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Sharp spins Ubuntu-based palmtop

Aug 27, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 118 views

Sharp announced an heir to its Zaurus line of Linux-based PDAs: an Ubuntu Linux-based palmtop with claimed three-second boot-ups and ten-hour battery life. The “NetWalker PC-Z1 Mobile Internet Tool” is equipped with an ARM Cortex-A8 based Freescale i.MX515 SoC, a five-inch WSVGA touchscreen, and a QWERTY keyboard, says Sharp.

Sharp doesn't use the term "smartbook" to describe its tiny UMPC clamshell netbook, but the device's operating system is said to be a Sharp-customized version of Ubuntu Linux 9.04 Smartbook Remix. Meanwhile, the PC-Z1's i.MX515 system-on-chip (SoC), clocked at 800MHz, is being targeted by Freescale at netbooks and "smartbooks."

The smartbook moniker was coined by Qualcomm, then adopted by Freescale, to denote low-end, small-screen ARM netbooks that blur the lines with MIDs (mobile Internet devices), tablets, and UMPCs (ultra-mobile PCs). The PC-Z1, then, could be considered one of the first formally announced smartbooks, though Sharp refers to the device only as a "mobile tool" and a "palmtop-size unit." (Nokia was similarly vague about the format designation of its N900 device announced today, leaving journalists to call it everything from a smartphone, to a MID, to a tablet.)

Sharp PC-Z1 in red

According to Sharp, the PC-Z1, set to ship in Japan on Sept. 25, has performance similar to that of a PC, and is designed for "cloud computing." According to a Reuters story, the PC-Z1 will sell for 45,000 yen (about $480 US), and Sharp is expected to sell 100,000 units by March. The company would not comment on possible overseas releases of the clamshell device, says the story.

Sharp PC-Z1 in three color choices

Like the OMAP3x SoC used in the Nokia N900, the i.MX515 is based on ARM's superscalar Cortex-A8-core. The i.MX515 offers a dedicated, hardware-based video acceleration block that "enables extended battery life and eliminates the need for fans or heat sinks," according to Freescale. The SoC is said to be equipped with graphics cores for both OpenGL and OpenVG, with the latter enabling Flash and SVG.

According to Sharp, its PC-Z1 offers 512MB of RAM, 4GB of internal memory, and a microSDHC slot that can support memory cards of up to 16GB. The 5-inch WSVGA (1024 x 600) touchscreen is accompanied by an optical pointer and a 68-key QWERTY keyboard, says Sharp.

For communications, the device appears to be dependent entirely on WiFi 802.11b/g, although other wireless technologies might possibly be used via the USB port. The PC-Z1 measures 6.4 x 4.3 x 1.0 inches, tapering down to 0.8 inches (161.4 x 108.7 x 19.7/24.8mm) and weighs 14.4 oz (409 grams), says the company.

Sharp supplies the PC-Z1 with Firefox, Thunderbird, and Adobe Flash Lite, as well as other open source apps (see list below). The company also announced it would provide specialized-field dictionaries, novels, and comics in multiple languages.

Specifications listed by Sharp for its PC-Z1 include the following:

  • Processor — Freescale i.MX515 @ 800MHz
  • Memory — 512MB
  • Flash — 4GB (approx.) with 2GB (approx.) available for user apps
  • Flash expansion — MicroSDHC slot for up to 16GB
  • Display — 5-inch WSVGA (1024 x 600) TFT LCD touchscreen
  • WiFi — 802.11b/g
  • USB — 1 x USB 2.0; 1 x miniUSB (2.0-compatible)
  • Input — 68-key keyboard; optical pointer
  • Audio — 3.5mm headphone output
  • Software:
    • Firefox browser
    • Adobe Flash Lite
    • Thunderbird email
    • 3.0 drawing
    • Totem video player
    • Gedit text editor
    • Document viewer
  • Battery life — approx. 10 hours
  • Dimensions — 6.4 x 4.3 x 1.0/0.8 inches (161.4 x 108.7 x 19.7/24.8mm)
  • Weight — 14.4 oz (409 grams)
  • Operating system — Ubuntu Linux 9.04 Smartbook Remix (Sharp customized version)

The PC-Z1 appears to be similar in concept to Sharp's popular Zaurus clamshell PDAs. Ubuntu Linux was ported to Sharp's Zaurus (pictured at right) over a year ago, several years after Sharp announced it would not market future Zaurus models in the U.S. The Linux-ready Zaurus has inspired a number of PDAs, MIDs, and other hybrid devices that have emerged in recent years.

The Reuters story quotes Sharp EVP Masafumi Matsumoto, as saying, "We are introducing a mobile device that you can take with you wherever you go and comes with all major notebook PC functions."


The Sharp PC-Z1 will ship in Japan on Sept. 25, says Sharp. More information may be found here. The Reuters story may be found here.

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