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Samsung NEXiO S160 Windows CE .NET PDA

Review posted by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief, Oct. 17th, 2003

(Discontinued)

When Samsung announced the NEXiO S160 in the Spring of this year, I, like many hardcore PDA and gadget freaks, was elated. Finally, a Windows CE platform device with superb resolution, landscape orientation and an optional keyboard, all running one of Microsoft's latest mobile device operating systems. But sadly at the last minute Samsung decided not to market the NEXiO in the US, and this all-English, FCC-approved device instead was released for the Hong Kong market. Thankfully, the US importer Dynamism, known for their selection of cool computers, handhelds and phones not normally available in the US, decided to carry the NEXiO. The only catch is the very steep price: $1,250 US, plus $60 for the keyboard. MobilePlanet, a vendor familiar to many PDA fans, also resells the Dynamism-imported NEXiOs.

The NEXiO features a 5" transflective color display, 800 x 480 resolution, an optional plug n' play keyboard, 5 way d-pad and a 400 MHz processor running on Windows CE .NET 4.1. It comes with a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, sync/charging cradle, charger, USB cable, VGA cable, leather flip cover and a small plastic slug that fits into the CF slot and can act as a stand for the NEXiO. The keyboard is optional, but highly recommended. NEXiO stands for "NEXt generation internet Office" according to the well-written Samsung English manual.

Samsung Nexio S160

The NEXiO S160 in hand, with keyboard.

Nexio and accessories

NEXiO in the included cradle with keyboard, included stereo headset + mic combo, and plastic slug that acts as a portable stand.

 

What's Windows CE .NET?

If you followed the details on the latest Pocket PC release, Windows Mobile 2003 (aka Pocket PC 2003), then you'll know that Microsoft re-architected the underlying operating system. Previous Pocket PCs and the now pretty much dead Handheld PC 2000 platform ran on the Windows CE 3.0 core. Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PCs and the NEXiO run on Windows CE .NET, and .NET is Microsoft's big initiative these days. Windows Mobile 2003 is based on .NET 4.2, while the NEXiO runs .NET 4.1, a minor version difference. While Pocket PCs run a user interface layer on top of .NET that makes them better suited for their smaller screen size, quick PIM access and handwriting recognition systems, the NEXiO runs full-blown Windows CE .NET since it has a large screen and keyboard.

In fact, the NEXiO interface looks just like Windows XP! While Pocket PCs have a resemblance to their big Windows cousins, most folks looking at a NEXiO would swear it was a Windows XP machine. You'll see the familiar Start Menu, desktop with trash can, My Computer and My Documents folders, XP program icons and even the XP Zero Configuration networking setup. It has Settings (mostly the same items as XP), Programs, Documents, Run (yes, you can run most but not all DOS commands on the NEXiO) and Network and Dialup Connections items on the Start Menu.

The NEXiO can run programs that were made for Windows CE .NET 4.x, and many (if not most) HPC applications, along with a few Pocket PC apps. See the software section below for a listing of popular and useful programs that work with the NEXiO.

Ergonomics and Design

The NEXiO looks like a highly miniaturized notebook PC, and it's the first handheld I've found that could actually be a notebook replacement. It's larger than other PDAs, but at 8.8 ounces is only 1 ounce heavier than the flagship iPAQ 5555. If you wear a jacket or cargo pants, it is pocketable.

You can use the unit in tablet mode like a regular non-clamshell PDA, or you can snap on the optional keyboard and use it like a laptop. The keyboard acts as a screen cover when the unit is closed. If you do use the keyboard, you can prop up the S160 using the plastic slug (insert) that stows in the CF slot. It snaps into a hole on the back of the NEXio and holds it in notebook computer position. The included USB cradle also does double-duty as a stand for the NEXiO (see photo).

 

 

 

 

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The NEXiO has a 5 way directional pad and three quick launch buttons on the left side. The buttons are re-assignable, and turn the backlight on/off (press and hold for several seconds to completely turn off the display when listening to music and etc.), launch the NEXio Launcher screen and voice recorder. The mic is located above the d-pad, and the speaker sits below the quick launch buttons. The CF slot is located on the right side and there are 3 LEDs just above the LCD which indicate power, WiFi on/off and alerts/reminders.

Nexio S160 top view

Top view of NEXiO closed, with keyboard acting as a screen cover in clamshell mode.

Nexio S160 bottom view

Bottom of NEXiO S160.

Nexio S160 cradle

The cradle, with plastic block removed, revealing extended battery charger. The two holes in the rear are stylus wells. The charger and sync cable plug in the rear.

 

The power button is on the left side, and just below it there's a hold switch (to prevent accidentally turning the unit on in transit), the headphone jack and charger port. The reset button is located on the bottom, and while I haven't needed it more than once in the past two weeks, it does reboot very quickly.

You can charge, sync and output to VGA using the cradle or by plugging the cables directly into the NEXiO.

Horsepower and Features

The Samsung NEXiO S160 has an Intel XScale PXA250 processor running at 400 MHz. The same processor has been used on several top-of-the-line Pocket PCs. While the PXA255 is the most recent version of that processor, sporting a faster memory bus, the NEXiO absolutely screams on its PXA250. The unit feels much faster than high-end Pocket PCs, and that probably is because it doesn't have to run legacy code to support older Pocket PC apps and doesn't have the additional Windows Mobile layer running on top of .NET.

The NEXiO has 128 megs of RAM, with 87 megs available to the user. Like all Pocket PCs, that memory is divided between the OS (like RAM in your PC) and storage space (like your PC's hard drive). The NEXiO runs the same applet as Pocket PCs which allows you to adjust the balance between these two using a slider, and generally allocating 30 to 35 megs to the OS (called Program Memory by the Pocket PC) is plenty.

The NEXiO has 64 megs of NAND Flash ROM, of which 32 megs are available to the user. Since this is a Flash ROM storage area, anything stored there will survive a hard reset (erasure), making it ideal for backups or storing important apps and data.

The NEXiO has one type II CF slot supporting type I and type II CF cards. It does not have an SD slot.

Screen and Audio

The NEXiO has a razor-sharp 5" color transflective LCD capable of displaying 64,000 colors. Transflective displays are the best commonly available display technology for PDAs and it's a rare find to get one on a large-screen device. The NEC MobilePro 900 Handheld PC in comparison, still uses old display technology that can't compare for sharpness, brightness and color saturation with transflective displays. The resolution is a fixed 800 x 480 and the display doesn't rotate to portrait orientation. How do they squeeze all those pixels into a 5" display? Desktop CRT monitors run at 72dpi (dots per inch), while the NEXiO runs at 190 dpi. The unit comes with a VGA cable that allows you to output to a monitor and give PowerPoint presentations at 800 x 600 resolution.

What's it like to use the display? While it's not as bright and color saturated as the iPAQ 5555 which has the best transflective display on the market, it is very sharp, has good color saturation and is bright enough for any environment. My eyes aren't the best, and I don't suffer eyestrain using the NEXiO for an hour or two at a time. My eyes did tire using the Sharp Zaurus C760, which also has a lovely display, and I think the 5" LCD really helps.

The sound volume is quite loud, and speaker is front-firing, located on the lower left of the unit. The built-in mic, located at the top left corner of the unit is a 3 hole design and is of surprisingly good quality. Recorded voice notes sound loud and clear, and audio quality for voice conversations using the included MS Messenger application are excellent. The NEXiO has a 2.5'' combo stereo headset and mic jack (3 ring), and a stereo ear bud headset with integrated mic similar to a stereo version of a mobile phone headset is included (see image above). Fortunately, the ear buds are good quality and MP3s sounded great. I tried using the Radio Shack stereo 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter (Radio Shack part # 274-373) with my favorite set of headphones. That will work if you don't insert the adapter all the way into the NEXiO (due to the order of the 3 rings used in the NEXiO's jack). There are other companies that do make adapters that will allow you to use standard 3.5mm headsets with 3 ring jacks.

WiFi and Networking

The NEXiO S160 has built-in WiFi 802.11b wireless networking which offers good range and compatibility. I took it with me to the Microsoft Mobius 2003 event and it worked with airport, hotel and open WiFi on the Microsoft campus. You can turn the wireless on and off using an icon in the system tray, which also displays connection status and signal strength. The NEXiO, like other recent .NET devices, uses the same Zero Configuration networking as Windows XP. If you've used XP to setup network connections, you'll be at home here. It supports 64 and 128 bit encryption, ad hoc and infrastructure connections, IEEE 802.1X authentication and access point discovery.

If you have an NE2000 compatible wired Ethernet card like the Socket Communications LPE card, then your NEXiO will be able to join wired networks (no drivers necessary). Simply insert the card, and go to Network and Dialup Connections on the Start Menu to setup your connection. Again, this looks and acts just like Windows XP.

While Bluetooth didn't make it into Windows XP, it did make it into CE .NET 4.1which came out after XP. There's a Bluetooth control panel icon and system driver that works with MS certified Bluetooth CF cards (so far this means only the AnyCom card). Using the AnyCom card, you can connect to a Bluetooth enabled mobile phone for Internet access, print to a Bluetooth enabled printer (printer support is built into CE .NET) and so on.

Battery Life

The NEXiO comes with a non-user replaceable 1500 mA Lithium Ion battery. That's a decent capacity battery, and the NEXiO needs it to run that big screen and WiFi. An optional extended 2000 MAh battery is available and looks like a slim slab that clips onto the bottom of the NEXiO. Battery life depends on your wireless usage and screen brightness setting. I consistently get about 3 hours per charge with the screen on the middle to one notch below highest setting with one or two hours of surfing time. The NEXiO has a power saving mode and I'm not sure what this does since the unit still runs fast in power saving mode, the screen isn't dimmed and the runtimes aren't much different. If you need to run continuously all day on a single charge, do consider the extended battery which can be charged in the cradle (see photo above). If you use the NEXiO intermittently through the day, the main battery should be adequate. The power adapter is an yo-yo device that looks something like the Apple Powerbook and iBook charger but smaller. You can plug the adapter into the included syncing cradle, or plug in directly into the NEXiO.

Optional Keyboard and Handwriting Recognition

Though the keyboard is an optional accessory, most users do purchase it and it really is a must with this unit. It's a full QWERTY keyboard with a dedicated number row, Ctrl, Alt, Start and an Fn key for entering punctuation. The keyboard is quite large compared to integrated keyboards on units like the Sony Clié UX50 and Sharp Zaurus C760, and the keys are reasonably large hard plastic ones with good spacing. Key travel is minimal, but it took little time to adjust and I was typing at 40 WPM in the first day of use. It has quick launch buttons for Calendar, Contacts, and Messenger, and acts as a screen cover for the NEXiO when closed (similar to a notebook PC). The keyboard is plug n' play, which means you can snap it on and off whenever you wish without turning off or rebooting the unit.

If you don't care to purchase or use the accessory keyboard, you can use the NEXiO's handwriting recognition and on-screen keyboard. If you've used Pocket PCs, you'll find the character recognizer familiar. It allows you to write characters using natural print handwriting, and adds quick entry items for common punctuation and international characters. The character recognizer and keyboard are resizeable (small and large), and applications can dynamically bring up the on-screen keyboard. There's also an on-screen keyboard and an "Internet" keyboard with common items such as "http://", ".com", .net and etc., along with quick launches for 14 popular sites such as CNN, ESPN, Google, Handango, Wall Street Journal and more.

Software Bundle

The NEXiO S160 comes with Microsoft Office viewers for Word, Excel, Outlook for email only, PowerPoint and PDFs. Windows CE .NET 4.x doesn't come with the full suite of Pocket Office apps, but rather viewers. However, Pocket Word is included, along with PTab Spreadsheet by Z4Soft and Samsung's Presentation Viewer for PowerPoint Presentations. You can output PowerPoint presentations to a monitor or projector using the included cable at 800 x 600 resolution. Spreadsheet is very functional, supporting formulas, formatting, workbooks and sheets. Since CE .NET's Outlook supports email only, Samsung has provided their own Calendar, To Do (Tasks) and Notes applications which seamlessly sync to Outlook on the desktop. As a result, the Samsung ships with ActiveSync and an additional desktop application that integrates into ActiveSync and handles Calendar, To Do and Notes syncing. The Notes app supports ink notes as well as text notes, and the Calendar application offers day, week, month and year views with To Do's integrated in a side pane for all but month views. The month view shows which days have appointments with color coding, and tapping on an appointment icon will show the calendar item below the main calendar pane. The NEXiO supports audible and LED alerts for calendar items. Samsung also provides a Today application which mimics the "Outlook Today" view on desktop Outlook. ActiveSync 3.6 for the desktop is included but you can use a newer version if you wish. While Pocket PCs come with Outlook 2000 or 2002 for the desktop, the Nexio doesn't, so you'll need your own copy of Outlook 2000 or 2002 (many PC users already have Outlook anyway).

In addition, you get MS Messenger (it looks just like the desktop counterpart and even supports voice chats), MS Media Player, Samsung's MP3 player, Freecell, Solitaire and Casino. A full-screen version of Zio's popular ZioGolf 2 is bundled with the NEXiO. The S160 comes with a version of Internet Explorer that's equivalent to desktop Internet Explorer 5.5. It supports all common web standards such as .CSS, JavaScript, SSL, multiple windows, cookies and caching. It's remarkably capable and I haven't found a site yet that doesn't display correctly, and online banking sites work as well.

3rd Party Software and CF Card Compatibility

As stated, the NEXio can run Windows CE .NET applications, many HPC (handheld PC) apps and some Pocket PC apps. For those programs that need a few old Windows CE 3.0 and Pocket PC .DLLs, you can download the "fake DLLs" from http://simpad.silentservices.de. You can also run some Pocket PC applications (but not many) and you can run Windows Mobile 2003 programs that use the .NET Compact Framework. The .NET Compact Framework is available from the Yahoo NEXiO discussion group at groups.yahoo.com/group/NEXiOs/. What apps install and run? Here's a list of apps I'm using: Adobe Acrobat Reader for Pocket PC, Ruksun's Scotty FTP, Noisette Software's CrunchIt zip program and GetIt FTP program for .NET, PHM Registry Editor (freeware), Pocket MVP music and video player (WinCESoft has a Nexio version at wincesoft.de), Total Commander (free full-featured file manager), WinamPAQ MP3 and OGG player, Conduits Pocket Artist, and CECam.

Speaking of WinCESoft's CECam, with this software for the Pretec and FlyCam 1.3 megapixel CF digital cameras you can take digital pictures using the NEXiO! It's a very full-featured picture taking application that takes sharp photos. It allows you to select from several image resolutions, use indoor, outdoor and night settings, rotate the image for capture, control the flash, set JPEG compression levels, adjust the banding filter and more. Granted this is the only available app to drive these digicams, but even so, it'd probably be your first choice if you had a choice . The NEXiO and Pocket PC versions of CECam actually take better pictures and offer more options than the software included with these digital camera CF cards. You can read our review of the FlyCam here.

Noisette Software (NSC) is one of the few developers actively supporting .NET for retail customers right now, so if you need a full featured zip program that supports passwording archives and zip, jar, gzip and tar file formats, or an FTP program with file manager features, go support them and get these great apps!

CE .NET 4.x has support for NE2000 compatible wired Ethernet cards, certified Bluetooth cards (right now that means AnyCom's BT CF card), 56k CF dialup wired modems, and even some GPS CF cards built-in. You don't need drivers to use these cards. However, I've yet to find a GPS mapping solution for HPCs or .NET 4.x, even though the card itself is recognized and models like the Ambicom GPS do come with a diagnostic app for .NET 4.x but no mapping software. While I no longer have the Sprint PCS 2031CF wireless CDMA 2000 card, other users have reported success getting this card to work.

Conclusion

What can I say— this thing is like heroin: once you use one, you won't want to stop! This unit is perfection for power PDA users and those looking for the 9 ounce version of a laptop! The only problem? The very steep price.
Pro: Excellent transflective 5" 800 x 480 display in landscape orientation. The built-in WiFi is a winner, getting a strong signal and being easy to setup. Fast performance beating out Pocket PCs, and plenty of memory. CF slot allows you to add more memory or networking cards. The keyboard works well, is hot swappable and acts as a screen protector. Reliable and fast syncing. You don't have to haul the cradle with you when travelling since you can also plug the cables directly into the NEXiO. If you've used Windows, you'll have virtually no learning curve with this device. Can play MP3s and movies. Desktop-like experience surfing the web. Office and PIM apps are very capable and will do the job well for most folks. No moving parts and instant-on (no waiting for it to boot up). Cons: Price! The keyboard should be included. Not as great a selection of 3rd party software available for Windows CE .NET 4.x.

Dynamism price $1250, $59 additional for keyboard. Sells for about US $950 in Hong Kong excluding customs, duty and shipping if you can find someone reputable who'll ship and support it!

 

Specs:

Display: transflective TFT color LCD, 64,000 colors, Screen Size Diag: 5", Resolution: 800 x 480.

Battery: Lithium Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is not user replaceable. 1500mA. 2000 mA extended battery available for purchase.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA 250 400 MHz processor. 64 MB NAND Flash ROM with 32 megs available for your use, 128 MB built-in SDRAM (87 megs available).

Size: 6.06" x 3.58" x .52" (154 x 91 x 13mm). Weight: 8.82 ounces (250g). Keyboard ads 2.3 ounces and a negligible amount of added thickness.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and combined 2.5mm stereo + mono mic headphone jack. Voice Recorder, Samsung MP3 player and Windows Pocket Media Player included for your MP3 pleasure.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b.

Software: Windows CE .NET 4.1 operating system. Microsoft Office Viewers: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Image Viewer. Pocket Office suite including Pocket Word, PTab Spreadsheet by Z4Soft, Samsung Presentation Viewer, Microsoft PDF Viewer 2.1, Internet Explorer 5.5, and Pocket Outlook. Samsung's Tasks, Calendar and Notes app (supporting ink and typed notes) included. Also, Terminal Services, MS Messenger, Windows Media Player, Voice Recorder as well as handwriting recognition. 3rd party software: Flash Player 5, Jeode Java runtime. ActiveSync 3.6 for PCs included.

Expansion: 1 CompactFlash type II slot supporting type I and type II cards.

Ports: CF slot, USB docking port, PC sync,VGA-out, Power charging, keyboard connector, extended battery connector on bottom.

 

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