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Sharp Mobilon Pro

True to its promise to become a leading player in the Windows CE market, Sharp Electronics Corporation is rolling out not one, but two H/PC Pro computers. One is the innovative TriPad (see review on page 66), the other the Mobilon Pro (p)reviewed on this page. As you can tell, the TriPad and the Pro, though sharing the same software environment, are very different devices. Whereas the Tripad is an almost futuristic design that will appeal to vertical markets (and a good number of individualists who’ll love its cool looks and flexibility), with the Mobilon Pro PV-5000 Sharp took a more conventional approach. The Pro pretty much looks like a 3/4-scale standard notebook computer. With a width of 9.3 inches and a depth of 7.9 inches, its footprint clearly exceeds that of any earlier handheld, and it is almost an inch and a half thick. The unit weighs just over 2.5 pounds, a lightweight by notebook standards, but much heavier than the first generation of small handhelds.

The Sharp Mobilon Pro is clearly a representative of an entirely new class of devices, one that bears—at least appearance-wise—more resemblance to "B5" class mini notebooks that are currently all the rage in Japan. In fact, the Mobilon Pro’s dimensions are virtually identical to IBM’s Japan-only Pentium-233 ThinkPad 235. And incidentally, Sharp just released the Mobilon Pro in Japan as the WM-C100 with a Sharp-proprietary operating system and application suite. In other words, the Mobilon Pro is not just a trial balloon. It is a "world computer" designed and built by one of the planet’s foremost electronics firms.

But getting back to the stateside version, the Windows CE based Mobilon Pro, the big news is the bright, glorious full 640 x 480 VGA screen that brings a whole new dimension to the CE experience. The screen is bright and crisp, as one would expect from LCD-leader Sharp, though for cost reasons it is a DSTN LCD and not a TFT. Sharp implemented 4,096 colors on this unit, which means that CE applications that support more than 256 colors (Windows CE Pocket Office itself does not) will appear on the screen in vibrant color. Though no longer mandatory for large CE handhelds—CE now supports mice, touchpads, glidepoints, etc.—Sharp wisely chose to equip the Pro with a touchscreen and pen interface. The hinge of its 8.2-inch diagonal VGA screen is mounted about an inch and a half away from the far edge of the device, bringing it closer to the user (important for pen operation), and making the unit very stable when you tap the screen. It also makes room behind the hinge for a large Li-Ion battery pack that is supposed to provide around ten hours of battery life between charges. The pen also fits into a recess behind the screen.

There’s no denying that the Mobilon Pro is a handsome design. The bottom part that houses all electronics is made of blue-gray plastic and is slightly wedge-shaped so that the keyboard is tilted towards your hands. The top is finished in gleaming matte-silver with a blue-metallic insert. After years of black-matte notebooks, the Mobilon Pro looks gleamy and exciting (though users of the similarly finished NEC MobilePro 750 have reported a proneness to scratching). The bottom contains a cover, held in place by two screws, that secures the backup battery and also contains an expansion connector of some sort. There is also a small speaker at the bottom.

The keyboard has a horizontal keypitch of 16.2mm (i.e., it is 85% full size) and is, with just a little bit of getting used to it, perfectly adequate for typing even long documents. There is a total of 79 keys, including ten function keys programmed for one-tap access of all the major Windows CE applications.

In terms of connectivity, the Mobilon Pro has a PC Card slot, a serial port, an AC adapter jack, and an IR port, but no CompactFlash slot, USB port, or VGA-out port. There is an internal 33.6Kbps softmodem and a built-in RJ-11 jack. These specs indicate that Sharp views the Mobilon Pro as a personal productivity tool rather than a jack-of-all-trades interface expert.

The unit is powered by a MIPS 3900 class RISC processor running at 129MHz and comes with a generous 32MB of RAM. On the software side, the Mobilon Pro—like all Sharp mobile products—offers plenty. There’s the PC File Viewer, a Citrix Client, multimedia tools (think camera card add-on), and bsquare’s bUSEFUL and bFAX Pro.
With the Mobilon Pro, Sharp is off to a great start in this new era of large-size Windows CE handhelds.

- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

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