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Sony CLIE PEGA-CC5 Car Cradle

Most comprehensive car cradle to date reads email, datebook, and gives voice directions while charging

by Shawn Barnett

Posted November 20, 2003

Most comprehensive car cradle to date offers some disappointment with a lot of promise It is by far the most comprehensive and inclusive car cradle I've reviewed--or even heard of. Right out of the box it integrates car charging, GPS navigation with turn by turn directions--including spoken prompts via its built in voice synthesizer--music playback via FM transmitter, and even the ability to read your email as you drive, again via the voice synthesizer. Though it comes in many pieces, it goes together quickly and mounts to the air duct in most cars with surprising ease using a zip-tie method. It'll even auto-dim the PDA's screen as the light changes, brightening it quickly when you go through a tunnel, for example.

Where it goes wrong has more to do with lawyers and safety advocacy (read: Liability) than with bad design. There are a few things I'd like it to do better, which I'll outline, but by far the biggest disappointment is that when the device is in the cradle, in my case a Sony CLIE NX80V, it ceases to function as a normal Palm device. Instead, a whole new set of programs takes over, programs designed to be simple enough to use with a finger tip and get your information at a glance.

Sounds great so far. Until you find that you can no longer access your address book for phone numbers; if you had a TG50 set up to dial your cell phone, say, you wouldn't be able to dial via Bluetooth to save your life. Nor are most of your other "conventional" programs accessible while the device is in the cradle. You can't take notes. You can't change settings. You can't even see your To Do list.

Yes, modified versions of the Date Book, MP3 player, CLIE Mail, and Photo viewer, along with part of StreetFinder are available and certainly enhanced in many ways, but you're not going to be entering any new data or modifying any settings while in these special versions of your essential programs. You'll have to take the even more risky step of taking the computer out of the cradle to do these things. That means you're back to looking up a phone number while driving a car at the same time. No, you're not supposed to, but that's why a lot of you would buy a cradle like this: to make what you already do that much more safe.

Well, you can't.

The good

But there are a lot of things your NX80, NX73, and TG50 can be transformed into that you never expected would be so easy with your PDA. The hardware is a quick install. It attaches to one of the vanes on your air vents with a hard plastic zip tie that runs through the body of the clamp. One one end of the zip tie is a hook. Just hook that onto one of the vanes and pull down on the zip tie until it's snug. Be sure your vanes are sturdy enough, but both of my cars were strong enough. Several little attachment feet allow adjustment for different dashboard styles. That done, just route the cables around the car using the decent complement of adhesives and hooks that come with the kit, and you'll have a well-installed car cradle/GPS in around 15 to 20 minutes.


Installing the GPS can be done in two ways. It can be installed inside the car on the dashboard, or it can be magnetically attached to the roof of the vehicle. Having had a lot of experience with dashboard mounted units, I opted for the roof. The GPS sensor's 1 x 1 inch footprint houses a powerful magnet which made it easy to just toss up there without worry. It's an excellent solution for non-permanent installation. I got very good accuracy with it on the roof, and far faster acquisition than I'm used to from other PDA-based GPS solutions.

The StreetFinder software is familiar, since it's used by a lot of companies these days for handheld navigation. It's good, but in need of an update. It tracked and zoomed fairly well based on speed, and its integration with the speech synthesis in the CC5 was impressive. Turn by turn directions were generally understandable and helpful, with plenty of warnings and audible queues to indicate the exact turn time. But there were quite a few times on long roads where the system would declare that I was "Off Route," only to announce moments later that I was "On Route" again. Sometimes I would go miles and miles tracking just a few yards off the green "highlighted route." Though that's not a big deal, the software also refused to give me directions until I was back "on route," something I couldn't do without crossing into oncoming traffic. I've experienced this bug with other systems using this same software, including Magellan's m500 GPS Companion, so it's not unique to the Sony CC5 implementation.

Another peculiarity of the software resulted in a bit of humor. The software will only give you directions if you're starting where you told it you would. Retracing your steps, as we're all liable to do after successfully finding our destination, results in instructions that will only take you back to the initial destination. Occasionally, it will let out a chime, followed with the somewhat urgent admonition, "You are going the wrong way!" This kept my daughter and me in stitches for a good 45 minute ride home from work.

Also problematic with the StreetFinder software is that it only gives you one route to your destination with no consideration for traffic flow. For example, to get to Monterey it routed me through the East Bay along hundreds of miles of heavily congested freeways and even a few windy roads, when I knew I was going to go down the far less congested Interstate 5 and cut into another major route that bypasses all that traffic. But the software usually got me there without error, and the times it did fail were pretty confusing even to me. On two occasions the software led me absolutely wrong, having me exit when I should have stayed on the road straight ahead. In both circumstances, it was clear there was recent construction in the area that changed everything. Just beware.

Though there are areas where the GPS is helpful, I was disappointed that the GPS Meter application didn't offer more basic GPS information. All it really offers is a sky map of which satellites are in range. I was expecting items like direction, speed, distance traveled, waypoints and bread crumbs. You know, basic GPS stuff. If you tap along the bottom of the screen, you do toggle between a few screens: a paper-tape style speed graph (which maxes out at 65), a latitude/longitude indicator, an altitude and compass indicator, but there is no screen that shows it all at once, something I'd like when I drive off the map to follow my less-congested route.


While you're driving and getting directions from the computer through the CC5's built-in speaker, you can also listen to music from your Memory Stick, broadcast to your radio via the onboard low-power FM transmitter (it even dims the volume of the radio playback when the voice synth wants to tell you something). This worked well enough in my car, but had unacceptable static in my truck. Either way, volume was low, and as I drove along hills and over distances, the FM station I'd chosen would inevitably be occupied by an overpowering station and screw up my MP3 playback. I understand that's just the way these short range FM gizmos work. It would be helpful if you could adjust which FM station you want the device to broadcast to with the unit in the cradle, but the settings dialog is only available in out-of-cradle mode. Most users in hilly areas with many radio stations will just give up and ignore this feature. Because Sony also offers a wired connection to some Sony-brand car stereos, serious MP3 devotees should just invest in one of these stereos and go the wired route.

For fun, you can program the music player to display your favorite pictures onscreen as it plays. It's a nice touch that takes advantage of the CLIE's gorgeous screen.


One of the more useful applications is the Mail app. It's surprisingly useful to be able to scan your email audibly. In general, you sync your email from your desktop to load the email onto your device. The exception would be the TG50 with its bluetooth capability, or one of the two NX's if used with the WiFi adapter. The voice synthesizer shows its power when reading complicated emails, and Sony did a lot to make some surprisingly natural-sounding speech. Sentences typically start slightly higher in pitch, and end in a lower pitch to bring conclusion to a sentence. It seems the synthesizer analyzes the sentences first before forming its approach. Also impressive is the ability of the device to take dollar amounts, like "$65.98," and transform them into "Sixty five dollars and ninety-eight cents." Unfortunately, it also assumes all "Dr." abbreviations are "Drive" and never "Doctor." My dentist will be disappointed that he's been demoted to the status of a road.

It's not perfect, of course, due mostly to the complexity of modern email. Too many emails these days are HTML based and peppered with cryptic links to graphics and pages. The voice synthesizer doesn't discriminate, though, and will read the most convoluted links all the way through, making HTML email more trouble than it's worth (imagine: "HTTP-colon-forwardslash-forwardslash-doubleyou-doubleyou-doubleyou-dot..." Hopefully future versions of this software will learn to skip most of these tags, perhaps ignoring items in French brackets. Also helpful in future versions would be the ability to track text onscreen as it's read. There are many times when what the computer is saying is unclear, either from road noise or just odd words. Being able to glance over and get the actual words would help. The only way to actually read your email otherwise is to remove the device from the cradle and go to the PDA mail program.

The simplest of all is the Schedule application, which merely reads the date and items for the day. When launched subsequently, it reads you the hours and minutes remaining before the next appointment and tells when and what that appointment is. It'll be handy for the person who spends a lot of time in his car. You can scroll forward as many days as you like, but you can't go backward at all without again removing the device from the cradle.

It does seem like there are a lot of limitations in the CC5. What's easy to miss is that the CC5 enables so much that was never possible before in one simple accessory. There is a lot I would improve, as outlined in the paragraphs above, but it's impressive and useful enough that I've installed and used it over and over on several trips. From what I can tell, most of my concerns and desires for the product can be addressed in software that is installed on the CLIE; the hardware itself performs quite well. There's a lot of room for additional applications on that opening screen, and only six applications come with it, so here's hoping more will come out to take advantage of those two big finger-sized scroll buttons. An Address Book and the ability to dial a cell phone would be a good start.

Despite its current limitations, the CC5 is a mature product in the sense that it does more than anyone else has ever dared. Let's hope it's only a first step in a product that will continue to mature as quickly as Sony's other products, only this one simply must be software upgradeable. US$299.

-Shawn Barnett

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