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Pocket PC Phone Reviews

O2 XDA II

Posted March 25, 2004 by Howard Paw, updated June 2004 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief
Discontinued: XDA III has replaced the XDA II. In the US, these are sold as the Siemens SX66 (GSM) and Audiovox PPC-6601 (CDMA).

Note: The XDA II was designed by HTC, the same folks who designed the 3000 and 5000 series iPAQs as well as the original XDA. It's sold under several brand names, including the XDA II, iMate, Qtek 2020 and MDA II.

Smartphones, whatever form factor they may be, has been steadily garnering market share worldwide, and many analysts have predicted that the days of the standalone PDA are numbered as convergence devices take over. HTC might make that day become a reality sooner than we think with the release of the XDA II.

XDA II
XDA II back

 

The XDA II is the much awaited follow up device to the immensely popular original XDA, known as the T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition in the US and as the XDA overseas. It was adored by many due to its sleek design and native Windows PC file interchangeability, but scorned by critics mainly for its apparent poor phone-pda software integration, non-transflective display and lack of connectivity options (no Bluetooth and no SDIO slot to be exact). The XDA II addresses those shortcomings, and is a full featured, Bluetooth enabled, Triband phone with an integrated VGA camera. But is the XDA II as perfect as O2 and HTC want us to believe? Lisa Gade, our Editor in Chief thinks the answer is "yes" since she fell in love with this phone and purchased one from Dynamism.com!

Design and Ergonomics

If you're one of the many people who liked the design and form factor of the XDA, chances are you will go gaga over the XDA II since both units share a similar design, with the XDA II offering a few slight improvements. Gone is the protruding antenna and instead of being all silver, the XDA II now is silver on the front, with black accentuating the overall look. The SD slot is now located at the top with the power button, IR port and stylus silo flanking its sides. The upper left side of the unit has the voice recorder button, slider volume control and camera snapshot button. The hardware button locations are unchanged from the XDA, with the 5-way d-pad and call send and end buttons located below the display and the Calendar and Contact buttons above the display. HTC has made a conservative decision and retained the design that made the original XDA a hit, and If it ain't broke don't fix it, right?


comparing the XDA II and iPAQ 1940

Comparing the size of the iPAQ 1940 and XDA II.

Samsung i700 and XDA II

Comparing the size of the XDA II to the Samsung i700 Pocket PC phone

One caveat is that the XDA II feels a slight bit cheaper compared to its older brother. I don't know if it's the plastic that they used, but the XDA II just feels a little less sturdy than the XDA. I also wish that they had moved the headphone jack to the top of the unit instead of putting it at the bottom of the unit.

Expandability, Horsepower and Battery life

By utilizing an XScale 400 MHz processor the XDA II has the capacity to perform fast computing tasks, and is on par with top of the line Palm and Pocket PC devices. Unlike other Pocket PC phones, it makes no hardware concessions. Large contact and photo databases can be opened in an instant, movie files can be played with scarcely a hit on the CPU's overall speed, and games can be thoroughly enjoyed with no fear of slow downs. In the age where 64MB of built-in RAM is of the norm, the XDA II carries the distinction of being one of the few Pocket PCs that comes with a hefty 128MB of RAM and an extra 14MB of flash ROM storage. An SDIO slot is included so you can add extra storage memory with MMC/SD cards or add functionality by using SDIO networking cards such as the WiFi SD cards from Sandisk and Socket.

 

 

 

 

 

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It should be noted that you can buy an optional accessory “backpack” which attaches to the back of the unit. This “backpack” adds a CF type II slot, VGA output port and an extended battery to the device, although this would make the XDA II substantially thicker and heavier.

From a technical standpoint, the XDA II seems to have almost everything: power, memory and expandability, but with all of this, something has got to give right? Sadly, HTC did skimp on something when making the XDA II, and that something is the oh so important battery life. The XDA II comes with a 1,200 mAh Lithium Polymer battery, a battery that size may seem to be enough for a regular PDA, but not one that does dual-duty as a phone. In my normal use that includes using SMS, making calls, accessing the calendar and contacts list, playing games and some light reading, the XDA II would only last a day, and I hadn't even turned on the Bluetooth radio yet. Be prepared to charge your XDA II every night. The only saving grace here is that the XDA II's battery is user replaceable, so you can simply stock up on extra batteries if you feel the XDA II hasn't got enough juice to last you through the day.

Wireless

Being a former XDA user, I was well aware of its weakness holding a signal. My XDA would sometimes lose signal and the only way to get a signal was to toggle the wireless antenna off and on-- I was very glad to see that this quirk is no longer a problem with the XDA II. The XDA II manages to hold a network signal as good as my old Motorola phone, and the XDA II is capable of automatic searching for a network signal after losing a connection.

In the US, we tested the phone on T-Mobile's network, and were pleased with the results. The XDA II has excellent RF, pulling in a signal even in marginal coverage areas.

Configuring the XDA II for GPRS and MMS connections was a breeze with its autoconfig program: I simply selected my Cellular Phone Network Provider from the drop down list and all of the configurations were set automatically. If by chance your network provider isn't on the drop down list, you can easily configure GPRS and MMS yourself— you just have to know the GPRS and MMS Access Point Name (APN) of your particular network provider. Note that while many carriers are listed in the autoconfig program, these carriers are all those who officially sell the XDA II. There are no autoconfig settings for US carriers, so you'll have to enter the correct GPRS and MMS settings using the Pocket PC Connection Manager. If you're using T-Mobile in the US, note that many folks have trouble getting MMS to work, but GPRS is easy.

The phone has GPRS Class B / Multi-slot Class10 for data connections and also supports class 8. Windows Mobile 2003 Phone Edition allows you to switch between class 8 ( faster downloads) and class 10 (faster uploads).

Camera

With camera-phones being the rage nowadays, it was only natural to equip the XDA II with a VGA camera, and with the XDA II's high price tag, one might easily argue that the inclusion of a camera is only fitting. The XDA II's camera may seem to be useless at first due to its low resolution and the absence of a flash (as with every GSM camera phone). But the camera did prove itself useful on a number of occasions, because although I have a standalone digital camera I don't carry it around with me everyday as I do the XDA II. The camera is capable of taking both stills (480x640, 240x320, 120x160) and videos at 15fps with sound (240 x 320, 144 x 176, 96 x 128). It saves pictures in JPEG and BMP format while videos are saved in MPEG and AVI format. Using the camera in environments with good lighting produces good quality pictures and videos by VGA camera standards. In dark environments, the XDA II's camera is technically blind as a bat so don't even bother to use the camera at night to avoid disappointments. It was a let down that camera doesn't offer a “night mode”. One very nice thing I really liked about the camera though is that it is capable of using graphic templates similar to those found in Neo Print photo booths which are quite popular in Asian countries. These templates are basically graphical borders or frames that are pasted on top of the pictures, adding more eye candy and giving your pictures that extra “oomph” when you send it to another person via MMS.

sample

Above: a photo taken at VGA resolution with the XDA II. Click on the photo to see the full size, un-edited original photo.

Bluetooth

Other than GSM and GPRS, the XDA II also has Bluetooth wireless networking that allows you to use the various BT headsets available on the market. Note that the XDA II supports the Bluetooth headset profile, but not handsfree. I tried the Plantronics M3500, Logitech, and Sony Ericsson's BT headsets and they worked flawlessly. The Jabra 250 paired just fine, but didn't have good range with the XDA II (about 2.5 before the connection had static).

ActiveSyncing, connecting to a Bluetooth access point and using the XDA II as a modem via a wireless BT connection is also possible. I was very disappointed to find that the Microsoft Bluetooth software stack used for this phone lacks the OBEX file transfer profile. This means that the XDA II is incapable of sending or receiving files via Bluetooth. Why they didn't include the OBEX file transfer profile is beyond me and it seems quite stupid since one of the primary uses of Bluetooth is file transfer.

Dialing Options

The method of dialing on Pocket PC Phone Edition 2003 hasn't changed much from the 2002 version: you simply press the “call” button or tap on the phone icon on its touch screen to invoke the graphical dial pad. From the graphical dial pad, you can access the speed dial menu and turn on the speaker phone (you can also turn on speaker phone mode by doing a press-hold on the call button). You may also dial directly from the contacts application, simply tap and hold on a name to invoke the context menu and choose any of the contact's available numbers to dial. When viewing an individual contact, phone numbers are underlined, and you can tap on the number to dial.

Phone and PDA integration of the the PPC Phone Edition OS is still clunky at best-- yes there are a few improvements over the 2002 version, but still not enough. Make no mistake folks, the XDA II is a PDA first and a phone second, the Microsoft guys from Redmond could sure use some lessons in phone-PDA integration from the Treo 600 and Sony Ericsson P900.

Bundled Software

In addition to the core Pocket PC Phone Edition applications, the XDA II comes with a few more programs that greatly enhance the overall experience of the Windows Mobile platform. The MMS Composer by Arcsoft, is a no frills MMS builder that anyone can easily use. IA Style, which was recently bought by HTC, is the brains behind the Album picture viewer program and the Photo Contacts application, and both pieces of software are very efficient. Album is basically a beefed up picture viewer that supports the viewing of a wide variety of formats including BMP, JPEG, GIF, AVI and MPEG. The program is tightly integrated with the camera so you can view pictures or videos taken with the camera seamlessly. Photo Contacts, as the name would suggest, is the program that allows you to associate a picture with anyone in your contact list. Not only can you assign a picture, but you can change the font type, font size, name color and background color as well. My personal favorite is the phone dialer feature of Photo contacts which allows me to simply tap on the picture of a person to dial his/her number.

Rounding up the software bundle is xBackup (the name speaks for itself), WiFi SDIO drivers by Socket Communications (just insert the Sandisk or Socket WiFi SDIO card and voila! Instant WiFi access) and Westtek's ClearVue suite (Powerpoint and PDF viewer).

Conclusion

For most of us, no convergence device has quite reached perfection. The XDA II, while impressive, still has a far way to go before being perfect. But for those who can look past the XDA II's imperfections, you'll find that this is one of the most well made smartphones on the market. This is definitely one of the few devices out there that almost everyone will like: its combination of style and features will make it attractive to anyone from an ordinary student to a company CEO. Yes it is expensive, but you probably won't find a better way to spend that amount cash while reducing the number of gadgets in your pocket.  

Price: Price varies by country and carrier. US importers such as Dynamism, iCube and Expansys offer it and the iMate (same unit, different branding) for ~$900 without contract unlocked. The unlocked unit should work with any GSM provider's SIM. Though if you're with AT&T Wireless or Cingular in the US, keep in mind that you won't be able to take advantage of their recently deployed 850MHz towers, and instead will only connect to their 1900MHz towers for service.

  XDA II (2003, 400MHz) Samsung i700 (2002, 300Mhz PXA250, 300MHz turbo mode)

E-TEN P300B

(2003, 200MHz Samsung)

Spb Benchmark index
1365
917
726
CPU index
1857
878
1015
File system index
1076
854
885
Graphics index
1179
1649
257
Platform index
1164
700
833
Write 1 MB file (KB/sec)
1242
550
691
Read 1 MB file (MB/sec)
25.8
17.8
17.4
Copy 1 MB file (KB/sec)
1251
564
715
Write 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
850
407
563
Read 10 KB x 100 files (MB/sec)
9.22
5.79
7.62
Copy 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
742
355
538
Directory list of 2000 files (thousands of files/sec)
18.6
94.8
25.3
Internal database read (records/sec)
1450
715
804
Graphics test: DDB BitBlt (frames/sec)
122
122
67.7
Graphics test: DIB BitBlt (frames/sec)
23.1
22.8
12.8
Graphics test: GAPI BitBlt (frames/sec)
136
216
24.5
Pocket Word document open (KB/sec)
38.7
22.9
38.5
Pocket Internet Explorer HTML load (KB/sec)
7.76
5.53
7.51
Pocket Internet Explorer JPEG load (KB/sec)
244
68.9
146
File Explorer large folder list (files/sec)
580
231
557
Compress 1 MB file using ZIP (KB/sec)
246
60.8
204
Decompress 1024x768 JPEG file (KB/sec)
611
396
294
Arkaball frames per second (frames/sec)
99.9
106
54.6
CPU test: Whetstones MFLOPS (Mop/sec)
0.076
0.057
0.042
CPU test: Whetstones MOPS (Mop/sec)
55.5
55.4
27.5
CPU test: Whetstones MWIPS (Mop/sec)
5.01
3.65
2.72
Memory test: copy 1 MB using memcpy (MB/sec)
177
70.1
52

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Specs:

Display: Backlit 3.7" 240 x 320 pixel color transflective display with 65,000 colors.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA 263 prcoessor running at 400 MHz. 128 megs of RAM and 14 megs of flash file storage. 64 megs ROM. Windows Mobile 2003 Phone Edition operating system.

Size: 69.9 x 130 x 19 mm. (2.75" x 5.1" x .75"). 190 grams (6.7 ounces).

Audio: Built in speaker and mic, headset jack and speakerphone.

Expansion: 1 SD slot supporting SDIO (and SDIO Now!) that accepts SD and MMC cards and SDIO cards such as GPS and WiFi. Bluetooth 1.1 wireless personal area networking.

Battery: Comes with a 1200 mAh rechargeable Lithium Ion polymer battery. User replaceable.

Software: Windows Mobile 2003 Phone Edition operating system. Microsoft Pocket Office suite including Pocket Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, MS Reader and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, MSN Instant Messenger for Pocket PC and Voice Recorder as well as handwriting recognition. ActiveSync 3.7 and Outlook for the desktop. 3rd party and additional software: Westtek ClearVue for viewing PowerPoint and PDF files, XBackup, IA Album, PhotoContacts, VGA output.

Network: Tri-band GSM world phone: 900/1800/1900 MHz. GPRS class B multislot class 10 for data.

In the Box: CD, manual, phone, cradle, stereo headset, battery, charger, case and 2 extra styli.

 

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