Reviewed January 28, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
HTC virtually owns the Windows Mobile Pocket PC phone market here in the US. But manufacturers like E-TEN are hot in pursuit, and E-TEN's Windows Mobile Pocket PC phones get better with every iteration. They offer a few things that competing HTC phones lack and as a result the company has grown significantly in the past year, with sales booming in Asia, Russia and Europe. Here in the US, importers and retailers offer E-TEN Pocket PC phones including some larger retailers such as J&R and MobilePlanet. Take the Glofiish X800, which has a slim slate design, all the features of the HTC TyTN II(aka AT&T Tilt) minus the hardware keyboard, but adds a VGA display (a rarity among pocketable PPC phones) and the superior SiRFstarIII GPS rather than a bundled chipset aGPS. And it sells for $150 to $200 less than the TyTN II.
Features at a Glance
The E-TEN Glofiish (yes, that's how it's spelled) X800 is a Windows Mobile 6 Professional Pocket PC phone. It's sold unlocked for use with any GSM carrier and it's a quad band GSM world phone with triband 3.5G that works in the US and anywhere else 3G is available. It sells for approximately $599 and no US carrier offers it so there's no carrier subsidy (the price break on phones carriers offer if you sign a contract) though some e-tailers and importers may bundle it with a contract for a lower price.
Like most Glofiish phones, the X800 is a kitchen sink device that has everything: WiFi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0, an FM radio, GPS, 2 megapixel camera with autofocus lens and an SDHC compatible microSD card slot. Our review unit had the latest shipping ROM (402), released in early January 2008 that fixed several glitches in the first shipping version that hit Europe at the end of 2007.
In the Box
E-TEN includes the X800, a world charger, USB to mini USB sync cable, two styli, battery, a leather horizontal case with belt clip, stereo headset, screen protector and software CD. The charger and USB cable are the same as those used on other recent Glofiish models.
Design and Ergonomics
E-TEN Windows Mobile phones haven't looked like expensive pieces. Their looks have improved over the years from the plasticy M500 of 2005 (E-TEN's first really decent PDA phone) to the X800 today. The X800 is the replacement for the Glofiish X500+ and the X800 certainly looks worlds better. The X800 has a unique look, different from other brands and other Glofiish phones and build quality is good. Actually other recent E-TEN models we've reviewed had good built quality even though E-TEN hadn't mastered the chic look that makes a device look expensive. The X800's design is clever: it looks slimmer and smaller than it really is, and it strikes one as smaller than the buxom Tilt/TyTN II though it's actually a tad taller and just as wide (albeit thinner). Nice trompe l'oeil.
Looks are subjective, but we like the silver and black with brushed metal surrounding the display. The sides, top and bottom have a soft-touch grippy coating similar to the T-Mobile Dash and original Samsung BlackJack that creates visual contrast, makes the device look slimmer and most importantly helps keep it firmly in hand. The back is silver plastic with the same black soft-touch finish in the area around the camera lens and speaker grille. Red rings around the front and rear camera lenses, and red masking on the softkeys, GPS and Home keys save the X800 from monochrome monotony. The X800 has style, while the X500+ looked like a dull slab.
Gone is the flat d-pad in favor of a mini-joystick or nipple, reminiscent of the IBM eraser stick pointer. Though no fan of the IBM original, I found the Glofiish's easy to use, even one-handed and when gaming. The joystick moves easily in all directions with just the right amount of firmness and it's easy to press it straight down (center action button). While HTC throws every button in the book into their devices, E-TEN has been a little reticent. True, lots of buttons overwhelm new users, but Windows Mobile Professional isn't as optimized for one-handed use as it's smartphone (now called Windows Mobile Standard) sibling and buttons aid one-handed navigation. So we finally have Windows Start Menu and OK buttons on the front face. The bad news is that they're quite small and are tucked into the bottom edge of the silver chin to fit form not function. The usual Windows Mobile softkeys, Home key that brings up a quick launcher for several useful features such as screen rotation, flash light, scenarios (profiles) and a GPS key that brings up E-TEN's basic GPS utility are larger and live just above the Start and OK keys. The power button and camera button are on the right side and the volume rocker, voice command button, headphone jack and reset button are on the left. The microSD card slot is located on the button under a rubber cover along with the mini USB combined sync and charge port (the X800 supports USB charging but charges slowly over USB). The camera lens, flash and speaker grille are on the back and the battery and SIM card slot live under the removable back panel.
E-TEN's Customizations and Standard Software
Yes, there's no hardware dial pad and no QWERTY keyboard. Serious email maniacs and mobile novelists aren't the target audience. Despite the lack of those creature comforts, the rest of us won't struggle to do common tasks such as dialing a number, getting to commonly used functions and applications. E-TEN has always added a nice helping of their own lightweight yet useful software and the X800 has the best helping so far. First, they bundle a non-homebrew application that's one of our favorites- the Today Screen plugin from Spb Mobile Shell. This gives you 4 compact tabs with battery status, favorite or recently used apps, the weather (there's no subscription charge for weather info), visual speed dial and world time. E-TEN's Speed Dial is here, basically unchanged from prior models-- it has two views, frequency and index dialing (you can switch between them and select a default). Press the left soft key in the Today Screen and you'll get finger-friendly frequency dial buttons on screen or index dial where you press the letter C to see all matches (first name and last name) again in finger-friendly large on-screen buttons.
A task manager lives at the bottom of the Today screen and makes for an easy way to quit running programs since Windows Mobile doesn't quit applications by default when you tap the close box. The X800 needs this feature given the slim 64 megs of RAM. The Home button brings up a finger-friendly palette of commonly used apps and functions and the voice command button brings up the very good Cyberon voice command program. E-TEN's long-lived M-Desk application is an alternative launcher with tabs and shortcuts for settings, applications, memory and power status, screen rotation, quick profile change, Bluetooth settings and more. If you press the Home button when in an application M-Desk launches. E-TEN also includes a backup utility that backs up the Pocket PC to a micro SD card and an application restore feature just in case you delete one of the pre-installed programs and decide you want it back. Other E-TEN applications include Multimedia Manager (browser and viewer), a business card scanner and location-based SMS.
Also included are the standard Windows Mobile Professional applications including mobile versions of Word, Excel and a PowerPoint viewer, Internet Explorer, Outlook (called Messaging) with email, contacts, calendar, notes and tasks, MSN Live Search, File Explorer, Pictures and Videos (image and video viewer), Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, a voice recorder and two games (Solitaire and Bubble Breaker). As always, software to sync to Windows, but not other platforms, is included. Mac users can buy Missing Sync from Mark Space (we tested it with our Mac Pro and it worked fine).
Phone Features, Data and Reception
The Glofiish X800 is a quad band world phone that works on all GSM bands: 850/900/1800/1900MHz. It's sold unlocked for use with any GSM carrier-- in the US that generally means AT&T and T-Mobile. It will not work on Verizon or Sprint's networks which use CDMA rather than GSM technology. This is the first E-TEN Windows Mobile phone to offer 3G support for fast data-- actually 3.5G. The X800 has triband 850/1900/2100MHz 3G that works anywhere in the world 3G is available. If you're not in a 3G coverage area or are using a carrier such as T-Mobile US that currently doesn't have 3G, the phone will use EDGE for data (and GPRS if EDGE isn't available). An indicator at the top of the Today Screen tells you what kind of data connection you've got: E for EDGE, U for UMTS 3G or H for HSDPA 3.5G. In the Dallas metroplex on AT&T we got strong HSPDA coverage and data speeds, with an average of 670k on DSL Reports mobile speed test. There has been some talk on the Net of not getting HSDPA 3.5G on the X800 and we can say that we are definitely getting HSDPA.
Reception is very good on the US bands for both GSM and HSDPA. We experienced no dropped calls, good call quality and better than average RF. The X800 did a tad better than our AT&T Tilt on 3G reception, and unlike the Samsung BlackJack II, we didn't suffer any unexpected drops down to EDGE/GSM in moderate coverage areas. Outgoing call quality is excellent and our call recipients said we were land line loud and clear. Incoming call quality was good, though not exceptional, with average volume by GSM Pocket PC phone standards and good clarity though incoming voice didn't sound remarkably full.
Call clarity and volume through Bluetooth headsets was very good. We tested the E-TEN X800 with the Plantronics Discovery 655, Jawbone and Cardo S-800 Bluetooth headsets. The Discovery 655 had excellent call clarity for both incoming and outgoing calls and a range of about 15 feet (which is pretty good for the Disco). The JawBone sounded good as usual, and its noise rejection worked well with the X800 even when we made calls next to a noisy pool pump. The Cardo S-800 hasn't done well with several phones we've tested when it comes to incoming and outgoing voice quality. It fared better with the E-TEN than many other phones with decent call quality and good volume.
The Glofiish has E-TEN's speed dial which we've already covered along with the caller photo ID based speed dial in Spb Shell. It also comes with Cyberon's excellent voice command software which uses true speech recognition and requires no voice tag recording.
Horsepower and Performance
The Samsung SC3 2442 processor running at 500MHz is a very good performer, making for speedy page rendering in IE and extremely strong multimedia performance. Alas, the 64 megs of RAM really isn't enough for a powerful device like the X800, and it's all too easy to run out of memory with several hungry programs running. IE in high res mode, Windows Media Player and Messaging together will use 12 to 14 of the 20 megs free after boot. Hence E-TEN includes their task manager at the bottom of the Today Screen which makes it easy to terminate programs (Windows Mobile doesn't quit programs when tap the "x" up top, it minimizes them). We'd have liked it much more if E-TEN had instead included 128 megs of RAM. The slim RAM slows down the device at times-- it's certainly usable but has a strong dose of that Windows Mobile lag. We tweaked the registry to increase the font and glyph caches and removed a few unwanted programs from startup to noticeably improve response times.
Flash memory for storage is a more generous 256 megs, with 170.65 megs free before E-TEN's bundled software self-installs at first boot. You can remove these applications if you wish and there's a restore app that gets them back if you decide you miss them. Should you need more storage, the X800 has a microSD card slot that supports SDHC. We tested it with a 4 gig SanDisk microSD card loaded with songs, movies, documents and GPS maps and it worked fine.
VGA Display and Multimedia
VGA displays are unfortunately still rare on Windows Mobile phones, and when you do find them, they're generally in larger, notebook substitute models like the HTC Advantage. E-TEN is one of the few companies capitalizing on WinMo's VGA support in more compact slate-design PDA phones. The display is indeed lovely: sharp, clear and quite bright. At 2.8" diagonally it's no larger than QVGA screens on the HTC TyTN and Tilt, yet it remains readily readable even though its cramming four times the pixels in. How could that be? Because the OS and most of the built-in Microsoft applications (except Windows Media Player Mobile) don't run in true VGA mode, but rather pixel double the standard QVGA interface to fill the VGA display. Bummer, right? Yes and no. Few of us over the age of 25 can easily read text at VGA resolution on a small display. MS leaves it up to you to adjust font settings or zoom level in the Office apps, set the text size in the Today screen and to select the "Use High Resolution" option in IE mobile. The high res option makes web browsing worthwhile-- you really do see much more of the web page and it's generally still readable (adjust Text Size to increase font size if needed). Likewise, spreadsheets are much more usable the display in landscape mode and zoom set to 75% (50% makes for very tiny text in cells).
Unfortunately, there's plenty of glare outdoors. Should you need to use the device outdoors-- say for GPS-ing on foot, purchase PocketPCTechs's anti-glare matte screen protectors which help reduce glare.
Also rare on US phones is an FM radio, another Glofiish perk. We're happy to report that station numbers are now accurate (they'd been off by 1 to 2 on previous models). By phone standards, the X800 does a good job of pulling in stations, which is to say that it can't compete with the average car radio, but if you manually step through the dial you'll pick up strong to moderately strong stations. Like all phones and PDAs, the X800 uses the headset as the FM antenna, and it's also necessary for TMC which is broadcast over FM. We noticed one bug: E-TEN's FM radio app has a selector that lets you choose US, Japan or European FM bands. We only got reception with the Euro setting, though we're in the heart of the US.
Video is a real pleasure on a VGA display and the X800's video playback performance is excellent. We used TCPMP, an excellent free video player, to test playback of a 624 x 352 pixel AVI movie encoded at 830 kbit/s which is a high resolution, high bitrate file by Windows Mobile standards. The film was quite watchable on the X800, with some frame drops but overall fairly smooth playback with audio and video in sync. Wow! Tone it down to 550 kbit/s at the same resolution and there are no frame drops at all. That beats most devices on the market, including recent HTC models. Get yourself an SDHC microSD card and you've got yourself a converged portable media player that's actually worth using.
Like all WinMo devices, the Glofiish comes with Windows Media Player mobile and it handles ASF, WMV and music playback including WMA and MP3 formats. While Media Player mobile isn't going to win any slickness or usability awards (you still have to tell it to look at an SD card for media, it doesn't do this automatically-- duh), it gets the job done and supports basic features like playlists, syncing with Windows Media Player on the desktop and DRM. There are several other MP3/music player apps on the market and we suggest you take a look at our review of music player apps Media Player mobile doesn't float your boat. Sound quality through the included stereo earbud headset is very good and quite loud. Likewise sound quality was very good through the Plantronics Pulsar 590a Bluetooth stereo headsets we tested with good stereo separation and bass.
There's nothing like a serious dedicated GPS chipset and that's what you get with the SiRFstarIII. We used to see the SiRF used commonly in GPS-enabled Pocket PC and Pocket PC phones, but in the past year or more manufacturers have switched to integrated aGPS solutions such as Qualcomm's which is integrated into their CPU and chipset package of phones like the Tilt. Why? We assume it's cheaper and saves space, and everyone likes smaller devices. The drawback is less robust reception and occasional satellite drops, so we'll take the SiRF any day for hardcore GPS use, especially in bad weather or in big cities where tall buildings obscure the GPS receiver's view of the sky.
The X800's GPS is top notch. It ships only with a GPS viewer with a globe view that shows the satellites' approximate locations relative to your position on earth and a "compass" view that shows the current time and date, latitude, longitude, altitude, speed and GPS status. Gone is the bug we noted on some prior Glofiish models where the compass latitude and longitude were off by about 9 miles (the GPS actually reports correct location to all apps, this was just a bug in GPS Viewer). It's spot on now, and the GPS gets a cold fix in under a minute, even indoors within 10 feet of a window on the ground floor of a two story building. Nice.
The GPS application in satellite view.
Since no mapping solution is included, you'll have to supply your own copy of CoPilot, TomTom or use free solutions like Google Maps or Windows Live. We tested the GPS with Google Maps, and Live, both of which worked well with the GPS (no fiddling with GPS ports as with some older E-TEN phones). VGA is perfect for mapping and both showed high res map views that are fare more useful than the QVGA variety. We tested CoPilot 7 Live which found the GPS using auto search in 30 seconds and we were ready to navigate. CoPilot searches for the GPS only the first time it's run, then it saves GPS port and baud rate data. The GPS worked flawlessly with CoPilot and we got timely turn prompts, accurate location information and clear directions thanks to the Glofiish X800's good rear-firing speaker. We got a cold fix outdoors in under a minute and a warm fix in 20 seconds, even under very cloudy skies. If GPS is important to you, it's hard to beat the X800.
Once again, we saw great improvements in the camera department and found that the X800's 2 megapixel camera with autofocus lens outperformed the 3 megapixel camera in the HTC Tilt and Advantage. Outdoor images were sharp (but not massively over-sharpened), colors were accurate and focus was good. In fact, the X800 was one of the few among the myriad camera phones we've reviewed that got the colors of the rocks correct in the sample photo to the right. The camera is relatively quick to focus by autofocus camera phone standards, but file save times to a card are slow, which is the only flaw we found with still photography. Indoor photos are better than average in terms of noise and color bias and are generally brighter than expected.
This low light indoor shot has good color balance and minimal noise.
There's also a JPEG with EXIF data mode that includes latitude and longitude courtesy of the GPS (and the coordinates are accurate). A GPS icon in the viewfinder flashes red and turns white once the Glofiish has acquired a signal. But wait, there's more-- a business card scanner (called namecard reader). Whew.
It can shoot video in 3GP format at 320 x 240, 176 x 144 and 128 x 96 resolutions though quality is pretty poor with low fps, ghosting and a noticeable delay before motion video records. The camera has 4x digital zoom and an LED flash that helps a bit when taking photos at close range (the flash doubles as a flashlight for those who roam around in the dark).
WiFi and Bluetooth
The Glofiish X800, like most recent Glofiish Windows Mobile phones, has both WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR. E-TEN's usual wireless manager is still there, and it allows you to control the phone, WiFi and Bluetooth radios. You can launch the manager by tapping on the wireless section of the Today screen where the carrier name, WiFi and Bluetooth status display. An x appears next to a radio that's turned off, and you can tap the beloved E-TEN hammer to turn all radios on or off. You still can't go directly from the Wireless Manager to the applets that control a given radio however, as you can on HTC devices like the Tilt and T-Mobile Dash. Instead you'll go to Programs and look inside the Utilities folder to find the Bluetooth Manager and WLAN Utility.
E-TEN continues to use their own Bluetooth Manager which features a wizard interface to get you connected to Bluetooth headsets, your ActiveSync partner, or to transfer files over FTP/OBEX. The device supports headset, handsfree, A2DP, PAN and serial port profiles as well as vCard exchange. You can set discoverability, default headset and specify the FTP folder on the device.
The WiFi manager, called WLAN Utility, gives you comprehensive information on your current connection and offers power saving and Tx rate settings. It's a nice improvement to the basic Windows Mobile networking control panel which provides very little connection information. Connection strength and reliability were good and on par with competing Windows Mobile Professional phones. The X800 had no problem connecting to our D-Link 802.11n router (in G mode) using WPA.
The X800 is a formidable Windows Mobile Professional phone that packs every available technology and feature into a relatively portable device. Even more important, each feature works well from the excellent GPS to WiFi to Bluetooth to the autofocus camera. We love the VGA display and wish more manufacturers would move up to VGA-- it makes for sharper fonts, better web browsing and significantly better photo and video rendering. If you're looking for an unlocked GSM Pocket PC phone with all the fixins other than a hardware keyboard, the X800 is a serious contender.
Pro: Every feature under the sun in one relatively compact and slim device. Superb GPS gets a fix relatively quickly and holds onto it, even under heavily overcast skies. The camera is quite good for still shots. Excellent multimedia performance-- handles higher bitrate and higher resolution videos better than many other Windows Mobile Pro phones.
Con: Slim RAM hobbles performance at times. Poor video recording quality.
Display:65K color transflective
TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 2.8". Resolution:
480 x 640 VGA, supports both portrait and landscape modes.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1530 mA. Claimed talk time 5-7 hours. Uses the same 5v 1 amp charger with mini USB connector as other E-TEN Windows Mobile phones.
Performance:Samsung SC3 2442 500 MHz processor. 64 MB built-in RAM. 256 MB Flash ROM with 170.65 megs
available before E-TEN's software bundle is installed.
x 2.38 x 0.62 inches. Weight: 5.18 ounces.
Phone:Quad band GSM world phone 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands with GPRS and EDGE as well as triband 850/1900/2100MHz 3G UMTS/HSDPA. Unlocked for use with any GSM carrier.
GPS:SiRFstarIII internal GPS. TMC supported (if available in your region).
Camera:2 MP with autofocus lens and LED flash. Front-facing 0.03 MP video conferencing camera.
in speaker, mic and 2.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR.
Mobile 6 Professional operating system.
Microsoft Mobile Office suite including Word,
Excel, PowerPoint (view presentations only), Internet
Explorer, Outlook Mobile (e-mail, contacts, calendar, tasks and notes). Also, Connection Sharing, Windows Media Player
10 Mobile, Photos and Videos, MSN Messenger, and Voice Recorder,
Solitaire, Bubble Breaker as well as handwriting recognition.
3rd party and E-TEN software: Spb Mobile Shell Today screen plugin, M-Desk launcher and
system monitor, Namecard Manager (OCR for business cards), FM radio, Wireless Manager and WLAN Utility, Multimedia
Manager, Camera, GPS utility, Task Manager, Cyberon Voice Commander 2.5.1 ,
location SMS, E-TEN Bluetooth Manager, Backup,
MMS Composer (some regions only, otherwise use Outlook
on the device to send MMS), Call Filter, Speed Dial, utility to hard reset and wipe the device, Scenarios (create profiles
for four different environments such as outdoor and
meeting). ActiveSync 4.5
microSD card slot also supporting SDHC cards over 2 gigs capacity.