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Dell Axim X3 Pocket PC PDA

Posted Nov. 5, 2003 by by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Check out the Axim X30 introduced May 18, 2004 which replaces the X3!

When Dell rolled out their Axim X5 Pocket PC model last year it made big waves in the Pocket PC community because it offered a lot of bang for the buck. The price you paid was having to lug around a relatively large and bulky Pocket PC. Now Dell has an answer for those who wish to have a more svelte Pocket PC with a great feature set: the Axim X3 line. However, unlike the X5, the X3 doesn't have a CF slot.

The X3 comes in three models: the Basic, Advanced and X3i which is the same as the Advanced model but adds WiFi 802.11b wireless networking. All feature replaceable batteries, an SD slot, fast processors and transflective displays. We received the X3i for review, and all comments are based on that model.

with extended battery
side view


The X3 Model Lineup

All three models look the same with the exception of the X3i which has a WiFi antenna nub on the top right corner. The Basic and Advanced models vary in processor speed and amount of memory. The X3 is a small to mid-sized Pocket PC, being larger than the incredibly small iPAQ 1945, but appreciably smaller than the Dell Axim X5 and HP iPAQ 5555 models. All models have Intel XScale PXA263 processors and Intel StrataFlash ROM (both faster and more expensive than the NAND Flash ROM found in recent low priced Pocket PCs).

The Basic lists for a modest $229, and has 300 MHz XScale processor, 32 megs of RAM and 32 megs of ROM. The Basic model comes with a USB sync cable (you can purchase a cradle separately).The $329 Advanced model has a 400 MHz XScale processor, 64 megs of RAM and 64 megs of ROM. The $379 Axim X3i adds WiFi to the Advanced model configuration. The Advanced and X3i come with a chrome finish weighted USB sync cradle that can also charge a spare battery. In all other respects, these units are identical to each other. Please note that these prices may change.

Design and Ergonomics

Though it lacks the pronounced curves and styling of some iPAQs and resides in the rectangular Pocket PC camp, the X3 is a handsome device that fits comfortably in the hand thanks to its rounded edges. The casing is made of plastic, and both the front and back faces have a silver finish, while the sides are black plastic. It won't weigh you down terribly at 6 ounces and is reasonably pocketable.

The X3 has the usual four application buttons surrounding the center directional pad. The 5-way directional pad is a small oval, which doesn't make it the best for gaming. Rather than placing the voice recorder button on the upper side of the unit, Dell has placed it on the lower front face where it's less prone to accidental activation when you pull the unit out of a case or pocket.

On the X3i model, the button directly opposing the record button activates and deactivates the built-in WiFi radio. The SD slot is located on top, as are the IR window and WiFi antenna (X3i model). The headphone jack is located on the upper left side just above the scroll wheel, while the speaker is located on the back. The X3i's black translucent antenna houses a blue LED that flashes when WiFi is activated. This is not to be confused with the blue LED used on other brand PDAs that indicates Bluetooth activity: the X3 models do not have Bluetooth.




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Horsepower and Features

All X3 models have an Intel XScale PXA263 processor. The Advanced and X3i models run at 400 MHz, while the Basic runs at 300 MHz. The PXA263 processor is one of the newest XScale PDA processors, and our X3i proved speedy in all operations, including playing intensive games and watching videos. The X3 Basic should be reasonably fast as well thanks to the XScale processor and clock speed. The 400 MHz models have a control panel applet (under Power) that allows you to set the clock speed of the PDA. Settings are Maximum Performance, Normal, PowerSave and Auto. Auto ran at very close to Maximum Performance when running benchmarks— which means the processor really does step up for demanding applications. When set to Auto, the applet tells you the current clock speed: if the unit isn't doing anything it says "200 MHz" and when playing MP3s in the background using Pocket MVP it says "400 MHz".

All Dell Axims to date use Intel StrataFlash memory, which is the same kind of memory that has traditionally been used in older Pocket PCs and in current high end Pocket PCs. It costs a bit more than NAND flash memory and runs faster. Since NAND is slower, the OS has to be copied into RAM to ensure that the handheld runs quickly. This uses up RAM on the device, which means less is available for your use. With traditional flash ROM such as StrataFlash this isn't necessary because it's fast enough. The flash ROM area is where the OS is installed, and any unused space is available as non-volatile (it won't be erased even after a hard reset) storage. An example of another Pocket PC that doesn't use NAND is the iPAQ 5555.

The X3 Basic has 32 megs of RAM and 32 megs of ROM. The Advanced and X3i models have 64 megs of RAM and 64 megs of ROM, 32 of which are available as "Built-in Storage". All models have an SD slot supporting SDIO cards such as Socket Communications SD WiFi card and SanDisk's SD WiFi card.

Screen, Sound, and Gaming

The X3 line has a 3.5" transflective LCD that has excellent color saturation and contrast with no color bias. While not as bright as high end iPAQ models, it should be more than bright enough for most people. The Dell has 6 brightness settings ranging from off to full brightness.

The sound volume is decent but not terribly loud (PDAs with rear-firing speakers aren't generally the loudest). Sound quality is good through the built-in speaker, and great through headphones. The headphone jack is a standard stereo 3.5mm one, and like all Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PCs, the Dell comes with Windows Media Player 9 for Pocket PC.

The X3's mic is located just above the LCD and captures good audio. There is no control panel to adjust bass or treble settings. A mic applet allows you to set the gain for recordings.

Battery Life

The X3 comes with a user replaceable 950 mAh Lithium Ion battery. That's not terribly large, especially for the 400MHz and WiFi equipped models. You can get an optional 1800 mA extended battery which, as you'd guess, doubles run times. The extended battery is fitted in place of the standard battery, and creates a hump (see photos above). On our X3i using the Auto processor setting with the WiFi turned off while playing intensive games such as Anthelion and Hexacto Tennis Addict, the standard battery lasted about 2.25 hours. Using WiFi to surf the web continuously for an hour consumed 40% of the charge. For everyday use such as occasionally accessing calendar, contacts and editing Word documents, the standard battery proved adequate with 70% charge left at the end of the day. If you plan on using WiFi, playing intensive games or watching videos, do consider the extended battery or a spare standard battery.


Only the Axim X3i model has integrated WiFi 802.11b wireless networking. This model has a translucent black antenna housing on the upper right corner, and when WiFi is turned on, a blue LED flashes. Since blue LEDs are usually used to indicate Bluetooth connections on PDAs, I'm sure some folks will be confused. To turn on the wireless radio, you'll press the small button on the right front face that opposes the voice recorder button.

When WiFi is turned on, you can use the Windows Mobile 2003 Connection Manager to seek out and connect to WiFi access points. Once the radio is turned on, the Dell adds a system tray icon that shows you the signal strength and has a popup menu that allows you to:
- Turn the radio off and on
-Edit Profiles (which takes you to the Windows Mobile Connection Manager "Configure Wireless Networks" screen)
-WLAN Status (info on current channel, transfer rate, base station name and MAC address, IP address and IP address renew and Ping). This applet also offers a site survey function and under Advanced settings lets you set the power saving mode for the radio and specify long, short or auto preambles.
-Site survey, which takes you to the Site Survey tab in the WLAN Status applet
-Advanced, which takes you to the Advanced tab in the WLAN Status applet.

Since many WiFi drivers under Windows Mobile 2003 don't offer any additional features and leave everything to the very basic Pocket PC Connection Manager, it's very useful to have these tools which many of us took for granted when using WiFi cards under the Pocket PC 2002 OS. Good going, Dell! Range was good, though not as strong as the stellar HP iPAQ 5555. WiFi behaved reliably for us when connecting to a variety of access points with and without WEP encryption.

Below: the Dell Axim X3i with the extended battery.

with extended battery

side view

Software Bundle

THe Axim X3 comes with the usual suite of Windows Mobile 2003 programs but very little 3rd party software. Pocket PC 2003 Professional includes Pocket versions of Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and Outlook, as well as Windows Media Player 9 for Pocket PC, Microsoft Reader, MSN Messenger, Terminal Services Client and MS Pictures image viewer. The Dell CD includes a large number of demo titles, and full versions of Resco's excellent Picture Viewer and IA Presenter for PowerPoint files. The unit also comes with Dell's own backup application which can back up the entire device or just selected PIM data to internal storage or an SD memory card. For you Java users, there is a version of Insignia's Java Jeode Runtime available for $49.95.


We've run benchmarks using VOBenchmark 3 from Virtual Office Systems. I've compared the iPAQ 2215, iPAQ 5555 , and our Dell Axim X3i. All tests were run with units fresh out of the box with no other software added, and the storage cards were 60% full with data and applications. All units run Windows Mobile 2003 on 400 MHz Intel XScale PXA263 or PXA255 processors. Higher numbers are better (shown in bold).

Test Dell Axim X3i (auto/maximum) HP iPAQ 2215 iPAQ 5555
CPU Floating Point 12.66 / 12.68 12.68 12.66
CPU Integer 25.83 / 25.86 26.96 25.82
Graphics Bitmap BitBlt 7.67 / 10.06 78.25 39.76
Graphics Bitmap StretchBlt 17.00 (grow) 14.40 (shrink) /
17.70 (grow) 14.80 (shrink)
76.70 (grow) 28.60 (shrink) 73.50 (grow), 29.90 (shrink)
Graphics Filled Ellipse 1.57 / 1.66 4.68 4.96
Graphics Filled Rectangle 2.01 / 2.62 12.94 9.41
Graphics Filled Round Rect. 1.38 / 1.51 3.82 3.78
GAPI Lines 19.40 / 22.80 N/A N/A
Memory Allocation 11.33 / 11.34 11.23 11.31
Memory Fill 1.04 / 1.93 1.97 1.99
Memory Move 0.86 / 1.21 1.24 1.34
Text 7.00 / 7.90 with ClearType enabled 19.80, 5.20 with ClearType enabled 21.00, 4.80 with ClearType Enabled
SD Storage Cards 256 meg SanDisk card was used 256 meg SanDisk card was used 256 meg SanDisk card was used
LRR/LRW 0.46-0.12 / 0.52-0.12 0.62/0.08 0.68/0.08
LSR/LSW 0.45-0.30 / 0.52-0.30 0.61/0.19 1.19/0.32
SRR/SRW 199.44 -0.18 / 265.60-1.44 238.18 /0.48 303.44/0.18
SSR/SSW 10.44-7.56 / 11.51-7.95 14.08/9.51 24.53/7.20


Once again, Dell is offering a full-featured unit for a reasonable price. All three models are excellent units, and they're slimmer and lighter than the original Dell Axim X5 model. Pro: fast processors, a good amount of flash ROM storage available on Advanced and X3i models in addition to RAM, very nice display that's bright, sharp and doesn't show any color bias. Supports SDIO for networking cards. The cradle (optional on some models) is solidly built and has a slot for charging a spare standard or extended battery. Battery is user replaceable. Cons: Battery life with the standard battery is mediocre. The small oval d-pad doesn't work well for gaming. You need to use the included small (don't lose it!) adapter for the charger cable if not using the cradle to charge the unit.

List price: from $229 to $349



Display: transflective TFT color LCD, 65,536 colors, Screen Size Diag: 3.5", Resolution: 240 x 320.

Battery: 950 mA Lithium rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1800 mA extended battery available for purchase.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA263 400 MHz processor. 32 megs of RAM and 32 megs ROM on Basic model, 64 megs of RAM and 64 megs of ROM on Advanced and X3i models.

Size: 4.5' x 3" x .6" (not including antenna nub). Weight: 5 oz.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 9 included for your MP3 listening pleasure.

Software: Pocket PC 2003 Professional operating system (aka Windows Mobile 2003). Microsoft Pocket Office suite including Pocket Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, MSN Instant Messenger for Pocket PC, MS Reader and Voice Recorder as well as handwriting recognition. 3rd party software: Resco Picture Viewer and IA Presenter. ActiveSync 3.7 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot supporting SDIO.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b wireless networking on the X3i model ONLY.


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