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2003-06-08My review: SHARP ZQ-770; worthy Psion3 replacement?

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Sharp ZQ-770I'm going to be without a computer several times in the forseeable future - the last week of the PGCE course in Aber, a month if I go to Poland. Effective loss of use of my Psion 3a and the unsuccessful troubleshooting nightmare which followed served to rather mute my enthusiasm for a PDA. However, since a laptop will always be impractically bulky to carry around just for notes, I decided to give 'em another go.

Physically comparing the Psion 3a and the Sharp ZQ-770, I was struck by the sheer impracticality of the Psion design. Both are clam-shell, but the Psion has considerably more moving parts in the hinge area to cause physical malfunction or sever internal connections. On the Sharp, all this is enclosed protectively by the hinge itself.

The acid test of any organiser is whether it can it handle all of the basic typing tasks for which I am forking out a mildly obscene amount of money. In this, the Sharp seems to perform well. It has an almost full ASCII character set, allows upper and lower case data entry, and adds the functionality of large, friendly page-up/page-down and application-switching buttons. Functions are labelled extremely clearly on the keyboard, and I've had almost no cause to read the generally well-written enclosed manual.

The sync software is simple, but works. Indeed, the only current reservation I have is that text input must be split into memos of ~2000 bytes each, which could make getting text documents onto the thing to take out on the road and work on trickier than it should. I'm uncertain as to why this arbitrary limit exists; the device has 3Mb of flash memory, but I suppose it may have a smaller working RAM. [Update: It does, 16Kb.]

Other points in the Sharp's favour are that it comes with a backlight, is first-hand with a 3yr extended warranty, fits a Palmtec Psion3/5 case pretty much perfectly, and runs off AA batteries. It can be upgraded with reference works and other software, so I'm hoping to find something on Sharp's website better than the included memo application. I know for a fact that it's an issue with field limits rather than total filesize, and I think I have enough knowledge of programming to string together a word processor or freeform database with a max paragaph size limit of 2000 bytes... "hiho" song time, methinks...

To conclude; this is a glorified organiser, rather than a computer squeezed into a small footprint case. Having no removable storage of its own, it's also PC dependent. I'll let you know if I can better resolve the word processing issues, but until then... not bad.

UPDATE: 09/06/2003

As expected, people before me have stretched the functionality of this PDA range. Even more pleasingly, OzOffice (www.celebratefriendship.org/ozoffice.php) is generously freeware, whilst various other utilities can be found at www.mywizard.com—'Wizard' appears to be the brand name in the USA and elsewhere. References are also to the 'OZ' range, rather than the 'ZQ' (what I have)—again, I think this is a regional thing.

OzWrite works on top of the internal Memo application, seamlessly breaking text down into small chunks and reconstituting them for editing. It extends the functionality of the device so far that you have to wonder why Sharp offer nothing similar. OzOffice also comes with a spreadsheet app, a scientific calculator, and a tool for displaying driving directions, most of which I have little need for. Being able to set OzWrite to load itself immediately when I power on (and use Memo to read text in a larger font) satisfies my PDA requirements admirably. I can even download small books onto the device! :smokin:


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Michael Kirk-Smith
27-Apr-2006
I chose the ZQ because the keyboard is big enough to allow fast touch typing, unlike modern PDAs, two rechargeable AA batteries last for months, and the backlight allows me to write anywhere at any time.

Adding the excellent MemoEdit allows big documents to be written and edited easily, and MELoader allows easy transfer to and from a PC. WizBook lets me load and read books - great for when stuck in airports, etc..

The key thing is the sensible keyboard size as it lets me write at speed (e.g., for note taking at talks and conferences).
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