- good-quality digital camera
- improved Microsoft smartphone software
- Poor battery life
Orange launched the first UK phone to run Microsoft’s smartphone software, followed that hardware up with a revamp, and has now released the first device to run the new Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphone platform. Each new phone has offered some ergonomic tweaks; with the SPV E200 we also get a couple of major additions in the shape of Bluetooth and a built-in digital camera.
At first glance, the SPV E200 could easily be mistaken for its E100 predecessor: its size and shape is very similar at 50mm by 120mm by 24mm, as is its 130g weight. There are a few subtle but significant differences in the casing, the most important of which is the incorporation of a lens for the built-in camera in its back. The action key has also changed, although it retains its joypad-like design, while the twin softkeys have a slightly different look -- they remain small, and are just as pesky to locate and prod as they were before, but precision comes with practice. The number pad keys are raised slightly from their base plate, which makes them easier to hit, and they benefit from a bright blue backlight. We still don’t like the positioning of the earphone/handsfree jack on the bottom right of the casing -- where it’s likely to cause problems in the pocket. Why can’t it go in the most ergonomic location, on the top edge? We have no argument with the location of the SD/MMC card slot on the lower left edge, nor with the power, voice note and volume keys that reside along the upper left edge. Overall, the E200 feels comfortable in the hand, if a little on the large side. The bright, transflective display delivers 176 by 220 pixel resolution and 65,536 colours, and is unchanged from the SPV E100. Sit the two models side by side and it’s impossible to tell the two screens apart in terms of quality.
The SPV E200 is a tri-band GSM/GPRS phone that delivers all the features you’d expect for voice call management, including WAP, polyphonic ringtones, voice memos and so on. This being a smartphone, manufacturers tend not to talk too much about processors and memory. These features do matter though -- especially if you’re more accustomed to the greater storage capacities of handheld devices. The SPV E200 is powered by a Texas Instruments OMAP 710 processor running at 132MHz, and has 32MB of on-board RAM, plus 64MB of flash ROM. Storage capacity can be augmented via the SD/MMC card slot, which has SDIO support. Orange has finally managed to include both Bluetooth and a camera in an SPV. Both are pretty much de rigueur for a phone that claims to be in any way smart, so their appearance is welcome. Bluetooth is tricky to activate if you don’t have a Home Screen layout that offers shortcut access to the Settings area; it takes three key presses to get to the screen that allows you to switch between on, off and discoverable modes. We’d have liked a hardware switch. The camera is one of the best we’ve seen in a phone. It captures both still and moving images, the former at three resolutions (160 by 120, 320 by 240 and 640 by 480) and the latter at two resolutions (176 by 144 and 352 by 288) with or without audio. There are several ambience settings, including one for dim lighting and an option that lets you manually tweak brightness, gamma, hue and saturation. Results are fair, and the range of settings helps, but this is obviously no alternative to a good standalone digital camera. Also, candid snaps are difficult to get because there’s no hardware button to activate the camera. On the plus side, a small reflective plate beneath the camera makes it easy to take pictures of yourself. The SPV E200 runs Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphone and is the first UK phone to do so. The new platform got what the industry calls a ‘soft launch’ -- which in plain terms means it has crept out rather quietly. In fact, it’s possible that anyone considering a purchase and comparing the SPV E200 with Motorola’s MPx200 won’t even realise that they run different core software versions. The differences between Windows Smartphone 2002 and Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphone are, for the most part, incremental issue-fixes rather than fundamental developments. Here are some of the key changes we have discovered. Microsoft has added a Bluetooth stack and camera support. The Home Screen has had its Programs menu renamed a more Microsoft-like Start. Inbox now caters for multiple email addresses rather than just one, and there’s a new SMS character counter. All in-application menus now have keypress options, which saves the bother of scrolling down through an options list -- you just hit the appropriately numbered key to make a selection. Usefully for professional users, it’s now possible to set separate Peak and Off Peak Mobile ActiveSync rules, which should allow more cost-effective use of the phone. A new application in the shape of the JawBreaker game, which comes with the Pocket PC version of Windows Mobile 2003, is supplied, and overall the new platform seems faster. There were certainly fewer occasions on which we had to wait for the phone to catch up with our keypresses, although we did experience this on occasion. Orange augments the Microsoft application bundle with some ROM-based tools of its own, plus a suite of third-party applications which you install from a supplied 8MB SD card. These include full versions of Pocket Slide Show (PowerPoint viewer) Dockware (screen saver) and Rebound (game), along with time-limited trial versions of CodeWalletPro (for keeping information such as passcodes secure), eWallet ( another passworded data manager) List Pro (list manager) and PowerTasks (to-do list manager).
The SPV E200 feels pretty good in the hand and is ergonomic to use as a phone. The basic diary, contact and task management features work well enough, although the cramped display that’s characteristic of this type of phone can let the power user down. Microsoft’s improved software seems to run less erratically than before, and the various enhancements are welcome. Speaker volume is impressive: listening to MP3 playback at full volume is almost too loud for comfort, and although there is some distortion at this level it’s really not bad at all. Unfortunately battery life lets this phone down. Orange quotes three hours’ use and three days on standby. We conducted a simple test and got three hours of MP3 playback before the phone started to reduce volume automatically. And although we got around five hours’ use before the battery gave up, we weren’t happy making phone calls that far down the line. You will absolutely need to dock this phone every day to avoid battery drainage. Overall, though, this is the best incarnation of the SPV range we’ve seen to date. The built-in camera and Bluetooth bring it up to today’s standards, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphone software is more robust and feature-rich, and the phone is neither too large nor too unwieldy to carry around. It’s just a shame about that poor battery life.