Inspector Gadget and the Sony Clié PEG-NX70V

by David Weiss

Most PDAs, it seems, try to be as light, as portable, and as inexpensive as they can possibly be, while still allowing you to enhance the device with peripherals. But that's not quite the strategy of Sony's higher-end Clié handhelds, which feature comparatively large screens, multiple card slots, and a host of other features. The $599 US Clié PEG-NX70V is a case in point: Dubbed a "Personal Entertainment Organizer," this handheld has a 320-by-480-pixel screen and slots for both Memory Sticks and CompactFlash cards. It sports stereo sound, so you can use it as an MP3 player. Oh, and it also has a built-in digital camera that can capture movies as well as photos. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow one for a week, and I found it to be quite an entertaining device.

Out of the Box

The Clié comes in a box full of goodies: in addition to the usual software, cradle, and AC cord, Sony also throws in a pair of stereo headphones; a clip-on remote, further enhancing its MP3-playing functions; and a hand strap. The latter might be useful for some, because the Clié is bigger than most PDAs, and on the heavy side. It's 5 3/8" tall (a little over a full inch taller than my Palm m500), and though it's a bit over 1/4" deep on the bottom (about the same as an m500, with its lid), the built-in Compact-Flash slot up top makes it 7/8" deep at its deepest point. And the Clié weighs 7.5 ounces to my m500's 4.5.

But after adjusting to its bulk, I became impressed by its workmanship. This is one solid lil' handheld. The screen is in the lid, and like the body of the device, it's ensconced in fairly durable magnesium. The lid is connected to the body via a sturdy hinge, which conceals the camera; just roll it out with your thumb when you're ready to shoot. It's got a Record light as well as a Power light--telling me that Sony really meant business when the company endowed this "personal entertainment organizer" with stereo sound--and it's got a shutter/record button on the left side of the hinge.

I let it charge for a good long time as the power light glowed green, and when it was ready to roll, the power light shut off. I appreciated this feature, because my Palm m500 glows green whenever its plugged in, so you never know when it's ready just by looking at it.

When I first turned on the Clié, I heard some pleasant, futuristic sounds, and an animated Flash demo filled its entire screen. As I navigated through the demo, I was impressed by the image quality; photos looked very rich and bright. And I noticed a curious thing: when the demo played, the whole Graffiti-writing area, including the hot spots for Home, Menus, Calculator, and Find, vanished to make room for it. This was the first time I'd ever seen a Palm whose Graffiti-writing area was part of the screen, instead of fixed. And you can collapse it, for a much bigger, usable screen.

A Handful Indeed

At first, I found the feel of the Clié to be very awkward. The monitor, as I said, is in the lid. On the base, which you hold in your hand, are the application buttons (for Date Book, Address, Memo Pad, and To Do List, although you can map them to any application you want), and Up and Down buttons. Below the buttons, on the base, is a small QUERTY keyboard, with small rubber keys that are easy to trigger with a thumbnail or a stylus. What's awkward about this arrangement is that most of the time, I was using what was on the lid, not what was on the base, yet it was the base I was holding in my hand. It was almost as if I needed two hands to hold the thing.

Now, I had read that the Clié has a "swiveling" screen, and the beauty of this feature didn't quite sink in; I thought it swiveled so that it would be easier to show off pictures. But it wasn't until I had one in my hand that realized the true purpose of the swivel: grab the screen, and swivel it to the right. Keep swiveling until it faces completely away from you, and when it's completely turned around, you'll feel a slight click and hear a short beep, and the entire screen, complete with Graffiti-writing area, will turn upside down. At this point, I was still confused. "Why would anyone want to do this?" Then I slowly closed the lid, screen now facing outward and upside down, and when I did, I now had a Clié I could hold in one hand. The screen is now right-side up, of course, and the navigation buttons and keyboard are concealed within.

When the Clié sits in its cradle, you can't gain access to the stylus, since it's stored on the bottom of the handheld. So Sony placed a pen-holder on one side of the cradle, and when the Clié is swiveled around to "keyboard-concealing mode," it makes a nice device when sitting in the cradle, with its stylus poised and ready for use.

By default, the Clié has a completely different way of representing files than other Palm OS 5 devices, and this is what it looks like:

Launcher View
A New Face. By default, the Clié opens using the Launcher View.

On the upper left, you can scroll through categories, and in the main panel to the right, you can scroll through the applications themselves. I found it hard to adjust to this interface because for some reason, I like to know the perimeter of any interface I'm using. This interface, however, just keeps going around and around. I learned, however, that you can switch to the regular Palm OS interface, which I greatly appreciated.

Application Options
A Familiar Face. Under Application Options, you can choose to view your files using the traditional Palm OS 5 view.

Graffiti works a little differently on the Clié. When you write a character, a slight trail follows the stylus and then fades, to aid with character recognition. But I found it a little distracting, since I'm fairly fluent in Graffiti, and I couldn't find a place to turn this feature off.

Memory Stick and CompactFlash, Sort of

When I popped in a Memory Stick, the Clié beeped contentedly, and the Memory Stick was available to many applications. It even showed an icon of the Memory Stick at the bottom of the screen near the battery. But when I popped in a CompactFlash card from a digital camera, even though it beeped in the same cheerful way, the only app that could see it was Card Info, and when it did, the parameters for size and Device ID--the only parameters apparently available--were blank. So it seems as though, out of the box, the CompactFlash slot is only for peripherals, such as Sony's WiFi card; this is probably why Sony refers to this slot as the Wireless Communication Slot.

The Clié Apps

As I began to explore, I soon discovered that the Clié ships with quite a selection of apps. I won't cover the usual Palm OS apps, which ship with any Palm handheld running OS 5. But here's the rundown on all of the Clié-specific ones:

AudioPlayer: A very cool app that plays MP3s and other sound files. It offers a few different sound settings, and can equalize the volume from song to song. I'll talk more about the Audio Player in a bit.

Rock On. AudioPlayer is a simple but capable MP3 player.

Clie Album: An app for displaying collections of photos.

Clie Camera: The Camera interface, with a few useful options, such as the ability to change the resolution, brightness, and white balance. This is the Clié's standout feature, I believe, and I'll tell you more about this, and show you its pictures, below.

Clie Memo: Like Note Pad, but with a bit more features, such as the ability to use different colors.

Clie RMC: A remote control interface that can actually drive a number of TVs and VCRs. This works surprisingly well from our couch, which is about six feet away from the tube.

Couch-Potato Power
Couch-Potato Power. Yes, you can even control your TV and VCR with the Clié.

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