Flashback: Sharp HC-AJ1
Joe Chow | Handheld PC Reviews
My Angel, my Sharp HC-AJ1
When it comes to notebooks from Sharp, most people will instantly think of portability. It is correct that Sharp has made quite a few quality slim notebooks and earned itself great acclaim. What is less known, however, is that Sharp has also manufactured some quality HPCs that feature both slimness and performance. A case in point is HC-VJ2C, the Japanese version of the famous Intermec 6651. Today, I will talk about an earlier Sharp HPC - HC-AJ1 (referred as AJ1 hereafter) that is easy to carry, and yet difficult to beat, at least at its time and before its EOL.
It is versatile
Sharp manages to pack an 8.4-inch TFT screen, USB host, 56K modem, CFII and PC Card type II slot, infrared and serial synchronization port in to an 810-gram beauty of AJ1. This is really something.
It is big and beautiful
Sharp is a world famous LCD maker. This is probably no coincidence that it chooses to deploy a gorgeous 8.4-inch 800x600 TFT screen in AJ1 in 1999, when no other HPC Pro machine makers ventured to follow. JVC deployed the same design principles on its MP-C303 in late 2000 and a TFT screen only landed on NTT DoCoMo S3 as late as in August 2003.
AJ1's screen is not only beautiful, but also big. Its viewable area measures 172x129mm and you can surely enjoy reading your favorite novel on AJ1 the easy and comfortable way.
It is thin
With the screen unfolded, HC-AJ1's side C or the keyboard part is only 12mm thick, about half of a Chinese coin’s height. Sharp also did a good job in keep the weight balance between the screen and side C or
Holding AJ1 with one hand is very comfortable. I like reading e-books before going to bed. Then AJ1 is always my first choice though I have tons of HPCs, WebOS and Android tablets. AJ1 has a larger screen and better readability. I can well hold AJ1 with the right hand and scroll the pages with the direction keys just under my fingers. My hands will not get tired too soon. For me, it is a perfect e-book experience.
It is fast
It is fast, at least for its launch time and before the EOL of HPCs and even Wince as a consumer platform. Unlike most other HPCs, AJ1 is powered by a Toshiba MIPS TX3922 129Mhz CPU. Its core is the MIPS R3000 series, different from those R4000 CPUs used by NEC HPCs. Though slow in CPU clock numbers, AJ1 could be one of the fastest HPC Pro machines.
I used to own an NEC 730F, the Japanese version of NEC MP880 with a 168 MHz VR4121 CPU. Nonetheless, AJ1 easily outperforms 730F in almost all daily operations. AJ1 simply does not have that kind of sluggishness I experienced on 730F. The startup time of major applications like Pocket Word, Mdict and Total Commander is significantly shorter than that on 730F. The BMQ benchmark results proof that if you compare them to other devices' results in the chart on this site.
Toshiba CPU has a powerful multimedia engine. With the great photo viewer, Pocket Quick View 3.0.7, AJ1 displays a 653kb 1152x768 Jpeg file in about 2.6 seconds. As if to showcase its multimedia power, Sharp even included a MPEG player in the ROM. Of course, it can only handle 160x160 files and is purely useless today.
It is full of stamina
AJ1 includes a standard battery rated at 10.8v 1500mAh. A TFT screen consumes much more power than STN or DSTN display panels. To my surprise, however, AJ1's battery simply lasts long. With the backlight set to the third lowest point, AJ1 delivers about 4 hours on a single charge. The test conditions are: PIM operations, e-book reading, little word processing using keyboard. I am very pleased with such a battery performance.
It is well designed and user-oriented
Though this thin and light, AJ1 still has a few design positives: the speaker is located just below the keyboard, instead of the bottom side as in other HPCs where the sound or music is severely blocked when placed right on the desktop.
Sharp does not miss out the microphone though NTT DoCoMo S2 omits. In addition, it is placed right above the keyboard. This design may help a lot if the user needs to do some light recording.
Also below keyboard are the optical pointing device and the left/right keys because HC-AJ1 DOES not have a touch screen. None of the entire AJ series - including HC-AJ1, HC-AJ2 and HC-AJ3 - is equipped with a touch screen. Instead, a touch panel is installed on these models. Besides these Sharp products, the only HPC without a touch screen I know of is the short-lived IBM WordPad Z50.
According to Sharp, AJ1 has a key pitch of 15 mm. typing English on it is quite good. But there always seems to be some noises when typing on the keyboard, due to Sharp’s thin design.
AJ1 has another human touch feature: the palm-rest area below the pointing device. This area has a few lines that increase the friction and the users’ hands will not easily slip on the surface.
My Conclusion, as of 2005 and 2013
HC-AJ1 is an angel from Sharp. It is thin, light, fast and powerful compared to those usually bulky and slow HPC Pro machines. For only 810 grams, you will get an 8.4-inch glamorous TFT screen, USB host, 56K modem, CFII and PC Card II slot. Its keyboard is good enough to write notes or even short articles, but in English only. Due to the lack of quality IMEs, inputting Chinese on this keyboard (or HPCs in general) is very clumsy and I seldom do this.
So my rating for HC-AJ1 is two thumbs up. The only thing Sharp forgets on AJ1 is probably the headset Jack. But, how could you ask for more with such an angel?
Its values in 2013?
Sad but true, HPCs died long long ago. Even WinCE as the platform for HPC or consumer tablets died a few years ago, though there are still many GPS navigators based on WinCE.
I have to admit that I never use any of my ten-plus HPC collection, which includes some Sharp VJ1C, VJ2C, Intermec 6651, Vadem Clio, NTT DoCoMo S2, JVC MP-C303 and other obscure devices.
Nonetheless, a snappy HC-AJ1 is still of value to me and other users, I believe. For international or English users, it can serve as a light and instant-on tool for making notes or writing short articles; for users from regions with double-byte language like China or Japan, writing essays on HC-AJ1 is not realistic. Then, it is a good ebook reader thanks to the stamina of its battery. I know, Kindle or Kindle Paperwhite is good ebook readers too. But I personally do not like E-ink readers, especially those without internal light. Still, it is another story when talking about e-ink reader and non-eink ones.
What are your thoughts? What do you think your HPCs can do in 2013?
Specifications of HC-AJ1:
Windows 95, 98, 98SE, Millennium, NT 4.0 SP6a, 2000 SP4, XP, 2003, Vista, 2008, Windows 7.
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