Sharp ZQ-800

  • Editors' rating
    5.3 OK

Pros

  • Compact and lightweight.

Cons

  • Proprietory OS
  • serial-only connection
  • only synchronises with Outlook.

Sharp's Wizard series of organisers has been around for some time, but the ZQ-800 is the first to have what we now think of as the normal handheld form factor. On the face of it, it offers all the normal functions you'd expect. Unfortunately this device is based on Sharp's own operating system, and lacks both features and expandability. This isn't a competitive product in today's handheld marketplace.

The ZQ-800 is very light and compact at 104g -- the supplied slip case adds 40g to this -- and measuring 6.8 by 10.8 by 1.2cm. The 160 by 160 pixel touch-sensitive screen is backlit, and at the bottom there's a touch-sensitive keyboard silk screen. The buttons on the keyboard are too small to operate with anything other than the supplied stylus. The silk screen doesn't include number or symbol keys, so these are added to the screen when you're editing something in the ZQ-800 -- reducing the screen area by a small amount.

There are five buttons and a cursor pad on the front of the ZQ-800. The buttons control power and backlight, and provide Enter, Escape and Menu functions. The Enter key in the middle of the cursor pad isn't the same as the carriage return key on the keyboard, as we found out when trying to use the latter to enter data.

Programs are stored in 2MB of flash memory, and there's 8MB of SDRAM for data storage. You get Schedule, Address, To Do, Memo, Notepad, calculator and clock installed on the ZQ-800 out of the box. There are more applications on the accompanying CD-ROM, including some games. In theory further third-party applications can be added to the machine, but in practice there are few of these available.

You can categorise the entries in each of the applications, and filter the entries by category in the application's view. However, the category you've selected isn't remembered, so that the next time you start the application you get shown all entries. This goes even further in the To Do applet, where you can choose to show completed or uncompleted tasks only. This choice, too, is forgotten on exit.

The ZQ-800 includes a word completion system aimed at speeding up text input. This won't help, for instance, with entering names into the address application, since the names are unlikely to be in the dictionary driving the system. You can add words to the dictionary, but the ability to upload a list of words from your PC would have been nice.

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The ZQ-800 only has a serial connection to your PC, which is far slower than the USB connection common to most of today's handhelds. In fact, this might mean that the ZQ-800 can't be connected to your PC if it's a recent legacy-free model. If you have the synchronisation software running on your PC, the ZQ-800 will automatically synchronise when you plug in the serial cable. Otherwise you can trigger a sync manually from the desktop or the handheld. There's no infrared port on the ZQ-800, so wireless synchronisation isn't an option.

The accompanying software simply adds to the ZQ-800's inadequacies. You can only synchronise data with Microsoft Outlook. Although there's a standalone application that allows you to upload contacts, appointments, tasks and memos, it doesn't keep a database on your desktop PC, so you can't view any of this information from there.

You can control most of the settings for the standard applications from the desktop software, including the view settings. It's also here that you download documents, including Word, Excel HTML and PDF files to the handheld. The applet on the handheld used to view these files is called Attach, as it's also used to view email attachments. However, different views are used for downloaded and attached documents, and as with the other applications the view reverts to the default on exit, which is mail attachments in this case.

We found synchronisation including email to be very slow on our Exchange Server implementation -- a typical sync on our test PC took over 10 minutes, even with few changes to the address book, schedule or to-do list.

The ZQ-800 takes two standard AAA batteries, which is something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you'll have to remove rechargables if you want to charge them -- there's no power input on the device. On the other hand, standard batteries are available everywhere, so if you're caught short away from a charger you can easily get replacements.

At first glance, the ZQ-800 may offer similar features to other handhelds, closer examination reveals it to be well behind the competition. The lack of a standalone desktop PIM application, support for only one email system and the paucity of add-on software severely limit this device. If you consider the ZQ-800 alongside Palm's Zire, which has better connectivity, works with Macintoshes, is only slightly larger and no heavier, Sharp's offering really lacks value for money. This device needs to be much, much cheaper to compete in the today's market.

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