The latest PDA/phone combination to be introduced by O2 to the Australian market, the O2 XDA IIs is the next model in the XDA line of PDA phones produced by High Tech Computer of Taiwan (HTC) and branded and sold by O2. With a new sliding keyboard mechanism that resembles regular slider phones, as well as the standard PDA feature set including a large, colourful TFT LCD touch-screen; polyphonic synthesiser; shared memory expandable through an SD/MMC card slot, with support for SDIO expansion cards; and the powerful Windows Mobile 2003 operating system, O2 aims to impress. Do they? Read on for our review.
The XDA IIs has had many new changes from the outgoing XDA II, with the two most important ones possibly being the addition of wireless LAN capability, better known as Wi-Fi, as well as a physical keyboard that slides out from behind the device. Wi-Fi (802.11b) support will be a boon for travelling business people, as it will allow them to bypass the GSM/GPRS network altogether and use wireless hotspots to connect straight to the internet, the same way you may through a laptop computer. The keyboard is a convenient addition, although it will gain its fair share of followers and critics due to its miniscule size.
Other extra changes since the XDA II include the addition of the fourth GSM band, making the XDA IIs a quad-band GSM device, able to work in any GSM network anywhere; a larger battery resulting in longer standby times and talk times, and a ROM upgrade bringing total storage memory up to 96 megabytes of read-only memory, with 44 megabytes available for the user. The rest of the hardware, including the Intel Xscale PXA263 400MHz processor, remain unchanged. Finally, Windows Mobile 2003 has been refreshed with Second Edition for various minor improvements and bug fixes.
Unfortunately the weight of the handset has increased – at 210 grams the XDA IIs is one of the heaviest phones around and somewhat heavier than standard PDAs.
As mentioned, the XDA IIs is a large and heavy device that follows the standard PDA form factor found in the industry. You are dealing with a very large 3.5 inch LCD touch-screen that can display 65,536 colours and has a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels. It’s a superb screen that can show a lot of information at once, and is made even better by the fact that it’s still very readable when used outdoors in bright sunlight. Messages are clear and I didn’t need to squint to read them. A sturdy stylus pen is concealed in the top right corner of the PDA and works like a breeze with the screen.
If you are not familiar with a PDA’s shape, it looks like a standard candybar phone, but instead of a numeric keypad, the whole front face of the handset is taken up by the massive touch-screen. There are a few odd buttons on the front for shortcuts to PIM applications such as Calendar, Contacts, Pocket Internet Explorer and Messaging, as well as a five way directional pad and dial/hang-up keys. The XDA IIs adds to this with the addition of a 39-key keyboard that slides out from the back of the device, and resembles a laptop keyboard in that it contains all the alphabet letters in QWERTY format with number keys overlapping the letter keys on the right-hand side. The slide out set-up is a very simple one and unlike the Samsung E800’s one-touch spring mechanism, the XDA IIs requires you to completely slide the keyboard out and has a very gentle (and easy to trip) lock to keep it from sliding back in. Had it been like the E800 it would have been easier to use.
On the handset’s left side you’ll find a volume rocker switch as well as dedicated camera and dictaphone buttons, with the infra-red port sitting beneath them. On the back you will find the small VGA camera lens with a slightly larger self-portrait mirror so you’re sure you’re in the right spot for a self-portrait. Underneath is the large, yet light battery. The back of the battery is painted black and acts as the back cover. To remove the battery you just flick a little switch at the bottom of it and the battery will pop out very easily, revealing the slide-in SIM card slot.
At 210 grams and with dimensions of 125 x 71.6 x 18.6 millimetres, the XDA IIs is not your everyday, compact mobile phone. But with all the features that it offers, you can’t complain too much can you?
User Interface & display
It’s Windows in a tiny computer - there’s no better way of summarising it. While the layout of Windows Mobile 2003 SE is slightly different to what you’d expect from a PC with Windows XP installed, the learning curve is very, very small. You use the included stylus to “left-click” on icons and menus on the screen. By tapping and holding the stylus on one spot, you will “right-click”, bringing up a small menu for general functions like copying and deleting. The ever present Start button is in the top left corner of the screen, and tapping it will bring up a list of standard programs, recently used programs and access to settings and help screens.
The standby screen can list up to five different lines of information, including the current date, the owner, messaging status (if you have any unread messages), and the status of your calendar and any tasks you may have entered. The calendar application works like a diary, allowing you to enter your schedule and have the phone keep you up-to-date on it. Tasks is a simpler form of scheduling where you enter any thing you need to do at a certain point in time, with a reminder note if necessary.
The phone is extremely customisable like its elder Windows XP sibling, with the phone’s background, colour scheme and sound effects all able to be change. A huge myriad of settings are available and can be adjusted from the settings screen accessible from the start menu.
The screen used on the XDA IIs is a 3.5 inch 240x320 resolution TFT touch-screen LCD that can display 65,536 colours. The display can be set extremely bright to make for comfortable viewing in bright light conditions.
Making and receiving calls
There are multiple ways to make a phone call with the XDA IIs, the simplest being to dial the number using the keyboard’s numeric pad and press the dial key. If using the keyboard bothers you, another method is to select Phone from the start menu, and use the stylus to ‘dial’ the numbers on the touch screen and then select the talk key. The method I prefer is to select a contact from the huge address book and dial from there, as I prefer to store numbers away and forget about them altogether. Talking can be done through the integrated microphone and speaker, through the included stereo wireless hands-free, and through a Bluetooth wireless headset.
Talking through the integrated microphone and speaker posed no problems. The audio was clear and precise, and my caller also heard me loud and clear. There is an inbuilt loudspeaker for phone calls, but I would never have figured out how to turn it on unless I looked in the manual – you have to hold the dial key down for two seconds to turn it on and off. Once on, it was very loud and easy to hear. The stereo earpiece also worked without any problems with audio coming through both earpieces, although the microphone was not especially sensitive and could have been a little bit better. In the case of Bluetooth headsets, I was able to synchronise my Motorola HS-801 headset and use it without any problems.
The phonebook has exactly the same capabilities as the Outlook address book, able to store as many entries as shared memory will allow and able to support an insane amount of different fields within each entry, ranging from name, address, phone number and email address to birthday, assistant name, spouse name and pager number. The 32 tone polyphonic synthesiser handles the ringtones, and while the speaker is adequate, the included ringtones are not, and are far too simple to even be called polyphonic ringtones. Both Microsoft and O2 could have worked a bit harder to have good quality ringtones included on the device. MP3 files can’t be set as ringtones, even though there is support for playing them normally through Windows Media Player, pre-installed on the device.
If you’re going to get a Pocket PC PDA smartphone, it has to have one of the best messaging suites, right? And the XDA IIs does not disappoint in this department. You have full support in the SMS and MMS departments, as well as the integrated Pocket Outlook program for sending and receiving email (which also comprises the address book and calendar, incidentally, like the regular Microsoft Outlook for PCs).
SMS messages of up to 600 characters can be composed and sent to other phones with support for long (concatenated) SMS. Text input occurs through one of two methods, either through the virtual keyboard on the touch-screen or through the real keyboard that slides out from the back. Which you decide to use will come down to personal preference, I felt that if I used the device for a number of weeks I could grow used to the keyboard, but for beginners it will take getting used to due to the extremely tiny nature of the keys. If you can get used to the keyboard, it will be the faster way of inputting text. Nonetheless, text input is extremely fast with no lag whatsoever. Not having to rely on a predictive text system is also a bonus.
The MMS system is fully featured with support for text, pictures, sounds and 3GP videos. You can also create multiple slides to allow you to attach even more content, up to the 100 kilobyte limit. Receiving and viewing MMS is a joy due to the large screen, and using the stylus to point and select content to add seems to be so much more enjoyable then having to use a keypad to do the same thing. Finally, POP3 and IMAP email work through the Pocket Outlook program and can be utilised with any such email address, although you’ll need an internet connection (rather than a WAP one) to properly use it. The same goes for Pocket MSN Messenger, the Pocket PC version of the popular MSN Messenger instant messaging client. It functions exactly the same way as the PC version, allowing you to exchange instant messages with friends who are also signed in. Certain functionality such as emoticons and file transfers are unavailable, but if you can do without that, being able to be signed in to MSN Messenger in any GPRS zone in Australia is quite fantastic. While my Vodafone subscription circumstances prevented me doing just that, I did get a taste of how it worked through a wireless LAN connection, and no doubt the functionality through GPRS will be the same.
The connectivity level of the XDA IIs would be one of the best, possibly even unrivalled. You start with quad-band GSM support, meaning the phone can connect to any GSM network running on the 850, 900, 1800 or 1900 MHz bands, effectively any GSM network in the world. Add to this GPRS for packet data transfer up to 48 kilobits per second. Top it off with 802.11b compliant wireless LAN support for connections of up to 11 megabits per second, suitable for situations such as (super-fast) internet connections through wireless hotspots, or simply as a way to connect to other PCs through your wireless network at home.
If the level of external connectivity is not enough, you can rely on the USB, infra-red and Bluetooth capabilities to stay connected with your PC or other nearby devices. A USB based docking station comes with the XDA IIs, so that all you have to do is mount the PDA to not only connect it to the PC, but to recharge it directly without connecting it to a power point. If you have the ActiveSync software by Microsoft installed you will be able to synchronise with Microsoft Outlook, as well as transfer files between PDA and PC.
The XDA IIs is extremely sturdy, and with the cover firmly attached to the device itself (including the battery cover, which is in fact the back of the battery itself), there are no ‘attached’ parts that have the potential to loosen up. The weight may add to the durable feeling I get when holding the device, but it does feel like it will last a long time, at least a few years.
A massive 1490 mAh battery will make sure that the XDA IIs can last up to seven days on standby with the screen turned off. It will last 15 hours if used as a PDA only, and provides four hours of talk time. In real life usage I was able to use the XDA IIs for about three days, where I made about an hour of phone calls each day and used various functions on the PDA for an hour as well. A full recharge takes about two to two and a half hours.