lights that use it as well).
  • Support for PalmOne’s Phonelink app. It’s the only way I have seen Palmtops connect though bluetooth to Mexico’s Telcel service and I can’t figure out the settings on my own (this is kind of a wish maybe only I would be benefited from, but still)
  • Battery Life is normal as long as none of the special features are enabled, but what’s the point. Heavy use of bluetooth will bring the  battery life to less than a day. Wireless usage could shorten it to just a few hours. Bluetooth Sync’ing and wireless web browsing being too slow don’t help much here.
  • Support for multiple modes in the record/capture button. As it is it can be configured for either Photo, Movie or Sound Recording trigger. As the Clie already knows when it’s in tablet, clamshell or close modes (it’s only three modes, although Sony insists in their website it’s five) this means the button could be contextual: Record sound when in closed mode, pictures in tablet mode, movies in clamshell mode. This sounds like a no-brainer to me.
  • Support for MacOSX platforms. As it is the Missing Sync provides good-enough support for the Mac, but some features are missing and the product costs extra. Sony should include functionality in their products to enable MacOSX usage. Some of this functionality means just behaving like a standard product (there are very clear standards for USB based storage devices, which the Memory Stick surely classifies as and for USB cameras, which the UX50 also qualifies as, not to mention the MP3 player).
  • Support for «live» phone bluetooth connection. Live call warning and ability to use the Clie as a speakerphone (and even record a conversation) would make the Clie much more attractive to all those people convinced they should have a Palm as a Cellphone (an aberration to me, but to each his own). You could have your phone stashed in the backpack, in the inner pocket or in its sleeve and use the Clie as the communication center, sending and receiving messages, answering calls and connecting to the internet without sacrificing the phone, which is still smaller and has better battery life, for those times you’re not bringing the Clie with you (camping, jogging, etc.)=20
  • Screen should rotate in both directions. A lot of people when first grabbing the machine will try to rotate wrongly and the owner will hear ominous cracks and creaks while the person understands that if he’s exerting force then he’s doing it wrong.
  • There is no quick button for HotSync, Push-and-hold on one of the main buttons should at least open HotSync, let alone starting it up. No luck there.
  • The SMS application should maintain a live connection to the phone or at least check its contents periodically, so you can be warned of new messages.
  • An IM application should be included by default, with which the three most-used services of the Internet would be covered (Web browsing, e-mail and IM). Open Source clients exist aplenty supporting all protocols in a single client (ICQ, AOL, Yahoo, MSN, with MSN hanging in uncertainly these days) and the program should run on the background or from the web browser, as to not kill the current connection.
  • I’m still undecided in a proper telnet/terminal program for the Palm. Haven’t found a good alternative yet. Will keep looking.

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