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Audiovox SMT5600 GSM MS Smartphone running Windows Mobile 2003SE

(also known as the HTC Typhoon, Orange SPV C500 and the iMate SP3)
Editor's rating (1-5):
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Note: Discontinued and replaced by the Cingular 2125 MS Smartphone in Feb. 2006

Posted Nov. 28, 2004 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Sometimes good things do come in small packages. Witness the SMT5600 which is a superbly compact Windows Mobile Smartphone. It's downright petite by smartphone standards and is about the same size as other small candy bar cell phones on the market. The phone is made by HTC, the same folks who brought you the unit's predecessor the SPV E200, as well as several classic iPAQs like the iPAQ 5555, 4150 and the extremely popular XDA II Pocket PC Phone Edition model. Several carriers and vendors sell the device, so it's known by many names. In the US, it's the Audiovox SMT5600 sold by AT&T Wireless which is the unit we're reviewing. Cingular now offers the phone as well. In Europe Orange offers it as the C500, and in Europe, the Middle East and Asia iMate and Carrier Devices offer it as the SP3. HTC's code name for the device is "Typhoon". Other than a few firmware differences resulting from carrier customizations and band support, and differing versions of Windows Media Player, they're the same unit.

 

Audiovox SMT5600 Audiovox SMT5600

Front and back views of the SMT5600


Despite its small size and relatively reasonable price tag, this smartphone has it all: the latest OS, Bluetooth, a VGA camera, good battery life and a fast 200MHz processor. It comes with ActiveSync and Outlook for Windows, a stereo earbud headset and horizontal case with belt clip. In the US, the SMT5600 is offered by AT&T Wireless. Though all stores are now branded as Cingular stores thanks to the merger, those stores which used to be AT&T still stock the phone as do online retailers like Amazon.

MS Smartphones belong to the Windows Mobile family of devices but don't confuse them with their larger kin, the Pocket PC Phone Edition models such as the iPAQ 6315 and Samsung i700. PPCPE models are full-fledged Pocket PCs with integrated mobile phone radios. MS Smartphones are smaller devices that resemble traditional cell phones and offer slimmed-down versions of the Pocket PC software you may be familiar with. MS Smartphones cannot run Pocket PC software, though quite a few apps have been ported to Smartphone, and they do not have touch-screens and styli. They are the perfect solution for users who want advanced features not found in standard phones such as a strong PIM suite, multimedia playback and above all, easy syncing to Windows desktops running Outlook.

MS Smartphones have an interface that's very similar to Pocket PCs (minus stylus support) and are somewhat similar to Windows desktops. They have the same Today Screens found on Pocket PCs and a Start Menu that lists all applications installed on the phone. As with other non-touch screen phones, you'll enter text using the number pad and have a choice of multi-press, T9 predictive text or number entry.

 

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Design and Ergonomics

The SMT5600 is finished in charcoal gray and silver. The front and sides are made of metal while the back is plastic. The phone looks and feels very well made with a solid build quality and professional appearance. The phone has a minimalistic design with a gentle taper toward the rear and bottom which make it feel great in the hand. Like all MS Smartphones, it has two action buttons just below the display that aid in navigation and a large rocker with the Home and Back (delete when entering text) buttons. The large call send and end buttons flank the interestingly designed 5-way directional pad which is rather long and narrow. The d-pad works very well for moving up and down, and OK for left and right. It isn't terribly easy to press it down for the action/select function since the d-pad (more like a rocker) tends to move up or down too easily, changing your selection. The d-pad has a long travel when pressing down, which doesn't make matters easier. It is by no means a horrible design, but it can't compare to the large and easy to operate Motorola MPx220 d-pad and it isn't the greatest for games. The lightly domed number keys are very easy to operate and are responsive enough for super-fast dialers. The keys have blue backlighting that's activated when a button is pressed. The unit has a light sensor just below the keypad that tells the phone when backlight is needed. If you prefer, you can disable the sensor so the backlighting always comes on, but the sensor works so well, you'll likely wish to leave it on automatic.

On the top of the phone you'll find the power button and IR window. The small call volume rocker is on the left side near the top, and I do wish that HTC had make it a bit larger. The same can be said of the camera button which is located on the right side near the top: it works fine but it's a bit small. The 2.5mm stereo headset jack is located on the bottom as is the standard mini-USB sync and charge port. The phone comes with both a mini-USB to USB sync cable that supports USB charging and a charger. You must install ActiveSync from the CD to install the device specific driver or USB charging via the sync cable won't work.

Orange C500

The Orange SPV C500. Sold primarily in Europe, this phone is identical to the SMT5600 except for carrier customizations, branding and supported GSM bands.

size comparison

Size Comparison : Motorola MPx220, Sierra Wireless Voq, SMT5600 and the Sony Ericsson T610

 

 

The user replaceable battery is located under a door on the back of the phone and the camera lens and self portrait mirror are on the upper half of the phone's back. The phone has an external car antenna jack on the back near the camera lens. A single LED on the front left above the display indicates network status (flashes green when service is available), charging status (amber when charging, solid green when charged) and Bluetooth status (flashes Blue to indicate Bluetooth is on and will alternately flash blue and green when BT is on and the phone has service).

Horsepower and Performance

The Audiovox is a fast performer thanks to its Texas Instruments OMAP 730 ARM family 200MHz processor and the improved Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition Smartphone operating system. Unlike first and even some second generation MS Smartphones, the 3rd generation SMT5600 feels fast and very responsive. You can quickly scroll through menus, applications launch fast and perform well. Even video playback is good with files encoded at 300kbps bit rate or less. In fact, the Audiovox outperforms the Motorola MPx220 playing WMV and MPEG4 files by a small margin.

The Audiovox has 64 megs of ROM where the OS and built-in applications are stored, ~28 megs of which is available for you to store programs and data. It has 32 megs of RAM used as program memory (like RAM in your PC). For expansion the SMT5600 has a mini-SD card slot located under the battery. That's right, like many Series 60 Nokia phones, you'll need to turn off the phone and remove the battery to insert or remove the memory card. Mini-SD cards are fairly new and are 1/2 the length of a standard SD card and are currently available up to 512 megs. Since the unit has a mini-SD slot, it can't use standard SD cards or SDIO cards such as SD WiFi cards. Why did HTC go with mini-SD? Because it allowed them to make the phone smaller.

Phone Features and Reception

The SMT5600 has very good reception (RF) that comes close to the Motorola MPx220's reception. In areas with mid to strong signals they're equal with the MPx220 having a slight edge in very poor signal areas. However, there were times when our SMT5600 could make and receive calls with less than 1 bar of signal! Nokia is still king when it comes to GSM reception, but as long as you don't live and work in areas with very poor coverage the Audiovox should work well. Voice quality, both incoming and outgoing are excellent with very little of the background hiss or white noise heard on most GSM phones. Call volume through the built-in earpiece is decent and we could hear easily in home and office locations. If you're in a noisy public place, you'll want to use a headset. Outgoing call volume is very good as is voice quality. Call volume and quality is excellent with the included wired stereo earbud headset and was also excellent with a variety of Bluetooth headsets. Speakerphone volume is very good, with excellent mic sensitivity and very, very little distortion.

The SMT5600 is a tri-band phone that works on the 850/1800/1900MHz bands, which means it will work anywhere in the US where GSM service is available. In the US AT&T uses both the 850MHz and 1900MHz bands, as does Cingular. 1800MHz is used in Asia and somewhat in Europe, though Europe is mostly 900MHz. If you plan to travel to Europe, the SMT5600 should provide some coverage, but you might want to consider a quad band phone which adds 900MHz. The overseas versions of the SMT5600 (iMate SP3 and Orange C500) are triband world phones with 900/1800/1900 MHz coverage which means they'll work in Europe, Asia and in the US though you'll miss the 850MHz coverage used by AT&T/Cingular. If you're a T-Mobile US customer considering buying an imported SP3 or C500, then you currently won't need the 850MHz band since T-Mobile only has 1900MHz coverage in the US.

Phone features are standardized among all MS Smartphones, so the experience is similar across these devices. To make a call, you can press the call send button and dial using the number pad or dial from call history. You can also speed dial by pressing and holding a number that's assigned to a phone number in your address book. You can add a speed dial entry from the Contacts application for anyone in your address book and have up to 99 speed dial entries. Standard phone features include call waiting, call history, speakerphone, call barring, call forwarding and caller ID. The phone supports manual network selection. The phone also supports profiles, WAV and MP3 ringtones, vibration and you can assign custom ringtones to individual contacts.

Voice dialing is a must on a mobile phone, and the Audiovox provides it. You'll record voice tags for contacts or even applications you wish to launch and press and hold the volume down button to start voice recognition. Unlike the MPx220, the SMT5600 doesn't offer voice recognition software, so you will need to record voice tags for those contacts you wish to voice dial. However, voice tags are very accurate and you won't need to speak other commands to call a contact (with Voice Signal on the MPx220, you'll need to say "name dial" before speaking the contact's name so the phone knows the context for your voice command). The SMT5600 is the only MS Smartphone that supports voice dialing through a Bluetooth headset which is a big plus!

Internet Access

The Audiovox has class 10 GPRS for data. That's the fastest GPRS connection but we'd still like to see EDGE support in a Windows Mobile Smartphone someday! Like all MS Smartphones, the Audiovox comes with a slimmed down version of Internet Explorer for MS Smartphone and a slimmed down version of Outlook which supports POP3, IMAP and Exchange servers. You can set up multiple email accounts, use authentication, SSL and even specify different outgoing server username and passwords if necessary. Mail supports attachments, and also handles SMS and MMS messaging.

Unlike IE in first generation MS Smartphones, the 2003 SE version is reasonably fast and it does a decent job of rendering pages. Most web pages loaded in 10 to 20 seconds rather than the 50 seconds it took our SPV E200 and MPx200 earlier generation MS Smartphones. Of course, WAP sites will load even faster since they're optimized for small screens and slow over the air connections. If you're interested in an alternative browser, check out Opera for MS Smartphone. You'll also get MSN Messenger and Pocket MSN on the phone (though it seems that Pocket MSN only works with Verizon service at the moment). If you want to use a variety of IM accounts, check out the free Agile Messenger which supports, MSN, AIM, Yahoo and ICQ.

Display and Sound

The phone has a large and lovely color display. It's 2.2" and runs at the standard MS Smartphone resolution of 176 x 220 pixels. The screen is very bright, sharp and vibrant. Photos look very good as do videos, and the screen is sharp and easy to read.

The built-in side-firing speaker is surprisingly loud for a compact phone and you'll easily hear MP3s, videos, game sounds and system alerts. The speakerphone is also very good with excellent mic sensitivity and very good speaker volume. If you wish to use the phone as an MP3 player, use the included stereo earbud headset which plugs into the 2.5mm jack on the phone's bottom edge. MP3s sound great and are quite loud through the headset.

Camera

The SMT5600 has an integrated VGA camera that can also shoot videos. As with all VGA camera phones, you won't want to throw away your dedicated digital camera but they are great for catching special moments on the fly. The camera takes pictures in JPEG format up to 640 x 480 in size, and the quality is similar to the unit's predecessor, the SPV E200. It handles low light situations and indoor shots well. Outdoor shots can be over-exposed on very sunny days, but overall the camera does a decent job of rendering colors and doesn't show a lot of distortion near the edges of photos.

We found that the camera did well on automatic settings, but if you wish you can experiment with several different light balance settings (auto, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, night) and choose from three effect settings (grayscale, sepia, cool). The camera has 4x digital zoom, but zoom is only supported in resolutions lower than 640 x 480. You can take photos in basic, normal, fine or superfine quality. Images shot at 640 x 480 in superfine quality average 115k in size.

The SMT has a very good camcorder for shooting videos with audio. You can take videos in MMS format (3gp) or higher quality MP4 and 2x digital zoom is supported in both formats. Videos are 176 x 144 resolution and you can turn off audio recording if you wish. MMS videos are OK and we don't expect much more from a format optimized for sending over the air. MP4 videos were surprisingly good and can be played back by the included Windows Media Player 10. The camcorder offers the same white balance settings and effects as the camera app, and we found that auto settings worked best. The viewfinder refreshes quickly when shooting photos and video.

How do the camera and camcorder compare to the MPx220? You'd think the Motorola would win hands down thanks to its 1.23MP sensor, but in fact the SMT5600 does a better job of color balance, taking photos in dimly lit areas and shows less noise.

Bluetooth

These days Bluetooth is a must for road-warriors and technophiles and the Audiovox won't disappoint. It has an integrated Bluetooth 1.1 class 2 radio that supports the hands-free, dial up networking (DUN) and OBEX push and serial port profiles. That means you can use Bluetooth headsets, transfer files, ActiveSync over Bluetooth and even use GPS with the phone. We tested quite a few headsets and the Parrot car kit and they worked well with the phone: call quality and volume were excellent and range was average. We used the phone as a GPRS modem over Bluetooth with an HP iPAQ hx4705, Dell Axim X50 and a PC and it worked without a hitch. No special dialing strings are required and it was very easy to set up. All in all, Bluetooth is reliable and stable on the phone. The only glitch we ran into was trying to send files over BT after using a headset earlier. Twice in a two week period the phone couldn't initiate the file send and we had to reboot it to reset Bluetooth.

Battery Life

Battery life has been a weak point of MS Smartphones, but the newest models, the SMT5600 and the Motorola MPx220 beat that rap, getting a few days per charge with average use. The SMT5600 beats the MPx220 by a small margin, and runs considerably longer than the SPV E200 and the 1st generation Motorola MPx200. It has an ample 1050 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's user replaceable. The phone comes with a charger that plugs into the mini-USB port on the phone and a USB sync cable that allows you to charge the phone over USB (you must install ActiveSync and the phone's driver to activate USB charging from a PC).

In our tests, we talked one hour per day using a Bluetooth headset, surfed the web over GPRS for 30 minutes, checked mail 10 times, shot 10 photos, watched a few 5 minute videos stored on a mini SD card and played games for 30 minutes. The phone had 65% charge remaining and we needed to charge it every other day. For a smartphone, these are excellent runtimes.

Sample photos, unedited. Taken at highest quality, 640 x 480. Click on an image to see the full size original.

fedex

Outdoors mid-day (not direct sun).

guitar

Lovely old MG!

fish

Big fish in a tank.

odwalla in supermarket

Odwalla bottles in a supermarket.

Software

Like all MS Smartphones, the Audiovox comes with the Smartphone version of Internet Explorer, Media Player 10, MSN Messenger, ActiveSync for the phone and Windows desktops, a file manager, and MS Smartphone versions of Outlook: Messaging, Contacts, Calendar and Tasks. For some reason, Microsoft has never included a Notes program that syncs to Outlook notes, but an excellent 3rd party program called SmartphoneNotes will do the trick if you're a big user of Outlook notes. The SMT5600 doesn't come with an MS Office file viewer, so you'll have to purchase one separately if you wish to view Word and Excel files. The phone comes with a Java runtime, calculator, Resource Management (manage tasks and storage space), Jawbreaker,and Solitaire.

As mentioned, the phone has voice dialing software which allows you to voice dial contacts and launch programs by speaking voice tags you've recorded. The phone supports picture caller ID using ArcSoft's Caller ID application. You can attach a picture to any contact in your address book and when that person calls, you'll see their photo on the display.

Conclusion

Absolutely a great smartphone! This device is remarkably small and is packed with features. It's well-built, attractive, has a large and bright display and feels great in the hand. Throw in Bluetooth, easy syncing to Outlook, a VGA camera, voice dialing over a BT headset, expandable storage and you've got a winner. The phone runs the latest OS, performs speedily and has good RF. It's a rare thing when we can't think of any cons, but so far we haven't found anything to dislike other than the lack of the faster EDGE data connection. But since no Windows Mobile Smartphone currently offers EDGE, we can't complain too much.

List Price: ~ $249 with contract

Web site: www.cingular.com

Shopping: Where to Buy

 

Specs:

Display: Transflective TFT color LCD, 64K colors. Screen Size Diag: 2.2 ". Resolution: 176 x 220 pixels.

Battery: Lithium Ion 1050 mAh rechargeable battery which is user replaceable. Claimed talk time: 3.5 to 4 hours. Standby 140 hours. World charger (100 to 240v) included.

Performance: Texas Instruments OMAP 730 ARM compatible 200MHz processor. 64 MB built-in ROM (28 megs available). 32 MB RAM.

Size: 4.24 x 1.82 x .69 inches. Weight: 3.6 ounces.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headset jack. A stereo earbud headset with mic is included. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included on the Audiovox (the C500 has Windows Media Player 9).

Networking: GSM 850/1800/1900MHz bands for the Audiovox SMT5600. The Orange C500 and iMate SP3 support 900/1800/1900MHz bands. Class 10 GPRS for data. Class 2 Bluetooth 1.1 with headset, handsfree, OBEX push, DUN (dial up networking) and serial port profiles. Standard IR (SIR).

Software: MS Smartphone version of Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition operating system. Smartphone versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer, Outlook (email/SMS/MMS, Contacts, Calendar and Tasks but not Notes included), MSN Instant Messenger, Pocket MSN, Voice Recorder and Windows Media Player 10. Also included: Voice dialing, Picture Caller ID, Camera and Video capture apps, Resource Management (task and storage manager), Photo Album, Solitaire, Jawbreaker, Speed Dial, Calculator, Java runtime (intent Java MIDlet Manager by Tao Group Ltd) and Call History. ActiveSync 3.7.1 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.

Expansion: 1 mini SD slot located under the battery (does not accept regular SD cards). IR port.

 

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