The latest craze
for the business
world in 2003 was PDAs (Portable Data Assistants). One of the newest
PDAs on the
market is the Sharp Zaurus, though Sharp prefers to use the term
Mobile Tool. Zaurus are more than just PDAs or PMTs, however. They
described as very small laptops due to the advanced features. In fact,
the Zaurus can even do at least twice as much as my full-size laptop.
Comparisons (specs from
Around the edge of the Zaurus' base are many
connectors. A special Sharp port is used to connect the Zaurus to a
USB port with an included cable. The connector that goes in the
Zaurus's Sharp port also has a plug for an AC adapter on it. It's a bit
delicate, but it seems strong enough to survive normal use as long as
you don't actually try to bend it. There is
another plug for an AC adapter right on the main edge (where the
and base are connected) of the Zaurus too, since you may need to
charge it when there's no computer nearby that can be used for the USB
connection. There is a slot for MMC/SD (MultiMedia
Card/Secure Digital) cards, and an infrared window on the main edge
also. A headphone/microphone
jack is located to the right of the main edge along with a slot for CF
(CompactFlash) cards. Because the CF slot is somewhat large, it comes
with a plastic filler to prevent things from getting inside and
damaging it. The main edge also has a "shuffle" switch that looks like
knob which can be used for things such as volume or scrolling, a power
button, and an Ok/Cancel toggle key. Because of these last two
controls, the Zaurus can easily be used as a portable music player
even when it is closed.
The Zaurus opens the same way most laptops do: you
display upward, rotating on the main edge. Inside is a keyboard
designed to work best for a device as small as the Zaurus. Many keys
are in the normal place for this keyboard, but a few are missing or
moved. The Ctrl key does not exist. Instead, the Fn key will sometimes
work as one, though some Fn combinations send keys removed such as:
caret, equals, plus, brackets, cents, center dot, yen, backslash,
colon, asterisk, pipe, underscore, "at", and greater/less than. There
is also an extra row containing PDA
keys like Calendar, Address Book, Mail, Home, Cancel, Ok, and Menu. At
first glance, some people might notice the keyboard does not have an
Esc key, but the Cancel key actually acts like one. In addition, the Ok
key does the same as the Enter key, though Enter is still on the right
side as usual in addition to the Ok key.
Instead of a mouse, the Zaurus has a touchscreen.
Unfortunately, the touchscreen is not reflective so you can't turn off
the light to save battery power unless you also turn off the entire
screen. In direct sunlight, the screen is also saturated and only
barely visible if you turn the light to full brightness (less than full
brightness will not be usable at all).
The included stylus
can lock under the front of the keyboard for easy access. If a keyboard
is not needed or a portrait display (as used by most PDAs) would be
more convenient, the display can be rotated clockwise and folded down
over the keyboard. Upon physical rotation of the screen, the Zaurus
will automaticly detect the change and rotate the display to portrait.
Handwriting recognition software comes
pre-installed on the Zaurus so you can still input data without the
keyboard. It's not perfect at recognizing things, but if
cursive is used, it works much better.
|Palm OS 5.2.1
|400 MHz XScale
|Pocket PC 2003
|400 MHz XScale
|Samsung NEXiO S160
|Windows CE.NET 4.1
|400 MHz XScale
|Palm OS 5.2.1
|200 MHz MXL
|G.Mate Yopy YP3700
|206 MHz StrongARM
|Dell Axim X3
|Pocket PC 2003
|400 MHz XScale
|Pocket PC 2003
|300 MHz XScale
|Sharp Zaurus SL-C760
||400 MHz XScale
The battery that comes with the SL-C760 lasts about
10 hours in
normal operation. The batterys for the C750 are interchangeable with
the C760's (and both can be bought separately). The C750's battery
lasts about half as long, but using it will allow you to make the
Zaurus 5mm thinner.
The Zaurus comes with 128 MB Flash RAM internally.
system is stored in this area, Sharp can put upgrades on their website.
Since nothing stored on the Zaurus is permanent, any problems
discovered can be fixed and applications can be upgraded or even
replaced -- even by third parties not necessarily affiliated with
Sharp, as is the case with Opie. In addition to the 128 MB of Flash,
you can use MMC, SD, or CompactFlash storage to a Zaurus. There is 64
MB of SD RAM in which applications run, but it is possible to use it
storage if you mount the tmpfs file system in a directory. Unless you
are comfortable using the terminal (program to run text commands in)
you shouldn't try this, but if you
do, be warned that if your battery dies, you will lose all data stored
in the SD RAM just as would happen on a normal computer.
The Zaurus comes with a custom Sharp operating
system (OS) based on Linux
and TrollTech's Qtopia environment. In addition to the standard PDA
applications (calendar, address book, etc), Sharp's OS includes a web
browser, music and video players, a sound recorder, and an office
suite. Some additional applications come on a CD-ROM such as a terminal
dictionary. There are also many more programs that one can
download or purchase online. Two popular vendors for Zaurus
applications are theKompany.com and HancomLinux (who made the Hancom
Mobile Office that comes preinstalled on the SL-C760).
Using Sharp's operating system is quite simple. As
with most computers, it has a desktop containing icons. Unlike most
desktops, however, there are tabs on the top for different categories.
By default, there are Applications, Java, Settings, and Files tabs.
Upon installing a game, I found that it automaticly made a Games tab
and added an icon there. Upon launching an application, it will usually
(there are a few exceptions) completely cover the desktop. To go back
to the desktop without exiting the application, one needs only press
the Home key on the keyboard or tap the Home icon on the right side of
the screen. Below the desktop and application area, there is a taskbar
that contains a Qt button-menu which acts similar to the Start menu in
Windows and the K button-menu in KDE. To the right of that, there is a
button-menu where you can enable handwriting recognition or an
on-screen keyboard. In the center of the taskbar there are icons for
the various programs you have running that you can use to switch
between them. On the right side, there is a system tray containing
things like a internet status monitor and volume control and a clock.
There is a popular alternative to Sharp's OS
available for the Zaurus
called Opie. Opie has most of the features that Sharp's OS does, but
also has support for better audio and video formats such as Ogg
Vorbis, DivX, and XviD in addition to the formats Sharp's Music and
Movie Players support like MPEG-1 Layer 3 (MP3) and Microsoft's Windows
Media Video (WMV).
Most of Sharp's OS (and all of Opie) is open source.
Since anyone can
modify the code, even if Sharp were to stop supporting the Zaurus, the
community could continue to update it. This also allows companies to
customize the Zaurus for their particular needs.
Because the OS is based on Qtopia, it uses the Qt
toolkit for the
graphical interface. This means that many applications designed for a
normal desktop computer can also run on the Zaurus. It also encourages
programmers to license their software under the GNU General Public
License (GPL; a popular license for pro-freedom software) since
TrollTech requires a license fee for usage of the Qt toolkit for
applications not licensed under the GPL.
There is no networking/internet access built in to
the SL-C760, but there are a few options for those wishing to use
wireless. The Zaurus has an infrared window that can be used with some
cell phones to connect to a dial up internet service provider (ISP).
Since it would be using infrared, however, it could probably be easily
disconnected if the phone or Zaurus got misaligned for a short time.
There are many CompactFlash wireless and ethernet cards that will work
in the Zaurus. Some, such as D-Link, will even work without installing
a driver. The Zaurus comes with a network configuration wizard
that seems very easy to use. It is also possible to connect the Zaurus
to the internet through the USB connection, but doing so requires a
special driver for the Zaurus and the computer it is connected to needs
to be configured to either use NAT to give the Zaurus access or bridge
it to a LAN. NAT can be setup using either Linux 2.0+ or Windows
released after 1998. To bridge the Zaurus onto a LAN, you will need to
be running either Linux 2.6+ or Windows released after 2001. If you run
an earlier versions of Linux or Windows, you can probably find
third-party software which can let you do NAT or bridging.
To connect the Zaurus to a computer, there is a USB
cable that goes from the special Sharp port to the USB port on the
computer. It uses standard usbnet, so any recent version of Linux
(2.4.22 or 2.6) should support it without needing any external modules.
The CD-ROM includes a driver for computers running Windows. Once
plugged in, the connection is just like a normal network connection,
except that it only connects the two computers that are connected to
the USB cable. You can then browse your Zaurus's memory (internal and
cards) using Samba in Linux or Network Neighborhood in Windows. Other
servers can also be installed on the Zaurus such as OpenSSH or a FTP
server if you prefer those protocols for transferring files.
While most other PDAs can be bought worldwide, the
Zaurus SL-C760 was only released to the Japan
market. This means that anyone outside of Japan will need to either
order it from a company selling it in Japan or buy it from an importer.
A popular importer (which translates the interface also), Dynamism,
sells the C760 for $800. Alternatively, Conics (a store located in
Japan) will ship outside of Japan and Brando (located in Hong
Kong) will import and ship Zaurus internationally. However, if you wish
to use the warranty you will probably need to send it back to Sharp in
Japan. Another reason many people choose to buy their Zaurus from
Dynamism is because they have their own warranty and will attempt to
service the product within the
US and then ship it to Japan if they are unable to repair it.
I bought a Zaurus in the fall of 2003. Since the
lacks Japanese input support, I have continued to use the Sharp OS that
came on it. I attempted to mix certain parts of Opie into the Sharp OS,
but in the end it just ended up disabling certain things.
Unfortunately, the Zaurus cannot be restored to it's default state
without a backup (downloadable on the internet) being placed on a
CompactFlash card. Since the backups are a little over 128 MB, a 256 MB
CF card is needed to restore it. I think it would be nice if there was
a way to restore the defaults a bit easier, though that would probably
use more of the internal storage.
There are a few features I believe the Zaurus would
be better with. Currently, however, such features may be too complex to
fit into the same size and many full size laptops do not even have
them. For example, if the Zaurus had radio transmission and reception
built-in, it would be possible to connect to a wireless network and
receive AM/FM and TV signals without any external devices. A USB host
port would allow one to connect a CD writer, though that might be a
drain on the battery if used when not connected to an outlet. The
Zaurus could act as a portable music player in addition to a PDA if it
included more storage (for example, about 20 GB would be nice). The
bottom of the Zaurus is currently not used for anything and could
possibly fit room for a lens to allow the Zaurus to replace a digital
camera. I've also noticed the clock sometimes drifts by a few minutes
in a week. That might not be such a big deal, since time keeping
software like ntpd may be able to track the drifting and adjust the
clock accordingly, but I haven't tried to set it up yet.
"The SL-C760 has several things going for it that
make this the best PDA I’ve ever had and I’ve had lots! ... What makes
the SL-C760 unique from other PDA’s on the market is the use of Linux,
the open source based OS, called Linux OpenPDA. This is basically
the same Linux that is used to run desktop and laptop computers with
some modifications to allow for the smaller display and memory sizes."
(Srebnik). I also agree
that the unique feature that sets the Zaurus apart from other PDAs is
its usage of Linux, though the Zaurus didn't really have any
modification for the display or memory size since it has pretty
standard specifications in that area compared with full sized computers.
its word processor had a spell-checker, I really could do my
whole job with it." (Hardy). I think one could do the whole job of an
editor with the Zaurus anyway if they know
how to spell
correctly in the first place. I believe Opie's text editor can do spell
Learning more about Zaurus is easy if you have
internet access. I have gone to various websites and the following are
a few good ones.
- http://ezaurus.com/ (Japanese)
You could also
find out if there is a Zaurus User Group in your local area by going to
the website at http://www.zaurususergroup.com/ and possibly to one of
meetings so that you can look at a Zaurus yourself.
There might be helpful articles
in technical magazines, too. One might particularly want to look in
magazines from June or July 2003 since that was right after the Zaurus
SL-C760 was released. However, such magazines may only be Japanese
since it is not available in English-speaking countries from Sharp.
Although the Zaurus costs more and is a bit larger
than most PDAs, I believe it is worth the investment. There are some
areas it could improve in, such as built-in wireless networking, a
simple way to restore factory default settings and a better clock, but
compared to most other PDAs, it is still much better.
---. pdabuyersguide. ---. pdabuyersguide.
Hardy, Ed. Hands-On Sharp Zaurus SL-C760. 8/25/03. brighthand.
Srebnik, Mark. Sharp Zaurus c760 Review. 8/18/03. ---.
---. myZaurus.com. ---. Sharp.
---. ---. 10/29/03. Sharp.
---. Zaurus User Group. 10/27/03. Zaurus User Group.