Sony CLIE T415
A slim beauty with a plain face
by David MacNeill
December 6, 2001, 10:44 AM
After penning a string of glowing reviews of Sony's CLIE handhelds, writing about the new CLIE T415 requires me to employ slightly fewer superlatives. In brief, the T415 is a slim beauty with a plain face.
I'm talking about the unit's monochrome display. While admirably high-resolution at 320x320 pixels, the backlight is weak and the surface so reflective that I find it hard to read for more than a few minutes. Sony could turn up the gain on the backlight and save my eyes but evidently did not do so on since it would drop the lithium-polymer battery's life down. I'd consider losing a little battery longevity to be a fair trade-off for increased legibility and I have strongly encouraged the T415's product manager to make available an update that would let the user override the default brightness.
This display is not a deal-killer for me. The CLIE T415 is the most elegantly designed handheld I've ever seen. It's just not a machine from which I can read for hours on end, as I could do with the color CLIE models. Many users, particularly those under 40, may not object to this display. Let me suggest that you spend a little quality time with a T415 before you start whipping plastic out of your purse or wallet.
Except for that, it's all good
Once I got over the deficiencies of the display, I found many things to like about the T415. It's the smallest, slimmest Palm ever, just barely nudging out the Visor Edge and Palm V/m500. The all-aluminum body is cast in an innovative way, using a single rigid shell for most of the device and a smaller shell on the lower back to allow access to the electronics. The whole effect is one of amazing solidity for such a small machine. If you've ever held a stainless steel Walther PPKs in your hand, you know what I'm talking about. In addition to being beautiful to behold, it is extremely comfortable to hold in any size hand. I'm looking at it now, sitting next to the PowerBook G4 Titanium on which I write this story, and I see a pair of kindred spirits. The two machines share many aesthetic qualities that only make it more annoying that Sony still does not support Mac connectivity out of the box; you need to spend an additional US$30 for MissingSync (www.markspace.com) to achieve this union.
But Windows users have a treat in store. Sony's software for CLIE just keeps on getting better. In addition to the now-familiar PictureGear Lite and Memory Stick Export utility, the new machine comes with a Sound Converter application that can convert standard audio clips into the T415's high-quality file format. Unlike previous Palms I have used, the T415 has impressive sound capabilities far exceeding the whiny bleats and squeaks other makers offer. Particularly impressive is the hi-fi singing bird sound that comes standard. Combined with the vibrating alarm feature, it's like having a little budgie in your pocket to remind you of things. I spent a week at Comdex, running from meeting to meeting with this thing in my breast pocket and everyone I met loved the bird.
Why it took so long for someone to figure out that a PDA would make a great remote control, I'll never know, but Sony has done a fine job of it in the T415. They beefed up the infrared transmitter range to allow control of your AV equipment out to a respectable 15 feet. The included Remote Commander application is easy to set up for Sony and other common brands of equipment, with the notable exception of all cable boxes. Sony claims their plug-in architecture allows for easy updates to control new devices, updates which they will make available on their website for free. My Yamaha AV receiver, Sharp TV, and Panasonic DVD and VCR all work perfectly with the T415 from across my living room.
Yet another connector
With the release of the T415, Sony now offers three, mostly incompatible connectors on their CLIE line of handhelds. To their credit, they have released an MP3 player clip-on and a travel kit for the new connector, but owners of previous models will find their Stowaway keyboards, wireless sleds, and charging cradles to be useless. Hint to Sony: Settle down and stick to one connector for a few years. The third-party peripheral market is important to the success to your products, so give them a chance to catch up.
In the performance department, the T415 is just average. The display is as slow to refresh as any Palm in recent memory, perhaps due to Sony's determination to wring every last milliwatt out of that battery. More likely, the display appears to be ghosting as it refreshes, a natural effect characteristic of passive matrix displays. Again, it's not a deal-killer, but it does make anything that moves quickly, such as a movie clip, a bit on the murky side.
The CLIE T415 is targeted at the business user more than the multimedia maven, as evidenced by the monochrome display and the lack of an internal MP3 player. Some things have to be sacrificed to make a device this small and pocket-friendly. Yes, you can use Sony's new Memory Stick Camera with it, but viewing color images on a low-contrast monochrome display sounds like an exercise in frustration to me. As a productivity tool, the T415 will serve you well and make a fashion statement simultaneously. But anyone who desires to use their handheld as a photo viewer or music player would be far happier with a CLIE N760c, which remains the most ambitious - and most expensive at US$500 - Palm-powered consumer device ever offered.
Sony has released a color version in the T body style in Japan, reportedly with a case roughly one millimeter thicker that the T415. They have not as yet committed to bringing this device across the Pacific, but my guess is that they will. If they get the display bright enough, I'll be all over that thing. The lack of a music player is not an issue for me since I rely on other devices for that, but I want a display I can read for hours without eyestrain, and high-res color for photo display is a bonus. For now, I'm happy to rely on the T415 for its intended use, that of a stylishly thin personal organizer