O2 XDA IIs
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COMBINING a personal digital assistant (PDA) and cellphone is an exercise in balance – the product has to work well as a handheld computer and personal organiser while being as manageable and mobile as a handphone.
In truth, such a product does not exist. What you get is a compromise – a pocketable mobile phone but with so-so PDA features, or a good PDA but bulky handset.
This is why a company like O2 has two product lines – the Xphone and XDA series.
O2,s XDA IIs, the subject of this review, is more PDA than cellphone and is roughly the size of a regular Pocket PC with a touchscreen. Its upcoming Xphone II, however, is more cellphone than PDA for users who lean that way.
The XDA IIs comes close to being the ultimate wireless handheld, featuring quad-band GSM (Global System for Mobile communications), Class 8 and 10 General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), WiFi and Bluetooth.
It is not the first handheld that integrates three types of wireless options if I’m not wrong, Hewlett-Packard,s H6365 was the first.
However, what sets the XDA IIs apart from its rivals is that it features a cool slide-out thumb-keyboard. And that’s not all that this handheld has going for it.
This is one mean-looking machine it is dressed all in black and looks like a refined version of the original XDA II.
At a glance, it doesn’t look like much has changed with the design but that’s where you’d be wrong. Slide the screen upwards and you will find a full QWERTY thumb-keyboard.
What is impressive is that O2 has managed to integrate the keyboard without making its handheld thicker than most other Pocket PCs.
The XDA IIs retains the “Hang up,” “Call,” “Contacts” and “Calendar” buttons of its predecessor, but has three more buttons – providing shortcuts to the Today screen, messaging application, and Internet Explorer – and a fourth which is a dedicated “OK” button to make it easier to navigate the menus with one hand.
Its battery pack is removable and now has a capacity of 1,490mAh, which is a bump-up from the 1,200mAh capacity of the XDA II unit – a 25% increase.
The processor is still an Intel PXA263 XScale, running at 400MHz, but the ROM has been upgraded to 96MB of usable space for storage.
As far as RAM goes, the XDA IIs has 128MB, which is a good thing since there are a lot of services and applications that run in the background when you first fire up the handheld.
One of the complaints about the first-generation XDA was that with just 64MB RAM and so many services running in the background, the operating system would not allow you to launch more than three or four applications before it would suddenly start closing applications you were trying to open.
With the 128MB in the XDA IIs, this doesn’t seem to be a problem and applications I opened, stayed open.
After using the XDA IIs for a couple of weeks, I came to the realisation that Pocket PC-based handhelds have come a very long way in terms of stability and features.
In the time that I used it, the handheld didn,t crash on me – not even once. But, of course, that’s very little time to gauge system stability, I must add.
The thumb-keyboard takes a bit of getting used to, though.
I have to say that given the correct thumb-keyboard, such as the ones on the original Handspring Treo (before the merger with PalmOne) and the Hewlett-Packard iPAQ H4350, I can type pretty fast.
The thumb-keyboard on the XDA IIs, however, is a membrane type – i.e. the keys are located over a soft rubbery “skin” – and I found that although the keys are spaced well apart, I still occasionally pressed the neighbouring keys by mistake.
After a little practice, I found that the best way to use this keyboard was to use my fingernails instead of my fingertips to hit the keys. Switching to this method greatly increased the accuracy and speed of my thumb-typing.
The other issue I had with the thumb-keyboard was that the punctuation marks on the keys were labelled in a light-green colour, which is hard to see and tended to become almost invisible when the keyboard,s blue backlight was switched on.
Since the XDA IIs is also a mobile phone, I decided to extensively test its battery life in a variety of situations.
During the course of a day, I would make a few phone calls (not long ones since I’m not a chatterbox), play a few games, snap a few digital pictures, surf the Internet using GPRS, occasionally utilise a WiFi connection, and play back music files. I did this over the course of a week just to see how long the battery would last.
I found that on average, a fully-charged battery would last about 1.5 days with that kind of usage. This is above-average performance and I can safely say that if you were to recharge its battery every night, the XDA IIs would last a whole day no matter what you threw at it.
Just remember to switch off WiFi if you are not using it – it really does devour a lot of battery power. Or, you could program the handheld to automatically turn off WiFi after a set period of inactivity.
This part of the XDA IIs works much like the one on the XDA II, which means that the cellphone interface is easy to understand.
To make a call, just launch the phone application by pressing the green “Call” button on the front and then either enter a number directly or choose a name on your Contacts list.
There’s also a history list of your calls and Speed Dial buttons, much like on a regular cellphone. You can adjust the speaker volume by pushing a rocker switch on the side of the device either up or down during a call.
You can also utilise SMS (short message service) and MMS (multimedia messaging service) on this device.
The hiccup here is that Windows Mobile 2003 SE for Pocket PC Phone Edition only lets me set delivery reports on a per-message basis, instead of giving me an option where all my SMSes would trigger a delivery report by default.
The XDA IIs is loaded with many applications right out of the box, ensuring that you can take advantage of its various wireless options.
When you first switch the device on, you can use the AutoConfig application, which automatically sets up your GPRS settings for surfing and MMS messages when you select your mobile carrier from a list.
Once set up, you can use the Wireless Manager, which is a simple application that lets you quickly switch between GPRS, Bluetooth and wireless local area network (WLAN) connections.
Oh yes, the XDA IIs can automatically switch from a WLAN to GPRS connection when it detects that the WLAN connection has been lost.
There’s also O2 Connect, which is a special application that you can use to download patches, updates, Today themes and other goodies when you have a wireless connection to the Net.
Apart from the basic system applications, the XDA IIs is also loaded with a lot of other stuff, like XBackup (to back up your handheld), ClearVue PDF viewer, ClearVue Powepoint viewer and Photo Contacts (to add faces to your contacts list).
The built-in digicam, although only capable of taking pictures at 640 x 480pixels resolution, performed quite well.
I found that the auto-exposure system coped very well with most situations, even in dim light. Generally, the pictures taken on the XDA IIs were much better exposed than those from Hewlett-Packard’s RX3715 in similar environments.
The auto white-balance also worked very well. It’s certainly better than those found on most camera phones, and is as good as – if not better – than those on several other camera-equipped PDAs that I,ve tested.
You can also shoot short videos at 176 x 144pixels resolution in H.263 format, which can then be sent out as an MMS message, or in MPEG-4 format, at 320 x 240pixels.