elf's Sony SJ33 Clié Retrospective

We have lived and loved together
   Through many changing years;
We have shared each others gladness,
   And wept each others tears.
—Charles Jefferys (1807 - 1865)

One year later...

My SJ33 Journal documented my experiences using a Clié, starting with the day it was purchased. After a year, I am still using my SJ33 and I still love it despite the scars and some major and minor shortcomings. The two primary uses of my Clié are as a personal organizer (using the only PalmOS software I have purchased: the excellent DateBk5) and as an MP3 player (using the craptastic AudioPlayer whose major fault is its limited ability to only play MP3s with ID3v1 tags).

In equal scale weighing delight and dole.
—Hamlet, I.ii

Top-10 Requirements Redux

On March 4th, 2003 I bought my Sony SJ33 Clié as a replacement for my Handspring Visor. When I was shopping for a replacement, my Visor retrospective outlined the top-10 requirements for a PDA; I revisit the top-10 in the context of the SJ33:

clamshell (open)

clamshell (closed)

The Scar: The second time I dropped my Clié, the clamshell broke. I glued it back with super-glue leaving an unsightly scar (which I can live with). The top image shows the clam-shell opened and the bottom image shows it closed. (Click to enlarge)

  1. Thickness (or rather, Thiness): The SJ33 fits in my shirt pocket without weighing it down and that is all I ask.

  2. Long battery life: The SJ33 can go a week without charging if I don't play MP3s; but since I do play music for about 4 hours each day, I have to re-charge every other day. And If I do forget to re-charge, I can still go a few more days without panic, as the remaining charge is around 30% (the SJ33 refuses to play MP3s if the charge drops below 30%— a well thought-out failsafe!).

  3. Durability: I have dropped the SJ33 twice onto carpeted (industrial) floor from about chest height. The first time, just the Memory stick popped out. The second time, the stylus and the Memory stick popped out and the top-left corner of the clam-shell broke. I glued it back together with super-glue (there is a scar because I should have used the glue sparingly rather than smear it on), let it dry for 24 hours, and put the clam-shell back on and everything is still working perfectly. Full marks!

  4. Data integrity: The MSBackup utility is useful and handy to backup the entire contents of memory to the Memory Stick. The SJ33 required a complete reset once and I was able to restore it completely from the latest backup modulo some Datebook appointments. It would be nice if the DateBook entries and memos were automatically backed-up evey night (perhaps via a check-list of things to backup nightly).

  5. Usability: Initially, my biggest complaint when moving from the Visor to the SJ33, was that there was no utility to rotate the display on the SJ33 (FlipHack didn't work on the HiRes), but the newest Clié (TH55) has this capability. The sliding power-button is also mildly annoying. The AudioPlayer's inability to play any MP3s without ID3v1 tags and the use of a proprietary audio API was most frustating (Sony is now using the standard PalmOS Audio API). The brightness of the power-button LED was something the Sony usability lab would have been aware of if they'd used the PDA in the dark for about 10 seconds.

  6. Encryption: no global strong encryption yet, but the free CryptoPad has support for strongly encrypted Memos and that is adequate but inconvenient. I miss not being able to encrypt Datebook entries.

  7. Well engineered: No complaints here. The SJ33 is a solid piece of electronics with an excellent colour LCD. Nobody does it better than Sony.

  8. Good aesthetic: The SJ33 is a sexy piece of electronics even with the ugly glue scar on the clam-shell.

  9. Expandability: If you choose Sony, then you must use the Memory Stick. Support for other media would be nice, but the MS is technically, quite capable of doing the job. (You can always blame Heinlen for the Memory Stick.)

  10. Connectivity: The SJ33 has IR (communicate with other PalmOS devices), Palm Desktop Sync and the Memory Stick (which I sometimes use as a "data mule" to transport data from work to my MS equipped Vaio laptop at home). Newest Clié models have WiFi and Bluetooth.

A Perfect Balance

The biggest advantage that the Japanese personal electronics manufacturers have over the Americans is their ability to balance form with function; the only electronics manufacturer that can even come close to this balance is Apple [Wed Apr 14 2004 update: Sun Microsystems and Cisco are worthy additions to this list]. However, while the Japanese are masters of hardware design, good software design still escapes them (though, the release of the recent Clié Organizer software, a replacement for the ubiquitous PalmOS Datebook, may force me to re-evaluate this statement. Cliésource has a review. For one thing, the 4K memo-size is now history; memos can be up to 32K).

I have two pieces of American electronics: a Handspring Visor (designed by IDEO) and a Compaq laptop (33MHz i386, running Windows 3.1.1); and 3 pieces of Japanese electronics: my beloved Sony SJ33 Clié, my Vaio laptop (PCG-GR370, 1.13 GHz Pentium running Windows XP) and my Canon S30 digital camera (with 128 MB Sandisk CF card).

Other than complete obsolescence, the Compaq laptop which, for its two years of use, sat on my desk nearly all of the time, has a broken right-hinge. The Handspring Visor had to be exchanged twice for a replacement because of a couple of serious malfunctions: 1) power button stopped working after after about 6 months; 2) LCD died about 2 months later, during it's one year of use. I will never buy Compaq and Handspring again.

In comparison, my Canon S30 camera and Sony Vaio laptop are both over 2 years old and functioning quite happily (it should be noted that the “Return”-key on the cursor controller of the the S30 sometimes malfunctions depending on the camera's orientation).

Clearly, in this case, the Japanese products seem to be designed to last more than two years of use. (I wonder how long my brothers's iPod will last.)

Had sigh'd to many, though he loved but one.
—Lord Byron (1788 - 1824)


The SJ33 earns a final score of 8 / 10, losing points for some serious usability issues and lack of built-in strong encryption. With each subsequent model, my requirements are slowly being met. Eventually, my dream PDA will make its appearance.

The Clié is no longer available for sale, having been replaced by newer, better models (like the TH55). In retrospect, I would have still bought the SJ33 knowing what I know about it, because at the time it was the only product that met most of my requirements. I still love my Clié.

luis fernandes / Last modified: Thu Apr 15 18:36:19 2004