Sony gives its Clie a new look

Sony has lifted the lid on a new look Clie PDA (personal digital assistant), its smallest to date, that packs both WLAN (wireless LAN) and Bluetooth networking as well as a new Sony-developed processor designed for use in handheld computers.

The design of the PEG-UX50 is a departure from previous PDAs, which are typically slab type devices that feature a few buttons or sometimes a small keyboard underneath the main display. The new Clie looks something like a shrunken notebook computer and consists of two slabs, one with a display and the other with a keyboard, hinged together lengthwise. This form factor makes it similar, albeit at a different size, to some of the Zaurus PDAs from Sharp Corp.

Like the Zaurus or some of the latest Tablet PCs, the upper slab that houses the display can be swiveled around through 180 degrees and folded back down to cover the keyboard so it faces outwards. The 3.2 inch TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) has a wide aspect ratio and resolution of 480 pixels by 320 pixels and can display 65,536 colors.

At the heart of the PDA is a new processor, the Sony Handheld Engine.

Designed and developed in-house for use in Clie PDAs, the processor includes an ARM926 core and is capable of adjusting its operating frequency and voltage to match the task in hand, said the company. The technology, which Sony says means the processor draws less power than a conventional chip, has been dubbed DVFM (dual voltage frequency management) and, in the chip announced today, can adjust the frequency between 8MHz and 123MHz.

The processor also includes 64M bits of DRAM (dynamic random access memory), the Clie's graphics engine and the interfaces for the camera and MemoryStick slot, thus cutting down on the number of chips inside the PDA.

A built-in digital still camera with 310,000 pixel resolution is included in the hinge. This can take images up to VGA (640 pixels by 480 pixels) quality. Wireless support for both Bluetooth and WLAN (IEEE802.11b) is included and two small illuminated lights on the right of the display indicate when they are in use. Other networking options include an infrared and USB (Universal Serial Bus) port.

The PDA has 96M bytes of memory split between a 32M byte bank of SDRAM (synchronous DRAM) and 64M byte bank of flash memory. After space has been claimed by the operating system and preinstalled software, there is a total of 38M bytes available to users, split as 16M bytes of SDRAM for applications and 22M bytes of flash memory for storage of multimedia files.

Installed software for the PDA, which runs on version 5.2 of Palm Inc.'s operating system, includes a movie player, movie recorder, photo editor and album, digital music player supporting MP3 or ATRAC (Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding), Picsel Viewer to access Word, Excel and PowerPoint files and the Netfront web browser.

It measures 103 millimeters by 86.5 millimeters by 17.9 millimeters and weighs 175 grams. That makes it the smallest Clie yet to be announced by Sony and only 3 grams heavier than the SJ-3 series, which are the lightest Clie PDAs available.

The internal Lithium Ion Polymer battery provides enough power for 14 days use, which Sony calculated by running the information manager program each day for 30 minutes with the backlight switched off. Battery life with the backlight switched on, which draws more power but is the way most people use their PDAs, was not available.

The PEG-UX50 will go on sale in Japan on Aug. 9 and is expected to be priced around ¥70,000 (US$593). Plans for overseas sales are expected to be announced at a Sony event on Friday in the U.S. where it will outline its handheld computing strategy.

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