Sharp – Zaurus SL-C860 review

Linux-based grey import PDA
Photo of Sharp – Zaurus SL-C860
£565 inc. import service and VAT

The generally accepted route to obtaining a PDA is to look through lists of the devices available from particular suppliers and make your choice. In doing this you are working with officially imported devices. However the universe of PDAs contains more models than those currently available in the UK.

As a case in point let’s consider Sharp. The company is Japanese, and releases hardware in Japan that never officially reaches the UK. However it is sometimes imported unofficially, which is what has happened with the Zaurus SL-C860 and a slightly less well specified sibling, the SL-C750 (the latter is £469 including import services and VAT).

In both cases you pay for import services, and in both cases you must realise that you won’t get any technical support from Sharp itself. We are in grey import territory. So if you are happy to accept this situation, what do you get for your money?

The SL-C860 is a clamshell PDA with a keyboard that is usable for tapping out the odd note or short document, but no good at all if you want to write a novel. That’s the way with small keyboards, and to its credit this one is nicer and easier to use than some we have tried.

The screen swivels round and lays flat on the keyboard, to give you a standard, tablet-style PDA. The touch-sensitive screen is pin-sharp, delivers at 640 x 480 pixels and at 3.7 diagonal inches is among the largest to be found on a current generation handheld.

The operating system is what is really going to attract a certain type of user, though: it is Linux, as implemented by Trolltech in their Qtopia Application Environment. It has an excellent icon-driven interface, and comes with handwriting recognition and a range of applications including Calendar, Address Book, ToDo, EMail, Text Editor, Web Browser, Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation, Video Player, Music Player and ImagePad.

The general specifications are strong. There are both SD and Compact Flash card slots, and SDIO is supported. While there is neither Bluetooth nor 802.11b wireless on board, you can add these via cards. There is 128MB of memory, of which around 65MB is available for user access. There is a separate 65MB portion set aside for running applications.

When the battery life was tested using a method involving continuous looping of MP3 music we were pleasantly surprised that we got 6 hours and 23 minutes of life from the device. This is very good in comparison to other handhelds.

This being an unsanctioned import of a device originally sold in Japan there are issues apart from the lack of official technical support. The keyboard has some Japanese characters visible, though it does have a ‘qwerty’ arrangement and the characters don’t interfere with general everyday usage.

The operating system was originally Japanese, and ShirtPocket has performed an English conversion which we found fine to use. You need to download English language software for desktop synchronisation from a Sharp Web site if you want to share data with a desktop computer – ShirtPocket provides information on how to do this.

Company: Sharp

Contact: 0116 2201272

The Zaurus SL-C860 is not inexpensive due to the import costs. Nor is it for the faint-hearted or newcomer to handheld computing: Linux is not as easy to manage as Palm or Pocket PC, and at some point you are almost certain to need some technical knowledge. Also bear in mind that the range of third party PDA software is relatively small. With these factors taken into account, we like the Zaurus SL-C860, but can only really recommend it for enthusiasts.