- Competitive price
- thin and light
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi built in
- No Flash ROM allocation for user data backup
- flimsy stylus
Fujitsu Siemens has been building itself a reputation in the Pocket PC arena for a while. But the company's previous devices have tended to be overshadowed by snazzier, more price efficient offerings from its rivals. That may change with the Pocket LOOX 420 which, although it has a couple of shortcomings, is generally an impressive Pocket PC handheld.
In these days of mostly silver-liveried Pocket PCs, it's refreshing to see Fujitsu Siemens take a different approach. The Pocket LOOX 420's slate-grey casing is easy on the eye and differentiates it nicely from the competition. A second distinguishing mark comes in the rectangular application shortcut and navigation buttons. These are reminiscent of those found on Toshiba’s two newest Pocket PCs, the e800 and e400 series, and like the buttons on those devices are large and so easy to hit accurately. Measuring 11.3cm high by 7cm deep by 1.4cm high and weighing 125g, the Pocket LOOX 420 is impressively thin and light. To complement these svelte proportions, Fujitsu Siemens has taken a minimalist approach to the hardware design, with the edges of the casing almost entirely free of buttons. The downside of this is that there's no scroll wheel; on the other hand, the Pocket LOOX 420 has a sleekness that some other handhelds might profitably emulate. Even the obligatory Voice Notes button, located in its standard spot on the top of the left edge, is both small and nicely sculpted. The top edge of the device is home to the SD card slot and the headphone jack, which is positioned perfectly in ergonomic terms. Even better, the jack is a standard 3.5mm sized connector. Two rubber pads at the back, towards the upper edge, help to prevent the device slipping about when it sits flat on a desk. This is an excellent touch. The infrared port is, unusually, located on the bottom left edge -- a position which allows the screen to remain oriented for viewing when the Pocket LOOX 420 is connected to other devices. We do have one gripe about the design: the stylus, which lives in a housing on the upper right-hand side at the back, is somewhat flimsy.
When it comes to specification, the Pocket LOOX 420 has its pluses and minuses. The aesthetics are definitely a plus point, as are the 400MHz Intel PXA255 processor and the built-in wireless connectivity -- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (802.11b). The two wireless modes are separately controlled via icons on the Today screen. When both are turned on, a single LED flashes green for 802.11b activity and blue for Bluetooth. Bonding with Bluetooth devices can sometimes be a little hit-and-miss with Pocket PCs, but in this instance we set up our Nokia 3650 as a modem and were on the Web in a matter of minutes. Joining Wi-Fi networks is usually straightforward, and we connected to our own network and from there to the Internet easily and quickly. On the minus side, the absence of any Flash memory allocation for backup and the relatively low amount of RAM do disappoint. Although 64MB is still the norm for Pocket PCs, some devices, such as the connected xda II from O2 and the M1000 from Orange, now offer 128MB, making 64MB look a little limited. Of course the SDIO-compatible SD card slot allows you to add extra storage space as required, as well as add functionality. Fujitsu Siemens provides some pre-loaded software which augments the regular Pocket PC bundle. FSC Backup will send data to an SD card, and you can choose whether to back up the entire system or just specific files. This is good as far as it goes, but does not perform scheduled or low-battery-triggered backups. FSC Speed Menu runs when you press one of the application shortcut buttons, providing quick access to applications and a couple of system tools. The most useful of these is the Running Programs control, which allows you to close unused applications and free up memory. FSC Speed Menu also allows you turn on and off the key lock: when on, this prevents the Pocket LOOX 420 from being turned on when a key is pressed -- something that can all too easily happen by accident. The Pocket LOOX 420 comes with both a docking cradle and a cable, and its 1,100mAh Li-ion battery is removable.
Handheld battery life is at last beginning to improve, but it's still relatively rare to see devices break the five-hour mark. The Pocket LOOX 420 managed this by five minutes, and delivered looped MP3 music for a continuous 3 hours and 45 minutes. We ran our test with the wireless modules turned off, and you should expect less if you are a heavy wireless user. The removable battery lets you use a charged spare if you're on the road and need plenty of uptime. Offering both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (each separately controllable), at an attractive price, the Pocket LOOX 420 is an appealing proposition. The lack of Flash storage may turn off some users who require the ability to make backups in the field, but an SD card is perfectly adequate for this purpose, and as backups can be stored away from the device itself, it's actually a better bet for field workers who could lose their handheld, or have it stolen.