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Sony CLIE PEG-NZ90

Although the majority of handheld makers seem to be targeting the budget sector of the market, Sony hasn't been shy about going after high-end buyers. Last year, the company delivered the super-slick but pricey <A href="http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/review/12/1/2372.html">CLIE PEG-NX70V</A> (£449 inc. VAT), and by mid-March, it'll begin selling the step-up NZ90, a CLIE with a swivelling screen. This top-tier handheld also boasts a built-in 2-megapixel camera, a keyboard, and Bluetooth support, as well as a whopping £599 (inc. VAT) price tag. This is neither your everyday handheld, nor is it meant for the average user. And while the NZ90 is clearly loaded with features and offers top-notch performance, it's a shame that Sony didn't include built-in Wi-Fi -- especially at this price.
Written by Roger Hibbert, Contributor on
clie-nz90-lead.jpg

Sony CLIÉ PEG-NZ90

7.7 / 10
Very good

pros and cons

Pros
  • Fast processor
  • built-in keyboard, Bluetooth and 2-megapixel camera with flash
  • large, sharp display
  • removable battery
  • precise battery meter.
Cons
  • Bulky
  • camera is slow to start up and shut down
  • no built-in Wi-Fi.
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

Although the majority of handheld makers seem to be targeting the budget sector of the market, Sony hasn't been shy about going after high-end buyers. Last year, the company delivered the super-slick but pricey CLIE PEG-NX70V (£449 inc. VAT), and by mid-March, it'll begin selling the step-up NZ90, a CLIE with a swivelling screen. This top-tier handheld also boasts a built-in 2-megapixel camera, a keyboard, and Bluetooth support, as well as a whopping £599 (inc. VAT) price tag. This is neither your everyday handheld, nor is it meant for the average user. And while the NZ90 is clearly loaded with features and offers top-notch performance, it's a shame that Sony didn't include built-in Wi-Fi -- especially at this price.

Design
Sony's NX70V wasn't very pocket-friendly, and the new NZ90 is even less so. Although Sony has moved the CompactFlash slot to the bottom of the device, this is still a pretty thick handheld. Measuring 7.6cm by 14.2cm by 2.28cm and weighing 292g, the NZ90 is more likely to be toted in a briefcase than in a pocket. Aside from its imposing size and 3.9in. screen, the unit's preponderance of buttons, switches and ports makes it a gadget lover's delight and a novice's nightmare. The NZ90 features a full thumb keyboard, two sets of the classic Palm-function buttons, a scroll wheel, a back button, a record button, a camera shutter and a hold switch to pause MP3s. Ports are scattered all over the device's body: a Memory Stick slot at the base; a CompactFlash slot on the bottom; and an infrared port near the top of the unit, opposite the headphone jack. The most prominent and impressive elements of the NZ90 are its built-in digital camera and removable, rechargeable Smart Lithium battery. You can snap shots at resolutions of up to 1,600 by 1,200 pixels with the 2-megapixel camera. Unlike earlier integrated cameras, this model includes a lens cover and a flash. The NZ90 ships with several cables and accessories. A flimsy-looking but stable cradle charges the unit and collapses for easy transport. The cradle also includes an A/V output jack for watching your captured clips on a television, although Sony doesn't bundle an A/V cable. The headphones come with an in-line remote to control audio playback, and there's even a USB cable that allows you to hook up the NZ90 to various printers.

Features
For the gadget-lover, the NZ90 is bursting with features: Palm OS 5.0 and Sony's improved user interface/launcher; a 200MHz processor (currently the fastest available in a Palm OS-based handheld); a Memory Stick slot for adding storage beyond the 16MB of built-in RAM; integrated Bluetooth; the aforementioned 2-megapixel camera with flash; MP3 support; and a CompactFlash slot for adding an optional Wi-Fi card. The NZ90 has the same large, impressive, swivelling, 320 by 480-pixel screen found on the NX70. And although this display's performance is identical to that of the NX70, Sony has managed to improve the video quality -- the MPEG-4 clips that you shoot with the camera now play back at a smoother 15 frames per second. Sony's removable lithium-ion battery has the same precise battery-level indicator found on its camcorders, so you know exactly how many minutes of life are left and how long the cell will take to recharge. Although the software bundle is powerful, it's a hassle to install and a little tricky to use. As a result, some patience is required to extract the full benefits from the NZ90. Programs such as Photo Editor are non-intuitive and lack simple staples such as drop-down menus, forcing you to click through icons to discover the functions. Memory Stick Import and Export must be running on both your PC and your CLIE to work properly, and the camera takes an uncomfortably long time to load up and shut down.

Performance
As noted, the Sony houses a 200MHz Intel StrongARM processor -- the fastest we've seen in a Palm OS-based product. However, we would have liked more than the 16MB of internal memory. You can add more RAM via a Memory Stick, but you can't record movies until you do so. Worse yet, this CLIE won't support Sony's higher-capacity Memory Stick Pro media. As expected, the 65,536-colour, 320-by-480-pixel screen offers a bright, sharp image down to the smallest icons. The NZ90's camera snaps fairly impressive shots. At its highest setting of 1,600 by 1,200 pixels, pictures looked clear and had minimal speckling and noise, thanks to the built-in flash. This camera won't take the place of a good-quality 2-megapixel digital camera, but it is the best integrated camera that you'll find on a handheld or a phone, and its image quality compares favourably to that of certain entry-level cameras. You'll get better video quality than with Sony's NX70V, but the clips are still small and a tad choppy. However, the sound quality is solid. The integrated Bluetooth worked as expected. We easily got the Sony to communicate with other devices via Bluetooth, and we even shared text messages and pictures with Nokia's 3650. Sony's Smart Lithium rechargeable battery delivered longer life than we expected. With the screen brightness set at the halfway point, the NZ90 played MP3s for 3 hours and 27 minutes before the music stopped. We also expected the camera's flash to exact a harsh toll on the battery, but we eked out 107 shots before the camera gave out -- and there was still a 35 percent charge left, according to the meter.