Motorola MC35 Enterprise Digital Assistant

  • Editors' rating
    7.2 Very good

Pros

  • Solid build quality
  • Miniature keyboard
  • Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPRS/EDGE and GPS inlcuded
  • Camera doubles as barcode scanner
  • Superb battery life

Cons

  • Windows Mobile 5.0 rather than Windows Mobile 6
  • Lacks 3G connectivity
  • Mini-joystick is fiddly to use
  • Somewhat chunky form factor

At the beginning of this year Motorola bought Symbol Technologies, a company with a strong pedigree in the rugged and industrial handheld computing market. Motorola's resulting Enterprise Mobility Division continues to operate in Symbol’s markets, and the first handheld to appear since the acquisition is the multifunctional MC35 — which was in fact designed by Symbol pre-takeover and looks distinctly un-Moto-like.

Design
The MC35 is designed to operate in relatively challenging environments, so it will come as no surprise that it's somewhat more chunky and rugged-looking than your average Windows Mobile handheld. It measures 66mm wide by 127mm tall by 21mm thick, and weighs 185g.

Some handhelds have aesthetic pretensions, so that mobile professionals can show them off in front of colleagues, clients or competitors. However, the MC35 is distinctly utilitarian in appearance and feels a little chunky in the hand and pocket. However, these things matter less than good ergonomics, and on that front it's worth noting the display, the mini-keyboard and the arrangement of buttons.

The display measures 2.8in. from corner to corner and delivers a resolution of 240 by 320 pixels. Although higher-resolution displays (640x480 and, in the case of Toshiba’s new Portégé G900, 800x480) are not uncommon now, the MC35’s display is pretty clear.

The MC35's larger-than-average casing makes the screen look smaller than it is. The display is also significantly recessed, which can make hitting icons or menu items in the corners of the screen with a fingertip a little challenging. This is not a critical issue, but anyone switching from a different device will notice the difference. The stylus, which sits in a housing on the upper right edge, is very lightweight; we'd prefer a heavier pointer.

The mini-keyboard is quite small, with keys about 4.5mm square and well separated from each other. It's straightforward to use them for tapping out short messages, emails and notes, but we don't recommend trying to type quickly or at any great length.

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Between the screen and the keyboard is a bank of buttons that provides access to a range of features. There are Call and End buttons, a Windows Mobile Start menu button and an OK button. Above these are two elongated softmenu buttons, and in the middle is a mini-joystick for navigating through menus and making selections.

All of the buttons are flush to the casing, and not particularly easy to pick out with a finger by touch alone, making them a little less comfortable to use than we’d like. We also prefer navigation pads to mini-joysticks, and find that this one suffers a little from its small size. Given that this is a more rugged device than your average handheld, any working situation that required gloves to be worn would make the keyboard, buttons and joystick distinctly testing to use.

There's a volume rocker on the left-hand edge, while the right edge has two further user-programmable buttons.

Features
The MC35 is a connected Windows Mobile 5 device incorporating a quad-band GSM phone with GPRS/EDGE support. This is some way from the cutting edge, given that Windows Mobile 6 devices with 3G/HSDPA support are increasingly common.

The processor is Intel’s 416MHz PXA270 and there's 64MB of SDRAM plus 128MB of flash ROM. After a hard reset, our review sample reported 41MB of free storage memory. As usual, storage capacity can be augmented using flash memory cards: the MC35 has a covered SD slot on the top edge of the casing for this purpose.

Bluetooth (1.2), and infrared are integrated, as is a GPS receiver. Various iterations of the MC35 are available, with or without Wi-Fi and/or a camera. Our review sample had both, the 802.11b/g Wi-Fi working perfectly on our wireless network. The 2-megapixel camera has a small flash unit and shoots stills at resolutions up to 1,600 by 1,200 pixels. The camera can also double up for barcode reading, which may prove useful in some inventory management situations.

Performance & battery life
The MC35's battery performed extremely well. Before starting our test, we set the processor speed to ‘auto’ in order to balance performance and power saving — other settings are ‘maximum performance’ and ‘powersave’.

From a full charge the MC35 delivered 9.5 hours of continuous music with the device's screen forced to stay on throughout. Just as impressively, we got our final low battery warning after 6.5 hours, giving us a full 3 hours to hunt around for a mains power socket. When you're out of the office, a timely low battery warning is vital if you're to remain connected and productive.

The Motorola MC35 is a sturdy Windows Mobile handheld that should withstand a few knocks and drops. However, a fully rugged handheld would have to sacrifice some portability, and so the MC35 does leave some parts vulnerable. For example, the display can still be cracked if items are dropped onto it; we're also not convinced that a joystick is the most robust navigation option.

Conclusion
The Motorola MC35 has one outstanding characteristic: superb battery life. If this is what you require above all else, then it may be worth considering. It's also worth shortlisting if your working environment can be tough. However, the MC35's lack of 3G and use of Windows Mobile 5 rather than the newer Windows Mobile 6 may deter some potential customers.

 

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