- Available SIM-free
- outstanding battery life
- No Bluetooth
- protruding antenna is irritating
- small headphone jack
- comparatively expensive
Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition operating system doesn’t appear in a great number of devices in the UK. O2 had the market all to itself for some time, first with the xda, and now with the xda II, and Orange’s recently announced M1000 has come along to share the market with the xda II and a pair of devices from Eten (the P300 and P700).If you're looking for a SIM-free Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition device, you now have something to consider apart from the two Eten models: AnexTEK’s SP230, which is brought to the UK by Sword Services. It's expensive at £499 (inc. VAT) as it lacks any kind of operator subsidy. But if you can handle the high price, it has one very significant advantage over every other handheld we have seen: superb battery life.
The SP230 has a design feature we’ve not seen before in any Windows Mobile/Pocket PC device: a removable number pad that's very similar to the pad on Sony Ericsson’s P800 and P900 smartphones. This flip-down section covers around two-thirds of the screen and locks firmly into a connector on the bottom of the device. When the number pad is removed, you replace it with a small section containing just the Call and End shortcut buttons. The 158g SP230 is relatively compact, measuring 6.8cm wide by 10.9cm deep by 2.1cm high, but these measurements ignore the antenna, which adds nearly 2.5cm to the depth on the right-hand side, and the number pad, which expands the height to around 2.5cm. One advantage of having the antenna is that there's room for a relatively long stylus, whose housing begins in its tip. Unfortunately the plastic stylus is flimsy and feels light in the hand. The screen measures 3.5in. across the diagonal and stretches almost to the outer left and right edges of the casing. This always has the effect of emphasising screen size, and somehow it feels larger than that of, say, O2’s xda II, even though the display dimensions are in fact identical. Unlike other Pocket PC devices, the SP230 has no application shortcut buttons: all you get, apart from the number pad plus Call and End buttons, is an on/off switch. The left-hand side of the device houses a scroll wheel, a volume button (which handles both handheld and phone volume) and a hold button that locks the screen and prevents accidental key presses on the number pad when the SP230 is in transit. The top of the device is home to an SD card slot, infrared port, and -- exactly where it needs to be -- a headphone jack. Unfortunately, although it's sensibly located, the jack is a 2.5mm unit rather than a standard 3.5mm one. The reset button, which is on the back of the SP230, is activated by the stylus tip, so at least you don't have to unravel the stylus to access a fiddly small pin or, if the stylus is lost, carry a paper clip to make a soft reset.
The SP230 is powered by an Intel PXA255 processor running at 400MHz. There is a facility to slow this to 200MHz or have it run in Auto mode, in which case its clock speed will be regulated depending on the functions being asked of it. There is 64MB of RAM, all of which is available for applications and data. Bluetooth’s absence is a bit of a missed opportunity, as a device like this lends itself both to wireless handsfree headsets and to use as a modem with notebooks -- for which Bluetooth is a great boon. The SD card slot allows for data expansion, and SDIO is supported. There are two lights on the upper right front of the casing which variously indicate power charging, alarms and notifications, connection to a network and GPRS data transfer. The phone is tri-band with GPRS. There's little software provided with the SP230 beyond the standard Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition bundle. WIBackup is the only other ROM-installed application. This will make backups of either all data, your PIM data (you choose from Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Notes and Inbox) or selected files. WIBackup will backup on demand, at scheduled times, or when the battery reaches a specific power threshold. It's a very flexible tool, and one of the best backup utilities we’ve seen. The SP230 is supplied with a docking cradle that has a rather distinctive and appealing look, and includes a charge bay for a spare battery -- the cell provided with the SP230 is removable. You also get a mains power adapter, a carrying case, a spare stylus and a set of headphones.
The removable number pad is a clever idea in theory, but in practice we found it to be something of an irritation. When fitted, it leaves very little of the screen visible, so it needs to flipped down in order to take a quick glance at the screen. This is even the case when you're reading some larger alerts or notifications, such as long SMS messages, and it makes checking the calendar or other full-screen applications more troublesome than it would otherwise be. The number pad also adds a small amount of bulk to the hardware; we found ourselves working without it for most of the test period. Fortunately there is one area in which the SP230 is outstanding: battery life. Manufacturer AnexTEK quotes 3 to 5 hours call time and 100 to 150 hours standby for the phone module. We tested the handheld's battery life by turning the phone module off and looping MP3s, having set the processor to its Auto mode. We were impressed when the battery low warning came after five hours and 42 minutes -- many handhelds switch off completely before running this long, let alone telling us they are getting short on juice. Music stopped after 7 hours and 35 minutes, while the battery itself gave up after 10 hours and 23 minutes. This is the first handheld to break 10 hours of battery life in our tests, and it now sets the benchmark for others to beat. The fact that you can buy a spare battery and charge this in the docking cradle makes the SP230 the ideal connected handheld for business travellers who want to travel light. However, it's expensive and lacks the generous complement of RAM that its operator-subsidised xda II and M1000 rivals offer, not to mention missing out on Bluetooth.