O2 are no stranger to the smartphone arena, having debuted a large range of Microsoft-powered smartphones in different form factors over the last few years. One of their latest offerings is an update to their standard phone-based line – the Xphone, which was first announced in 2003. This new phone is the Xphone II, and comes in a nice, sleek candybar form factor that is smaller and nearly 30 grams lighter than the outgoing model. While most technical specifications remain the same, its processor has been upgraded to the TI OMAP 730 running at 200MHz.
If you’ve ever wanted to take Windows with you when you leave home but don’t want to bring your laptop, and a PDA is not your cup of tea, then the XphoneII might be just what you’re after. It does all the normal phone things such as voice calling, SMS, MMS, internet access and photo taking through a VGA camera, but with Windows it can do so much more. Compact versions of Internet Explorer and MSN Messenger add a new degree of functionality, and with Microsoft ActiveSync you can keep your contact list, calendar and task notes synchronised with Microsoft Outlook on your computer from the point you connect your Xphone II up to your computer.
If you are comparing the Xphone II to the older Xphone, then nothing much has changed. Windows Mobile 2003 has been upgraded to Second Edition (SE), the processor has been upgraded to a 200 MHz chip from a 133 MHz one, and the external memory socket has been changed to a miniSD one instead of an SD slot. No, the real change is in the aesthetics of the Xphone II. The design has become a bit more conservative although more pleasing to the eye than the outgoing model. It has a much classier grey/black finish and the buttons are now in neat, connected rows. The phone has lost 28 grams of weight, tipping the scales at 102 grams, and it has physically shrunk as well, making the Xphone II one of the smallest and lightest Windows Mobile smartphones in the market.
The Xphone II is a compact candybar handset with a firm rectangular shape. You could compare it to a Nokia 6230, although the Xphone II has a much larger screen. At 2.2 inches, 176x220 pixels resolution and supporting 65,536 colours through TFT technology, the screen performs very well, with a wealth of information displayed simultaneously. It doesn’t get too hard to read under bright, outdoor light, but in some
situations I did have to look carefully to read messages, for example.
The front of the phone has the main screen with the traditional phone keypad underneath. The keypad consists of two soft keys, dial and hang up keys, home and “go back” keys, as well as a five-way joystick, with the 12 key numeric keypad underneath. Various small buttons line the side of the phone, with the camera shutter button on the right hand side, the volume rocker switch on the left, and the power/profile button on the top. On the bottom is the miniUSB socket and 2.5 millimetre headphone jack for the hands-free. Finally, the back side of the phone houses the extremely tiny VGA camera with a small mirror mounted beneath for self-portraits. The battery cover is also here, and, unlike some other phones, has one of the simplest cover removal mechanisms I’ve seen yet. Just hold the small button at the bottom and slip the cover off. It’s as easy as that. Underneath you will find the battery, and removing that will reveal the SIM and miniSD card slots. This means that the memory card is not hot-swappable, unfortunately.
The Xphone II weighs 102 grams and is fairly compact at 107 x 44 x 18 millimetres. For a Windows smartphone you will be hard pressed to find anything smaller.
User Interface & display
If you’ve ever used Windows on a PC (in this day and age most people will have had experience with Microsoft Windows) then you shouldn’t have any problem using Windows Mobile 2003 SE. While not as intuitive as Windows smartphones using a touchscreen, the Xphone II is still easy to understand and get used to.
On the standby screen you have five ‘desktop’ icons you can select from, which consist of your last used programs, similar to the way the Windows XP start menu works. You can scroll to the left and right between more recently used programs as well. There is also a Start button allocated to the left soft key, and pushing this key will bring up the list of applications installed in the phone to choose from, such as Pocket Internet Explorer. Jumping to menu options is as simple as pushing the button of the number next to the option.
The display, as mentioned earlier, is a 2.2 inch TFT unit with 176x220 pixels and displaying 65,536 colours. It works very well as a camera viewfinder and is large enough to display a fair amount of information at once.
Making and receiving calls
Making calls is as simple as dialling in the number and initiating the call, and with a keypad this is easier than using a touch-screen based Windows smartphone where you need to enter numbers through a virtual keypad or select contacts from the address book. You can talk through the handset, through a wired hands-free, or through a Bluetooth wireless headset.
I was able to test all three methods and they all resulted in clear audio for both me and the person I was speaking to. Using the phone’s own microphone and speaker, my caller told me that I was much clearer than with my regular phone, so the microphone seems to be very good. Reception was also very good, able to achieve and hold onto a signal longer than the same regular phone (a Sharp GX20) in an indoor area known for its bad reception.
The phonebook can store up to 500 entries and each entry is capable of virtually every field that exists for a contact in Microsoft Outlook. You can store multiple numbers, email addresses, job title, company name, the list goes on. The same speaker for phone calls is used for polyphonic ringtones and supports up to 32 tones. The ringtones included with the phone however didn’t do the speaker justice, being very basic forms of polyphonic ringtones.
Advanced messaging is always the forte of smartphones, and the Xphone II is no exception. SMS, MMS and email are all available from the Messaging menu. I am pleased to report that the Xphone II is capable of sending long SMS of more than 3000 characters, which will require more than a huge 20 messages to send. You’ll also be hard pressed to find any recipient who can receive such a huge message, but the Xphone II is capable of it. Text input is very fast, and won’t slow down, even if you do compose a 3000 character message. T9 predictive text input also contributes to a smooth text input experience. MMS is completely supported with slide capability and is able to have pictures, sounds and videos attached. You can also directly access the camera, video camera or sound recorder directly from the composition menu if you want to capture something there and then.
POP3/IMAP email support is available and utilises an internet connection for sending and receiving. You can also access MSN Messenger from the Start menu, and provided you have a Passport account with Microsoft, you can connect to the service and swap messages with people online, the same way you do over a computer. I was not able to use it however as I wasn’t able to get a GPRS internet connection working through my test unit. More on that in the problems section.
With tri-band GSM support, you can be connected in five different continents. The bands supported are the usual 900/1800/1900 MHz, so limited connectivity will be available in the United States, as some networks there are beginning to utilise the 850 MHz band. GPRS class 10 ensures speeds of up to 48 kilobits per second, with the Pocket Internet Explorer browser installed for accessing standard HTML pages as well as WAP based xHTML pages.
Local connectivity consists of USB and Bluetooth, with data synchronisation possible over either one. Microsoft ActiveSync is included in the retail package, which allows you to keep your phone’s contact list, calendar and notes synchronised with Microsoft Outlook installed on your computer, just by connecting the phone to your computer.
The build quality of the Xphone II is very good. The phone feels durable and solid, with the only exception being the back cover sliding a millimetre up and down if pushed. Nothing rattles if the phone is shaken, and I really got the sense that the phone will last for a good few years.
With a huge Lithium-ion battery of 1050 mAh, the claimed standby time of 140 hours and talk time of up to four hours are very accurate indeed. On standby alone the phone lasted up to five days turned on non-stop, and with moderate usage of 30 minutes of calling and light messaging the phone still lasted up to three days. Despite the power sucking TFT screen and camera, the Xphone II passes the endurance test with flying colours.