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Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 Review

Highs

  • Reasonable price
  • tons of features

Rating

Our Score 10
User Score 9

Lows

  • Embedix is not as full featured as a full debian
It has full multimedia capability as well as the ability to throw down on the command line...

Summary

Overall we are quite happy with this product. It is used on a daily basis for a myriad of applications. It has full multimedia capability as well as the ability to throw down on the command line, AND it will sync with our existing PIM desktop application.

The keyboard and buttons work great; they can be used to navigate through the OS or through applications. But not everything can be done using the keyboard – at odd times you will be required to hold the stylus. Invariably the stylus ends up being held behind the ear or nervously being chewed on while typing.

Finally, the price: we got the base unit for $399. Add in the Digital Camera CF Card (US$169.99), the Wireless LAN CF Card (US$119), the Extra Battery (US$49.99), and charger (US$49.99). That puts the total at US$747.97. This is fine if your company pays for it, but probably not for the starving computer professional.

Introduction

After two years of abuse our Ipaq passed on and it was time to look for a replacement.  We subsequently began searching through the slew of new PDAs until we came across the SL-5500 Zaurus handheld by Sharp. This grabbed our interest as soon as we saw it for two good reasons. One – it runs the hand held version of Linux called Embedix, and two – it has an integrated QWERTY keyboard. So we took the bait and bought one.  The Zaurus came with a rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery, an AC adapter and Power Cord, a stylus, a removable flip top display cover that looks very “star trek” when opened, a start-up guide, an Operation Manual, a docking station, and the software CDRom.


Features

Out of the box, the Zaurus sports a sleek silver shell that houses a 65,536 TFT-color LCD screen, a Compact Flash Slot, an SD slot on the side, an integrated QWERTY keyboard, an 1/8 inch stereo audio jack, and an IR port. There are 8 buttons located on the front plus a navigation ring. They are all completely configurable, but the default configuration includes a calendar button, an address book button, a “home” button, a menu button, a mail button, plus an OK and Cancel button.

Default software includes the Linux QT/JAVA based OS, all the standard PIM applications like Calendar, Mail, Address Book, and To Do list. It also has everything you need to use and exchange files with the Microsoft Office Suite like a Word application, a spreadsheet application and a PowerPoint viewer. The included CD comes with applications geared towards the more “involved” user.
    
One of the main features of the Zaurus is the integrated QWERTY keyboard.  At first we were actually concerned about this because of the key size.   (Compare finger size to the keys in the picture and you will understand our worry)  In fact, we had no problems when typing. We also had concerns with the manufacturing quality of the keyboard itself. Fortunately, these too proved unfounded.  The keyboard snaps open with a confident CLICK; it doesn’t open until you want it to.  And when open it still retains its structural integrity. In other words it doesn’t bend down or warp when it is fully extended. Interestingly enough, between the buttons and the keyboard, we rarely missed grabbing the stylus.

The Zaurus has two slots for extended functions. One slot is a Compact Flash slot. This is the slot that is the most versatile. The currently available cards are a Cellular Modem, Digital Camera, Wireless LAN, Ethernet network, and 56k modem card.  From our perspective the Zaurus just would not be the same without the ability to use an 802.11 WiFi Compact Flash card.

The second slot is an SD slot. This is used primarily to extend the memory. There are 32, 64, and 128MB cards available. Currently these are the only type of SD card available, but companies like Sychip are in the process of developing an 802.11a wireless solution available in SD form. Very cool.

Lithium Ion battery of some sort. You put it in the cradle or hook it up to the charger when it is approaching dead. The Zaurus finally breaks this trend and offers up a nice LiOn REMOVEABLE battery. To charge your battery you can either go with the classic methods listed above, or spend a little extra money and get the external battery charger.  We purchased the charger along with a second battery to keepOne of the big annoyances with current PDA technology is the batteries. Most PDAs  won’t even let you see, much less change, the battery in your PDA. You just have to trust that somewhere out there is a one battery charged while using the other one. This proved to be a tremendous advantage, and allows much of more uptime for the Zaurus.

An 1/8th inch stereo plug is located on top for audio output. This integrates with the Media Player application to provide a viable MP3 player.  Having only 64MB of memory with an optional 64MB SD card does not leave you much space though – especially with Word files and such taking up room. 
    


Setup and installation

The installation process was simple and caused no problems.  Pop the CD in, follow the directions and you are in business. The only real choice available is what type of desktop PIM application you would like the Zaurus to sync with. In our case we use MS Exchange so we went with Intellisync for SL. This is the middleware that syncs with MS Outlook.  You could also install Qtopia Desktop and have the Zaurus sync with it.  Another cool thing worth mentioning: the software we got on the CD was up to date when we installed it. As always, we checked the Web for updated software before installing anything. This is one of the few PC installs was fully up to date. 

The installation CD not only allows you to install the sync software, but also has extra software for ‘advanced users’.  Included is a File Manager application, a terminal application as well as a camera application that runs the Compact Flash digital camera attachment sold separately.

Launching terminal application drops you to a bash prompt.  Embedix is not as full featured as a full debian install, but the open source community is working on that. Already there has been a HUGE outpour of free software for Embedix, and more is on the way.
 
Conclusion

Overall we are quite happy with this product. It is used on a daily basis for a myriad of applications. It has full multimedia capability as well as the ability to throw down on the command line, AND it will sync with our existing PIM desktop application.

The keyboard and buttons work great; they can be used to navigate through the OS or through applications. But not everything can be done using the keyboard – at odd times you will be required to hold the stylus. Invariably the stylus ends up being held behind the ear or nervously being chewed on while typing.

Finally, the price: we got the base unit for $399. Add in the Digital Camera CF Card (US$169.99), the Wireless LAN CF Card (US$119), the Extra Battery (US$49.99), and charger (US$49.99). That puts the total at US$747.97. This is fine if your company pays for it, but probably not for the starving computer professional.

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