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Sony VGN-U50 XP PDA - 8/4/2004 8:02:12 AM   

Posts: 12103
Joined: 7/4/2003
From: Melbourne, Victoria, AUS
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So what is it with this rather big PDA that is interesting? That it runs normal Windows XP is of course the difference, which enables this PDA to run for instance full Internet Explorer. So surfing the web is as good as at any PC. Which is a very cool thing, for me at least.
For business user and IT service engineers this machine is I guess their dream device. its ultra-portable and has no limitation like Pocket PCs or Palm OS handhelds. They can run their specific applications on the VGN-U50 as they would run them on their desktop PCs. Especially if the application just requires point and click and not much text input this computer is perfect.
The other aspect is that Sony showed Oqo, Tiqit and Paul Allens Flipstart how its done. Sony did not talk about it, they just did it and announced the Windows XP PDA when it was available. Of course it has a hefty price tag (starting at $1,899.00) to boot, but Dynamism tells me that they sold already a bunch of Sony VGN-U50/U70s.

Bringing the Sony to have his first beer. It is not like you can put the VGN-U50 in your back pant pocket, but it makes a perfect excuse for a men bag to carry around.

Beer Garden Usage
As long as I use only the Pen as input device the VGN-U50 is compact and very easy to use. I also like the thumb joystick on the right side and the left and right mouse buttons on the left which also allow a very easy navigation. When I have to type text, like writing a story for I4U, I need to connect the foldable Keyboard that comes with the Sony. I am just not fast enough to write with the pen, the bundled pen recognition software is also a bit cumbersome, because I have to write individual letters. The Tablet PC platform offers better solutions, but still nothing beats typing for me yet. When the keyboard is connected the footprint that the VGN-U50 needs is as large or even larger than what the IBM X40 needs. From a practical standpoint the X40 is more effective and offers a 12" screen to work with.

Back to the beer garden test. With the VGN-U50 I get more attention because it looks different. It also has the advantage to be used as, what the Germans call, a beer deckel (beer cover), to protect the beer from stuff falling from the trees and insects. Actually that feature alone could tip the purchase decision towards the Sony VGN-U50 for many people, especially people living in Munich.

The versatile PDA sized Sony VGN-U50 is a also a great Beer Deckel.

From an ergonomical standpoint the X40 wins for me, because the screen can be put upright. Without carrying around the docking-station I only can lay the VGN-U50 flat on the table when using the keyboard. The Sony screen deals pretty good with the day light and occasional sun beams coming through the trees. The IBM X40 screen also shows no weakness there and as said above its bigger and has 1024x768 versus the 800x600 the Sony offers without panning.

Both computers have wireless network interfaces built-in. Some beer gardens (Englischer Garten, Restaurants) in Munich have hotspots to go online. If I just want to surf the web the VGN-U50 is a cool solution to take with me its smaller to carry. Still it does not fit in my back pocket. Slim PDAs do. So I guess in a couple of years whatever Windows version we have then will run on a device not bigger than a Palm Zire, and maybe, if we are lucky, we will have foldable screens, instant mini 3D into the air projectors or usable wireless HMDs for viewing.

The IBM X40 wins also in terms of connectivity though, because it also has Bluetooth built-in and also the 10Base-T connector is not just in the docking station as with the VGN-U50. I need Bluetooth to synchronize with my Sony Ericsson T630.

For more feature by feature reviews please refer to the already published reviews from PDABuyersGuide, DesignTechnica and others (links at the end of this page).

Sony VGN-U50 takes same space with keyboard as the IBM X40 does. Sony VGN-U50 without the docking station is not ergonomically to work with when typing on the keyboard.

Running Tablet PC OS on the Sony VGN-U50
As I said above in the intro, it is surprising to me that Sony did not install Tablet PC on this machine. It would make it a perfect sub-size Tablet PC with all the application support from the Tablet PC platform, like Microsoft OneNote. To be able to install Tablet PC on the VGN you need the Tablet PC installation disk. It only is available through Microsoft's developer software subscription called MSDN. It cannot be purchased. The only other way it is distributed is installed on other Tablet PCs.
I just installed the Tablet PC OS in parallel to the existing OS installation. On boot time I then can decide which OS to boot. Dynamism kindly supported me with the Sony driver install. At the end it worked pretty smooth. For more details on running Tablet PC refer to the review from jkOnTheRun (link at the end of this review).
After installing Tablet PC I downloaded a trial of Microsoft's OneNote and played with that. The fact that I can write and draw freely on a sheet and then decide to maybe convert sections into text is very nice. The space on the screen that the VGN-U50 provides is big enough to use OneNote.

Scribbling on Microsoft's OneNote works well on the "sub-size Tablet PC".

Overall the Sony VGN-U50 is a high quality product. It comes loaded with accessories and is really thought through in terms of the different ways it can be used.
Sure it is still big, but I predict that standalone PDAs (Palms, Pocket PCs) as we know them go away. People will have smart phones with usable calendar and contacts functions (only those 2 are important anyway). Additionally users will have a gadget with more power for either go online or actually do work, which they do not always carry around. The Sony VGN-U50 or the more powerful VGN-U70 is such a gadget. It is a pity that Tablet PC is not pre-installed.

For somebody who either has a business need or just likes cutting edge technology the VGN-U50 is a great choice. If for the most part the need is to have a ultra-portable machine to type text, then the IBM X40 is the better choice.

How to Buy
The Sony VGN-U50 and the Sony VGN-U70 are only sold in Japan. Dynamism specializes since years on "Americanizing" Japanese market notebooks and export them to the USA.

Sony VGN-U50 - $1,899.00 at
Sony VGN-U70 - $2,599.00 at

Source : I4U
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