The market for PDAs (personal digital assistants) has never really settled down. Sales have risen and dipped at various times without any long-term trends becoming discernible. And most worrying of all for their future are the growing number of smartphones: mobile handsets that bundle personal information management tools with a phone, questioning the wisdom of buying a dedicated electronic organiser.
None of this has stopped the likes of HP, Palm and Sony from producing ever more sophisticated handhelds. The TH55 is Sony’s new flagship, an undeniably attractive slice of technology, slim enough to fit into a pocket (73.3 x 121.5 x 15.7mm, 185g) but packed with multi-tasking tools including Wi-Fi.
It has a dazzling 3.8in 320 x 480 LCD screen, neatly protected by a transparent pull-up visor. On the left edge of the outside shell is the power button along with sliding controls to activate the onboard voice recorder and digital camera. All very intuitive, enabling users to quickly create visual and audio memos.
Straight away, the tidy ergonomics impress, though the diminutive nature of the buttons might have older users reaching for their glasses. Visor up and power on, the screen comes to life and you’re face to face with the Palm OS 5.2 operating system. Down the right side are the visual equivalent of file tabs.
One touch with your finger or the stylus (that fits neatly into the chassis when it’s not being used) and you’re into the different applications – from diary and contacts to notepads and memos. Alternatively, four push-buttons across the bottom of the fascia access some of the same with an additional drop down menu where you can select specific applications such as sending a new email.
Aesthetically the information is delivered with real aplomb, graphics are user-friendly and there are plenty of tips and hints for making the most of the features on your first forray into the different applications.
Across the bottom of the screen are more generic controls, depicted with icons that take you to edit and delete options via pop up menus that appear from the top of the screen – the closest the Palm system comes to looking like its Pocket PC rival. That said, it also shares the widely-used Graffiti handwriting recognition software. If you don’t fancy that you can always input data through an onscreen QWERTY keyboard.
The 310,000-pixel camera has a 2X digital zoom and is a doddle to use. Press the onscreen ‘capture’ button and then check out your shots via the PicselViewer application which also opens unconverted documents such as Microsoft Office, HTML, and Acrobat PDFs.
Digging deeper into the fetaures you’ll find there’s Bluetooth, but more significantly Wi-Fi with onboard 802.11b wireless networking capability. Wirefree connectivity to a mobile phone or laptop lets you send and receive email with Clie Mail, surf the net with the NetFront browser, or simply transfer/synchronise data from one device to another.
There’s a slot in the side for supplementing the 32Mb of onboard memory with a plug-in Memory Stick, the Sony version of flash cards. Both MP3 and ATRAC3 are supported with its audio player and there’s also a digital video player to enhance its multimedia credentials.
All up, it’s undeniably chic, well designed and as cute an interface as you’re likely to come across on a handheld device. So far, Sony only has managed to grab around 6pc of the global handheld market. It remains to be seen if this feature-packed Clie will be enough to advance its cause.