There is something very Sci-Fi about the latest Personal Entertainment Organiser to burst forth from the fevered minds of the boffins at Sony’s Clie development bunker. Whether it’s the flip-up hard cover, revealing the big 320x480 pixel HGVA display or the movement of the jog-dial navigation to a position on the back of the device, I can’t tell but when holding it you feel like you’ve joined an away party from the Starship Enterprise.
Regardless, the TH55 is a very nicely arranged and presented handheld personal organiser. Like its predecessors, it runs the Palm OS, now up to v5.2.1, with the processing power coming from Sony’s own Handheld Engine. Impressive too, is the 6-hour battery life. Naturally this can be savaged by leaving Bluetooth and Wi-Fi switched on and keeping the screen at full brightness, but for average use the TH55 will keep its end up admirably between charges.
The reverse of the body reveals a 0.3 Mega pixel camera with an integrated lens cover that is opened by a slider on the left hand edge. Keeping everything handy, the slider is next to an auxiliary shutter release in case you cannot be bothered to retrieve the retractable stylus concealed in the top panel of the body. The camera is still a little basic, a shame really as the NZ-90 seems to be making real headway with some decent resolution, and can only achieve a max resolution of 640x480. One grumble would be that the stylus, which I suspect is a direct copy of the carbine version created for the touch screens of Sony’s digital video cameras, lacks the necessary girth to be seriously used for long periods before you go searching for a blunt pencil or your Grandmother’s number 4 knitting needle.
Short of an anchor point to attach a length of string for the paper cup, communications for the TH55 are unbeatable. The European model boasts not only Bluetooth, Infrared and Hot sync but also IEEE 802.11B Wi-Fi as well. Like the flagship UX-50 the TH55 uses the NetFront 3.1 compact browser to view web pages once a connection is established, and once I managed to find the correct menu to connect it, and the auto connect and Wi-Fi ‘Sniffer’ makes this process easier. Users pointed out that the lack on antenna on the device makes the effective range of the connection shorter than it could be, meaning connectivity peters out if you are to far away from the transmitter.
For those looking for an office on the move, the TH55 naturally comes with the Clie Mail software that will allow you to retrieve your e-mail while connected to the web from POP3 accounts. One fault is the inability to display HTML e-mails, whatever your views on their cumbersome size and virus-transporting capabilities. However the inclusion of the ‘Picsel’ software system does mean you can view Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, that the office have bothered to send you while out and about, even if you do have to zoom in and out and drag the pages all over the screen to see the whole page.
Interestingly (and you can only presume to keep the costs down), the TH55 lacks a cradle in the box. Standard cable-sync is through an extra socket in the adapter that the charger uses, so if your wanting to have the device sit up and be a “feature” while on your desk you will have to purchase the cradle separately.
Unlike the UX, NZ or NX models, the TH lacks the QWERTY keyboard that some feel has come to define the top-end Clie’s over the last couple of years. Personally the keyboards on these models have always been too small to be of any practical use once your hands grow to full adult size. I would agree that the slim profile ‘quick keys’ at the bottom of the unit are so streamlined as to be verging on the aesthetic rather than practical - this being the case especially if you are into playing games on your handheld that require accurate use of these buttons at speed. Text is entered into the device via the stylus using either Graffiti 2 or the Decuma systems. The software suite that comes included will more than suffice in keeping schedules managed and lives in order and the new tab-menu system is real pleasure to use.
Media storage and playback is achieved over a number of formats including MP3 and Sony’s own ATRAC3 for audio and Quicktime and Macromedia Flash for movies and animations. Naturally Sony have added a Memory Stick Pro slot into the left hand side so you can boost the internal storage as well as transfer movies and tunes to the device effortlessly. The voice recorder function is very neat; with a Dictaphone key on the bottom left of the body meaning you can access the function quickly. Preferences can be set to either record snippets, designed to be amusing alarms or unlimited amount for those long drawn out meetings when gum-bumping is the order of the afternoon. Capacity is impressive though, at 128 minutes of continuous recoding, in long play mode, on the device’s internal memory. A small headphone jack is also included to allow unobtrusive playback of that rare Bathory track you downloaded the night before while on deathmetal.com! It’s a classy feature on a PDA but coming from the inventor of the Walkman, perhaps battery-friendly music playback is something Sony expects you to take for granted given the cost.
Overall the TH55 looks great, things are where they should be and the applications and networking in conjunction with the camera and battery life make it a defiant pocket filler when away, anywhere, doing anything, even going where no man has go before! But remember to pack that no.4 knitting needle, as the stylus will drive you bonkers after a while.