Dopod is a company that’s been largely active in the East and South-East Asian regions of the world, working together with parent HTC to rebrand its smartphones and PDAs for resale. The company recently expanded to Australia and introduced a number of its models here in September, not the least of which is the Dopod 838Pro, the subject of this review and a PDA killer.
Why a killer, you ask? This PDA is loaded with just about any hardware feature a mobile device could ask for. Connectivity? Try quad-band GSM, tri-band UMTS with HSDPA, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, infra-red and miniUSB. Display? A large touch-screen QVGA LCD is included. Messaging? There’s SMS, MMS and email with Exchange server-based push email. There’s even a large slide out keyboard to help you type. Multimedia? A music player supporting the main music formats is included, as are stereo earphones and the A2DP profile for Bluetooth music streaming. A two megapixel camera is also installed, while a front-mounted CIF camera allows for video calling.
So what feature doesn’t the Dopod 838Pro have? The only notable feature missing would have to be GPS, but few connected PDAs come with such hardware at present. Even so, HTC is rumoured to be working on a similar device that includes GPS, and Dopod would be likely to pick it up at some point.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. The 838 Pro is Dopod’s take on the HTC Hermes device, which HTC itself has released in selected areas as the TyTN, while i-mate sells it as the JASJAM. For our worldwide readers, multiple carriers around the globe also have their own versions, including3 the Orange SPV M3100, T-Mobile MDA Vario II, O2 XDA Trion, Cingular 8525 (without a video call camera), Softbank X01HT and DoCoMo hTc Z (with HSDPA disabled).
So while this review focuses on the Dopod variant, most of it will be relevant to the other variants as well. Now, let’s take a closer look.
HTC is usually known for throwing everything bar the kitchen sink into their mobile devices, but they’ve outdone themselves with the Dopod 838Pro. As I mentioned in the introduction, everything you’d expect to find in a PDA can be found in this one, and the number of connectivity methods, particularly wide area ones, is staggering. The inclusion of tri-band UMTS (on the 850, 1900 and 2100 bands) is particularly significant, as it means outbound travellers to the US will be able to take advantage of HSDPA data speeds on Cingular’s UMTS network. There’s still quad-band GSM for backup (with GPRS and EDGE), and 802.11b/g wireless for 54Mbps access to the internet if you’re in a hotspot. While Bluetooth 2.0 is standard, I’m pleased infra-red has been included as well, not dropped like many other handsets.
I’m particularly impressed with the slide-out keyboard. Unlike some other devices, this keyboard slides out from the side of the 838 Pro, rather than the bottom. It’s great because it means the keyboard is bigger, and the handset’s screen will rotate into landscape format to suit. The buttons are large and typing with thumbs is comfortable and practical. They’re even backlit, but only when it’s dark thanks to a light sensor mounted above the keyboard. It’s no understatement to say this is the first PDA I’ve used where typing data has been an enjoyable experience.
A large 2.8 inch QVGA touch-screen is the main input interface, but there’s a number of other physical interfaces, including several soft keys, phone keys, a jog dial and the aforementioned slide out keyboard that should please any type of user.
I also want to mention the included user manual. This manual is one of the most detailed I have ever seen. It’s 366 pages large – easily three times the size of typical phone manuals – and contains step by step instructions, with pictures, of every operation the handset is capable of. I’ve only ever seen these types of detailed manuals attached to the high-tech phones sold in Japan, so I was very impressed to find one with the 838 Pro. Your typical 100 page phone manual in Australia (or Europe, Asia or the USA, considering the same devices are sold in these places) barely touches the advanced features of today’s phones, and the manufacturers of them ought to take a leaf out of Dopod’s book (no pun intended) and follow the company’s example.
The 838 Pro is a PDA and utilises the typical PDA interface – a large touch-screen LCD with a few useful buttons below it. However, it’s bolstered by a keyboard that slides out from below to the left of the screen. The casing is made of plastic and coloured in two tones of dark grey. Most business executives should find the colour scheme pleasing. There’s no external antenna either, making for a well rounded handset shape.
The 838 Pro measures 112.5 x 58 x 21.95 millimetres, meaning it’s quite compact for a PDA although a tad on the thick side. At 176 grams it’s slightly heavy too, but again there are certainly heavier PDAs out in the market.
The 2.8 inch LCD occupies nearly all of the front surface of the phone. Above it lies the CIF camera for video calling as well as two shortcut buttons for messaging and Internet Explorer. There’s also two status lights indicating the state of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and phone connectivity. Below the screen are the navigation buttons – an arrow pad with confirm button, two soft keys, a Windows start key and OK key, as well as send, video send and end keys.
Turning the phone to its left-hand side, one discovers a jog dial with another OK button beside it. A button for starting the voice command system is also here and further below is the slot for a microSD card, filled in with a dummy card until you get a real one to use. On the right-hand side is a power button and the connectivity control panel shortcut button, while towards the bottom is a camera shutter/shortcut button. There’s nothing on the top, but on the bottom there’s the infra-red port, a tiny microphone hole, a slightly misshapen miniUSB port and a battery cover release. The misshapen miniUSB port accepts regular miniUSB connectors as well as the included stereo earphones, which uses the same misshapen connector. Perhaps the earphones don’t meet the miniUSB specification. Also here in the bottom-right corner is the stylus, which expands when it’s removed.
The battery cover takes up the entire backside of the phone, with holes to allow the two megapixel camera and accompanying flash to stick through. The polyphonic speaker is also here. The release switch is easily pushed, which pops the cover out to reveal the large 1350 mAh battery. Underneath it is the SIM card slot.
The keyboard requires a bit of effort to slide out as it isn’t spring assisted. Once out it firmly locks into position, revealing 42 keys shaped into a QWERTY keyboard. Number keys are integrated into the middle-right of the keyboard like a laptop one, while punctuation keys are spread throughout most buttons and are accessed using a shift button similar to a laptop’s Fn key. A separate shift button allows typing of capital letters. When the keyboard is opened, the LCD will shift orientation into landscape mode. Two soft keys positioned above the keyboard allow operation of the menu bar’s options. The keyboard will also light up if you’re in a dark room, thanks to a light sensor above the P button that tells the 838 Pro if the backlight is needed.
While I seldom used the navigation buttons under the screen, I found myself sliding the keyboard out on a regular basis. It’s easily the best keyboard I’ve ever used with a Windows Mobile PDA. Thanks to its sideways orientation the buttons are far larger than what’s otherwise possible, the buttons are tactile and have good ‘clicking’ response, and typing messages is a quick and painless affair. I could even lock in Caps Lock or Fn mode to type long numbers.
User interface & display
The LCD screen is touch-enabled and has a 2.8 inch (seven centimetre) diagonal, taking up two thirds of the front surface of the 838 Pro. It has 240 by 320 pixels of resolution and supports 65,536 colours. Such an amount of colours might pale in comparison to typical screens featuring 262,144 of them, but it really makes little difference in practice. If you have a good eye, you might pick differing gradients of grey in a picture displayed on the 838 Pro’s screen, but otherwise you won’t notice any difference. Brightness is adjustable across 11 different positions with two different settings for battery and external power. On full brightness the screen is still clearly visible under bright sunlight.
If you’ve used Windows Mobile 5.0 before (or even a Windows-based computer), then you’ll be right at home with the 838 Pro. The following is a description of Windows Mobile 5.0, so if you’ve used this OS before, you can skip to the Making/Receiving Calls section.
The Windows start button in the top left corner replaces the main menu in most phones, displaying a drop-down menu for the most commonly used functions. These include Today (the standby screen), Calendar, Contacts, Internet Explorer, Messaging, Phone and Windows Media. The programs displayed here can be customised, but no more than five can be displayed at once. The last five used programs are then listed, followed by shortcuts to all Programs, Settings and a Help window. All of the phone’s functions are available from the Programs window, while all its settings are in the Settings window, which mimics a PC’s Windows Control Panel.
The phone displays its status in the top right corner, with the clock, volume, phone reception and internet connection method (GPRS, UMTS, Wi-Fi, etc.) displayed at all times. Operation functions are displayed in the menu bar at the bottom similar to a normal phone, with two soft-keys able to operate them (although you can tap them directly on screen to activate them).
On the Today (standby) screen, a list of seven items displays more detailed status of the 838 Pro – the date, the owner’s name, unread messages, upcoming tasks, upcoming calendar appointments, whether the handset is keypad/touch-screen locked, and Pocket MSN sign-in status. When Pocket MSN is signed in (using your Windows Live Passport), four icons are displayed enabling access to Pocket MSN’s introductory screen, Pocket MSN Home (the MSN web portal optimised for Windows Mobile), MSN Messenger and Hotmail. HTC has also included status icons for the battery and connectivity control panel in the bottom right corner. These aren’t standard Windows Mobile icons.
Windows Mobile is generally responsive and fast, only slowing down when applications in the background are consuming CPU time. Being Windows of course multi-tasking is possible and several applications can be left running in the background. The 838 Pro is powered by a Samsung 400 MHz processor rather than an Intel one, and it seems to do the job well. Another interesting point with the new version of Windows Mobile is the built-in memory. WM 5.0 devices have moved away from using RAM as a data storage area and the 838 Pro’s memory characteristics reflect this. Only 64 megabytes of RAM are included, but 128 megabytes of flash memory (what was previously ROM) is divided into 64 megabytes for the OS itself and another 64 megabytes for user storage.
There are colour themes that can be customised, and the 838 Pro comes with three of them. Text display size can also be changed in certain areas, a good thing as I found the default size to be too small for my liking.
Language-wise the Dopod only supports US English. Fonts are included to display text in European languages, but not Asian ones.
Making and receiving calls
The 838 Pro connects to phone networks using GSM or 3G UMTS. It supports all four GSM bands (850, 900, 1800, 1900) and three UMTS bands (850, 1900, 2100). I tested it using Vodafone’s 3G UMTS network in Sydney, which runs on the 2100 band. Reception-wise it scored very well, holding three out of four bars of signal in places where my Sharp 903 reports full signal. It very rarely dropped audio snippets, and was quick to drop down to Vodafone’s GSM 900/1800 network if it reached one signal bar.
Calls can be held in one of four different ways – using the microphone and speaker, the loudspeaker, the included stereo earphones or your own Bluetooth headset. The regular microphone/speaker method works well with very good audio quality in both GSM and 3G UMTS networks. Speakerphone is a similar affair – good audio quality and very loud volume. It’s also enabled through one button tap on the screen and it can be done while a call is dialling – exactly how it should be.
The stereo earphones do a great job for phone calls, reproducing call audio at an excellent quality level. The control unit in these earphones has one button for answering/ending a call, and a slider to quickly adjust volume. This slider is independent of the PDA’s own volume control. Bluetooth headsets work well too – I paired my Motorola HS801 with the 838 Pro without difficulty, and the handset enables the audio channel the moment a call is started. Audio quality through Bluetooth is good, although dependant upon your headset.
The 838 Pro’s contact list is limited only by its available memory. Each contact has a multitude of fields to fill in, being synonymous with Microsoft Outlook’s fields. They include address, work address, multiple phone numbers and email addresses, birthday and job title. Handset specific entries include a personal ringtone and picture.
Windows Mobile has been known for the lack of ringtones it ships with, but Dopod has included its own set of tones to make up for the shortfall. Including Microsoft’s standard tones, there are 34 tones in all to choose from. Messaging tones can also be customised with a separate set of tones available for the task. Silent or vibration mode is set from the volume indicator in the status bar, but a separate profile system isn’t included in Windows Mobile 5.
The 838 Pro supports many of the major messaging formats – SMS, MMS, POP3/IMAP4 email, even Hotmail. There’s also direct push for IMAP4 email available.
Outlook Mobile handles the sending and receiving of SMS messages. You can compose messages of any size (concatenated SMS), but attachments aren’t available, indicating the device’s lack of EMS support. For MMS the 838 Pro comes with ArcSoft’s MMS Composer which features support for multiple slides, each of which can contain one picture or video, text window and audio file. Maximum size support is 300 kilobytes.
Email-wise Outlook Mobile comes into play again, supporting POP3 and IMAP4 email servers including direct push email from an IMAP4-running Exchange mail server. Attachments are supported with no file size limit.
While T9 predictive text isn’t necessary thanks to the slide out keyboard, you can still turn on full word prediction. The 838 Pro will attempt to predict what word you’re typing after just two or more keystrokes. I personally found it more irritating than helpful and turned it off.
As mentioned earlier, the 838 Pro has a large amount of connectivity options. For long range connectivity there’s support for GSM on all four bands (850, 900, 1800, 1900) and 3G UMTS on three bands (850, 1900, 2100). The phone can be set to automatic, locked to 3G UMTS or GSM, or locked to certain band/network combinations for certain countries. These are Europe/Asia (UMTS 2100, GSM 900/1800), USA (UMTS 850/1900, GSM 850/1900) and Japan (UMTS 850/2100). You can manually specify the network/band combination to stop the handset searching on a band unutilised in your area, saving battery life. The network radio can also be switched off altogether (flight mode).
The 838 Pro is capable of HSDPA Class 4 download speeds in 3G UMTS networks, topping out at 1.8 Mbps but more typically resulting in 500-700 Kbps. Using the handset I connected to the internet and downloaded a 2.46 megabyte file using Vodafone’s 3G network in Randwick, Sydney, where the company has HSDPA coverage. The file downloaded in 33 seconds, which equals an average of 596.4 Kbps. This performance is equal to a mid-range ADSL connection.
If you don’t reside in an HSDPA coverage area, the 838 Pro will downgrade to standard UMTS 384 Kbps download speeds (typically 128 Kbps). If there’s no 3G network altogether, the handset will connect to an available GSM network and take advantage of any EDGE or GPRS connectivity available. Both standards enable download speeds of up to 236 Kbps and 48 Kbps respectively, but again, real-world speeds are lower.
Thanks to the 838 Pro’s huge range of connection methods, it can be connected in any country in the world and in many of them you’ll get fast access to the internet as more and more networks switch on HSDPA support. In Australia the handset works on all 3G networks, including Telstra’s Next G network. After a bit of configuration the Vodafone live! portal can also be made to load, although you’ll only get the standard text portal rather than the full graphic version.
For close range connectivity there’s USB, Infra-red, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless. Wi-Fi wireless is like the other long range connectivity options – allowing access to the internet at speeds peaking at 54 Mbps (but typically at around 12 Mbps) – but only in a wireless hotspot. USB cables allow for connection to a PC for synchronising data and recharging the battery, while infra-red and Bluetooth allow for interaction with other devices in close-range. A multitude of Bluetooth profiles are supported, including the A2DP profile for streaming music to wireless headphones.
In terms of software the 838 Pro comes with two CDs: the first is Microsoft’s ActiveSync CD, required to synchronise any form of data with the PDA. The second is an application CD which includes various software to install on the 838 Pro. ActiveSync installs without fault and with little questions. You just pop the CD into your computer and follow the prompts that appear. It takes a bit of time to install the USB drivers, but once it’s done the software will prompt you to reboot the computer. Once that’s done, just plug in the 838 Pro via USB cable and synchronisation will begin. As for the application CD, I found that the software on the disc was already installed in my test handset.
One of the programs, PenPower WorldCard Mobile, is a handy application that allows you to photograph a business card and convert it into a full contacts entry. Special OCR software installed in the phone does the conversion and it doesn’t do a bad job either. The OCR isn’t perfect, but it did accurately pick the correct fields from the business card and put them in the right place.
JBenchmark 1.0 performance was impressive while JBenchmark 2.0 results are also very good. Remember JB 1.0 represents MIDP 1.0 applications, while JB 2.0 represents MIDP 2.0. No Java applications are preinstalled on the handset.
The 838 Pro comes standard with Microsoft’s Windows Media 10 Player Mobile. This program supports a number of music formats, including MP3, AAC/M4A and WMA files. Again, it resembles the PC version of Windows Media Player. It will search for music (or video) files in both handset memory and the memory card and add them to its music library. It can create playlists of certain tracks, but I wasn’t able to get it to read M3U playlist files. Functions such as repeat and random play are supported.
Sound quality through the external speaker is what you’d expect – not that good. But the stereo earphones produce very good sound quality and I have no complaints listening to music through them.
I managed to play 3GP, WMV and AVI video files using Media Player Mobile, including at full screen. Everything works fine, although if the video is too high a bitrate the player will stutter. AVI files are also highly dependent on the video codec – the file I tested was an uncompressed video file which worked but obviously stuttered due to the massive bitrate.
The included MIDlet Manager application enables Java support for MIDP 2.0 applications, but unfortunately not the JSR-184 3D extension. Only JBenchmark 1.0 and 2.0 ran on the 838 Pro, with attempts to run the 3D versions resulting only in a blank screen. The results of the 2D versions are as follows:
However, there were four games designed for Windows Mobile that were installed in my test handset. The first two, Solitaire and Bubble Breaker, are provided by Microsoft. Solitaire is the classic card game, exactly the same as the PC version included with Windows, while Bubble Breaker challenges you to destroy a screen of coloured bubbles by tapping those with matching colours and blowing them up. The next two games are seemingly provided by Dopod and made by Magic Productions. Magic Puz is remarkably similar to Bubble Breaker – you need to blow up similarly coloured balls – although there’s more skill involved. Another World is an adventure game, pitting the game’s hero in a bizarre alien world after a scientific experiment goes wrong.
Being a Windows Mobile device you’d expect a fair deal of PIM applications to be present. While the most essential ones are, a few of the less significant tools are not. The calendar allows you to set appointments on different days and includes a reminder function to alert you in case you forget about one. The tasks list is a simplified version of this, letting you set a list of tasks to perform and reminders for each one. There’s also a simple calculator for basic arithmetic, while the SIM toolkit allows access to certain operator services. There’s also Office Mobile, which includes Word Mobile, Excel Mobile and PowerPoint Mobile, allowing you to view document files from these three applications. The ClearVue PDF application allows viewing of PDF files too.
Surprisingly, tools such as an alarm clock, world time function or unit converter aren’t anywhere to be found, but being the OS that Windows Mobile is, these applications could be found on the internet and installed directly to enable the functionality.
The build quality of the 838 Pro is quite good. The slider mechanism for the keyboard is stiff enough that it’s unlikely to come loose for a long time, although it doesn’t lock in properly when it’s closed – the keyboard will come out with the slightest of encouragement. Another complaint is regarding the battery cover, which I found had come off twice after the 838 Pro was left in my pocket for several hours on separate occasions. Even when it’s clipped in it still shakes around slightly in its socket.
Apart from this, I have no complaints about the 838 Pro’s build quality as the rest of the handset is built very well.
A large 1350 mAh battery is installed in the 838 Pro, enabling up to five hours of talk time and 220 hours of standby according to official documents. Dopod doesn’t say if these figures are obtained on 3G or GSM networks. Nonetheless I ran my usual test routine here. The 838 Pro was fully charged and then left on continuously until it ran out of power. It wasn’t turned off at night. During this time I used the phone like I would my own, running exactly 30 minutes of calls through the phone each day to simulate moderate call usage. I used a combination of regular and speakerphone call methods to do this. I also sent a moderate amount of SMS messages and accessed Vodafone live! throughout each day as I regularly do.
The 838 Pro scored just over two days of usage in this test method. It obviously consumes a fair bit of power, because the much larger battery doesn’t extend battery life further than a regular phone. Nonetheless two days is still adequate for most people.
Recharging will take longer than three hours due to the battery’s large capacity.