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First impressions of the Sharp NetWalker PC-Z1

Sharp_netwalker_firstimps

Now that a few days have passed since I unboxed the Sharp NetWalker PC-Z1, it’s time to share my first impressions and some other thoughts I’ve jotted down while using the clamshell Ubuntu MID. If you’re on the fence about whether the 800MHz Cortex A8-based unit is worth its sub-$600 asking price, read on for some details that could push you in either direction.

Build quality. The NetWalker is definitely a top-quality device: well built, excellent materials, solid, and strong.

Sharp_netwalker_lid

The plain top (why no branding here?) is insanely glossy and an absolute magnet for fingerprints. A quick polish cleans things up, of course, but smudges and finger oils appear so quickly that it almost makes a previously sleek unit look a bit gross (I don’t know about you, but I hate to hold something that’s visibly covered in other people’s grime).

Screen quality. Even at its mid-level setting, the 5-inch 1024 x 600 touchscreen is incredibly bright and crisp. The refresh rate seems fine except for when viewing the desktop using a blue background, where a faint screen flicker is visible.

Screen angle. Because the screen can open to nearly a 180-degree angle and the hinge is so strong and sturdy, viewing angles are absolutely perfect for just about any situation you can think of.

Sharp_netwalker_angle

The display can be adjusted for comfortable and natural viewing whether you’re holding the NetWalker in both hands or using it on a flat surface.

Touchscreen. The touchscreen is fairly accurate, but the UI and targets are generally too small for fingertips/nails.

Sharp_netwalker_stylus

It’s much better suited for the ridiculously small stylus but since there’s no place to store it when not in use, I find that I almost never touch the screen, preferring instead to use the optical mouse.

Optical mouse. This works really well for me. Movement is accurate, quick, and easy to control. I’m partial to and comfortable with optical mice, though, so I know it’s not for everyone. It doesn’t recognize taps (you need the mouse buttons for single- and double-clicking), but it can be switched into a mode that allows it to be used for scrolling, which is handy in Firefox. The mouse behavior is customizable, but the default settings work great for me so I haven’t explored the settings.

Sharp_netwalker_optms

An optical mouse is designed for use with a thumb, so it’s better when using the NetWalker in two-handed mode. It’s rather awkward in laptop mode.

Quick launch buttons. These touch buttons provide quick access to the desktop, internet, mail, and the optical mouse mode and are user-customizable.

Sharp_netwalker_quicklaunch

Light-up feedback would’ve been a nice feature here, but I wouldn’t call it an oversight since the system responds almost immediately when an icon is tapped. Fingerprints are an issue because of the glossy surface.

Keyboard. The keyboard (14mm pitch, 0.8mm stroke) so far is a mixed bag for me. It’s not backlit, the keys rock back and forth and side-to-side (rather than straight down) unless pressed directly in the center, and feedback is “clicky” in an unusual way that requires time to get used to. Typing feels a bit awkward at first, but the keys are nicely sized and easy to press, most keys are where you’d expect them to be (punctuation layout is the exception), Sticky Keys can be enabled, and the left and right shift keys are the same size (I don’t ever use the right shift key on any keyboard, personally, but I know there a lot of people who do).

My first thumb typing speed test yielded rather poor results—just 33 wpm—but I think it’ll improve over time and with practice. Thumb typing itself, despite the quirks, is actually fairly comfortable, with no unnecessary thumb strain or unusual hand positions. I don’t expect to become a speed demon on the NetWalker’s keyboard, but I feel confident that I should be able to increase my thumb typing speed to at least the mid- to high-40s wpm range.

Mono speaker. It’s unfortunate that a second speaker wasn’t added to the other side of the screen bezel because the volume of the single speaker on the left side is very low. In a room with background noise from a TV, I had to hold the speaker up to my ear and max out the volume to really hear anything. The speaker is adequate for a quiet room, but louder stereo speakers still would’ve been better.

Ubuntu. This is my first experience with Ubuntu, so I’m still looking through the comprehensive Help Center (preinstalled) and figuring things out.

Sharp_netwalker_desktop

Even though the OS is pretty straightforward and self-explanatory, I still don’t feel as comfortable as I do in Windows and I occasionally come across stumbling blocks that a more experienced Ubuntu user would probably laugh at. For example, when I tried to rearrange a few desktop icons, they ended up disappearing instead. I found and restored some of them, but a few others seem to be gone for good.

Preinstalled applications. Here’s a list of everything that comes preinstalled on the NetWalker:

Sharp_netwalker_menu

Archive Manager, Authorizations, Calibrate Touchscreen, Character Map, Configuration Editor, Dictionary, Disk Usage Analyzer, Document Viewer, Firefox, Floppy Formatter, GDebi Package Installer, Hardware Drivers, Image Viewer, Language Support, Log File Viewer, Menu Editor, Movie Player, Movie Player (Gstreamer), Network Manager, Network Tools, OpenOffice Drawing, OpenOffice Formula, OpenOffice Presentation, OpenOffice Spreadsheet, OpenOffice Word Processor, Orca Screen Reader and Magnifier, Passwords and Encryption Keys, Python v2.6, Services, Shared Folders, Software Sources, Sound Recorder, Sunbird, Synaptic Package Manager, System Monitor, System Testing, Terminal, Text Editor, Thunderbird Mail/News, Time and Date, Ubuntu extension for Firefox, Update Manager, Users and Groups.

Third-party applications. There are already several repositories loaded in the Add/Remove Apps area of the system. More can be added manually, but what’s listed looks pretty good.

Sharp_netwalker_apps1

Sharp_netwalker_apps2

The catalog seems extensive and there are brief descriptions and ratings accompanying each title. Installation is simple: just check the boxes next to the desired app titles and click the “Apply changes” button. Installation isn’t speedy (depends on app, of course) but it’s very easy.

Running applications. I don’t know if the bottleneck is the 512MB of RAM, 800MHz Freescale i.MX515 processor, or the 4GB SSD (2GB accessible to user), but the system definitely lags when launching applications and other utilities. For example, it takes 37 seconds for Open Office, 9 seconds for the Help Center, and about 7.5 seconds for Firefox to open. Since there isn’t a disk access LED on the NetWalker either, you’re never quite sure whether your desired action wasn’t registered or if the system is just really slow. I’ve encountered a few issues with certain apps/utilities (namely the Trash of all things) never opening, getting stuck with “Loading…” in the title bar instead. Maybe my system needs to be optimized.

Web browsing. Contrary to the slow performance in launching applications, web browsing in Firefox is good and somewhat speedy, with Engadget loading in about 15 seconds, Pocketables in 12 seconds, the Pocketables Forum in 9 seconds, and Google News in 6 seconds. These load times are consistent with those of the iPhone 3GS, which also has a Cortex A8 processor (though running at a lower clock speed).

Sharp_netwalker_web

The NetWalker is said to support Flash Lite 3.1, but it isn’t preloaded and I haven’t been able to get it to work. Java doesn’t seem to work either, even though it’s supposedly enabled, and whenever Firefox encounters a webpage that requires additional plug-ins to display correctly, it isn’t able to identify or find them. So depending on what kind of internet user you are, the NetWalker may not be able to provide the complete web browsing experience you require. It’s working out pretty well for me, as I’m not an online video junkie, but I’d at least like to get Flash Lite up and running since it’s supposed to capable of it. [Update 09.30: Sharp has just released an update that enables Flash. A Java update is said to be coming soon as well.]

In related commentary, the WiFi signal is strong and picks up all the wireless networks that my “regular” computers see. When resuming from suspend mode, the NetWalker connects to my home network automatically and within seconds.

Video performance. I need to do more testing on this, but a 480p H.264 trailer stored on a microSD card played well in full-screen mode using the preinstalled Movie Player. Dropped frames, if there were any, weren’t discernible to me, the audio was in sync with the video, and playback in general was smooth. 480p isn’t taxing, I know, so I’ll try more intensive and varied files for my full review. Any requests?

Suspend. I always prefer standby/sleep over a complete shutdown because of the quick resume 9.30aken time. The NetWalker is marketed as being able to resume from standby in 3 seconds, which I’ve only found to be true sometimes. There are certainly times when the system does wake up almost instantly, but there are other times that I’m asked to input my password (which it doesn’t always accept right away) and once it took more than 20 seconds to even get that far.

Sharp_netwalker_suspend

It seems that this password prompting is only triggered when closing the lid is used to put the system into suspend mode, so lately I’ve just been doing it through the on-screen menu shown above.

Battery. I mentioned this in my initial write-up of the device, but it bears repeating that Sharp’s quoted 10-hour battery life is a JEITA estimate. Real world usage is generally about 30% less than JEITA’s claims, so don’t freak out when you hear that the NetWalker’s non-removable battery is more likely to give you 7 hours of runtime (depending on usage and settings).

I haven’t done any drain tests yet partly because I haven’t had enough time and also because the default battery meter is useless. Rather than displaying the remaining runtime, all it can be customized to do is show when a battery is present, being discharged/charged, or at an unspecified critically low level.

Sharp_netwalker_batt

I’m using a third-party battery monitor called kpowersave now, but it’s been showing “25% charged (0:07 hours remaining)” since I installed it, so it’s not helpful either.

What I do know so far is that I haven’t plugged the NetWalker into a wall outlet since its initial out-of-b
ox charge the other day and have been using the device without being mindful of power consumption. I have no idea how much runtime is actually left right now, of course, but the fact that I’m not worrying about battery life is a good sign.

* * * * * * * * * *

And that’s where I’m at with the Sharp NetWalker after a few days of use. There’s still a lot more for me to do/learn/test, but I’m enjoying most of what I’ve experienced so far.

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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Avatar of Jenn K. Lee

38 thoughts on “First impressions of the Sharp NetWalker PC-Z1

  • Avatar of ArchiMark

    Excellent overview, Jenn….as you know I was literally in process of placing order, when I saw news page about upcoming M2, so, held off…all in all, Netwalker sounds very positive….to me….

    As for fingerprints, guess the white color would take care of that…although black looks good in photos…

    Did you change OS to English or did Conics?

    Any chance of trying a USB ethernet device in the USB port? I can only use ethernet during the day at work, so, any device I get must have this feature…would use WiFi at home or other locations….

    Interested to hear more….

    Thanks,

    Mark

    Reply
  • Jenn, about how long does it take for a cold boot? Also, have you found a way to change that system font? It looks very different than any other Ubuntu install I have used.

    Now that I know all of those areas are glossy, white is definitely the color for me should I decide to get one. Gotta hide those greasy paw marks!

    Poor UMID 3G, it only had a short time of being number one for your attention ;-)

    Reply
  • Jen, Flash-lite will be available on the Sharp.co.jp Netwalker support page in a few days as well as the plug in for Java. They are special Ubuntu/Arm versions and are no readily available on the web. I bet Brett will send his customers a link to the software once it becomes available. Like the layout the netwalker but it took a while to get used to the keyboard.
    Nice review.
    Larry

    Reply
  • Avatar of pixel qi fan in waiting

    What is the hard drive. I know that some “physical” hard drives are slow. Maybe you should send the device to jkkmobile and have him put a RunCore SSD in it to see if it is quicker (and if the battery lasts longer).

    Now, if they put in an SSD… sometimes, the SSDs that manufacturer’s use are on the lower price scale and often not very fast.

    Is there a stylus to use that is built-in somewhere as well? On smaller screens then they are sometimes better with touchscreen than the finger?

    Still, the minimum of many apps is 1024×768, so if the screen can’t do that then you end up scrolling more than you need to. IF you were adventurous you will try the Kubuntu Karmic Beta out tomorrow and as it runs full screen all the time with a very cool function to change screens… you might like that better on such a small device. Hmmm, maybe not on ARM processor yet (as only Intel at this point maybe)? Moblin might be another choice? Why they use the standard Ubuntu (as Ubuntu Netbook Remix is better on small screens as well). Kubuntu, the netbook version is what will be the best option if you can get it going on that nice little box?

    Reply
  • Avatar of osssyvan

    I still feel that this is a little too expensive. The performance doesn’t sound that bad. I just tried opening Ooo on my xp msi wind and with just firewall, virus security and chrome with 4 tabs open it took about 30 seconds.

    I just feel that it could be a little smaller still. That bezel looks so big.

    Reply
  • Avatar of comment

    Ya, I don’t see this thing being any more useful than a smartphone. At that size, I’d prefer a more powerful CPU. An Intel Atom CPU is slow enough already and using an 800 MHz ARM Cortex A8 is just going backwards. If you do get flash working, I’m pretty sure the performance is going to be crappy as shown here,

    at around 1:00. Video performance for files on the device itself is probably going to be worse than an Atom based device too.

    Reply
  • Avatar of comment

    Sorry, the comma got integrated into the link.

    I hope this one works.

    Reply
  • I haven’t timed that yet since the only time I cold booted was when I first took the device out of the box. I’ve only been using suspend/standby since then.

    There is a way to change the system font, but the list of available fonts wasn’t what I was expecting so I just left it as is. I’m so used to seeing stuff like Georgia, Tahoma, and Verdana (none of which are listed). I don’t mind the default font too much, but I’ll probably end up changing it after I’ve looked at what else is available.

    My 3G UMID is content to share the spotlight for now, especially since I finally got it back in factory-fresh condition. :-)

    Reply
  • There’s already a 4GB SSD installed. I don’t know the type or speed, though.

    The stylus is shown in the fourth photo from the top.

    No, sorry, I won’t be attempting any other OS installs.

    Reply
  • Avatar of ArchiMark

    Thanks for the input, Jenn….

    However, think the USB ethernet device does need to be tested to see if OS has drivers baked into it, or whether they’d need to be added. Otherwise, think it would just show up as an unknown USB device and not work…I’m sure more advanced Linux users than myself could work it out if they’re not included, but probably not me, so, I’d be dependent upon others providing a solution if it’s not part of the OS distribution. Not saying that it isn’t included, just that as of right now, it’s not clear….

    I know Conics was going to check on this issue….

    Keep the info coming….

    Thanks!

    Reply
  • Jenn, it’s possible that your wake up from suspend problems are being caused by kpowersave. I had no problems until I installed kpowersave but after I installed it I had the same wake up problems that you have. I’ve now stopped using it and everything’s back to normal.

    Reply
  • contact your reseller, they can help.

    (download is avaialble free for Conics customers now from our server)

    Reply
  • Interesting. Does the system sometimes not accept your password when awakening too? What are you using as a battery meter now?

    Reply
  • Let me know when the sell them for $150

    Reply
  • From reading the comments, I get the impression that a lot of people just don’t quite understand what being an ARM-based device actually means. I think that spells trouble for the success of the new Smartbooks…

    Reply
  • No password problems. It doesn`t ask for my password on resume without kpowersave. I`m using the built in battery indicator again.

    Reply
  • Avatar of teh.sean

    FWIW, my Sprint USB modem did not work out of the box.

    I also tried a USB – RJ45 adapter and it also was NOT recognized as an ethernet port.

    So this might dissuade you, but those are the facts for my experience.

    Reply
  • Avatar of petrikzviera

    The technology is here. So give me somebody Psion Revo size and form device with Windows 7 and 3G finaly. Eking S515 is geting closer.
    If China can make device like that, what other
    other advanced companies are doing? Resting? Sleeping? Playing games?
    This is just another very nice, but useless device, what would be wasting money for.
    That’s my 2 cents.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Netcrawler

    is a full review coming any time soon?

    Reply
  • I’m working on it but progress is very slow. I’m 8 months pregnant right now, so my energy level is insanely low and I’m obviously very preoccupied! ;-)

    Reply
  • Avatar of Netcrawler

    hey, stay pre-occupied, the full review can wait ….

    Reply
  • Avatar of This guy, see?

    So I’m probably going to come across as a total idiot, but how did you restore those desktop icons to their original places?

    Reply
  • Avatar of Christian

    Hello Jenn,

    excellent post. I’ve been visiting Pocketables for some time now but never commented so this is my first. As I’ve just pulled the trigger on a black PC-Z1 your impressions are very helpful and -mostly- encouraging. :-)

    A battery test (as in “life time is X hours and Y minutes”) would have been nice but I can do that when I get mine in a few days (hopefully).

    As for the speed, compared to the Zaurus/Nokia N8X0 where e.g. loading OpenOffice takes several minutes and Firefox is almost unusably slow, the results are excellent IMHO. I know an Atom-based system will be faster but it’s not what I want.

    If you find Firefox too heavy sometimes, Midori (in the repo) might be worth a try. It’s much lighter and faster but has issues with some sites.

    As for the fonts, try to install the ttf-mscorefonts-installer package using the Add/Remove app’s search feature. This will fetch Arial, Georgia, Verdana and some other common Microsoft fonts. The font normally used on Ubuntu is DejaVu Sans, if it is not preinstalled then installing ttf-dejavu will take care of this.

    Looking forward to any updates :-) But take care of the most important things (life) first.

    Reply
  • I wasn’t able to restore all of them, but some could just be dragged back to the desktop and resized.

    Reply
  • Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll give them a try as soon as I can.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Christian

    Hello ArchiMark,

    I know it’s a very late answer. Speaking of USB ethernet adapters, those based on the MosChip MCS7830 chipset should work out of the box. Some other chipsets/adapters which are supported according to http://www.linux-usb.org are:
    ASIX 88172,
    ATEN UC210T,
    D-Link DUB-E100,
    Hawking UF200,
    Linksys USB200M,
    Netgear FA120,
    Intellinet,
    ST Lab USB Ethernet,
    TrendNet TU2-ET100,

    Also, the Apple USB Ethernet Adapter (http://store.apple.com/us/product/MB442Z/A?fnode=MTY1NDEyMQ&mco=MTA4NzI5MTg) is also reported to work just fine. :) I may be getting one of those too.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Christian

    From what I can get from the kernel messages (posted on the web), the device is booting from a Samsung NAND. I don’t fully know the configuration from the kernel messages but it could be that the PC-Z1 has two 2 GB NAND chips (as well as 2 MB NOR flash to store the boot loader) and the 4 GB file system is spanning over them. The Netwalker also uses a special file system especially suited for use on flash. “Conventional” SSDs do not.

    So it’s not an SSD as most people know them today.

    Reply
  • Avatar of nickm

    I picked up a Netwalker last weekend, here in Japan. I really like the device, but using USB devices (like my broadband modem) seem to affect battery life a lot.
    I dislike the mouse: I find precise cursor placement to be difficult and annoying (like the tiny close buttons on dialog boxes.)
    I got mono sound even when using headphones. Am I the only one? That sucks : (

    Reply
  • Avatar of nickm

    Actually, I get stereo sound with headphones. It must have been just one application. Weird :

    Reply
  • Avatar of ArchiMark

    Thanks for the info….

    Reply
  • Avatar of ArchiMark

    Thank you for all the detailed info….very helpful, Christian…I happen to have an Apple ethernet adapter among several that I have… :)

    Do you have the Netwalker?

    Reply
  • Avatar of aintgotnonames

    I’m pleased to see Ubuntu being released on more consumer hardware.
    Although it’s also a little bit saddening as well, considering the draw of linux for a lot of folks is its subversive, “Can’t get it pre-installed” nature.
    In any case, the netwalker seems to beat the hell outta the old-skool Zaurii everyone and their brother have been drooling over for what seems like forever.
    I hope 2010 sees many more linux handhelds. I would personally have to ditch the KDE window manager for XFCE and get a purrrrdy custom interface running ,but that’s just me.I don’t see the point of a beautiful device like that sporting kde’s blandness.

    Also, my two cents is: Linux has been virus-safe since it’s inception in 92.
    It took windows far too many years to get close to stable, and we still have yet to see the Z3R0D4Y threats that everyone knows is bound to be lurking under windows 7’s hood. I’ll try Win7 24 months from now after it’s seen consecutive security patches and a decent number of games are released for it. Commercial gaming is really Window’s only redeeming quality.

    Reply
  • Avatar of ArchiMark

    Now I’m replying to old post, but what is advantage of this kernel port?

    Thanks.

    Reply
  • Avatar of darion76

    New linux distributives related on new kernels. 2.6.28 is too old.

    Reply
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