The latest craze for the business world in 2003 was PDAs (Portable Data Assistants). One of the newest PDAs on the market is the Sharp Zaurus, though Sharp prefers to use the term Personal Mobile Tool. Zaurus are more than just PDAs or PMTs, however. They would more accurately be described as very small laptops due to the advanced features. In fact, the Zaurus can even do at least twice as much as my full-size laptop.
    Around the edge of the Zaurus' base are many connectors. A special Sharp port is used to connect the Zaurus to a USB port with an included cable. The connector that goes in the Zaurus's Sharp port also has a plug for an AC adapter on it. It's a bit delicate, but it seems strong enough to survive normal use as long as you don't actually try to bend it. There is another plug for an AC adapter right on the main edge (where the display and base are connected)  of the Zaurus too, since you may need to charge it when there's no computer nearby that can be used for the USB connection. There is a slot for MMC/SD (MultiMedia Card/Secure Digital) cards, and an infrared window on the main edge also. A headphone/microphone jack is located to the right of the main edge along with a slot for CF (CompactFlash) cards. Because the CF slot is somewhat large, it comes with a plastic filler to prevent things from getting inside and damaging it. The main edge also has a "shuffle" switch that looks like a knob which can be used for things such as volume or scrolling, a power button, and an Ok/Cancel toggle key. Because of these last two controls, the Zaurus can easily be used as a portable music player even when it is closed.
    The Zaurus opens the same way most laptops do: you pull the display upward, rotating on the main edge. Inside is a keyboard designed to work best for a device as small as the Zaurus. Many keys are in the normal place for this keyboard, but a few are missing or moved. The Ctrl key does not exist. Instead, the Fn key will sometimes work as one, though some Fn combinations send keys removed such as: caret, equals, plus, brackets, cents, center dot, yen, backslash, semicolon, colon, asterisk, pipe, underscore, "at", and greater/less than. There is also an extra row containing PDA keys like Calendar, Address Book, Mail, Home, Cancel, Ok, and Menu. At first glance, some people might notice the keyboard does not have an Esc key, but the Cancel key actually acts like one. In addition, the Ok key does the same as the Enter key, though Enter is still on the right side as usual in addition to the Ok key.
    Instead of a mouse, the Zaurus has a touchscreen. Unfortunately, the touchscreen is not reflective so you can't turn off the light to save battery power unless you also turn off the entire screen. In direct sunlight, the screen is also saturated and only barely visible if you turn the light to full brightness (less than full brightness will not be usable at all). The included stylus can lock under the front of the keyboard for easy access. If a keyboard is not needed or a portrait display (as used by most PDAs) would be more convenient, the display can be rotated clockwise and folded down over the keyboard. Upon physical rotation of the screen, the Zaurus will automaticly detect the change and rotate the display to portrait. Handwriting  recognition software comes pre-installed on the Zaurus so you can still input data without the keyboard. It's not perfect at recognizing things, but if cursive is used, it works much better.

PDA Comparisons (specs from http://www.pdabuyersguide.com/)
PDA Model
Input
Interface
Approx Cost
CPU
Display Res
Storage (Usable)
Palm Tungsten T3 PDA Buttons
Touchscreen
Palm OS 5.2.1
$399
400 MHz XScale
320x480x16
64 (52)
HP iPAQ 2210/2215 PDA Buttons
Touchscreen
Pocket PC 2003
$399
400 MHz XScale
240x320x16
64 (57)
Samsung NEXiO S160
PDA Buttons
Keyboard
Touchscreen
Windows CE.NET 4.1
$1309
400 MHz XScale
800x480x16
128 (87)
Sony Clié
PDA Buttons
Touchscreen
Palm OS 5.2.1
$249
200 MHz MXL
320x320x16
16 (11)
G.Mate Yopy YP3700
PDA Buttons
Keyboard
Touchscreen
Linupy
$499
206 MHz StrongARM
240x320x16
128 (79)
Dell Axim X3
PDA Buttons
Touchscreen
Pocket PC 2003
$300
400 MHz XScale
240x320x16
32
ViewSonic V36
PDA Buttons
Touchscreen
Camera
Pocket PC 2003
$329
300 MHz XScale
240x320x16
64 (57)
Sharp Zaurus SL-C760 PDA Buttons
Keyboard
Touchscreen
Linux/Qtopia-based $699 400 MHz XScale 640x480x15 128 (70)

    The battery that comes with the SL-C760 lasts about 10 hours in normal operation. The batterys for the C750 are interchangeable with the C760's (and both can be bought separately). The C750's battery lasts about half as long, but using it will allow you to make the Zaurus 5mm thinner.
    The Zaurus comes with 128 MB Flash RAM internally. Because the operating system is stored in this area, Sharp can put upgrades on their website. Since nothing stored on the Zaurus is permanent, any problems discovered can be fixed and applications can be upgraded or even replaced -- even by third parties not necessarily affiliated with Sharp, as is the case with Opie. In addition to the 128 MB of Flash, you can use MMC, SD, or CompactFlash storage to a Zaurus. There is 64 MB of SD RAM in which applications run, but it is possible to use it for storage if you mount the tmpfs file system in a directory. Unless you are comfortable using the terminal (program to run text commands in) you shouldn't try this, but if you do, be warned that if your battery dies, you will lose all data stored in the SD RAM just as would happen on a normal computer.
    The Zaurus comes with a custom Sharp operating system (OS) based on Linux and TrollTech's Qtopia environment. In addition to the standard PDA applications (calendar, address book, etc), Sharp's OS includes a web browser, music and video players, a sound recorder, and an office suite. Some additional applications come on a CD-ROM such as a terminal and dictionary. There are also many more programs that one can download or purchase online. Two popular vendors for Zaurus applications are theKompany.com and HancomLinux (who made the Hancom Mobile Office that comes preinstalled on the SL-C760).
    Using Sharp's operating system is quite simple. As with most computers, it has a desktop containing icons. Unlike most desktops, however, there are tabs on the top for different categories. By default, there are Applications, Java, Settings, and Files tabs. Upon installing a game, I found that it automaticly made a Games tab and added an icon there. Upon launching an application, it will usually (there are a few exceptions) completely cover the desktop. To go back to the desktop without exiting the application, one needs only press the Home key on the keyboard or tap the Home icon on the right side of the screen. Below the desktop and application area, there is a taskbar that contains a Qt button-menu which acts similar to the Start menu in Windows and the K button-menu in KDE. To the right of that, there is a button-menu where you can enable handwriting recognition or an on-screen keyboard. In the center of the taskbar there are icons for the various programs you have running that you can use to switch between them. On the right side, there is a system tray containing things like a internet status monitor and volume control and a clock.
    There is a popular alternative to Sharp's OS available for the Zaurus called Opie. Opie has most of the features that Sharp's OS does, but also has support for better audio and video formats such as Ogg Vorbis, DivX, and XviD in addition to the formats Sharp's Music and Movie Players support like MPEG-1 Layer 3 (MP3) and Microsoft's Windows Media Video (WMV).
    Most of Sharp's OS (and all of Opie) is open source. Since anyone can modify the code, even if Sharp were to stop supporting the Zaurus, the community could continue to update it. This also allows companies to customize the Zaurus for their particular needs.
    Because the OS is based on Qtopia, it uses the Qt toolkit for the graphical interface. This means that many applications designed for a normal desktop computer can also run on the Zaurus. It also encourages programmers to license their software under the GNU General Public License (GPL; a popular license for pro-freedom software) since TrollTech requires a license fee for usage of the Qt toolkit for applications not licensed under the GPL.
    There is no networking/internet access built in to the SL-C760, but there are a few options for those wishing to use wireless. The Zaurus has an infrared window that can be used with some cell phones to connect to a dial up internet service provider (ISP). Since it would be using infrared, however, it could probably be easily disconnected if the phone or Zaurus got misaligned for a short time. There are many CompactFlash wireless and ethernet cards that will work in the Zaurus. Some, such as D-Link, will even work without installing a driver.  The Zaurus comes with a network configuration wizard that seems very easy to use. It is also possible to connect the Zaurus to the internet through the USB connection, but doing so requires a special driver for the Zaurus and the computer it is connected to needs to be configured to either use NAT to give the Zaurus access or bridge it to a LAN. NAT can be setup using either Linux 2.0+ or Windows released after 1998. To bridge the Zaurus onto a LAN, you will need to be running either Linux 2.6+ or Windows released after 2001. If you run an earlier versions of Linux or Windows, you can probably find third-party software which can let you do NAT or bridging.
    To connect the Zaurus to a computer, there is a USB cable that goes from the special Sharp port to the USB port on the computer. It uses standard usbnet, so any recent version of Linux (2.4.22 or 2.6) should support it without needing any external modules. The CD-ROM includes a driver for computers running Windows. Once plugged in, the connection is just like a normal network connection, except that it only connects the two computers that are connected to the USB cable. You can then browse your Zaurus's memory (internal and cards) using Samba in Linux or Network Neighborhood in Windows. Other servers can also be installed on the Zaurus such as OpenSSH or a FTP server if you prefer those protocols for transferring files.
    While most other PDAs can be bought worldwide, the Zaurus SL-C760 was only released to the Japan market. This means that anyone outside of Japan will need to either order it from a company selling it in Japan or buy it from an importer. A popular importer (which translates the interface also), Dynamism, sells the C760 for $800. Alternatively, Conics (a store located in Japan) will ship outside of Japan and Brando (located in Hong Kong) will import and ship Zaurus internationally. However, if you wish to use the warranty you will probably need to send it back to Sharp in Japan. Another reason many people choose to buy their Zaurus from Dynamism is because they have their own warranty and will attempt to service the product within the US and then ship it to Japan if they are unable to repair it.
    I bought a Zaurus in the fall of 2003. Since the Opie lacks Japanese input support, I have continued to use the Sharp OS that came on it. I attempted to mix certain parts of Opie into the Sharp OS, but in the end it just ended up disabling certain things. Unfortunately, the Zaurus cannot be restored to it's default state without a backup (downloadable on the internet) being placed on a CompactFlash card. Since the backups are a little over 128 MB, a 256 MB CF card is needed to restore it. I think it would be nice if there was a way to restore the defaults a bit easier, though that would probably use more of the internal storage.
    There are a few features I believe the Zaurus would be better with. Currently, however, such features may be too complex to fit into the same size and many full size laptops do not even have them. For example, if the Zaurus had radio transmission and reception built-in, it would be possible to connect to a wireless network and receive AM/FM and TV signals without any external devices. A USB host port would allow one to connect a CD writer, though that might be a drain on the battery if used when not connected to an outlet. The Zaurus could act as a portable music player in addition to a PDA if it included more storage (for example, about 20 GB would be nice). The bottom of the Zaurus is currently not used for anything and could possibly fit room for a lens to allow the Zaurus to replace a digital camera. I've also noticed the clock sometimes drifts by a few minutes in a week. That might not be such a big deal, since time keeping software like ntpd may be able to track the drifting and adjust the clock accordingly, but I haven't tried to set it up yet.
    "The SL-C760 has several things going for it that make this the best PDA I’ve ever had and I’ve had lots! ... What makes the SL-C760 unique from other PDA’s on the market is the use of Linux, the open source based OS, called Linux OpenPDA.  This is basically the same Linux that is used to run desktop and laptop computers with some modifications to allow for the smaller display and memory sizes." (Srebnik). I also agree that the unique feature that sets the Zaurus apart from other PDAs is its usage of Linux, though the Zaurus didn't really have any modification for the display or memory size since it has pretty standard specifications in that area compared with full sized computers.
    "If its word processor had a spell-checker, I really could do my whole job with it." (Hardy). I think one could do the whole job of an editor with the Zaurus anyway if they know how to spell correctly in the first place. I believe Opie's text editor can do spell checking, though.
    Learning more about Zaurus is easy if you have internet access. I have gone to various websites and the following are a few good ones.
    You could also find out if there is a Zaurus User Group in your local area by going to the website at http://www.zaurususergroup.com/ and possibly to one of their meetings so that you can look at a Zaurus yourself.
    There might be helpful articles in technical magazines, too. One might particularly want to look in magazines from June or July 2003 since that was right after the Zaurus SL-C760 was released. However, such magazines may only be Japanese since it is not available in English-speaking countries from Sharp.
    Although the Zaurus costs more and is a bit larger than most PDAs, I believe it is worth the investment. There are some areas it could improve in, such as built-in wireless networking, a simple way to restore factory default settings and a better clock, but compared to most other PDAs, it is still much better.



Works Cited

---. pdabuyersguide. ---. pdabuyersguide.
    10/20/03 <http://www.pdabuyersguide.com/>.

Hardy, Ed. Hands-On Sharp Zaurus SL-C760. 8/25/03. brighthand.
    10/26/03 <http://www.brighthand.com/article/Sharp_SL-C760_Review>.

Srebnik, Mark. Sharp Zaurus c760 Review. 8/18/03. ---.
    10/26/03 <http://www.the-gadgeteer.com/sharp-zaurus-c760-review.html>.

---. myZaurus.com. ---. Sharp.
    10/20/03 <http://www.myzaurus.com/>.

---. ---. 10/29/03. Sharp.
    10/21/03 <http://ezaurus.com/>

---. Zaurus User Group. 10/27/03. Zaurus User Group.
    10/20/03 <http://www.zaurususergroup.com/>