- ✓128MB of RAM
- ✓built-in tri-band GPRS phone
- ✓built-in stills/video camera
- ✓removable battery
- ✓reasonable price.
- ✕No flash on digital camera
- ✕headset socket is poorly located.
O2 made quite a splash last year with the original xda, and now it’s the turn of the all-new xda II to make waves in the PDA pond. O2 has learned a lot from its xda experience, and the new model -- which is available at £349 (inc. VAT, with a 12-month contract) -- has plenty to offer anyone seeking an integrated, connected Pocket PC handheld.
At first glance the xda II looks like a standard Pocket PC device. The give-away phone antenna sported by the original model is now buried inside the casing, making for a more streamlined look and feel. To accommodate the antenna, the xda II’s casing is a little taller than the average (130mm) and also somewhat deeper (19mm), but this is hardly noticeable unless you sit a few Pocket PCs side by side, and the width is close to average at 70mm. Weight, at 190g, is on the high side -- but this is to be expected given everything that’s packed in. In fact, these dimensions compare favourably with at least one other Pocket PC: HP’s iPaq H5550 – and that doesn’t include a phone. The speaker sits above the screen (disguised in a design feature rather than resembling a small grille), while the microphone is a tiny slot located towards the bottom of the casing. The four application shortcut buttons familiar to Pocket PC users are split into two pairs, above and below the screen: the lower pair initiates and ends calls, while the upper pair gives quick access to calendar and contacts. A navigation pad located between the two lower keys rolls nicely under the thumb, but is rather too close to the bottom of the hardware to be accessible for one-handed use. The SD card slot, infrared port and on/off button are in the top of the casing, while the upper left side is occupied by three keys. One of these activates the Voice Notes application; the second controls system volume if you are not on a call, speaker or headset volume if you are; and the third is used to activate the built-in VGA-resolution digital camera. The design isn’t in any way radical, but it is ergonomic in use and easy on the eye.
The xda II is the first integrated Pocket PC we’ve seen to run Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition. This is Microsoft’s version of Pocket PC for connected handhelds, incorporating a phone dialler and adding some communications features to other applications, such as the ability to place voice calls direct from the Contacts application. O2 has added a number of its own features to Microsoft’s standard Phone Edition offering. One of these is the O2 Active range of services, which is accessed via the O2 Active screen. This provides shortcuts to on-board features like the phone application and image viewing tools, and to revenue-generating options such as news, sports and other information/leisure services. The O2 Active screen also incorporates a mini-Today view summarising upcoming tasks and appointments, and unread emails. It’s quite a nice interface, complete with sounds and pop-out submenus, and is a clever scheme by O2 to encourage the use of its charged services. O2 also provides some extra applications located in ROM. These include the ClearVue PDF reader, ClearVue PPT (a PowerPoint reader) and PhotoContacts, which allows you to attach images to contact database entries and use these as a Caller ID feature. There is also a task switcher which, unfortunately, is only accessible from the Today/O2 Active screen. The digital camera sits on the back of the casing, and its features are accessed via their own application. It can take stills at 640 by 480, 320 by 240 and 160 by 160 pixels, and video at 176 by 144 and 128 by 96 pixels. There’s no flash, but a range of ambience settings go some way towards compensating for different lighting conditions. Images can easily be dropped into MMS messages. Underneath all this is a strong hardware specification. The processor is an Intel XScale PXA263 running at 400 MHz, and there’s a very healthy 128MB of RAM. In addition, 14MB of the 64MB of ROM is set aside for permanent user-accessible data storage. You can also use SD expansion cards -- the card slot supports SDIO, so peripherals can be added through it, opening up the possibility of adding Wi-Fi (Bluetooth is built in already). The phone is tri-band with GPRS, with 5 hours claimed talk time and 180 hours on standby. Handheld operation is quoted at 15 hours.
We were generally pleased with the xda II's performance during our evaluation period. One ergonomic glitch is the poor sitting of the headphone socket on the bottom right corner of the hardware. This stops the device sitting comfortably in a pocket, and is possibly the most awkward spot to find when you want to use the headset at speed. The battery was quite a disappointment though. Our test involved looping MP3 playback with the screen always on, with telephony capability switched on and switched off. We found that the cell lasted for 4 hours and 31 minutes without telephony, and 4 hours and 38 minutes with – the same for all practical purposes, and a long way from the suggested 15 hours. We were not making calls during this time, and we also had Bluetooth turned off. The good news is that the battery is removable, so those in need of additional uptime away from the mains could invest in a spare. O2 has learned a lot from its first experience with the xda, and this new model is a well-rounded device with services that should keep both business and leisure users happy. The reasonable cost compared to other high-end Pocket PCs suggests that O2 expects to garner significant income from its O2 Active service.