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Audiovox PPC-6601 from Sprint

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Read our review of the Audiovox PPC-6700 from Sprint which replaces the PPC-6600 / PPC-6601

Review posted Nov. 30, 2004 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

This year we've seen several Pocket PC Phone Edition and Windows Mobile Smartphones offered by various carriers under different product names. The lovely new Audiovox PPC-6601 offered by Sprint PCS in the US is no exception. It's designed by HTC who consistently brings us some of the best Pocket PCs and smartphones running Windows Mobile, and is known overseas as the XDA III, iMate PDA2K, PDA2K EVDO, MDA III. In the US it's also available as the Audiovox XV6600 (the same phone but sold by Verizon Wireless) and the Siemens SX66 which is the GSM version offered by Cingular. All of these are basically the same device with the same specs, varying only in network support (GSM vs. CDMA) and inclusion of WiFi on some models. The HTC codenames for this group of devices are Blue Angel (GSM) and Harrier (CDMA).

PPC-6601
back of audiovox PPC-6601

 

The Audiovox offered by Sprint is definitely a "killer" Pocket PC phone. It and its variants are the fastest models currently on the market and offer the most RAM. The unit builds on the strong XDA II platform which was never offered by US carriers but enjoyed great success overseas and with US importers. Unlike the GSM XDA II, the PPC-6601 is a CDMA network device with support for 1xRTT for data and EVDO when Sprint makes that very fast data service available. If you're looking for a convergence device and want the best possible Pocket PC performance, put this Sprint offering on your short list.

The PPC-6601 is a Pocket PC first, and a phone second. The same can be said of all Pocket PC Phone Edition models such as the HP iPAQ 6315, XDA II and the Samsung i700. They look, feel and act like Pocket PCs and indeed are full-fledged Pocket PCs with no concessions made. Add a mobile phone radio and phone software and you've got a Pocket PC Phone Edition model. Pocket PC phones support all mobile phone features such as speed dialing, conference calling, caller ID and speakerphone and use an on-screen dialer for making calls. What are the tradeoffs? Unlike petite cell phones, Pocket PC phones are large and since they were designed to be PDAs first, their ergonomics are geared towards PDA use rather than cell phone use. Not that they're uncomfortable to use, but if you don't like the idea of holding a Pocket PC to your head, consider using a Bluetooth headset or purchasing another breed of smartphone. However, if you're already carrying both a PDA and cell phone and need a full-featured PDA, then a Pocket PC Phone can lighten your load.

 

 

Deals and Shopping

 

 

 

Features at a Glance

The PPC-6601 runs Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition which offers support for both landscape and portrait modes among other enhancements to the original 2003 OS. It has a 400MHz processor, a whopping 128 megs of RAM, good graphics performance, Bluetooth and a unique slide-out QWERTY keyboard design. Quite a nice feature list for a device in this price range. The PPC-6601 does not have an integrated digital camera, but the PPC-6600 does, and Sprint may offer this version for those who don't have to worry about workplace camera restrictions.

In the box you'll find the phone, stylus, software CD, stereo earbud headset, charger, sync cradle and a horizontal carry case with belt clip.

Design and Ergonomics

The Audiovox is the size of a large Pocket PC, and has pleasing curves that feel good in the hand. The unit is attractive and modern looking with a silver front bezel and black plastic back. The most striking feature is the phone's sliding design: slide the back half downward to reveal a QWERTY thumb keyboard with backlighting.

 

side view

Left side view.

slider

Side view, slider open.

 

Buttons abound on the Audiovox, unlike most Pocket PC phones. While most PPC phones have only call send and end buttons and two application buttons on the front face, this unit adds 4 thin horizontal application buttons just below the display. This is great news for gamers, who often need several applications buttons for games and were left wanting with other PPC phones. The unit has a rounded rectangular direction pad that moves easily in all directions, supports diagonals and has a center action button. The speaker is located above the display and the mic is at the bottom of the phone, which is standard for units that double as phones.

XDA III keyboard

Slider open to reveal the keyboard.

size comparison

Size comparison: Audiovox SMT5600 MS Smartphone, palmOne Treo 650, PPC-6601 and the HP iPAQ 6315.

 

On the left side you'll find the voice recorder button, volume slider, Windows Media Player button and the IR window. As with all Pocket PCs, you can re-assign different applications to all buttons except the dedicated call send and end buttons. The stereo 2.5mm headset jack is located on top, as are the SD slot and power button. The stylus lives in a silo on the top right and there are no buttons on the right side of the unit. As you'd expect, the sync/charge connector is located on the bottom. The user-replaceable Lithium Ion battery is inset into the back of the phone and sits flush. The battery door is integrated into the battery.

Phone Features and Reception

Like all Pocket PC phones, the Audiovox has a large on-screen dialer application with numbers that are large enough to dial using a finger. This screen has a call send/end button, a speed dial button, call history button and a hold button that appears when in a call. You can mute a call by tapping on the mic icon in the task bar, bring up the address book by tapping the Contacts icon and open Notes if you wish to jot down notes or drawings when in a call. You need not tap out phone numbers using the on-screen dialer, and instead can make calls with one press using the speed dial function. Speed dial can hold up to 99 numbers (1 is assigned to voicemail), and if you wish to use voice dialing you can purchase Microsoft's Voice Command.

All Pocket PC Phones have flight mode, and the PPC-6601 is no exception. Simply tap on the signal strength meter on the menu bar and select flight mode to turn off all wireless features. You can still use the PDA functions when the device is in flight mode. Signal strength on Sprint has been good in the San Francisco Bay Area. The phone supports Sprint PCS Vision (1xRTT) for data which provides throughput around 75k on average in our area. The unit supports EVDO, so we hope that when that network is available from Sprint, we'll see near- WiFi speeds over the air.

Horsepower and Performance

While not the fastest Pocket PC on the market, the PPC-6601 is one of the fastest Pocket PC phones thanks to its state-of-the-art 400MHz Intel PXA263 XScale processor (the Samsung i730 running at 520 MHz is the fastest). Those of you who were wishing for an even faster processor should keep in mind that battery life suffers as processor speed increases. The Audiovox is fast enough to please demanding users, gamers and avid video watchers. It has a generous 128 megs of RAM and 14.57 megs of Flash ROM available for program and data storage. The unit uses an ATI graphics processor which gives good performance in gaming and video playback. All applications responded quickly and games run quite well on this device. It is a power user's dream to be sure. The unit is also very stable and reliable and generally gets the job done without any fuss.

Keyboard

What good is a powerful mobile email tool without a keyboard? Who wants to carry accessory keyboards? Audiovox and Sprint have the answer: the "slide and hide" keyboard, as Sprint calls it. When you need it, slide the back half of the PDA down to reveal a QWERTY thumb keyboard. Though the keys are only slightly raised and have little tactile feedback, the keyboard was surprisingly easy to use. The keys are curved in a radial pattern which provides for a more ergonomic typing experience and allows for more space between the keys. Thanks to the generous key spacing and grippy key surface, I found it easier to type on the PPC-6601 than the venerable Treo 650; but keep in mind that such things are somewhat a matter of personal taste.

The keys are backlit in blue and are easy to see in the dark but thankfully aren't so bright as to grab everyone's attention. The embedded number keys and Fn key are outlined in red while the rest of the keys are outlined in black. This makes it easy to punch in a phone number, and when you're in the phone dialer screen, the unit automatically switches to the embedded number keys which are superimposed on the letter keys.

The Audiovox has a Settings applet where you can enable/disable keyboard backlighting, specify how long it stays on after a key is pressed (2, 4, 6, 8 or 10 seconds) and set repeat rate.

Display, Gaming and Multimedia

Like the all Blue Angel variants, the PPC-6601 has a very nice 3.5" transflective display that's quite bright, sharp and has good color saturation and balance.

Sound volume in call, through the speakerphone and system sounds are plenty loud. Like all Pocket PCs, the Audiovox can play MP3s using the included Windows Media Player 9. For best sound you'll want to use the included stereo headset rather than the integrated mono speaker.

Games work well on the PPC-6601, equaling the performance of the XDA II but improving on its gaming experience with the addition of more application buttons which can be used in game. We tested a variety of demanding, popular current games and all played well.

The unit makes a great portable video player, but do get yourself a fast SD card to store those large video files! Videos played with Windows Media player, Pocket TV and BetaPlayer were a pleasure to watch. Using PocketTV Enterprise Edition to play "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, the PPC-6601 managed a full 24.63 fps.

BetaPlayer is an extremely fast open source free video player that supports MPEG1, DivX and AVI files. There are also plugins for ASF and WMV format. BetaPlayer played back "The Chosen" with benchmarks of:
Average speed: 328.53%
Bench Frame Rate: 78.85
Bench. Data Rate: 1.0 Mbit/s
Orig. Frame Rate: 24fps
Orig. Data Rate: 310 kbit/s

Benchmarks

If you've used an XDA II, you will find little difference in overall performance since the models share the same processor and memory architecture. In fact, benchmark numbers are nearly identical, with the XDA II having a tiny (and we mean tiny) edge in some numbers, likely the result of software installed by the respective operators. Having owned the XDA II, I can tell you the PPC-6601 feels identical in terms of performance and runs the same applications well, including games.

Bluetooth

Those of you who used the XDA II may recall with dismay its Microsoft Bluetooth stack and dearth of profiles. Thankfully the PPC-6601 has the excellent Broadcom (formerly Widcomm) Bluetooth stack and its associated user-friendly software along with a good set of profiles. The unit has profiles for FTP, information exchange, serial port, personal network server, dial up networking (DUN) and hands free for headsets. Headset voice quality is good with a variety of headsets but range is fairly limited at 6 to 10 feet before static creeps in.

 
Samsung i730
(520 MHz XScale)
HP iPAQ 6315
(168MHz Ti)
XDA II (400MHz)

Audiovox PPC-6601

Spb Benchmark index
1703
742
1365
1344
CPU index
2000
714
1857
1834
File system index
1213
667
1076
1050
Graphics index
3796
1674
1179
1191
Platform index
1201
731
1164
1148
Write 1 MB file (KB/sec)
1548
600
1242
1245
Read 1 MB file (MB/sec)
27.8
11.1
25.8
25.9
Copy 1 MB file (KB/sec)
1550
588
1251
1263
Write 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
1014
467
850
849
Read 10 KB x 100 files (MB/sec)
9.47
5.22
9.22
8.51
Copy 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
827
435
742
735
Directory list of 2000 files (thousands of files/sec)
21.3
20.2
18.6
18
Internal database read (records/sec)
1682
591
1450
1399
Graphics test: DDB BitBlt (frames/sec)
216
236
122
122
Graphics test: DIB BitBlt (frames/sec)
33.5
12.3
23.1
23.1
Graphics test: GAPI BitBlt (frames/sec)
647
259
136
136
Pocket Word document open (KB/sec)
38.4
26.3
38.7
38.4
Pocket Internet Explorer HTML load (KB/sec)
6.89
5.51
7.76
7.75
Pocket Internet Explorer JPEG load (KB/sec)
179
108
244
234
File Explorer large folder list (files/sec)
512
469
580
558
Compress 1 MB file using ZIP (KB/sec)
246
170
246
242
Decompress 1024x768 JPEG file (KB/sec)
764
230
611
610
Arkaball frames per second (frames/sec)
242
87.4
99.9
99.6
CPU test: Whetstones MFLOPS (Mop/sec)
0.099
0.03
0.076
0.076
CPU test: Whetstones MOPS (Mop/sec)
71.9
24.3
55.5
55.4
CPU test: Whetstones MWIPS (Mop/sec)
6.51
2.14
5.01
5
Memory test: copy 1 MB using memcpy (MB/sec)
99.6
29.9
177
105

Battery Life

The PPC-6601 has a 1490 mAh battery, which is a decent capacity for a phone with two forms of wireless and a fast processor. It also represents an improvement over the XDA II which had a 1,200 mAh battery that could generally make it through one day with average use, but sometimes less. The Audiovox did make it through the day for us with power to spare when we used it lightly. If you use the device to talk for 30 minutes, surf for 30 minutes per day, check email 10 times per day, access PIM info (calendar, tasks, contacts) several times per day and play games for 30 minutes per day, you should make it through the day.

The phone has a Button Lock feature which you can enable to prevent accidental button presses from turning on the unit. When enabled via Settings -> Button Lock, only the power button will turn on the unit. The Audiovox does not have power settings which allow you to select a lower CPU setting to save power.

The phone comes with a cradle that allows you to both sync and charge the device and it has a second slot to charge a spare battery. When traveling you need not bring the cradle to charge the device since the included charger can plug directly into the phone using a small included adapter.

Internet

Like all Pocket PCs and PPC phone models, the Audiovox comes with a Windows Mobile version of Internet Explorer and Pocket Outlook for email. Pocket IE doesn't support all the standards of its desktop equivalent, but it does handle CSS, JavaScript, frames and HTML nicely and it supports 128 bit SSL. Outlook on the PPC-6601 supports multiple email accounts, server authentication, SSL, POP3, IMAP and Exchange server.

Thanks to improvements in the version of Pocket IE included with Windows Mobile 2003 SE, the Audiovox's fast processor and Sprint's fast Vision (1xRTT) connection, web surfing is a pleasure and page load times are quite decent. While Vision can't rival WiFi connection speeds, it is faster than a 56k dial up modem. When EVDO is deployed in the US, speeds should truly be impressive as that 3G technology can rival DSL for speed. The phone has EVDO capabilities and we hope that PPC-6601 users will be able to take advantage of those speeds.

Conclusion

If you're looking to reduce the number of devices in your pocket or bag, the Audiovox PPC-6601 should be on your short list. It's both a powerful Pocket PC and a fully functional cell phone. It has style, an innovative "slide and hide" keyboard and holds its own against high end Pocket PCs in terms of performance and features. The PPC-6601 has been stable and reliable for us, and the Sprint PCS Vision data speeds make web browsing a pleasure.

Pro: Fast performance, lots of RAM and good graphics performance. Lovely transflective display, good thumb keyboard that adds little to the device's size and integrated Bluetooth with excellent driver software. Internet access is relatively fast using Sprint's 1xRTT network. We can't wait to see what EVDO holds in store. Expandable via SDIO slot.

Con: No integrated WiFi, though you can add a WiFi SD card. As with most Pocket PC phones, the device is very large by phone standards. Battery life is so-so. Bluetooth range is limited to approx. 10 feet with many headsets.

Web site: www.sprintpcs.com, www.audiovox.com

Price: $479 with new activation from Sprint

 

Specs:

Display: Transflective TFT color LCD, 64K colors. Screen Size Diag: 3.5", Resolution: 240 x 320.

Battery: Lithium Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1490 mA. Claimed talk time: 3.6 hours, claimed standby: 6 days.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA 263 400 MHz processor. 128 MB built-in RAM. 64 MB Flash ROM with 14.57 megs available for your use.

Size: 4.9 x 2.75 x .74 in. Weight: 7.35 ounces.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headset jack. Stereo earbud headset included. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 9 included for your MP3 pleasure.

Networking: Integrated Bluetooth. CDMA/PCS mobile phone network with support for 800/1900MHz digital bands. 1xRTT for data.

Software: Windows Mobile 2003 SE for Pocket PC Phone operating system. Microsoft Pocket Office suite including Pocket Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, MSN Instant Messenger for Pocket PC and Voice Recorder, Solitaire, Jawbreaker as well as handwriting recognition. 3rd party and HTC software: Album (image viewer), Handmark Express (demo), Audible Player, xBackup, Permanent Save (allows you to save contacts, calendar, connection settings and tasks to non-volatile flash ROM) and WModem (allows you to use the phone as a modem for a PC or PDA over Bluetooth, IR, Serial or USB). ActiveSync 3.7.1 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.

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

 

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