Review posted Feb. 8, 2005 by Lisa Gade,
Editor in Chief
Note this is the standard QVGA model, if you're interested in
the X50v VGA model, read our review here.
If you're looking for an highly expandable Pocket
PC with integrated wireless, the Dell Axim X50 should be on your
short list. The X50 models have standard QVGA transflective color
displays, both a CF slot and an SD slot supporting SDIO, speedy
Intel XScale processors and run the latest Windows Mobile 2003
Second Edition OS.
The X50 is available
in two reasonably price models currently selling for $299 and
$399 US. The base $299 X50 has a 416MHz processor, 64 megs of RAM,
64 megs of ROM and Bluetooth. The $399 version has a 520MHz processor,
128 megs of ROM and adds WiFi to the mix. The units are otherwise
identical. We received the 520MHz model and will cover that in
our review. The
Axim X50v is
the VGA cousin to the X50 models covered here, and the v and non-v
models share many features in common, so you'll see some shared
editorial in our reviews.
In the Box
The X50 models ship with a rechargeable Lithium
Ion battery, stylus, microfiber slip case, getting started guide,
thick printed Owner's Manual, software CD, cradle, world 100 -
240V AC adapter.
Design and Ergonomics
Dell has never been known for their sleek and sexy
industrial designs, but that's changed with the X50. The X50 models which
replace the chunky Axim X5 line have curvy
designs that look and feel good, and an attractive two-tone color scheme.
The HP iPAQ line has always been praised for its attractive designs,
but in Fall 2004, HP has gone rectangular and business-like while competitors
such as Dell and ASUS are breaking out in style.
Yes, this Dell has curves and good looks. Dell
went with the curvy bottom design reminiscent of HP's last generation
iPAQ 1945 and 4155. Everyone loved that look and it lives on thanks
to Dell. Though not as small as those diminutive iPAQs, the X50 sits
firmly in the mid-sized range. It feels great in the hand thanks to
the bottom and back curves and weighs in at 5.9 ounces.
The X50 has a plastic casing. The back is matte black
and curves to cover the sides of the PDA. The front has a silver surround
that wraps around the gloss black plastic upper and lower front faces.
It looks sleek, contemporary and was designed by HTC. Those of you familiar
with the Dell Axim X3 and X30 will
immediately recognize the 5-way directional pad, though it takes a smaller
form on the X50. In fact, the d-pad is as small as you can go without
forgoing usability, and it's a very sensitive control as are the application
and side buttons. Gamers may have to lighten their touch when playing
on the Dell.
The four front application buttons also look like shrunk
down versions of the X30's buttons. From left to right they launch Calendar,
Contacts, Outlook Inbox and Dell's Home launcher. As with all PDAs, you
can assign different applications to these buttons; and as with all Windows
Mobile 2003 SE Pocket PCs, you can press and hold a button to launch
a secondary application.
The power button is located top center, while the voice
recorder and wireless radio on/off button are located on the left side.
Above these two buttons on the left side you'll find the hold slider
switch which will prevent all buttons (even the power button) from turning
the unit on accidentally. Since the side buttons are easily accidentally
pressed, that's a good thing. The SD and CF slots are on the top edge,
as is the IR window and the standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. The
user replaceable battery lives under a door on the back and there's a
battery lock switch to keep the battery in place. The metal and plastic
stylus lives in a silo on the top right corner. The stylus end is small
so you'll want to have a good fingernail to get it out.
The mic is located on the top left corner and the speaker
is under the d-pad, so if you want to use this with VoIP apps, you'll
likely need to hold it upside down or get a stereo headset with mic.
The unit has a single LED on the top right corner which flashes blue
when one or more wireless radios are on. As with other Axim models, the
power button lights amber when the unit is charging and glows green when
fully charged. The power button flashes amber when a reminder goes off.
Horsepower and Expansion
The X50 comes in two flavors, a 416MHz and 520MHz version.
Both use Intel's latest "Bulverde"
XScale PXA270 processor. The current top speed for a Pocket PC is 624MHz
(using the PXA270), so the X50 models represent mid to mid-high performance
models. The VGA Dell Axim X50v has a
624MHz processor, as do the HP
iPAQ hx2750 and iPAQ hx4700 VGA models.
The iPAQ hx2400 series model has a 520MHz processor and the multimedia
oriented iPAQ rx3115 and rx3715 run
at slower clock speeds on Samsung processors. Most last generation high
end Pocket PCs had an older version of the XScale processor running at
400MHz. We received the 520MHz model for review, so our comments on performance
and benchmark data refer to that model.
The 416MHz Axim X50 has 64 megs of RAM with almost
all available to the user. In addition, it has 64 megs of Intel StrataFlash
ROM, a portion of which is available as "Built-in Storage" (the
rest is where the OS is permanantly installed). Dell always uses Intel
StrataFlash memory for flash ROM which is faster than NAND. Though flash
ROM is slower than the SDRAM used in main memory, it's fast enough to
run applications well. The 520MHz model also has 64 megs of RAM with
62.76 megs available. It has 128 megs of ROM with a whopping 93.39 megs
available for storage.
the OS on all Pocket PCs uses some of that RAM as program memory, just
as your PC uses memory to run programs. So you'll need to keep 20 megs
or more allocated to system memory and the rest will function as storage
memory for programs and data. If you need more storage, you can use
CF or SD memory cards to store additional programs and data.
For expansion, the Dell offers standard (not consumer)
IR, Bluetooth, a CF slot compatible with type I and type II cards and
an SD slot supporting SDIO and SDIO Now!. All these expansion options
make for a very versatile and expandable device that will work with CF
cellular cards, GPS, presentation, modem and networking cards. CF cards
are faster than SD, are available in higher capacities and are cheaper
which make them a great choice for those who like to use the Pocket PCs
to watch movies.
We used Spb
Benchmark to compare our 520MHz model to several other
mid-range Pocket PCs, including the HP
iPAQ hx2750 which is
its nearest competitor as a mid-sized Pocket PC with dual
slots. Note that the hx2750 is considerably more expensive
than the Dell. While the hx2750 is the clear winner in speeds
test and is currently the fastest Pocket PC on the market,
the X50 did very well and is nearly half the price, making
it an excellent deal. The Axim
X30 in our test
did perform better on benchmarks but that's the 624MHz model
which we expect to perform better than Dell's 520MHz X50 offering.
The X50v has a faster processor, but the demands of running
a VGA display take their toll, so the non-VGA X50 model actually
gets higher numbers. Given the numbers and perceived performance,
the X50 520MHz model is plenty fast enough and the CF slot
increases expandability which is a boon to power users.
How about video playback? We threw our usual
test files at it: "The Chosen" (a neat BMW flick with
Clive Owen) which is a 4:26 minute long, 10 meg MPEG1 file recorded
at 320 x 240, 308 kb/s. We tested the X50 520MHz using BetaPlayer,
an extremely fast open source free video player that supports
MPEG1, DivX, ASF, WMV and AVI files. BetaPlayer played back "The
Chosen" with excellent benchmarks of: Average speed: 738.46%
Bench Frame Rate: 177.23
Bench. Data Rate: 2.3 Mbit/s
Orig. Frame Rate: 24 fps
Orig. Data Rate: 310 kbit/s.
While we didn't benchmark our 700kbit/s
WMV test file, we can tell you that it played back perfectly
with no noticeable dropped frames or stutters. Nice!
Graphics and Display
Like most standard QVGA Pocket PCs with
240 x 320 pixel displays, the X50 has a 3.5" transflective
color LCD supporting 65,536 colors. The display is pleasing
with adequate brightness, good contrast and good color
saturation. While it's not as bright, color-saturated and crisp
as many of HP's iPAQ Pocket PCs, it is still a very good display
for a device at such a reasonable price point.
Directory list of 2000 files (thousands
Internal database read (records/sec)
Graphics test: DDB BitBlt (frames/sec)
Graphics test: DIB BitBlt (frames/sec)
Graphics test: GAPI BitBlt (frames/sec)
Pocket Word document open (KB/sec)
Pocket Internet Explorer HTML load (KB/sec)
Pocket Internet Explorer JPEG load (KB/sec)
File Explorer large folder list (files/sec)
Compress 1 MB file using ZIP (KB/sec)
Decompress 1024x768 JPEG file (KB/sec)
Arkaball frames per second (frames/sec)
CPU test: Whetstones MFLOPS (Mop/sec)
CPU test: Whetstones MOPS (Mop/sec)
CPU test: Whetstones MWIPS (Mop/sec)
test: copy 1 MB using memcpy (MB/sec)
Unlike its big brother the VGA Axim X50v, the
X50 doesn't have a discreet graphics processor and doesn't have the
Intel 2700G processor. Since the 2700G hasn't been the best performer
for GAPI tasks (most games and graphics apps use GAPI software instructions
to write to the display), this is probably a good thing. Keep in mind
that QVGA Pocket PCs usually lack dedicated video processors since
the performance demands are relatively low compared to the new VGA
models which must handle 4x more graphics data.
Both X50 models have Bluetooth 1.2, and the
520MHz model has WiFi as well. To turn on the wireless radio(s),
simply press the button on the left side of the PDA. As with
Axim X30, this button will turn on both wireless radios on
the X50 520MHz model, which seems a little odd, but you can
turn them off using the on-screen management utilities. With
Dell's recent ROM update, you'll be prompted to press the side
button a second time to turn the wireless radios on or off: Dell
added this "feature" because so many folks accidentally
pressed the wireless button when pulling the unit out of its
For Bluetooth, Dell uses Broadcom's (formerly
Widcomm) excellent Bluetooth drivers and software, version 1.5.0.
The software helps you connect to Bluetooth enabled mobile phones,
ActiveSync, browse files on another Bluetooth enabled device,
connect to Bluetooth access points for LAN connections and
even supports Bluetooth headsets using headset and hands-free
profiles. The Dell supports the new Bluetooth 1.2 standard which
is backward compatible with 1.1. We had no troubles connecting
to a variety of mobile phones which we used as wireless modems
for the Dell. In addition we tested several Bluetooth headsets,
connecting to a Bluetooth access point and ActiveSyncing over
Bluetooth and all worked well. The class 2 Bluetooth radio provided
good range and stable connections, even when close to WiFi access
points which can interfere with Bluetooth since both technologies
use the 2.4GHz spectrum.
The 520MHz X50 has integrated WiFi 802.11b
wireless networking .
WiFi has good range and was reliable for us connecting to
802.11b and 802.11g access points using WEP encryption. The X50
comes with Funk Odyssey VPN client and supports 64/128 bit WEP,
IPSec/L2TP, PPTP, WPA and CCX 1.0. Dell includes their excellent
WLAN application for managing WiFi connections, and this full-featured
utility lists available networks in range (shows SSID, channel,
signal strength and mode), shows data transfer stats, lets you
set the default network and power saving mode and more.
Though the Axim X50 models are reasonably priced
for the hardware you get, Dell has includes a decent software bundle.
You get Funk Odyssey VPN client, WLAN (a full-featured WiFi connection
manager), Resco Picture Viewer (an excellent photo viewer), and
Data Backup which backs up your PDA to a storage card. And of course
all the usual applications which are a part of the MS Windows Mobile
OS package are included: Pocket versions of Word, Excel and Internet
Explorer, File Explorer, clock, MSN Messenger, Pictures (a photo
viewer), Terminal Services, Windows Media Player 10, Calculator
and the games Solitaire and Jawbreaker. ActiveSync for Windows
PCs and Outlook 2002 are included on the CD and you can sync your
Pocket PC's Inbox, calendar, contacts, tasks and notes to Outlook.
The X50 has a 1100 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's
user replaceable. That's an average capacity battery for a Pocket
PC and decent for a fairly fast PDA with wireless. That said,
battery life is average for a Pocket PC, giving about 3 hours and
15 minutes of actual use with the Auto power setting in average
conditions consisting of PIM use, working with MS Office documents,
surfing the web for an hour using WiFi, gaming for 45 minutes and
playing a few short videos. Dell allows you to set the CPU speed
to Power-Saving, Normal, Maximum Performance (full clock speed)
or Auto which sets processor speed relative to demand. Auto can
set the CPU from 104MHz up to maximum clock speed depending on
load and gives great performance overall. I found the Power-Saving
mode to be too slow even for PIM lookups and working with Pocket
Word documents, but Normal mode is just fine and may get you 15
minutes more out of your battery compared to Max mode.
If you need more power, Dell sells
an optional 2200 mAh battery which will increase the PDA's thickness
and double its runtimes. If you're a heavy wireless
user, you may want to consider this extended battery or a second
standard battery. In our video test, the X50 used 48% of its charge
playing a 1 hour 20 minute film using Windows Media Player 10.
Brightness was set at 66% and we had sound piped out through stereo
Like prior Dells, you can charge the unit in
its cradle or use the included dongle adapter to plug the charger
directly into the PDA. This world charger is the same model included
with the X5, X3 and X30, but the connector and thus dongle adapter
are different. This means you can use chargers from your old Dell
with the X50 as long as you use the X50's adapter, but you will
not be able to use cradles meant for other Dell models. The cradle
has a slot to charge a spare battery.
There's a lot to like for the price. The
X50 models target serious PDA users who need the CF slot's
expandability, strong processing power and VPN support for
WiFi. If you don't need the CF slot and you're interested
in a smaller, less expensive PDA, check out Dell's Axim
X30 line. The X50 is attractive, has excellent Bluetooth
software and Bluetooth 1.2 (backward compatible with 1.1)
and performs well in all tasks from business to video playback
value for the price. Good performance in CPU and graphics,
lots of flash ROM for storage. Dell uses Intel StrataFlash
ROM which is the fastest flash ROM memory used in a PDA.
VPN support included, Bluetooth 1.2 and very good WiFi management
software on the 520MHz model. Battery is user replaceable
and an extended battery is available for purchase. Cradle
has a slot to charge a second battery. Dual expansion slots
mean better expandability options.
will suit most users but isn't quite nice as several of the
HP iPAQ models. 1,100 mA battery is just adequate for the
520MHz dual wireless model and fine for the 416 MHz model.
While not a large Pocket PC, those looking for a small unit
comparable to the old iPAQ
1945 may find the X50 too large.
TFT color LCD. 65K colors, screen size diag: 3.5".
Resolution: 240 x 320.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1100 mA. 2200 mA extended battery available for purchase.
416MHz Intel XScale PXA 270 with
64 MB built-in RAM (62.76 megs available). 64 MB
Intel StrataFlash ROM.
2) 520 MHz Intel XScale PXA270 processor with 64 MB
of RAM (62.76 available) and 128 MB Intel StrataFlash
ROM (93.39 MB available).
x 2.9 x .7 inches. Weight: 5.9 oz.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player
10 included for your MP3 pleasure.
on both models, integrated WiFi 802.11b (also
supporting LEAP) on the 520MHz model.
Mobile 2003 Second Edition operating system. Microsoft
Pocket Office suite including Pocket Word, Excel,
Internet Explorer and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services,
MSN Messenger, Pocket Windows Media Player 10 and
Voice Recorder as well as handwriting recognition.
3rd party software: Resco Picture Viewer, Dell Diagnostic
Utility, Funk Odyssey VPN Client, Data Backup. ActiveSync
3.7 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.
SD (Secure Digital) slot, supporting
SDIO and SDIO Now!. One CF type II slot
compatible with type I and II cards. Standard 115kpbs