- New control button design helps usability
- improved transflective display.
- No Bluetooth
- bulky for a mobile phone
- digital camera is an add-on rather than built in.
When a new iteration of Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system was announced recently, the absence of any news on the Smartphone platform was notable. The additional fact that Microsoft has only one Smartphone partner in the UK (Orange) might suggest that the company’s assault on the mobile phone market is in trouble. However, Orange clearly thinks otherwise, because it has just revamped its original SPV (the acronym sounds for Sound, Pictures, Video) with a new model, the SPV E100. This phone fixes a number of deficiencies of the original SPV.
The SPV E100 is, like its predecessor, on the chunky side for a phone. It measures 23mm deep by 50mm wide by 120mm tall and weighs 120g. This represents a slight change from the dimensions of the original SPV, which measured 22mm deep by 48mm wide by 116mm tall, although the weight is the same. The difference in footprint is negligible, but there are some hardware features that differentiate the E100 in terms of look and feel. In particular, the keypad is somewhat larger on the new device. The keys are now much easier to tap, making both dialling numbers and writing SMS messages easier. The various menu and option buttons have undergone a radical rethink. The original SPV's navigation pad has been replaced by a joystick which is far easier to use. Also, the Talk and End keys, which were formerly attached to the Home and Back keys respectively in a sort of rocker arrangement, have now been separated into individual buttons. A further pair of buttons sit directly beneath the display, and these are used to activate the left and right menu options that appear on-screen while using the E100's various applications. This new arrangement does more than just give the phone a different look. The separation of the buttons makes them far easier to use: in particular, it's possible to hit the Talk and End buttons firmly and accurately without actually looking for them --something that was a little hit-and-miss before. Smartphones need large displays in order to show the diary, contact, Web and other data that they deliver. The display of the SPV E100 is the same physical size as that of its predecessor -- 2.2in. measured diagonally -- and offers the same 176 x 220 pixel resolution with a palette of 65,536 colours. However, the E100's LCD is transflective rather than reflective (as in the original SPV), making it brighter, clearer and with improved viewing angles. The edges of the casing carry various additional features. A headphone socket --unfortunately requiring a small rather than standard-sized jack -- is on the bottom right-hand edge. You can use the supplied headphones for voice calls and for listening to music via the supplied version of Windows Media Player. Audio quality is good, but we'd have liked the headphone socket to be on the top of the handset rather than on the bottom right: in its current position there's a tendency for it to jiggle about in the pocket. The upper edge is given over to the infrared port. This is your only means of wireless communication, as the SPV E100 does not provide Bluetooth connectivity. On the left-hand side you'll find the power switch, a shortcut button to the voice notes recorder, and a rocker that adjusts in-call volume. Beneath these lies a slot for an SD card, on which you can store data and applications.
Like the original SPV, The SPV E100 is much more than just a phone. It is a PDA too, running an operating system that owes a lot to Microsoft's Pocket PC software (now renamed Windows Mobile 2003). Microsoft's Smartphone platform includes a diary, to do list manager, contact book, a version of Internet Explorer, Inbox (which integrates email and SMS messages), Voice Notes manager, Windows Media Player, calculator, MSN Messenger, and of course the Solitaire game that comes with every Microsoft OS. Orange also supplies a Picture Manager application for viewing and manipulating images. These can be sourced from the add-on digital camera, which clips onto the same connector used for the SPV E100's docking port, or from a separate digital camera, the Web or some other location. The docking port connects the SPV E100 to a PC, and a copy of ActiveSync is supplied so that Outlook data can be synchronised and third-party applications installed. There is 32MB of flash ROM available for your own applications and data. This is required for both installing applications and running them, so you may find it sensible to invest in a high-capacity SD card and install applications and any data --such as music or ebooks -- to that rather than the phone's main memory. The Microsoft applications are useful, if not as flexible as their Pocket PC equivalents. The screen's limited screen size and resolution can also be problematical when viewing complex data or navigating lengthy lists of options. Even so, the ability to carry diary and contact data in a phone will appeal to many. The growing army of third-party tools should also help increase the appeal of the Smartphone platform. There are plenty of configuration options that stretch beyond the setting of ringtones and user profiles. Background images for the Home screen and colour schemes can be chosen from those on the device, or augmented with downloads. There are also several Home screen layouts to choose from that provide varying amounts of information on upcoming appointments, unread SMS, MMS and email messages and so on, as well as shortcuts to key applications.
The SPV E100 is an improvement over the original SPV, although it's an incremental one. There's no great change to the internal software, as Microsoft has not updated its Smartphone platform. Bluetooth is still notable by its absence, and it's a shame that the digital camera remains an accessory rather than a built-in component. Our experience with MMS is that built-in cameras are far more likely to get used. However there are some things that Microsoft Smartphone is good at, even without a update. For example, the Home screen displays information in a readable way, and provides plenty of it. It is easy to find a contact's details without trying too hard by tapping out the beginning of a name or phone number and letting the software narrow things down for you. And Orange seems to have done some tweaking, most notably improving Web browsing over GPRS. Our old SPV, which we have been using since it launched late last year, was always a little glitchy despite having had a ROM upgrade some while ago. The new model seems more reliable, with shorter wait periods during complex operations. We visited several Web sites, including ZDNet UK, using the old SPV and the E100, and the latter was noticeably faster and more reliable. The SPV E100 is a little larger than your average mobile phone, and is by no means a budget buy. So if all you want is a phone, look elsewhere. But if you like the idea of a handheld in mobile phone's clothing, give the E100 a serious look.