Review of Sharp Zaurus SL-5500

After my test-drive of the Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 at this year’s JavaONE, I was finally ready to buy my first PDA.

About a year ago, Agenda Computing introduced the Agenda VR3. This was the first Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) to ship with GNU/Linux as the operating system. My main concern about the VR3 was that alarms did not wake it up while in suspend mode. Other Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), such as Palm, have had this feature for a number of years. Although tempting because the VR3 runs GNU/Linux, I decided to wait given the VR3 review of the slow performance and limited battery (AA batteries) of the VR3. Interestingly, I think that Agenda Computing has left the marketplace because their web site is no longer viable.

So, at JavaONE, we visited the Sharp booth and tested the Zaurus SL-5500. You can read the technical specif ications. It is much more powerful than a PDA because it has a faster processor, more memory, and a high-resolution color screen. Plus, gotta love the ability to run a bash shell on your handheld!

I purchased the Zaurus a week ago and I am satisfied completely. It has been responsive and easy to work with. The applications are intuitive and have a great graphical look. I have had no problems synchronizing with my GNU/Linux server (using the Qtopia Desktop program).

The biggest selling point was that it runs the GNU/Linux operating system. I am an avid user and supporter of GNU/Linux and so to pay for a consumer electronic device is one way to show my support.

The keyboard was a big selling point. Although the Palm graffitti is a cool idea, I see too many people struggle with it. I also did not want to learn to write another way! The Zaurus does support the graffitti feature, but I like the keyboard much better.

Based on my test drive at JavaONE, it was apparent that the Zaurus has all of the standard applications I would want to use. I tried out the alarm (from suspend mode) and it worked!

Setting up the Zaurus was a breeze. I was only confused by the Time Zone setting window – I actually had to read the install manual to figure it out. After my initial setup, I left the Zaurus to charge for 24 hours.

In the meantime, I needed to learn about two things. First, how to synchronize the Zaurus with my GNU/Linux server. Second, how to transfer my calendar and address book from Yahoo! to the Zaurus.

The Zaurus comes with a cradle to recharge the battery and to sync with one or more PCs. I knew I had USB ports on my server, but I doubted whether the USB driver was compiled into my kernel. I was running Mandrake 8.1 and some problems in the past with kernel recompiliation. I tried again to recompile my 2.4.8 kernel on MDK 8.1, but continued to have several problems with each configuration that I tried. In addition, the USB driver was not compiled as a module. I decided to simply upgrade to 8.2. I hoped this would allow me to get USB driver working. It did. In fact, 8.2 enables the USB driver by default, so after the upgrade, I did not have to do anything to install the driver. Well, I did have change a setting in the <a href="USB config file. Problem one solved.

Problem two was simpler. After I downloaded the QTopia desktop software, I was now syncing my server with the Zaurus. I visited Yahoo! and exported my calendar and address book into the Palm OS format. Qtopia Desktop imported these two files and bang all is right with the world.

I am using the Zaurus to manage the several disparate calendars, to do and contact lists that I have spread over several operating systems, web sites, and email programs. The Zaurus is my repository now. My wife and I are also in the midst of remodeling our kitchen. The Hancom Word program is a wonderful place to keep notes and issues that arise during the project.

If you are in the market for a GNU/Linux handheld computer (the Zaurus is much more than simply a PDA), then I highly recommend the Zaurus. The list price is $500, but the street price is about $425 and slowly it has dropped over the past few months. I purchased mine from Online Micro. I found them from the Zaurus review on Zaurus. Two day FedEX shipping for $30.

How did I ever get along without it?


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