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Dell Axim X50 Pocket PC

Editor's rating (1-5):
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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.

Dell Axim X50
back view

 

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.

size comparison

Above: Comparing the HP iPAQ hx4700, Dell Axim X50 and Dell Axim X30

 

Deals and Shopping

 

 

 

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.

Note that 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.

Benchmarks

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.

 

 
Dell Axim X50 (520MHz, Max mode)
Dell Axim X30 624MHz XScale, Max mode)
Dell Axim X50v, 624MHz VGA
HP iPAQ hx2750 (624MHz XScale processor)
HP iPAQ rx3715 (400MHz Samsung processor)
Spb Benchmark index
1803
2086
1380
2209
1545
CPU index
2070
2474
2285
2564
1529
File system index
1287
1452
1398
1563
1387
Graphics index
4653
5295
643
5683
2956
Platform index
1350
1506
1146
1627
1422
Write 1 MB file (KB/sec)
1548
1856
1809
1887
1422
Read 1 MB file (MB/sec)
29.3
33.3
30.7
37
23
Copy 1 MB file (KB/sec)
1549
1860
1807
1881
1392
Write 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
1039
1157
1169
1154
1066
Read 10 KB x 100 files (MB/sec)
10.7
11.4
10.7
11.7
10.2
Copy 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
874
945
958
943
960
Directory list of 2000 files (thousands of files/sec)
22.8
26
25.1
29.9
37
Internal database read (records/sec)
1709
2003
1947
2228
1329
Graphics test: DDB BitBlt (frames/sec)
288
333
260
404
388
Graphics test: DIB BitBlt (frames/sec)
33
40.9
23
41.9
29.8
Graphics test: GAPI BitBlt (frames/sec)
901
952
61.8
1015
392
Pocket Word document open (KB/sec)
40.9
50.9
34.4
59.4
54.6
Pocket Internet Explorer HTML load (KB/sec)
8.36
8.06
7.72
8.68
10.2
Pocket Internet Explorer JPEG load (KB/sec)
272
296
245
302
220
File Explorer large folder list (files/sec)
604
708
600
741
763
Compress 1 MB file using ZIP (KB/sec)
273
342
311
376
312
Decompress 1024x768 JPEG file (KB/sec)
752
918
882
926
551
Arkaball frames per second (frames/sec)
277
313
54.1
333
158
CPU test: Whetstones MFLOPS (Mop/sec)
0.097
0.119
0.117
0.119
0.084
CPU test: Whetstones MOPS (Mop/sec)
70.4
86.6
84.8
86.6
55.2
CPU test: Whetstones MWIPS (Mop/sec)
6.39
7.8
7.66
7.81
5.44
Memory test: copy 1 MB using memcpy (MB/sec)
104
118
104
122
59.5

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.

Bluetooth

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 the Dell 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 case.

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.

WiFi

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.

Bluetooth screen shot

Software Bundle

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.

Battery

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 earbud headphones.

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.

Conclusion

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 and gaming.

Pro: Great 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.

Con: Screen 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.

Deals and Shopping

 

Specs:

Display: Transflective TFT color LCD. 65K colors, screen size diag: 3.5". Resolution: 240 x 320.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1100 mA. 2200 mA extended battery available for purchase.

Performance: Two models:
1) 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).

Size: 4.7 x 2.9 x .7 inches. Weight: 5.9 oz.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.

Networking: Bluetooth on both models, integrated WiFi 802.11b (also supporting LEAP) on the 520MHz model.

Software: Windows 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.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot, supporting SDIO and SDIO Now!. One CF type II slot compatible with type I and II cards. Standard 115kpbs IR port.

 

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