- ✓Compact and lightweight
- ✓utility software for data and application management
- ✓impressive battery life
- ✕Moderate performance
- ✕headset jack is inconveniently located
As far as Windows Mobile-based smartphones are concerned, Orange leads the field. The company's SPV was the first of its kind in the UK, and Orange remained the only player in this market until Motorola came along with its clamshell MPx200 late last year. The SPV C500 is Orange’s fourth SPV (Sound, Pictures, Video) device, and it's a significant improvement on what’s gone before.
Smartphones, like any other phone, need to fit into the pocket neatly. They can be packed to the rafters with features, but if they are too bulky nobody will want to carry them. So it's pleasing to note that the SPV C500 weighs just 100g and measures a compact 46mm wide by 108mm deep by 16mm high. Smartphones also need to be easy to use. Because their screens lack the touch-sensitive layer found on handhelds, the interface is totally button-driven. Orange has had trouble here in the past, but we think the SPV C500 offers the best array of control buttons yet. There are six in all, above the petite number pad. Two are call and end buttons and two act as soft-menu activators. The remaining pair of buttons are elongated and sit one above the other. The uppermost is a simple rocker: the right-hand end functions as a back button, while the left-hand end takes you to the Windows Smartphone Today screen. The lower is the Action key and caters for left, right, up and down movement, and when pressed, for selection. It feels robust and responsive, and – in contrast to many other devices we’ve seen -- usability isn't overly dependent on the possession of small fingers. The screen occupies most of the upper half of the hardware. It is the familiar 16-bit, 220-by-176 pixel type, and measures 45.8mm tall by 36.6mm wide. The processor is a Texas Instruments OMAP 730 running at 200MHz, and there is 28MB of user-accessible memory for storing applications and data. Handheld users will feel this is not nearly enough, and we are inclined to agree. Storage capacity can be augmented via miniSD card, one of the new breed of cards designed specifically for smaller devices. We have two grumbles here. Why not stick to SD, as many people already have cards in this format? And why is the card located beneath the battery, where access requires the phone to be switched off? The card is certainly as safe as it can be from theft, but swapping cards is a nuisance. The back of the phone houses a VGA-resolution camera complete with a small mirror for composing self-portraits. A button on the right edge of the device activates the camera and when pressed again takes a photo. You get a USB cable but there's no cradle supplied with the phone; nor -- in a break with tradition -- does Orange supply a carrying case.
Windows Mobile for Smartphone 2003 Second Edition comprises a number of standard applications. Calendar, Tasks and Contacts synchronise with Outlook on the desktop, while Messaging handles SMS, MMS and email messages. The standard software bundle also includes Internet Explorer, Voice Notes and Windows Media Player. The SPV C500’s manufacturer, HTC, has added some useful utilities such as Space Maker which removes old emails, SMS, call history logs, voice notes and so on to free up storage space; you also get Task Manager, which can be used to close applications, and File Manager. Orange further boosts the suite with its Signature Phone offerings (Orange Backup, Orange World, Orange Update and Orange Help), plus Java, PacketVideo player, a Caller Photo ID application, and Multimedia Album to manage the images you shoot with the camera. The camera can capture JPEG stills at 160 by 120, 320 by 240 and 640 by 480 pixels and video (with or without sound) as MPEG-4, AVI or h.263 files at 128 by 96 and 176 by 144 resolution. It will also capture images specifically for use as Caller Photo IDs, and within a Picture Theme for MMS messaging. Image quality is fairly good: you get daylight, incandescent, fluorescent and night modes, and can tinker with various settings and filters (greyscale, sepia, cool) to add interest to your pictures. Orange has replaced the Windows Mobile Home Screen with one of its own, which ranges the six most frequently used applications on a strip down the left-hand edge. These are Contacts, Call logging, Messaging, Calendar (Today), Camera and Pocket Internet Explorer. Highlighting any of these and pressing the Action button provides either information or options. Do so over the Calendar icon, for example, and Today’s next three appointments show up, along with shortcuts to add a new appointment and jump to the Calendar Today view. If you don’t like this arrangement you can switch back to one of the more standard options. The screen is not as bright as some we have seen, but includes a light sensor to ensure that battery power isn't wasted on unnecessary backlighting. This may be a factor in the strong battery life we experienced (see below). The SPV C500 has Bluetooth wireless connectivity built in, and we successfully paired the device with a Bluetooth headset and a Bluetooth GPS receiver during the test period.
Ditching the mini-joypad of the SPV E200 was a great move, and we found the rocker and action buttons very easy to use. We also like the small size of the device, although the headset connector is on the bottom edge, which means you need to store the phone upside down in your pocket to ensure that the connector doesn't get disturbed. Battery life was exceptional. We tried our usual looping MP3s test, leaving the radio on but allowing the screen to dim after 30 seconds of non-usage. We played music from a miniSD card and set the volume as loud as it would go -- which was remarkably loud while retaining relatively good quality sound. We achieved nine hours and eight minutes of battery life. During real-world testing we have managed to go for several days between battery recharges, although using Bluetooth does deplete the battery rather more quickly. We encountered the dreaded Windows 'wait' icon more than once, and until this is eradicated the Windows Mobile smartphone platform can’t be described as totally user-friendly. That’s Microsoft’s problem. We also feel that a lot more on-board memory is required: not all applications will run from memory cards, and network operators surely want users to download plenty of applications and data.