- Affordable, compact and reasonably well specified.
- Only 36.5MB of the 64MB of RAM is available for running programs and storing further applications
- battery is not removable.
The battle of the low-cost Pocket PCs has taken a significant step forward with the arrival of the Mitac Mio 338. The price is low, the device is compact, and the product is being sold and marketed by established PC makers such as Evesham and AJP. Could this be the watershed moment when the Pocket PC becomes a serious proposition for budget buyers who would hitherto only consider a low-cost Palm OS device?The Mio 338 is certainly impressive on a number of fronts. Price-wise it's pretty much the cheapest Pocket PC that money can buy. Looking at VAT-inclusive prices, the Mio is £100 less than Hewlett Packard's new iPAQ H1910, £50 less than Dell's 400MHz 'Performance' Axim X5 model, and about the same as the 200MHz 'Standard' Axim X5 model. That makes the Mio 338 an attractive proposition in its own right. But there are differences between all of these devices in terms of specifications, and the bottom line for someone looking for a Pocket PC will obviously involve comparing pricing and features to get the perfect mix. Although the Mio 338 has some good points, a couple of features let it down.
Whatever the amount you intend to spend, the two key features of aesthetics and functionality combine with price to force a decision. The Mio 338's hardware design is very attractive: the casing has a nice two-tone effect, with the main body finished in a silver metal and a frame around the screen and under-display buttons in a metallic blue; it's a combination that offers a subtly attractive appearance. The Mio 338 comes with a leather-look sleeve that adds little to the overall size of the device when in use. This should be fine if you intend to carry the Mio in a pocket, but because the sleeve lacks a closure of any kind, the handheld is liable to slip out when in a bag or case. Size and weight matter with a handheld, and Mitac has clearly taken this into account, delivering a weight of just 120g, which is very competitive in Pocket PC circles. The footprint is 7.7cm wide by 12.2cm deep, and the Mio is 1.1cm tall when lain flat. This makes it slightly larger than the HP iPAQ H1910 but considerably more compact than Dell's Axim X5 models. The transflective screen is as clear and bright as you could wish, and at 3.5in. is plenty large enough. It provides 65,536 colours, as most Pocket PC screens do. The various buttons ranged around the hardware are responsive: the application shortcut buttons and navigation pad issue a nice click when depressed, and the shortcut buttons all light up blue for a few seconds when one is selected. We're not sure we like this feature, but you can deactivate it via an applet in the System Settings. The left side of the casing houses an activation button for the voice recorder and a responsive scroll dial wheel. There is also -- should you ever feel the need to dangle your Pocket PC from a wrist -- an eyelet for a lanyard. The top of the casing is home to the usual infrared port, power button and stylus holder. The stylus is one area where a budget handheld will often fall down: many devices in this class are supplied with poorly weighted, short or otherwise difficult to use styli. Not so the Mio 338, whose stylus extends to 11cm when extracted from its casing, and is nicely weighted at the tip. There are two LEDs at the top of the casing; one indicates that the battery is charging and goes off when the battery is full, while the other flashes to show due appointments or other notification items. Although it's a budget Pocket PC, the Mio 338 comes with a docking cradle. This is relatively small and neat, and has a blue light that comes on when the hardware is docked. We're pleased to note that there is a power connector on the hardware itself, and that this is a standard type. This makes it relatively easy to charge the Mio while you're on the move.
An Intel XScale PXA250 processor – albeit the low-end 200MHz model -- forms the heart of the Mio 330. Its selection over a 400MHz model is clearly a cost-cutting measure, but it shouldn't greatly affect the running of any of the standard Pocket PC applications -- or, indeed, any third party software. You get 64MB of RAM, but some of this is occupied by the Pocket PC application suite and Mitac add-ons, leaving only 36.5MB available to share between storing further software and running applications. There is an SD/MMC slot, so you can augment the storage capacity of the device. The software extras are basic but adequate: eBackup helps you make sure your data is safe, eMenu is an icon based alternative to the Today screen and eViewer is an image viewer with some sophistications such as a slide show mode. Five megabytes of the system's 32MB of ROM has been set aside as backup storage. This isn't as much as some Pocket PCs offer, but it isn't to be sniffed at -- 5MB should be enough to keep vital contacts and your diary safe from a complete power drain. Battery life is quoted at 8 hours, which is pretty poor -- although it's not out of line with other budget Pocket PCs. The fact that the battery isn't removable is a drawback: it would be nice to be able to carry a spare for use when access to mains power is impossible.
The Mio 338 is a decent enough Pocket PC when its price is taken into consideration, but it's let down by two key features. However, the relatively slow 200MHz processor speed isn't one of these: it should prove quick enough for most users. The first of our two niggles is the relatively small amount of RAM available for additional software. This might become a problem if you intend to use a lot of third-party applications and it militates against an completely positive review. The other drawback is that the battery is not removable. Hewlett-Packard has managed to provide a removable cell in its low-cost iPAQ H1910, as has Dell in its Axim X5s. This seems a sensible approach in any device with relatively short battery life: low-life batteries are a way of keeping production costs and weight down, but the opportunity to buy spare cells would allow you to keep your options open. Overall, these two criticisms detract from what is otherwise an excellent low-cost handheld. Even so, if money is tight, it'll be well worth considering this Pocket PC against low-cost devices from better-known manufacturers.