First impression of Sharp Zaurus


Original Trisoft ROM (Qtopia)



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First impression of Sharp Zaurus

(This text describes state of mentioned products in June 2007)


I decided to purchase a device with a good resolution screen and a keyboard. I waited a long time, whether any company will fill the market gap in this area with a device with more memory, good connectivity, screen and even better keyboard (and Linux), but instead of that it seems that even that Sharp wants to leave this area and there will be no such device any more. When I found kernel 2.6 patches for the audio remote control CE-RH2, I decided to buy it as well. It's a bit expensive (more than a cheap MP3 player), but headphones it came with have a surprisingly good sound. I spent some time to identify them. It seems to be Sennheiser MX-400, one of the best in this category.

It's well possible to type on Z keybord. Keys need a little more pression than a desktop keyboard, but maybe it prevents unwanted multiple key presses. It's not possible to type as quickly as on a desktop keyboard, but after several days I am able to write reasonably fast, but it still requires attention to prevent multiple presses of the same key.

Default mapping is somewhat unhappy - you have three keys binded with Enter, but nothing for PgUp/PgDn or AltGr.

It's possible to type with more fingers, if the Z sits on the desk. Thumb typing while your Z is held in your palm is a bit slower, but also really comfortable. It may be less comfortable with a larger Wi-Fi card inserted.

Screen is a little smaller than the device size could allow, but it is a really well readable without any visible dead pixels.

Original Trisoft ROM (Qtopia)

Trisoft sells Z with an original Qtopia converted to English. This system fits Z well.

On the other side, from proffessional Z system I would expect GUI usable without using of stylus. There were more situations where I had to use stylus for trivial operations. The most irritating was switching tasks - odrinary Alt Tab did not work.

Auto half-darkening of the screen is a feature, which can save some energy, but it would be good to dynamically increase the darkening period for reader applications, especially with closed keyboard.

Qtopia looks to me as a "Linux unfriendly": Applications use proprietary file formats with unknown suffixes. When I successfully configured network using Linux console tools, but Netfront rejected to connect to the web, because the connection was not configured in the connection wizard (and it has no usbnet support).

Another bad things: Media player was not able to play my favorite CDs in the lossless FLAC format. And photo viewer was not able to view 5MPix files fom my camera.

I experienced only one system crash - while copying files to an USB dongle.


I decided to try OpenZaurus with GPE before migrating to Ångström I plan to use in future. It looks much more integrated with the underlying operating system.

OZ decided to not use a 128MB of the flash memory. On my opinion, it's a bad decision - flash eats less power and it's faster. Additionally, something regularly accesses the disc, so the hard drive is permanently running and eating the battery. It improved a lot after remounting noatime and nodiratime, but it still turns drive on without any visible reason.

But GPE GUI exhibits the same problem while trying to use it without a stylus. In fact, it's even worse than Qtopia. For example hot keys are not underlined in the toolbar.

Double click in the file manager is also not very comfortable.

Another bad things are a bad key mapping (control applet shows a different Z model), no support for remote control. Also intelligent darkening is missing. The lowest background level is totally black and makes screen invisible. Before I learned how to fix it, i had to do a hard reboot as a work-around.

Even if BlueTooth dongle worked out of the box on kernel level, I got an error in the GUI.

GPE also lacks safe unmount helper - useful thing for people using EXT2 on their USB dongles.

Closing the lid in OZ does not run sleep, but only swithes off the screen.

Backlight change seems to be a little slower than expected - it probably calls a script. Values under 3% mean no backlight and nearly unreadable screen. Overall, backlight configurators seems to behave little strange.

Buttons right from the screen on touch-only area are often pressed by mistake while scrolling. Maybe a heuristics for detecing button press by mistake would help (previous touch was in a near area - ignore press). On the left side of the screen it's a little problem to copy the leftmost letter.

Several daemons often does not work properly - the one handling special keys, sometimes system uses too small font or bad antialiasing mode.

It seems that GTK+ subpixel antialiasing does not support screen rotation - after rotation of the screen it should change.


Due to upper mentioned bugs I decided to update to unstable but actively developed Ångström. Many of these bugs are fixed there, several new bugs are present.

Switching to virtual console causes backlight problems after a minute.

Virtual button right from the screen have too wide active area, which often causes opening of all PIM programs while scrolling. And real keys might need better deboucing to prevent unwanted multiple keypresses.

I just installed OpenEmbedded and started to fix thinks I don't like.