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O2 Xphone II

O2 Xphone II
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BY TAN KIT HOONG

Xphone II
(O2 Ltd)
Triband smartphone
Camera: 0.3 megapixels (640 x 480pixels)
Display: 65,536 colours, 176 x 220pixels
Messaging: MMS (multimedia messaging service), EMS (enhanced messaging service), SMS (short message service), e-mail
Connectivity: Infrared, Bluetooth, GPRS (General Packet Radio Service)
Operating system: Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition for Smartphone
Phone memory: 32MB RAM, 64MB ROM
Expansion slot: Mini Secure Digital (SD)
Battery type: Lithium-ion 1,050mAh
Standby/talk time: 140/4 hours
Other features: Windows Media Player, MSN Messenger, Pocket Internet Explorer, Java
Weight: 102g
Dimensions (w x d x h): 44.5 x 18 x 107.5mm
Price: RM1,888
Website: www.myxda.com
Review unit courtesy of O2 (Online) Ltd (Malaysia branch). For more information contact Exquisite Model Sdn Bhd at (03) 8026-7188 or fax (03) 8026-7199

A FEW weeks ago we tested the XDA IIs, the latest in the series of Microsoft Windows CE-based personal digital assistant phones from O2.

This week, we put another O2 product, the Xphone II, through its paces.

Unlike the XDA IIs, whose primary function is that of a handheld computer, the Xphone II runs Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition for Smartphone, which means it’s a souped-up phone, that is, it is skewed towards being a better, more functional phone, leaving the PDA functions secondary.

Size is everything
The Xphone II is a huge improvement over its predecessor, the original Xphone, which was a humongous, and frankly not particularly attractive, phone.

It’s amazing that HTC (the company that produces the Xphone, which O2 markets under its brand name in this country) has managed to improve the device in every way and yet miniaturise the phone at the same time.

In terms of looks, the Xphone II is pretty sharp – like the XDA IIs, it comes in the same black and silver colour scheme.

Oh yes, quite a few people I showed the phone to actually noted that it looked a lot like the Sony Ericsson T630 – whether or not the design was intentional, it certainly does bear a strong resemblance to the T630, which is pretty high praise, IMHO.

Hitting the right keys
The first thing I noticed when I tried out the Xphone II was that it has very nice buttons.

I’m talking about the functionality here, rather than the looks – the buttons on the Xphone II are in fact angled just right and there’s a certain tactile feel to it that I really like.

In use, this translates to an extremely great feel and very quick response when tapping out an SMS.

Hardware-wise, the phone runs on a Texas Instruments OMAP 730 processor, which is pretty speedy for a phone, though of course, it can’t compete with the more powerful Pocket PCs these days.

Nevertheless, I experienced no slowdowns when running most applications, though there was still a pause when changing some graphics settings like the Home screen (the equivalent of the Today screen in Pocket PCs).

The buttons are conventional and are where you expect them to be – other than the hang-up, call and alphanumeric keys, this smartphone additionally has a Home and Back button.

Very welcome indeed is the standard mini-USB port for synchronisation – a mini-USB cable is very easy to get at most PC retail stores. This is better than most phones which require a proprietary cable if you want to sync with a PC.

The Xphone II also uses ActiveSync, the same application used for Pocket PCs, so if you already have it running on your PC, then all you need to do is connect the phone to the PC with the USB cable, establish a partnership and your contacts and appointments will all be synchronised with Microsoft Outlook.

like most modern mobile phones, the Xphone II comes with a built-in digicam – this one takes pictures up to 640 x 480pixels and is also capable of taking short videos at 176 x 144pixels.

To round off the hardware features, the phone supports Mini SD cards.

Unfortunately, the slot is located inside the phone, below the battery, which means you have to turn off the phone and remove the battery if you want to change cards.

Mini SD cards are still not that common, so you might have a little problem trying to find one in the stores.

In spite of all the major features and relatively large screen, the Xphone II has a very impressive battery life.

During the review duration, I found that you can very easily run the machine for two whole days on a single charge. You should be able to stretch it even for an entire third or fourth day if you aren’t a major user.

Just to put things into perspective, I generally get worried about battery life on other phones after about one and a half days of continuous use.

Tripping the light fantastic
Just like its cousin the O2 XDA IIs, the Xphone II has an O2 Connect application that will automatically set your phone’s settings for GPRS and MMS once you choose your service provider.

One thing I really liked about the Xphone II is that searching through contacts is very, very fast, since the phone auto searches through your contacts list as you tap out a name (PalmOne users will recognise this as there is a similar feature found on some of the company’s handhelds) – just start tapping out the letters of a person’s name and the phone will narrow down the contacts list until only one is left.

Accessing all the other phone functions are fine, though getting to the other applications like Calendar, Notes, Multimedia Album etc, requires you to go through a lot of menus before you get to what you want – a bit difficult, but unavoidable, considering the phone has so many features.

Talking about features, this phone is so small and shaped so much like a conventional phone that it’s easy to forget that it really runs the Windows Mobile operating system, which means it has a full-featured Pocket Internet Explorer and MSN Messenger bundled with it.

Having Pocket Internet Explorer means you can visit all websites, not just special Wireless Application Protocol-formatted ones.

In fact, Pocket IE displays web content surprisingly well, considering the small screen size, stacking web content into a single column so you don’t have to scroll left and right to view large pages.

Another feature I found most interesting is MSN Messenger – building it into a phone means that you can essentially be connected to the chat client the entire day.

MSN Messenger also uses the T9 input method, which means that you can quite easily tap out quick short messages – I can see that having MSN Messenger on the phone could be useful for casual users as well as business users who need to be in constant contact.

Windows Media Player is also included in the software package and just like its desktop PC counterpart, supports MP3 and WMA music formats as well as Windows Media Video and MPEG4 video.

You can also install lots of software and games currently available for Windows Mobile-based smartphones, such as the ever-popular Bejeweled (www.astraware.com).

In fact the smartphone really benefits from sharing the same kernel as the Pocket PC, since it’s relatively easy for developers to port loads of games and other applications already available for Pocket PC to the smartphone platform.

The phone’s built-in speakers are loud and clear – much louder than I thought possible from such tiny speakers.

The phone only comes with a 2.5mm stereo mini-jack, which is smaller than most stereo jacks for portable audio players.

Talking about sound, the Xphone II comes with a speakerphone function – great if you want to carry on loud conversations in public and want to make sure everyone can hear what the caller is saying too. :)

Seriously though, the speakerphone works quite well and would be extremely useful if you’re say, driving your car and can’t be bothered to fumble with a wired handsfree kit (or don’t have a Bluetooth headset).

Since the review unit wasn’t supplied with a manual, it took me some time to find the option to enable the speakerphone – I finally figured out that holding down the green Call button for a couple of seconds while in a call would switch the phone to this mode.

The built-in VGA digicam is serviceable, but nothing to write home about. Pictures taken at full 640 x 480pixels were okay, but definitely a little soft at the edges.

The camera can also take short videos at a maximum of 176 x 144pixels (with sound) in 3GP file format.

The phone supports Bluetooth but the lack of a wireless headset prevented me from testing out the audio quality when using the Xphone II with it.

The phone’s Bluetooth supports only two other profiles that I could see other than connection to a headset – dialup and serial.

Serial is useful if you want to connect and synchronise the phone with a PC and the dialup profile allows you to utilise the phone as a wireless dialup modem with PDAs and PCs.

The final word

So what’s the verdict on the Xphone II?

Well, I’ve never been much impressed with smartphones in general, but I must say that after three weeks with the Xphone II, I came away with a more positive feeling about this class of device.

Instability of the operating system was not an issue at all during the three weeks that I used it – in fact, the phone did not crash or hang even once.

A major plus to having such a sophisticated operating system on the phone is that you really can do so much with it – surf the Net with a real web browser (though not all the time due to the small screen size and cost of GPRS), chat with MSN Messenger and even download and play games that are a lot more graphically-intensive than those found in most phones.

The Xphone II also doesn’t sacrifice size to get all these features – it’s really about the same size as most phones out there but with a bigger and higher resolution screen than most.

At RM1,888, the phone is actually rather cheap compared with other smartphones on the market, which generally retail for more than RM2,000.

Would I recommend it? Yes, if you have the moolah.

Pros: Feature-packed large bright TFT screen good battery life.

Cons: Lots of menus to go through to access some features.



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