- SD/MMC and Type II CompactFlash slots
- good software bundle
- easy to set up.
- Bulky for a handheld
- doesn't use an ARM processor, so can't run the latest 2002 version of the Pocket PC operating system
Siemens first showed the SX45 at CeBIT earlier this year, giving many of us an early glimpse of the future of handheld computing. Finally, the company is beginning to ship the product in numbers.
What's exciting about the SX45 is the fact that Siemens has combined Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system with voice and data communications technologies in a single unit. Our review sample operated over GSM, but by January 2002 you will be able to buy a GPRS version. If you get it with a contract, the SX45 should cost between £400 and £500 (inc. VAT). Buy a standalone model and you are likely to have to spend in the region of £700 (inc VAT). If you're keen enough to buy an SX45 before January, you'll have to send the device off for a hardware upgrade from GSM to GPRS.
The SX45's software suite is strong. A configuration application runs as soon as you power up after dropping your SIM into the slot behind the battery, and it's straightforward to enter the relevant data in the right place. The voice dialler shouldn't confuse anyone either: it's neat and tidy, and very easy to fathom. The skins and ringtones will add some fun to proceedings. Siemens also supplies a WAP browser and a few additional applications, including some for playing movies. Graphics acceleration helps the MIPS R4000 150MHz chip cope with sending output to the 16-bit non-reflective colour display.
The SX45's 32MB of RAM should accommodate plenty of third-party applications and data, and if you need more then there are two expansion slots on the device. A Type II CompactFlash card slot opens up the possibility of hardware add-ons as well as 1GB or more of extra memory, and there's also an SD/MMC slot. Between them, these expansion slots make the SX45 one of the most flexible handhelds on the market.
But there are some issues. Voice calls can only be made using the supplied hands-free kit -- the SX45 has both a microphone and speaker built in, but these features aren't conveniently located if you hold the device to your ear. The unit itself is a bit on the large side too: no taller or wider than a standard Pocket PC device, it is 25mm deep, which is big by today's standards. Also, the SX45 runs the Pocket PC operating system rather than the latest 2002 version. This is a pity, as the extra connectivity options Pocket PC 2002 offers are superior. Not least of these is built-in VPN (Virtual Private Network) support for those keen on wireless connectivity, although you can get third-party solutions for the Pocket PC OS.
The operating system itself might not prove to be a big issue, but compatibility with Pocket PC software could be in the medium term. Microsoft has specified ARM processors as the standard for all Pocket PC 2002 hardware -- in part to get over the problem of developers needing to compile applications for a range of processors. It is possible, then, that over time non-ARM support in third-party applications will dwindle, leaving owners of the SX45 out in the cold.
The potential for this type of device is clear: a year from now, if the GPRS pricing structure is right, phone-equipped handhelds like the SX45 should be everywhere -- in the pockets of both corporate users and consumers. The SX45 is definitely a step forward in comparison to existing rivals like the Trium Mondo and Sagem WA3050, and its phone software is well designed and well integrated. However, there are enough question marks to suggest that its appeal might prove to be of limited duration.