SL-C1000 Review

I recently upgraded from my old Zaurus SL-5500 to a newer clamshell model, the SL-C1000. When I was making my decision about whether to upgrade, I didn't find much in the way of English-language reviews of the C1000. I had to rely on reviews of the similar hard-drive based units, the SL-C3000 and the SL-C3100, and the older siblings such as the SL-C860. I decided to review the unit I purchased myself, in the hope that people considering the SL-C1000 might find some additional information helpful.


The Sharp Zaurus C1000 is a Japanese-only unit, so for those of us in other countries that means we have to either purchase one in Japan or order it from an importer. I purchased mine from the importer PriceJapan, an online reseller that has continuously-fluctuating prices based on current exchange rates and their current purchase price of the item (they buy them only when someone orders them). I was very happy with them. They were communicative in e-mail, and shipped the item quickly. I elected for the more expensive DHL shipping option, since DHL is supposed to handle customs better than the alternative EMS, but I have ordered other items from other vendors using EMS without problems, so maybe it wasn't necessary. Regardless, my new C1000 shipped on a Tuesday in Japan (Monday my time) and I received it on Thursday. My final cost was $420, including shipping. I ordered it in late October 2005.


416MHz PXA-270 XScale processor
128MB internal flash memory
640x480 16bpp backlit LCD touchscreen display
Input methods: keyboard, stylus with handwriting recognition
Ports: IrDA, USB (host & slave), headphones & remote, Zaurus connector, SD memory card slot, CF slot

Unlike the C3000 and C3100 units, there is no internal hard drive. A microdrive can be installed in the CF slot. I chose the C1000 specifically because it did not have a hard drive, since I worry that a hard drive subjected to a lot of handheld use would be prone to failure, especially if dropped.

Zaurus SL-C1000 in landscape mode.

Fit and Finish

In a word, superb. This is my 4th PDA. I've owned an HP 200LX, a Palm V, a Zaurus 5500, and now this C1000. The C1000 has the second best finish of all of them, being narrowly edged out by the Palm V.

Four PDAs: (clockwise from top left) Hewlett-Packard 200LX, Sharp Zaurus SL-C1000, Sharp Zaurus SL-5500, and Palm V.

The 5500, while solid, felt the most "plasticky" of all of them, and lacked a certain heft that feels nice to me. It was also colored with a silver paint that began to wear off due to rubbing by its flip cover in a holster case. The 200LX was plastic, but the plastic itself was colored so it was not subject to paint wear. It creaked a little, though. The Palm V, with its brushed aluminum case, was simply beautiful, felt very solid, and felt like quality. In some ways the finish of the C1000 is nicer than the Palm V, and in others it is inferior.

Top of Zaurus with lid closed.

The C1000's case is a mixture of metal and plastic, and is put together with very tight tolerances. The display cover and bezel are painted aluminum, and the hinge is chrome-plated (steel, I think). The base has a combination of black and silver painted plastic. The keyboard shifted labels above each key are on a metal sticker adhered to the plastic base, and the keys are plastic with silk-screened labels. The weakest part of the case is the battery cover, which feels a little flimsy and every time I open and close it I'm afraid I'm going to break it. But once the battery cover is in place, the entire unit feels very solid. Some people might dislike its weight, but I actually prefer it.

Bottom of Zaurus.

One very nice touch is the balance of the unit when opened in your hand. The base is noticeably heavier than the display, which keeps the unit from tumbling when you are holding it and typing with your thumbs on the keyboard. It is weighted such that you don't really have to grip the unit, but can rest it on your open fingers. This makes typing easier than it would be otherwise and also makes one less prone to drop it.

As I mentioned, my older 5500 has exhibited some wear from rubbing due to pressure inside a holster case (Nutshell 207). I have not yet ordered a holster case for the C1000 to compare. For the moment, I am using the neoprene jacket that came with a Palm Portable Keyboard, which just happens to fit the C1000 perfectly.

The stylus that comes with the C1000 is exactly the same shape and size as the one for the 5500. However, the newer Zaurus stylus is all plastic, and feels cheap to me. The 5500's stylus is much nicer with a metal barrel with plastic tip and end. No problem; I just swapped the stylus so now I use the 5500's with the C1000. The Zaurus stylus has a small, accurate tip suitable for its high-resolution touch screen. I have gotten used to its short length, but when I first got the 5500 I found its length annoying.

Top is the SL-5500 stylus, bottom is the C1000 stylus.

Size-wise, the C1000 is noticeably bigger than the 5500 but not too big. It is smaller than the 200LX and way, way bigger than the Palm V. I think the jump in size from the Palm V to the 5500 was more significant, in that if I am already willing to carry around the 5500 then the C1000 isn't that much more of a burden. It is pretty thick, at about 1 inch.

Size comparison between: (top to bottom) Palm V, Zaurus SL-5500, Zaurus SL-1000, HP 200LX.

One very cool feature of the case is the ability for the screen to convert from landscape to portrait and vice-versa. This ability makes the C1000 essentially like a tiny tablet PC. When in portrait mode, the screen is flipped and dropped down over the keyboard, making it look like a traditional Palm-style PDA. You can also change modes in software, which lets you use portrait mode while the keyboard is open.

C1000 in portrait mode.

The screen closes flush against the keyboard, either in portrait or landscape mode. When it closes it makes a very satisfying click sound. (I think this is actually from a pair of switches in the hinge area that detect when the lid is closed and in what orientation.) There are no gaps, and the screen is kept off the keys by two small silicone bumps on the keyboard. The lid does not actually latch closed, but is held in place by a strong spring in the hinge. Opening the lid was a bit difficult at first, especially since I abhor fingerprints and therefore avoid touching the chrome-plated hinge. I have since figured out how to do it without touching the hinge.

One thing I wished Sharp had done was to put a D-pad and a couple of buttons on the screen bezel, though, in addition to the keyboard. This would have improved the unit's ability to play games written for the older 5500 Zaurus (which has a portrait screen). In particular, I like the game Froot, and using the D-pad on the keyboard to play is awkward on a clamshell unit.

The keyboard itself is quite good. It feels like the key actuators are membranes under the individual plastic keys, and they provide good tactile feedback with a very soft audible tap. The speaker can also provide clicks on keypresses, but I've always hated fake key clicks so I turned this feature off. Key travel is small but sufficient. It is easier to type on the C1000 than it is on the 5500, and even easier than on the 200LX, although I preferred the feel of the 200LX's keyboard. The greater number of keys means fewer shift key combinations are required than on the 5500. The D-pad is very nice, and is basically like the one on the 5500 but with a better feel.

Keyboard comparison between (left to right): 200LX, Zaurus 5500, Zaurus C1000.


The display on this unit is pretty good. The colors are outstanding and the brightness is very good. At the brighter settings it is too bright for my eyes in most situations. Since it is a backlit transmissive screen, instead of a reflective front-lit screen like the 5500, it does wash out in bright sunlight, but I use mine indoors most of the time so it isn't an issue.

Screen comparison between C1000 and 5500. The 5500 is at maximum brightness, the C1000 is two notches below maximum.

Like the 5500's screen, the touchscreen sensing is very accurate and doesn't drift. My Palm V suffered from a drift problem that required periodic recalibration of the touchscreen. The Palm V also needed a lot more force to register a tap on the screen. The touchscreens on both Zaurus units are definitely superior.

However, unlike the 5500's screen, which was viewable from any angle, the C1000's screen is directional. In landscape mode, when viewed from straight on the colors are correct. When viewed from the left, it loses contrast, with black turning into gray. When viewed from the right, black areas begin to turn silver and reflect. I find this effect very disconcerting, and it makes the C1000 less useful for watching movies with more than one person. Without this effect, the C1000 would have made a great movie player for sharing between two people on an airplane.

Views of the screen from different angles. The camera exposure makes the best view look like the one from right, but it's really the one from the center. Dark areas turn silver and reflect when viewed from the right.

This directionality is less of a problem in portrait mode, because when the screen is rotated the directionality is up/down instead of left/right. In landscape mode, the left/right directionality is strong enough that each of my two eyes sees the display slightly differently, which is a bit disorienting. The problem is worse the closer your face is to the screen, since your eyes view from a wider angle. I am able to live with this, but I don't like it.

As a comparison, the screen on the Zaurus is brighter and more vivid than the one on my aluminum Apple PowerBook, but the directionality makes it usable only within a narrow range of viewing angles. The PowerBook's screen has a non-reflective finish which probably detracts from its apparent vividness but reduces glare, and the Zaurus's screen is very glossy which makes it look very vivid but reflects a lot of glare.

The Zaurus C1000 next to a 15" PowerBook G4. Both screens are at maximum brightness.

Unlike older clamshell Zaurus models, there is no ATI W100 graphics chip, and instead the PXA-270 processor's internal display controller is used. The processor is sufficiently fast that it works OK for most games, and is quite speedy when paired with the proper kernel and display driver (described later). Movies at 640x480 can be displayed at full frame rate if encoded properly.

The screen has a 4x3 aspect ratio, and the wide bezel has a lot of space that is not taken up by the screen itself. It would have been nice to have a 16x9 wide screen instead of 4x3, which would have made better use of the space and made it even better for watching movies. Either that, or an additional D-pad and buttons as I mentioned earlier.


The Zaurus runs the Qtopia desktop from TrollTech. The base operating system is Linux. The stock ROM that Sharp ships with the unit is in Japanese and includes several PIM applications, plus the Hancom office suite for viewing and editing Microsoft Office documents. Fortunately, it is a simple matter to convert most of it to English. The method I initially used was to install a backup image from TriSoft's web page.

I say initially, because shortly after I received my C1000 the popular English-language ROM called Cacko was released in version 1.23 for the C1000. I installed this ROM a few days later and quickly decided to not go back to the stock Sharp ROM. Cacko is based on the stock ROM but includes improvements such as an updated kernel with many more device drivers, proper English-language sorting in the Address Book application, numerous bug fixes, and a better flash filesystem partitioning scheme.

The Hancom office applications are pretty good. They have excellent compatibility with Microsoft Office documents, although Excel graphs are not supported in Hancom Sheet. I use them primarily for viewing documents on the go and entering data while away from my desk. I also write letters in Hancom Word. There is a bug in Hancom Sheet that causes it to only save values, not formulas, in Excel spreadsheets. This bug is not present when you save spreadsheets in its native Hancom-specific format. As a result, I keep worksheets in Hancom format on the Zaurus and then export them to Excel only when I copy them to my desktop computer.

NetFront and Opera are the main browsers for the Zaurus. Opera came with the 5500 and NetFront came with later models, but Cacko includes both. Both work well. I somewhat prefer Opera, which seems to do a better job scaling web pages for the small screen.

The higher-resolution screen and landscape orientation works very well for browsing the web, and things don't feel nearly as cramped as they did on the 5500's 320x240 screen. I regularly read web sites like the Wall Street Journal Online, Slashdot, and the Open Embedded Software Forums on the Zaurus. On desktops, I typically keep the browser window about 640-800 pixels wide anyway, and the Zaurus provides a very similar browsing experience, albeit with much smaller fonts!

It probably sounds weird that as a PDA, the ultra-PDA Zaurus is actually below average. The stock Qtopia PIM apps are basic, and adequate. They feel a little more polished that they did on the 5500, but this might just be due to the higher-resolution screen which makes them feel less cluttered. Some people prefer to use the KO/Pi PIM apps instead, but I thought they were overkill when I tried them. They felt more like desktop applications shoehorned into the PDA. I prefer the simplicity of the stock PIM apps.

I synchronize with Outlook at work, and the IntelliSync software works but is a little flaky. Getting it to work the first time was a pain. In the end I was able to get it to work by using the Windows driver from the C1000's install CD with the version of IntelliSync that came with my 5500. The version of IntelliSync on the C1000's CD is in Japanese, but TriSoft figured out how to copy English-language files over top of it to make it intelligible for us non-Japanese speakers. I tried their method but ran into problems, so I uninstalled it and installed IntelliSync from the 5500 ROM v3.10 installation instead and it worked.

One thing that I discovered with my old 5500 that is also true for my C1000 is that when pushing the sync button (on the cradle for the 5500 or on the Zaurus for the C1000), it helps to hold it for several seconds before releasing it. Otherwise, IntelliSync on Windows will often not realize that a sync has been requested. I hold the button for about 3 seconds, and this has dramatically improved the percentage of successful syncs. It is also important to wait for about 30 seconds after connecting the Zaurus to the PC before attempting to sync to make sure that the network has been established over USB. I use the "advanced" USB option with TCP/IP.

I do use mine as a PDA, but if a PDA was all I wanted, a Palm would have been a much better choice. Palm's apps work better and the PC sync just works (at least it always did for my Palm V). The Zaurus's strength lies in the fact that it is much, much more than just a PDA. It is a true pocket computer.

And one of the best things about having a pocket computer is being able to do on-board development! I have done on-board Qtopia application development both on my old 5500 and this new C1000, and I definitely prefer the C1000's wider screen (in landscape mode) for editing code in vi. I've moved from a homebrew set of include files and libraries to the dev-img package available at the Open Embedded Software Forums. I've also done some minimal SDL development on the Zaurus. It's not as convenient as having a widescreen desktop, like on my PowerBook, but it's still a good setup, and it's more portable.


I have my C1000 outfitted with a few accessories. From my older 5500, I carried over a 512MB CompactFlash memory card and a Symbol Spectrum24 802.11b wireless card. To these I added a new Lexar 512MB SD memory card and a mini-A USB host cable adapter I purchased from SerialIO (part #C-OTG-6I). This last item lets me use the Zaurus as a USB host. I've tried this capability with a Logitech mouse, an HP digital camera, and an Iomega USB thumb drive and all worked flawlessly with the Zaurus, automatically detecting and loading the correct drivers in Cacko.

The Spectrum24 wireless card works perfectly with the Cacko ROM. It also worked with the Sharp ROM, but for some reason the Zaurus thought it was an ordinary LAN card instead of wireless, which complicated WEP authentication. There was a workaround using shell scripts, but Cacko fixed this bug and now I have no complaints.

The C1000 browsing the web with a Symbol Spectrum24 wireless card in the CF slot.


The C1000 is definitely faster than the 5500. Both were able to display full screen video at frame rate, but the C1000 has four times the pixels of the 5500 so this is a harder task and is therefore more impressive. When I encode my own movies, I prefer to use the 640x480 resolution, but I have also viewed movies encoded at 320x240 (targeting the older Zaurus or the iPod) and they look pretty good, too. I have enabled the option to scale all movies to full-screen. The movie player I use is Kino 2.

By the way, my preferred video encoding settings to balance quality, size, and playback performance on the Zaurus are: 640x480 XviD MPEG4 .avi 200kbps video, 64kbps stereo audio with 48kHz sample rate. I use ffmpegX on my PowerBook to do the encoding.

As I mentioned above, using the proper video driver can have a significant impact on performance. There is a version of the SDL multimedia library, called bvdd, which takes advantage of the vector instructions of the CPU to improve SDL rendering performance. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing many applications exhibit key rotation problems with this library, so I have stuck to using an older SDL library that does not use these optimizations. Even so, performance is still good due to the fast processor. Video is full frame rate, and game emulators run well.

I use a version of the SNES and NES emulators put together by the user Cresho from the Open Embedded Software Forums. They are available here. On the Sharp ROM, the NES emulator ran at full speed but the SNES emulator was just a little slow with minor sound glitches. With Cacko's updated kernel, they both run at full speed, without any sound glitches. PrBoom, a popular DOOM client for Linux, runs just as well on the C1000 as the original DOOM did on my 486DX2-66 back when it came out in 1994.

When the bvdd key rotation issues get worked out, performance should be even better.

Running PrBoom.

Battery Life

This is one of the best things about the C1000. I used to get 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours of continuous use out of my 5500, depending on whether I was using wireless internet or not. On the C1000, my run time is several hours. I haven't actually measured it, but it's probably three to four times as long as the 5500. I used to worry about running out of battery on the 5500, and I don't anymore on the C1000. This is true even when watching movies. I can watch several hours of video before needing to recharge.

In addition to the bigger battery capacity, the C1000's battery life is helped by the ability of the processor to adjust its frequency on the fly. It even has independently adjustable clocks for different subsystems! The stock Sharp ROM didn't take advantage of this feature, but Cacko provides a battery applet which lets you manually adjust the clock speeds to one of several presets.

A big problem with the 5500 was that the main file system was stored in RAM. This meant that when the battery was totally dead, you lost your files. By storing important files on a SD memory card and backing up the main file system, this problem was manageable but still annoying. On the C1000 the main file system is stored in flash RAM, so your files are safe even if the battery goes completely dead or is removed. (This is true for any Zaurus from the 5600 on.) The tradeoff is that flash has a limited number of write cycles, typically 10,000 or 100,000 writes per bit. This is actually a lot, and I'll probably never run into this limit. But just in case, I prefer to use a SD memory card for working with files that are changed frequently. If the SD card dies, I can just replace the card. I limit the internal flash RAM to applications I know I want to keep around, and important data files that are updated only infrequently.

The C1000 comes with a Japanese charger, which is rated for 100V power systems. In North America, we use 120V power, so I use the EA-70 charger that came with my 5500 instead, which is designed to handle an input voltage range of 100V-270V. It would also be possible to use the 100V power adapter with an appropriate step-down transformer to convert 120V to 100V.


As a PDA, the Zaurus is OK but there are better options elsewhere. As a pocket computer capable of wireless internet, games, and movie watching, the Zaurus is outstanding. Many of those functions are available on other devices as well, but the Zaurus combines it with a full-fledge Linux environment so you can also write software on the go. With its USB host capability it can do many things that usually require a laptop (such as download pictures from a digital camera), but the Zaurus is much more portable and has better battery life.

For me, the Zaurus C1000 is a combination PDA, portable game device, movie player, photo album, eBook reader, and programmer's toy, and it serves that role very well.

The C1000 next to my old 5500, with keyboards open.


The Zaurus User Group, which is actually part of the Open Embedded Software Foundation, is the home of the English-speaking Zaurus community. Their forums are especially helpful. You will sometimes find me there as the user BlackCardinal.

An outstanding page with tips for the C3000 and C3100 Zaurus models was put together by the user Meanie from the Open Embedded Software Forums. Most of it is also applicable to the C1000 model. His page is here. is the home of the popular English-language ROM, Cacko. Yes, the best English ROM is from Russia!

Last modified: December 14, 2005