Reviewed March 4, 2006 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Editor's Note: Also read our review of the T-Mobile Wing, which T-Mobile released on May 22, 2007 to replace the MDA.
If three times is a charm, then the HTC Wizard, otherwise known as the T-Mobile MDA, T-Mobile MDA Vario, Cingular 8125, i-mate K-JAM, QTEK 9100 and the Dopod 838 must be imbued with magic. T-Mobile's MDA (not to be confused with its nearly identical twin the MDA Vario which has been out for several months on T-Mobile Europe) is yet another iteration of the incredibly successful and popular Wizard design from the prolific Taiwanese original device manufacturer HTC. Out in Feb. 2006 in the US, the MDA competes directly with the Cingular 8125 and the HTC Apache (the CDMA interpretation of the Wizard) sold as the Verizon XV6700 and Sprint PPC-6700.
The good news is that this is a great PDA and phone, though the downside is you have less Pocket PC phone choice since every carrier is going with a version of this device as a top-tier offering. Perhaps this puts the focus on the carrier and your decision may be based more heavily on the carrier's strength and pricing in your area. Though there are minor carrier customizations (mostly software) that make for small differences too. For example, the Cingular 8125 comes with a Java VM while the MDA does not, and the MDA has much faster graphics than the i-mate K-JAM.
For T-Mobile, whose PDA and smartphone offers have trickled out slowly in the US, the MDA is an important move forward. Since the inception of Pocket PC Phone Edition, they've offered only the original T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone (original XDA) and the tepidly received HP iPAQ 6315. The MDA is a compact, reliable and feature-packed device that moves T-Mobile US squarely into the 21st century. Combine the web browsing and email prowess of the MDA with T-Mobile's recently rolled out 2.5G EDGE data network and you've got a strong business contender. The MDA has Bluetooth, WiFi, the afore mentioned EDGE, a thumb keyboard, a 1.3MP camera and runs Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC Phone Edition.
In the Box
The MDA comes with a USB sync cable (no cradle), world charger, leather horizontal case with belt clip, software CD containing ActiveSync 4.1 and Outlook 2002 and a stereo earbud headset.
Design and Ergonomics
The Wizard comes in two flavors, the WIZA100 and WIZA200, which vary only in casing and thumb keyboard design. In all other respects, they are the same. The Cingular and Dopod are currently the only two WIZA100 models out there, and the T-Mobile MDA is among the many WIZA200 models on the market. For those of you who track each and every HTC model and variant, there is one more to mention: the WIZA110 which is the same as the WIZA100 but subtracts the camera. Cingular's 8100 (camera-less 8125) is an example. OK, now that we've cleared that up, let's pay attention to the MDA itself. The MDA is an attractive PDA phone with a brushed aluminum finish on the screen surround, a black plastic mid section and a silver back plate. . . think of it as a reversed Oreo from the side view. The MDA's casing is plastic and the device won't fool you into mistaking it for metal, yet it is an attractive and modern piece. The Cingular 8125's design looks more expensive to my eye, but beauty is after all in the eye of the beholder. The MDA has a side-slider QWERTY keyboard and the display automatically switches to landscape mode when you slide the keyboard out.
The front face is dominated by the 2.8" color display with well integrated buttons that merge into the phone's lines. Above the display you'll find email and Internet Explorer buttons, and the two Windows Mobile 5 softkeys, call send and end buttons as well as the ubiquitous d-pad live below the display. Since the d-pad is inset, the MDA has bevels just above and below the d-pad to ease navigation (sideward navigation isn't hampered by the design so there's no need for side bevels). The Mini SD card slot and power button are located up top, and you can set the device to power on only when the power button is pressed to reduce chances that the phone will turn on from accidental button presses in your pocket or bag.
The left side holds the volume slider (system and ringer volume when not in a call, call volume when in call) and the Comm Manager button which launches a handy wireless utility that allows you to turn on/off the device's three wireless radios. The voice dialing button, IR port and camera launcher are on the phone's right side while the 2.5mm stereo headset jack and mini USB sync and charge port are on the bottom. As you'd expect, the camera lens along with self-portrait mirror and LED flash are on the phone's back, as is the large battery door for the removable Lithium Ion battery. The MDA, like all Wizards, has a side-firing speaker on each side for speakerphone.
One of the MDA's selling points is its slide-sliding QWERTY thumb keyboard. Though no BlackBerry, the MDA's keyboard is wider and more roomy than the BlackBerry or Treo 650 / Treo 700w keyboards. We're fans of the Apache and Cingular 8125 keyboards over the MDA's however, since the MDA's keys are smaller. The keys do have a nice tactile click and the blue backlighting, though a little DUB Edition in intensity and hue, is effective. We do prefer Cingular's two color approach (white for letters and red for symbols and numbers), and both could stand to have the keyboard's backlighting stay on longer. That said, the backlighting is better than the Sprint PPC-6700's (which lacks contrast) and the Verizon XV6700 (only letters illuminate).
Two soft keys sit just above the keyboard so you need not tap the screen or use the front face buttons to activate soft key functions. We like the dedicated Windows Start Menu and OK keys on the bottom row, again reducing the need to whip out the stylus and tap on screen. Should you need to turn on caps lock, press the shift key twice in quick succession. To turn on Fn lock, press the red dot key located in the lower left hand corner twice quickly. When you're in the phone dialer screen, the MDA automatically switches the top row to numbers rather than letters so you need not press the Fn key before punching in a number. If you're after a one-handed device, get the Treo 700w: its ever-ready keyboard and great ergonomics can't be beat when both hands aren't an option. However, if a larger, higher resolution screen are important to you along with a better keyboard, consider the MDA. It may take two hands and a slide of the keyboard, but it's a powerful device.
Phone Features and Reception
The MDA is a quad band GSM world phone (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) that will work anywhere in the world GSM service is available. You'll have to use a T-Mobile SIM with the phone however, since it's locked to T-Mobile. That said, it's easy to find ways to unlock the phone on the web and T-Mobile will unlock it for you after 3 months of service.
Voice quality through the handset is excellent, with both incoming and outgoing audio sounding full and clear. Handset volume is adequate, and quite loud with the included earbud headset. Our unit had very good reception, pulling in a signal even in marginal areas. It's on par with the Motorola RAZR and SLVR, a bit better than the SDA but not quite as good as some high end Nokia phones.
The phone supports common call features such as call forwarding, conference calling, call waiting and it has a full duplex speaker phone that's adequate but not stellar despite the two speakers. It is louder than the Apache models and clearer.
Now here's my favorite: voice dialing that works over Bluetooth. Yes, that's still a rarity on Pocket PC phones which is unfathomable since every decent feature phone with Bluetooth can do it. The MDA, like all Wizards, ships with Voice Speed Dial which uses voice tags rather than true speech recognition. Yes it lacks Microsoft Voice Command's impressive recognition capabilities and range of commands but MS Voice Command does eat up a lot of resources and won't work over a Bluetooth headset or car kit. You can record tags for any contact in your address book and you can record tags to launch the applications of your choice. To initiate voice commands simply press the dedicated button on the right side of the phone or press (press and hold for some headsets) the call button on your Bluetooth headset or car kit.
Data and WiFi
For data that's available most anywhere T-Mobile service is available, the MDA has EDGE (2.5G) and the old standby slow GPRS class 10. EDGE speeds, at an average of 110k on the T-Mobile network in our area, make for tolerable web browsing, though not as fast as Cingular's EDGE service through their proxy server (averaging 150 to 180k) or Verizon and Sprint's EVDO (3G at 450k average). Though the MDA and its little brother the T-Mobile SDA MS Smartphone share core Windows Mobile 5 components and the same CPU, web pages load much more quickly on the MDA. So if you're having a hard time deciding which kind of smart device is best for you, keep that in mind.
Like all Windows Mobile phones, the MDA comes with mobile versions of Internet Explorer and Outlook (the email component is called Messaging) so you can stay in touch when on the go. Since choice is a good thing, also try out the beta of Opera for Windows Mobile 5 PPCs and NetFront 3.3 technical preview, both of which are free until the release versions are ready. These two excellent browsers offer some features that IE lacks, so it's worth a look if you spend a lot of time web browsing. The MDA supports MMS and SMS, both of which go through the Messaging application.
And for even faster data, there's the MDA's built-in WiFi 802.11b which is a true pleasure to use. T-Mobile's revised unlimited data plan costs $29.99/month (up from $19.99) but adds unlimited use of T-Mobile HotSpots which are commonly available at Starbucks, Borders and airports among other places. That's a great deal, assuming these HotSpots are conveniently located; but clearly not so hot if your town doesn't have HotSpots. You can use your T-Mo HotSpot account on any device, including your notebook, so you're not limited to your small-screened device. The phone comes with a HotSpot finder application and an app to manage your login.
To enable WiFi, use the Home Screen shortcut or Comm Manager, which allows you to control and manage all three of the MDA's wireless radios. Once the radio is on, the Windows Mobile Connection Manager (a part of the OS) will notify you of access points in range and automatically connect you to those in range which you've used before. The device supports WEP encryption and WPA for security. The MDA handles transitions from EDGE to WiFi and back automatically, and will prefer a WiFi network if the WiFi radio is on and a viable access point is within range. Unlike the Cingular 8125, whose default network settings make it hard to get going with WiFi without some tweaking, the MDA works out of the box. WiFi is power-hungry, more so than EDGE, so be sure to turn it off when you don't need it. The Wizard's WiFi radio supports both b and g modes, though it's marketed as an 802.11b device (there's a registry hack to enable g mode only, but you won't see huge performance improvements because the Pocket PC CPU speed and architecture are bottlenecks). Still, it's handy if you need to connect to the rare g-only access point or don't want your network to drop down to the slower b mode. Range is good by Pocket PC standards and the device holds signal well. The battery will drain more quickly with the radio on and you'll be annoyed by the constant WM Connection Manager notifications of new available access points if you're moving about the average metro region.
Horsepower and Performance
Pocket PC aficionados and power users expressed concern about the MDA's nominally slow 195 MHz CPU. Pocket PCs average 400MHz these days, and halving that Doesn't make your heart race with excitement if you're a geek addicted to "the bigger the better" kinds of numbers. But wait: let's pretend you didn't know the CPU speed and someone gave you this unit to play with for an hour. Unless you were playing back video encoded above 500 kbps, you'd probably guess the MDA was a 312 or 400 MHz unit. That's the common range of speeds for Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC phones and the MDA, like other Wizard variants, feels middle of the pack when it comes to dropping down menus, launching applications, using Pocket Word, Internet Explorer or even playing action games and music.
If you're looking for a phone that can do some serious video playback or don't want to be bothered keeping track of running programs (and closing some of them when the device slows down) then the MDA or ANY of the other Wizard variants aren't for you. If you're looking for decent performance (other than video playback and Skype reliability at this point), and crave good battery life by PPC phone standards, the MDA or Cingular 8125 (which is equally responsive) should be on your short list. The lower the megahertz, the better the battery life, and the MDA lasts longer on a charge than many other PPC phones with faster CPUs (though our unit didn't last quite as long as the Cingular 8125).
Texas Instruments makes the 195 MHz OMAP850 dual core processor and it has one core which handles PDA functions and another that's basically a DSP handling telephony and some multimedia duties. As you can see from our Spb Benchmark results, the MDA performs nearly identically to the i-mate K-JAM with the exception of graphics, where it blew the K-JAM away on GAPI tests (GAPI is a heavily used graphics library on Windows Mobile). Spb wouldn't run correctly on the Cingular 8125, so we can't offer that benchmark, but the units feel similar in speed. The MDA has 128 megs of flash ROM and 64 megs of RAM. Under Windows Mobile 5, RAM is used in the same way it is on a PC: it's the place where running programs execute. (for more information on Windows Mobile 5 on the Pocket
PC, see our WM5 article here.).The operating system and pre-installed applications live in Flash ROM and the remaining 40 megs are available for you to install programs and data. Should you need more space for programs and files, you can get a Mini SD card to use with the MDA. Typically there are 25 megs of free RAM so the device rarely runs short on memory.
To test video playback we threw our usual
test file 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 Cingular 8215 using TCPMP,
an extremely fast open source free video player that supports
MPEG1, DivX, ASF, WMV and AVI files. TCPMP benchmarked "The
Chosen" with passable benchmarks of: Average speed: 206.48%
Bench Frame Rate: 48.76
Bench. Data Rate: 639 Mbit/s
Orig. Frame Rate: 24fps
Orig. Data Rate: 310 kbit/s
That's decent performance, that may pale in comparison to 624MHz non-phone Pocket PCs but is more than adequate for 300 to 400 kbit/s video which is the bitrate range for web videos and those generated by the popular DVD to Pocket PC application.
Results, comparing Windows Mobile 5 PPC Phones
Directory list of 2000 files (thousands of
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)
Display, Multimedia and Gaming
T-Mobile's Today Screen background (the same as that on the T-Mobile SDA) doesn't show off the MDA's excellent screen to best advantage, but change to a different theme, view a photo or check out a web page and you'll discover that the MDA has a very bright, color-saturated and sharp QVGA display. The 240 x 320 display supports 65,000 colors and both portrait and landscape modes. The screen is surprisingly bright at the 50% setting and it looks fabulous indoors. Outdoors, glare is noticeable. Like most recent Pocket PC Phone Edition models, the MDA has a 2.8" LCD rather than the 3.5" one found on older PPC phones and non-phone PPCs. Text looks sharper on the smaller screen, and is quite readable even with my poor eyes.
Sound out through the included stereo earbud headphones is good when listening to MP3s using the included Windows Media Player Mobile 10 with support for DRM. Likewise movie soundtracks sound good, and certainly much better than the speaker, as is the case with all PDAs. The PDA does well with video encoded at 500 kbps or less and QVGA resolution using Windows Media Player and the excellent free TCPMP video player. Volume for both PDA audio and ringtones is average through the built-in speaker.
As with the 8125, the MDA proved to be a capable gaming machine. Even action and demanding games like Sky Force, Ancient Evil along with the less demanding Bejeweled 2 ran fine. Don't get your hope up for good NES emulator performance, but most any other Windows Mobile 5 compatible game should run fine despite the 195 MHz processor.
Like the Cingular 8125, the MDA takes decent photos. Its 1.3 megapixel CMOS camera takes attractive photos by camera phone standards with relatively little noise under good lighting and it has reasonable color accuracy with a very, very faint purple tint. It lacks the XV6700's unappealing heavy purple tint, and differs only from the Cingular 8125 in that faint tint color (the 8125 has a faint blue tint rather than purple, likely due to carrier preferences and resulting tweaks to the camera app's image processing) . Photos could use more sharpening, but that's easily handled with your favorite desktop image editing program. Try to take a photo at twilight or in dim indoor conditions and you will see grain, but sizing the photo down or using a noise reducing filter on your computer can turn out usable images. The camera's LED flash isn't useful unless you're very close to your subject (living subjects will hate you because the flash is blinding and constant), but it makes a wonderful flashlight. Turn on the flash in the camera application and it stays on until you turn it off or exit the camera app.
The camera can take still photos up to 1280 x 1024 at 1.3MP, and has a "scaled" resolution option of 1600 x 1280 along with lower resolutions suited to MMS and caller photo ID. 1280 x 1024 photos average 400k in size. The software has presets for photo, video, MMS video, caller ID photo, sports and burst. You can select from several ambiance settings, but Auto usually does the trick. Both JPEG and BMP formats are supported for photos and the camera can shoot video in MPEG4 or Motion-JPEG AVI formats with sound. You may set a recording limit if you wish or let it record until your device or Mini SD card runs out of space.
The camera application runs in landscape mode and uses the full screen for preview. It has an optional post-capture review with handy shortcuts to view the image in Pictures and Videos or Windows Media Player, delete it or send it via MMS or email. If you want to take stealth photos, you can turn off the shutter sound, and you can set the camera to save to a Mini SD card, show post-capture review or not and put a time and date stamp on the photo.
Sample photos taken at 1280 x 1024 resolution in superfine mode, auto ambiance. Photos are resized to fit this page but are otherwise unedited.
The T-Mobile MDA has Bluetooth 1.2 which is backward compatible with 1.1. It supports headsets and has the handsfree profile along with serial port, file transfer, DUN (dial up networking for using the phone as a wireless modem for a notebook) but not A2DP (high quality stereo audio). The setup software is basic since it uses Microsoft's spartan Bluetooth stack and software, but it gets the job done. We tested the phone as a modem for a Windows XP machine, and it worked fine. We tested the phone with the Plantronics Discovery 640 headset and audio quality and range were good (the 640 doesn't have stellar range since it's a small headset but it did relatively well with the MDA) The MDA did well with the Gennum nXZEN Plus headset (great voice quality and good range), as well as the Motorola H700 (decent audio quality and range). Voice dialing over Bluetooth worked well too (press and hold the call button on the headset to initiate voice dialing on most headsets, except the nXZEN where you press the "pinch" button). We also tested Motorola's HF800 car kit and sound quality was excellent. Again, voice dialing worked well: with the Moto, press the call button quickly rather than holding it down as with the Plantronics.
All Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PCs come with the operating system, Mobile Office suite including Outlook Mobile and desktop Outlook, Windows Media Player Mobile 10, Terminal Services, Pictures and Videos, Pocket MSN (Hotmail, MSN Messenger), File Explorer, handwriting recognition (print and cursive), Solitaire, Bubble Breaker (the game formerly known as Jaw Breaker), Calculator and support for secure certificates and VPN connections. Outlook on the PDA has calendar, contacts, tasks, notes and email (called Messaging), which you can sync to a Windows desktop running Outlook. In addition you get Clear Storage (wipes out the device to factory settings), Comm Manager, T-Mobile's push email application. T-Mobile's HotSpot software, the camera application, Voice Speed Dial, ClearVue PDF viewer, Modem Link and Zip (unzips .zip files).
You can add any Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC app you wish and we tested several which ran well , including Resco File Explorer, Resco Photo Viewer, TCPMP, eReader, MS Reader, Opera beta, Netfront 3.3 technical preview and a host of games.
Battery life, compared to feature phones, don't earn Pocket PC phone's bragging rights. But that large display, excellent web and email presentation and mini-PC-in-your-hand experience makes us forgive their relatively short run times. That said, the MDA (and the Wizard in general), is a shining star, lasting just under two days with moderate use (40 minutes phone time total using a Bluetooth headset, surfing the web over EDGE for 1 hour total, using WiFi and the web for 30 minutes more, and checking email and PIM data several times per day with Bluetooth always on). That scenario would send the Samsung i730 to the charger before the first day's end and the XDA III (Siemens SX66) to the charger by day's end. Thank the heavens for that 195 MHz CPU when it comes to battery life: it uses much less power than most 400 MHz units. If you're a very heavy phone and data user, or are addicted to WiFi, do expect to charge nightly. If you're a light user expect two days on a charge. For some reason our Cingular 8125 had a bit better staying power than the MDA, though both were factory fresh units.
Which Wizard is for you?
You got the idea earlier, right? Since the MDA, Cingular 8125, K-JAM and QTEK are so similar; make your choice based largely on the carrier's pricing and quality of service in your area. Yes, the the MDA and 8125 each have a different look, and while I prefer the 8125's style, the final decision is yours (and looks count less than service and features). If you're after an unlocked phone which you can use with any carrier, the i-mate K-JAM or the QTEK should be your choice. Though if you're a little technical, you can unlock the US versions for free, or otherwise for a fee. For those of you who fancy the free Opera Mini browser or Google's GLM (Google Local Mobile), both of which require a Java VM, keep in mind the MDA does not come with a VM while the others do. We prefer the Cingular 8125's larger keyboard keys and smarter backlighting setup to the MDA as well.
An excellent, stable PDA-phone that's the perfect companion to business users and world travelers. WiFi, EDGE and Bluetooth will keep you connected to just about anything, anywhere. The top-notch display is perfect for viewing web pages, photos and reading documents. The slide-out keyboard is a godsend for those who email, SMS or enter any other form of data frequently. The MDA has just about every feature currently available in a Pocket PC phone aside from GPS, which you can add via Bluetooth. For the price, it's a very good deal. Alas, if it only had 3G!
Pro: Filled with features, making it a good deal for the price. Despite the laundry list of features, it's very stable and responsive, putting it light years ahead of the original T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition (XDA) and even the HP iPAQ 6315. A no-brainer upgrade for T-Mobile PDA phone users. WiFi behaves well, T-Mo's HotSpot bundle data plan is great for those in major metro areas where Starbucks abound. Bluetooth performance with headsets is very good in terms of range and voice quality with a variety of headsets. The device is compact and smart looking.
Con: A little less classy looking than the Cingular 8125. No Java VM included. Not the right handheld for those wishing to play video encoded at high bitrates. Not a one-handed device (unless you want to do some hacking to change button assignments, a la Smartskey).
Display:2.8" transflective QVGA display capable of displaying 65K colors. Supports both portrait and landscape modes.
Battery:1250 mAh Lithium
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Performance:Texas Instruments OMAP850 processor. 64 MB built-in RAM
(~25 megs free). 128 MB Flash ROM with ~40 megs
available for your use.
x 2.28 x .93 inches. Weight: 5.64 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band world phone (850/900/1800/1900 MHz bands) with GPRS and EDGE class 10 for data.Phone is sold locked to Cingular.
Camera:1.3MP CMOS camera with LED flash. Can take still photos (JPG and BMP) and videos with audio (MPEG4 and Motion-JPEG AVI). Photo Resolutions: 1600 x 1280, 1280 x 1024, 640 x 480, 320 x 240 and 160 x 120. Video resolutions: 176 x 144 and 128 x 96. Presets for taking photos, video, MMS, caller ID photos, sports and burst mode.
in speaker, mic and 2.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Media Player
10 Mobile included for your MP3 and video pleasure. Stereo earbud headset with mic included in the box.
WiFi 802.11b (and g) and Bluetooth 1.2.
Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC Phone Edition operating system.
Microsoft Mobile Office suite including Mobile versions
of Word, Excel, PowerPoint (view only), Internet
Explorer, and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, MSN
Instant Messenger for Pocket PC, Windows Media Player
10, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker (game), Voice Recorder
as well as handwriting recognition. Additional applications:
Camera, Wireless Manager, T-Mobile's push email service (requires account),
Wireless Modem (use the phone as a modem over BT,
IR or USB), Clear Storage (wipes
out all data and resets unit to factory defaults).
ActiveSync 4.1 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.