The Sharp Zaurus, specifically the SL-5500, is one of those devices that combines so many perfect little touches and features it makes me wonder how it survived getting out the door without a ton of compromises. I'm also saddened a bit by how it didn't catch on instead of some of the more ghastly PocketPC devices, but I guess that's what this tiny phlog is about. I first read about a mythical, Linux-based PDA back in 2003 or 2004. The various Linux sites and Slashdot would tout all the cool gear other countries and regions were getting that wouldn't be available here. Back then, it almost seemed too good to be true. I was hanging on to my beloved Handspring Visor until I could get something that wasn't another Palm-powered device with slightly more colors or an ipaq (ipa*Q*, kids.) Then I discovered the Sharp Zaurus: It was a gorgegous device - stylus driven with a very slick slide-out keyboard as well as a very decent (especially for the era) screen. Sharp made an interesting decision to light the s
creen from the side but other than that quirk it was a very well done handheld. It ran smoothly, it played MP3s, lots of very full-featured apps, an unheardof combination of both SD and CF card slots - the CF slot worked with a good number of wireless cards as well. It was a pretty amazing little device, especially in the early aughts.
There was decent application support for the stock Qtopia environment that shipped with the Zaurus. I could easily jot down notes, put together quick emails and play ScummVM anywhere I happened to be. Not too long after getting my Zaurus, I discovered OpenZaurus (http://openzaurus.org) and that pipedream of running Linux on a handheld came to be. The install wasn't difficult by any standards and the operating environment OPIE (http://opie.handhelds.org) was very, very polished. It honestly did feel like Linux on a handheld. OpenZaurus did pretty much everything I needed for a handheld...who am I kidding?? It was way more than I ever needed out and about or on the road - it was Linux in my coat pocket. It was such a cool tool to have at the ready. Poke around on the rare-but-becoming-ever-more-prevalent open wifi places were offering? Heck yes! Setup VNC to manage servers from my tiny wonder-device? Yep!
The Zaurus could arguably be one of the more successful listings on here but I couldn't help but put down a few thoughts on it since it was such a groundbreaking handheld. It definitely wasn't the first Linux powered device but it certainly had the most impact. Even as phones became smarter and more feature-rich, I would still think to myself "I wish this Nokia/Blackberry/Treo would have XZY like my Zaurus..." I still fire it up today occassionally to poke around and for the sheer novelty of what it's capable of. It's honestly still useful to this day, if you don't mind being asked why you're still fiddling with a handheld vs using all the things a modern smartphone is capable of doing.