- Compact, pocket-friendly dimensions
- good range of bundled software
- good battery life
- Lacks Wi-Fi
- relatively small 2.8in. screen
- limited internal memory
When we reviewed T-Mobile’s MDA Compact we remarked on its similarity to the network-agnostic i-mate JAM. We now have a third similar device, from Orange, in the shape of the SPV M500. This addition to Orange's lineup of Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition handhelds extends the business-focussed end of the SPV range.
Orange's SPV M500 measures just 5.8cm wide by 10.8cm deep by 1.8cm high, and fits very neatly in the palm of the hand. This compactness is one of the things we liked about both the i-mate JAM and T-Mobile's MDA Compact, and it certainly boosts the SPV M500’s appeal over bulkier Pocket PC Phone Edition devices -- it's easy to carry and feels comfortable when held to the ear for voice calls. The SPV M500's weight of 150g is not a great deal more than the average smartphone: certainly, if you have previously been carrying a handheld and a mobile phone, this device will reduce the load on your pocket or briefcase. Visually the SPV M500 stands out from most handheld/phone devices thanks to its slate-grey livery. This makes for nice aesthetics, but the ergonomics are pretty standard. The bottom front of the device offers a bank of buttons ranged around a central navigation pad. The pad supports four-directional movement, with an Action key in the middle. To the upper left and right are Call and End keys, and beneath these are two shortcut buttons: left one accesses your contacts, the right one your diary. On the left edge is a slider that activates both device and in-call volume. This is flanked by two buttons: on a short press, the lower one activates the built-in voice dialling, while on a long press it starts the voice recording software; the upper button launches the built-in camera takes a photo on a second press. The right edge houses the power button, which is flush with the casing to guard against an accidental press. The infrared port is on the lower right edge along with the (somewhat flimsy) stylus. At the top there's a single SD card slot, while the bottom edge houses the power connector and a 2.5mm audio jack. A rubber cover protects these ports and the soft reset button. In the box you get a spare stylus, a USB connection cable, stereo earphones with volume control, the standard PC connectivity suite comprising Microsoft’s ActiveSync and Outlook 2002, a belt-style carrying pouch and two printed manuals (one Orange-branded the other generic). Between them, the manuals are pretty comprehensive.
The Orange SPV M500 incorporates a tri-band GSM/GPRS phone, while the processor is Intel’s PXA272 running at 416MHz. The internal memory complement is a bit disappointing, with just 64MB of RAM installed. After a hard reset, after which a range of Orange applications automatically install, the device recognised 57.41MB as present and just 37.01MB free for user access. A portion of the ROM is also user-accessible -- 7.29MB was free on our review device. If you don't need to install much third party software, then 44MB of available storage may be enough. But if you want additional applications, or need access to large chunks of data, then you'll need an SD card. If you also need Wi-Fi, then you have a problem, as this feature is not built in and would have to be added via the SD card slot too. Bluetooth is integrated, so you can use a handsfree earpiece for voice calls if need be. The screen measures just 2.8in. across the diagonal, so its 240 by 320 pixels are crammed into a smaller than usual space. This makes for increased definition but it does mean that everything on-screen is a bit smaller than on a standard-sized Pocket PC with a 3in. to 3.5in. screen. If you're concerned about your eyes coping with this, try before you buy. The integrated 1.3 megapixel digital camera has a portrait mirror but no flash. It captures stills at up to 1280 by 960 pixels (other supported resolutions are 640 by 480, 240 by 320 and 120 by 160). There are additional shooting modes for picture ID contacts and for video (at 240 by 320, 144 by 176 and 96 by 120) and a special setting for MMS video. You also get a range of ambiance settings, up to 8X digital zoom and several preset ‘fun’ frames for stills. Voice dialing is available; you can use voice tags previously set up for contacts, or simply speak the phone number you want to call. To its credit, the device recognised the first number we threw at it, and thereafter worked well. Orange has customised the SPV M500 in various ways. The Today Screen has been tweaked to include a shortcut to Bluetooth, a switcher between portrait and landscape screen orientation, and a small icon bar that provides information about battery level, a screen brightness button, shortcuts to Pocket Outlook and Pocket Internet Explorer, and shows current GPRS usage. Tapping an icon on this bar calls up an advanced GPRS usage monitor. Additional built-in applications (over and above those that come as standard with Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Second Edition Phone Edition) include both local and over-the-air backup services, viewers for PowerPoint and PDF files, a manager for Java applications and access to Orange’s Web-based services. None of this is particularly novel, but it does augment the standard fare nicely.
Orange quotes the SPV M500's battery life at 5 hours' talk time and 7.5 days on standby. Under our usual MP3-looping battery rundown test, the SPV M500 delivered a total of 6 hours and 15 minutes of battery life, losing the ability to access the SD card (the file source) after 5 hours and 17 minutes. As far as usability and ergonomics are concerned, the news is mixed. A compact handheld like the SPV M500 is a lot more comfortable to hold to the ear for voice calls than standard-sized devices, but the trade-off is the smaller 2.8in. screen size. Our two other concerns are the lack of Wi-Fi and the relatively small amount of on-board memory. If you can live with these, then the SPV M500 could be a good choice for anyone looking for an ergonomic handheld/phone combo.