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ZQ-290 II

Running the World clock function



Back side

Both sides of the electronic card

All the parts of the ZQ-290 II

User manual

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Review from cnet dated from July 2004.

The ZQ-290II is a curious bit of kit for two primary reasons. Firstly, it's got an almost unpronounceable name; while we've raged at Sony's CLIE range for having unbelievably complex names, they're clearly amateurs compared to the folks at Sharp. Aside from that, though, what really makes the Sharp ZQ-290II stand out is that it's either a PDA with most of the important bits missing, or a digital organiser on serious steroids. The end result is a unit that looks like a PDA, but acts like a simpler digital organiser. As such, if your PDA needs were very meagre, or you just wanted it to look like you had a flashy PDA without having to go to the actual expense of buying one, then the Sharp ZQ-290II might be ideal for you, and that's presumably why Sharp markets them as "PDA-Style" organisers. In almost every case that we could envisage, however, we still couldn't see why you'd plump for one, when Palm sells a much more functional Palm Zire for around AU$20 less.

Externally, the Sharp ZQ-290II looks every part a PDA; it's got a flip-top screen protector, nine face buttons (including a four way directional set of buttons that surround the main enter key) and a normal looking stylus that slots in at the top right hand corner. At 105gm and 7.11 x 1.52 x 10.92cm, the ZQ-290II is easy to carry around and actually a tad lighter than most PDAs already on the market. So from a straight up impressing people point of view, the ZQ-290II does everything right. It's only when you switch the unit on that the game will be given away.

While the display on the ZQ-290II is touch sensitive, it's still based on the standard type of LCD display common to the digital organiser category. As such, there's only text and no graphical element to the display, and the functionality of the unit is solidly locked in. That gives you the usual assortment of calendar, time, conversion and memo functions. In a nod to more fuller-featured PDA units, the ZQ-290II will synchronise with Microsoft Outlook, although this is done via serial cable only, meaning some notebook users may be left out of the running. Installing the supplied software couldn't be much simpler, and while it's easy to initiate synchronisation, it always has to be done as a two-step sync process, by calling from data from the PC and then beginning a link from the ZQ-290II; there's no such thing as an automatic sync.

Synchronising with an Outlook address book took a little longer than we would have expected from a normal PDA, although that's almost certainly a function of slower serial transport speeds. The 14-character long display does lead to a lot of wrapped lines, and the odd way that it uses onscreen presses and the face buttons to move around and between memos and contacts takes some serious getting used to.

We shed a few tears of nostalgia when looking over the ZQ-290II's game offerings. There's a quite serviceable text version of BlackJack, as well as a game called Alpha Attack, in which an alphabet character floats across the screen, and it's your job to hit the matching key on the onscreen keyboard to score points. It's an almost exact clone of a similar game that infested computer labs in schools in the early to mid '80s, and almost as exciting as leather elbow patches. Almost, but not quite.

Compared to higher end PDAs, the Sharp ZQ-290II might seem like a bit of a bargain at only AU$119. Sadly, though, it's rather outpaced by Palm's low-end Zire PDA, which sells for AU$20 less, has twice the memory and allows for much more customisation than the Sharp ZQ-290II could ever manage.