Zaurus Does More Than
Look Sharp"> Sharp Electronics Corp.s Zaurus SL-5500 marries a flexible, Linux-based operating system with a slick, ingenious hardware design to provide a compelling alternative to Microsoft Corp.s Pocket PC-based handheld devices. Although Sharps new Zaurus isnt the first such device that runs Linuxthat distinction belongs to the Agenda VR3 from Agenda Computing Inc., which eWeek Labs reviewed last summer (see June 4, 2001, review)the SL-5500 is the first Linux-powered handheld weve seen that matches industry-leading Palm Inc. and Pocket PC devices in terms of quality and mainstream enterprise suitability.The SL-5500, which began shipping this month, is built around the same Intel Corp. 206MHz StrongARM processor that powers all Microsoft Pocket PC 2002-based devices and sports the same 64MB of RAM that those devices carry. However, the Zaurus costs about $100 less than most Pocket PC 2002 units, such as the $599 Compaq Computer Corp. iPaq H3850, which costs $599, and the $579 HP Jornada 567. We found the SL-5500 as speedy a performer as those Pocket PC models in our tests, but we did experience memory-management snags with the Zaurus. In certain cases, such as when we were concurrently running the units Opera Web browser with the media player and the text editor, the SL-5500 informed us that wed run out of memory and that one or more of our running applications had been terminated. The Zaurus SL-5500 runs Lineo Inc.s Embedix Linux, with a GUI built from Trolltech AS Qt/Embedded-based Qtopia application environment. For running Java applications, the SL-5500 comes loaded with Jeode Inc.s PersonalJava. This arrangement provides companies with a variety of application development options, and a free tool for developing Zaurus programs ships with KDE 3.0 in the form of Kdevelop 2.1. These development options are especially important for the Zaurus, since the Linux-based device has a lot of ground to make up in application availability. The SL-5500 must compete with Pocket PC and Palm OS devices for which hundreds of enterprise applications have already been written. Particularly vital for the survival of the Zaurus will be the extent to which makers of enterprise handheld software, such as that for wireless data synchronization and device management, choose to support Linux-based devices.
Boasting all the bells and whistles of the full-size Linux desktopincluding a well-implemented terminal applicationthe $499 SL-5500 will be overkill for users in search of a device for working with simple personal information management data such as contact lists and appointment items. These users would do better with simpler, cheaper and longer-battery-lived Palm OS devices.