Tanker Bob's Review of the Sony CLIE PEG-T615C/S

January 24, 2002
Updated 5/21/02

I ordered my T615C/S from PCConnection on the evening of January 21st, and it arrived on my doorstep at 10:30 AM on January 22nd. That's service!

Out of the box impression: very nice unit! Construction is solid and high quality, and the size is about the same height and depth as the m505, but it is narrower in width. Net volume of the T615C is 6.58 cubic inches against the m505's 6.98 cubic inches. Both weigh 4.9 oz and are great hand and shirt-pocket fits. The CLIE's buttons are small but crisp, positive, and easy to use. The toggle is very small but works great. The screen is dust-free and looks great--more on that later. The T615C's case is entirely brushed aluminum and held together with tiny phillip-head screws. Though the unit doesn't weigh much, it has a very solid feel. Frankly, it looks ridiculously small for the power it packs. Very cool design.

The T615C has some outstanding features that, at this writing, are rare in the Palm platform, and non-existant outside the Sony CLIE line. First, it has 16 Mb of internal RAM--plenty of room to load the entire Bible (1636K), ePocrates pharmaceutical program and database (1376K), WordSmith 2.1.2 with the large dictionary (2079K), 1224K of pictures, plus a host of other large programs like DateBk4, CLIE RMC, StarPilot Advanced, and AvantGo. I only had 1870K left free! Like most new Palm OS devices, it also has external card slot--the Sony memory stick in this case. Second unique characteristic is the 320x320 pixel 16-bit color screen. The first time I turned it on, my instant thought was WOW! Has to be seen to be believed. The Pixel density is even higher than the PocketPC's 320x240 resolution, and those screens are no slouches. These two features, combined with the tiny size and light weight, make the T615C an excellent choice for business and/or personal use. Other neat features include an LED that indicates the unit is charging and actually goes out when the unit is fully charged, and an alarm that can flash the LED or vibrate the device (you can usually feel it in your pocket, but is isn't dramatic). Sound is much better than I expected, and the alarm is much louder than my Palm Vx. The stylus sports a metal shaft that matches the device color w/plastic ends, but it's pretty small. I don't find it uncomfortable, but tend to use one of my extra Vx stylii when at my desk. USB hotsyncing seems blazingly fast compared to my Vx's serial rendition.

In this size and color class, the Palm m515 is the obvious competition and point of comparison. I had been wavering on buying an m505 for some time, and have researched and examined it thoroughly with that in mind. The m515 is just an m505 with a brighter backlight and 16 Mb of RAM. I'll also use my Palm Vx as a reference.

As with any color device, the screen is a prime topic of discussion. Unlike previous CLIEs and the Palm m515, which are side-lit reflective LCDs, the T615C is transflective with a backlight (graffiti area is NOT lit). That means that it is both reflective in bright light w/o the backlight, and yet retains a good screen in medium and low light with the backlight on. Interestingly, even in the office under flourecent lights, the CLIE is very readable without the backlight, but it requires tilting the screen for maximum reflectivity. In that light, it looks only a little darker than an m505 with its light on (the m505's sidelight is not adjustable) and just a tad dimmer than an m515 with its light on low (m515 has a 3-position light--off, low, high). With the backlight on 1/4 setting, the CLIE has excellent readability under all lighting conditions--true to the promise of transflectivity. The m505 works well under low light and in direct sunlight, but IMHO, is pretty poor at medium light levels like those found in the average office setting. That's why I could never bring myself to buy one. The m515 is much better in that regard, but the low res display seems primitive compared to the Sony hi res. Outside under bright sunlight, the T615C doesn't need the backlight. I think that at the CLIE's backlight's darkest setting, the color is about the same as the m505 in richness, but somewhat less saturated with the light turned up. This is highly subjective, and others believe that the m505's colors are deeper and richer. I compared a T615C and m515 (set to low) side-by-side, and the colors seemed comparable to me. The CLIE's reds have been widely discussed. The primary red is a bit darker than one would expect, but nothing dramatic--you can still tell it's red. Pictures look fine on it, but that isn't what I bought mine for. Contrast, especially for text reading, is superb--almost print-on-paper-like--which was my primary concern. The ThinFont freeware program helps bring out the text even better at hi res, as will FontHack123 4.0c which I use now with the OS 5 system font. The native hi res fonts are very thin, and ThinFont (or OS 5 fonts) darkens them w/o making them bigger. The contrast and resolution are so good that 1/16 inch blue letters on the white background are clearly readable in any lighting at 1/4 backlight--if your eyes are good enough to see them!

Sony loaded the T615C with Palm OS 4.1, as well as a number of Sony utilities. The standard launcher supports the high resolution screen nicely--in small icon mode it can get 21 program icons w/names on the screen! Sony included their Hi Res Assist to enhance the fonts (but not graphics) of programs that don't natively support the high resolution, and it provides outstanding font enhancement in all my programs. The CLIE comes with MS Backup, MS Gate, MS Import, and MS Autorun to handle memory stick (MS) operations, along with the Palm-standard CardInfo. Also bundled are CLIE Paint, PGPocket picture viewer, PhoneMate, PhotoStand, SoundUtil that plays and manages converted .wav sound files, World Clock, gMovie, Power One calculator, and the awesome (and large) CLIE RMC remote commander program. The latter has the built-in ability to control a wide variety of TVs, VCRs, DVDs, and Audio Video Amps. Very cool! I can imagine sitting in the airport and changing the TV from CNN to FoxNews--heheheh. "Hey, who did that?" All these support the high resolution screen/16-bit color.

Sony powered the T615C with the Motorola Dragonball VZ at 33 MHz. Benchmark 2.0 clocked the T615C at 214% natively (Palm IIIxe @ 16 MHz is 100%), and 294% at 45 MHz under Afterburner 3.1. For comparison, an m505 comes in at 156% natively (from www.gadgeteer.com), and my Palm Vx is 112% at its native 20 MHz. I've encountered no problems running at 45 MHz over several days. Overall operation and screen refresh are very crisp at this speed, though the battery will probably take a pretty good hit for it. The need for speed overrides...

All my software collection (including hacks) work fine on it, even with hi res assist, except two. One is Launch 'Em 3.1. It locked the system up, even w/o hi res assist. Since Launch 'Em doesn't support hi res or VFS, so I didn't spend much time troubleshooting it. I used MegaLaunch on 14 day trial--it looked and worked great so now I'm registered and loving it. It has built-in VFS tools, fast VFS support, and a host of useful features and tools. Launcher III 3.0.5 doesn't support the hi res screen, and isn't nearly as attractive as MegaLaunch. The other program comes with a stern warning. FlashPro does not and will never support CLIEs. If you try to intall it, chances are you'll have an expensive paperweight. JackFlash current version 2.3.2 doesn't support the T415 or T615C yet, but will in their next update which should be coming soon.

The T615C's battery has also been a hot topic. The CLIE sports a LithiumIon-polymer battery that Sony claims lasts 12 days under normal use. Assuming the standard benchmark of 30 minutes/day of use, that gives 6 hours continuous operation. Palm claims that the m505 will last two weeks, which using the same assumptions gives 7 hours of continuous operation. The advantages of LiIon-polymer is that the battery can be molded in a variety of odd shapes to fit tight spaces. I used the CLIE over the last two days as I normally use my Palm Vx, with auto shutoff set to 3 minutes. I had my Vx overclocked to 33 MHz, and tested the T615C at 45 MHz. Backlight on the CLIE is set to about 1/4 brightness. The battery was at 3.96v by evening on the first day, having started at about 4.19v (full charge) in the morning. By the next morning, it was down to 3.88v, probably from Datebk4 waking up at night to resort/recalculate its floating events. Today, the CLIE is at 3.88v after more extensive reading and experimenting during the day. After a typical day, my Palm Vx is usually around 3.98v (after starting at 4.07v) depending on the day's use. More days of typical use will give me a better idea, but it looks like the CLIE uses battery significantly faster than the Vx, but not grossly so. Results would be better w/o overclocking, but I don't know how much. Others have more effective benchmarking techniques, and I'll let them handle that. I've seen battery use times quoted in the forums at from 6 - 8 hours of continuous use with the backlight on low--about the same range as claimed by Sony. Logic dictates that the m505 will last longer because its sidelight draws less power than the T615C's backlight. Overall, the battery life will be significantly less than the Palm Vx, but the extra internal memory, performance increase, and hi res screen are worth it to me. YMMV.

Added: Here's some hard battery data. Backlight set to minimum, overclocked to 45 MHz, used for basic PIM functions (Datebk5 and PopUp Names), reading (MyBible, AvantGo, etc.), and writing (WordSmith). Battery usage was tracked using Uptime 1.31. No formal battery testing/benchmark software was used. This table represents an average over a couple of months of data.

Time (hours) Battery voltage readout (volts) Battery percent readout (%)
0 4.19 100
1.0 3.96 99
1.5 3.88 83
2.0 3.81 70
2.5 3.77 60
3.2 3.73 53
3.5 3.73 50

The T615 sports a leather flip-over cover that is actually attached to the top rear of the device with little locking latches. It won't come loose and looks nice, but I prefer something more substantial to protect my investment. One note of caution, though. The supplied flip cover is designed so that the bottom edge contacts the slight lip at the bottom of the CLIE and also has two spacer bumps--all intended to keep the stiff front cover from actuating any of the buttons and unintentionally turning the device on and using up the battery. However, under normal pocket use, the bottom edge of the cover can easily slide up slightly and press the power button and turn the device on. I'm using StayOffHack to prevent that from happening. I bought a Sony Leather Carry Case (read leather case) after about a week. That was about three months ago, and I'm still using it. I thought about buying a hard case, but the Sony case does a nice job of protecting the CLIE and looks very professional. I'm also a screen protector kinda guy, having used one religiously on my Vx for several years. After reading the web forums, I decided to go with CompanionLinks for their clarity and ease of use, including removal. They arrived today and it is hard to tell they are even on the device. Like WriteRights, they get bubbles under them when applied, but the bubbles work their way out in a couple of days. Writeability on them is fine, and so far the one on my unit has lasted almost three months.

To sum up, the T615C is a fast Palm OS-based PDA with the highest screen resolution and most internal memory available in the Palm OS line-up. Sony has really done their homework on this unit, and paid attention to details both in features and manufacture. I was previously a Palm Computing die-hard, but Palm has stagnated the last couple of years. I really expected the m515 to come with a high resolution screen, and was sorely disappointed when it didn't. Sony has stepped up to the plate with the small, light, yet very powerful T615C. Again, the screen is awesome, the unit is fast, and the 16 Mb internal RAM is heaven-sent. I'm sure that the battery life will be a drawback for some. It should be fine under moderate daily use (hour+/day), but bring an AC adapter when you travel.

After three months of daily use, and even after a head-to-head comparison with the Palm m515, I'm even happier with my Sony T615C than when I first bought it. Overall, for me, this baby's a keeper (well, until I saw the T665C)!