- Data and voice communications integrated with classic Pocket PC functionality
- superb hardware design.
- expansion limited to SD only.
Microsoft announced Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition last October, and the existence of O2's xda product, which uses this new version of the handheld OS, has been known since then. However, it has taken the intervening nine months to get this eagerly-awaited product to market. Now the device has finally been released, and it is the first in Europe to combine Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition with GPRS communications.
The xda's key selling point is, obviously, that it takes the standard Pocket PC 2002 features and adds communications features. It’s not the first Pocket PC/cellphone convergence device we’ve seen: Sagem’s WA3050 and Trium’s Mondo did the job with mono-screened devices last year, while Siemens introduced colour with its SX45. But none of that trio of devices was particularly satisfactory. They were relatively bulky, software integration was limited, and their use was not an altogether pleasant experience. The xda is in another league: its communications features are integrated in Microsoft’s latest version of Pocket PC 2002; it can take advantage of the faster communications speeds offered by GPRS; and it is a superb piece of design.
At the most basic level, you can use the xda to make voice calls thanks to a built-in phone dialler that turns the touch screen into a number pad. It is easier to use than a standard mobile phone, as it offers larger buttons to prod at. It also has a huge call memory and good speed dial features. Hands-free and speakerphone options are catered for, or you can hold the device to your ear. Application integration means you can initiate a call from the device’s contacts database using tap and hold. Incoming calls generate a notification bubble dislpaying caller ID details, if available.
However, if all you intend to do with an xda is make voice calls, you will miss the point entirely. Its GPRS compatibility, along with the version of Pocket Internet Explorer that comes with Pocket PC 2002, means you can access both WAP and Web sites. You can, for example, pick up Web mail or access your company’s intranet and cache important pages to read offline. Pocket IE supports SSL, so it’s even possible to perform secure transactions.
Meanwhile, Pocket Inbox -- conventionally used to synchronise with corporate email using wired (or wireless) ActiveSync -- takes on a new dimension thanks to Server ActiveSync, which copes with contacts, calendar and email over the air. SMS messages are stored in Inbox, which means you don’t have to cope with a separate applet to handle them, although it does feel a little strange when first used.
All this will probably seem exciting for anyone who has used two devices to manage their communications and portable data management until now. Certainly, having had a prototype xda on test for some weeks, we can confirm that it’s pretty liberating to use -- despite the frustration of Web pages that need to be scrolled in the xda’s small screen, and the lack of support for some advanced formatting features. However, our test device was free, and our airtime bills were paid. In the real world, an xda is likely to cost between £400 and £500 (inc. VAT), and there are ongoing tariffs, which are listed here.
In addition to its communications features, the xda is a functional Pocket PC 2002 handheld. Unfortunately, despite its high price, a few compromises seem to have been made on the specifications front. The 206MHz Intel StrongArm processor is par for the course, but there is only 32MB of RAM on board rather than the 64MB that’s common on competing devices. Expansion options are limited to a single SD/MMC slot, probably in an effort to keep the overall size down. The display is also only capable of delivering 4,096 colours rather than the 65,536 offered by several rival devices -- perhaps a compromise in order to maximise battery life, which is quoted at 3.5 hours talktime and 150 hours standby.
If you must have GPRS data communications integrated into a Pocket PC 2002 device right now, then O2’s xda is the only viable option, and it does its job pretty well. But if you can wait a while for some competition to appear, it might be sensible to do so.