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ViewSonic V36 Pocket PC with Camera

(Discontinued)
Posted by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief, Oct. 23, 2003

The V36 represents ViewSonic's second mass market Pocket PC effort since the V35 came out late last year (the V37 was not sold retail, rather it was bundled with a $1,000+ Microsoft software development package). While the V36 doesn't differentiate itself that much from other Pocket PCs in many respects, it does add one important feature: an integrated VGA digital camera. While the Palm Zire 71 and several Sony Clié Palm OS PDAs have digicams, this is the first Pocket PC (without a phone) to offer a digicam. The V36 runs Windows Mobile 2003 on a 300 MHz XScale processor and lists for $329.

ViewSonic V36
back of ViewSonic V36

 

What is Pocket PC 2003, aka Windows Mobile 2003?

Windows Mobile 2003 is based on Windows CE 4.2, while prior Pocket PC and Pocket PC 2002 PDAs were based on Windows CE 3.0. Microsoft is calling the new OS "Windows Mobile 2003" and all new PDAs running it are referred to as Pocket PC 2003 devices. What's the difference between Pocket PC 2002 and Pocket PC 2003 PDAs? You won't notice much difference at all. There are numerous bug fixes, improvements in page rendering times for Internet Explorer, a more friendly user interface for setting up network connections and networking changes under the hood.

There are two versions of Pocket PC 2003: Pro for the more basic Pocket PC models and Premium for higher end Pocket PCs. The V36 runs the Premium version which means apps like Terminal Services, MS Reader, Spell Checker for Pocket Word and the new Pictures app are built into the OS stored in ROM.

Features and Horsepower

The ViewSonic V36 has a built-in VGA digital camera, a transflective display, an SD slot that supports SDIO, and standard IR. It runs on an Intel XScale PXA255 processor at 300 MHz, but clocks as fast in our benchmarks as some 400 MHz XScale Pocket PCs. The unit played back MPEG1 videos using Pocket MVP at an average of 24 fps with no dropped frames— very good! It's also great playing intensive games such as Nintendo emulators, Metalion 2 and Warfare Inc. The V36 has a control panel that allows you to to set processor speed to a variety of settings including auto, "superior" and power saving modes.

The V36 has 32 megs of NAND Flash ROM and 64 megs of RAM. 57.11 megs of RAM are available to the user to run and store applications. Since it uses NAND Flash ROM, the OS must be copied into RAM when the unit boots, so you'll see a "Please Wait 15 Seconds" message followed by a black screen for a few seconds after soft resetting the V36.

The battery is user replaceable, which means you can swap a new one in whenever power's running low, or simply replace a tired battery easily. The V36 comes with a USB sync cable rather than a cradle.

 

 

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Read our Interview with Marc McConnaughey, Senior Vice President of ViewSonic's Advanced Technology Group!

Design, Buttons and Ergonomics

The ViewSonic is your basic rectangular Pocket PC with lightly rounded corners, and is on the mid-to-large side for Pocket PCs, being just a little bit smaller than the HP iPAQ 5555 (see photo, right). The casing is made of plastic, and the front is silver while the back is black. The camera lens is on the back of the PDA.

The V36 has the four standard application launcher buttons on the front which surround a very nice circular 5-way direction pad that operates smoothly in all directions. The power button is on the upper left side and the record button (recessed enough to avoid accidental presses) is just below it. The headphone jack and SD slot are located on the top edge, as is the IR port. The speaker is located on the lower right corner of the front face, and the mic is located on the lower left front side. The soft reset hole is on the back, and you must unscrew the stylus and use reset pin to reboot the ViewSonic.

size comparison

Above: comparing the size of the V36 (left) and HP iPAQ 5555.

 

Screen and Sound

Transflective displays are the best around these days, but the V36's display isn't as contrasty or color saturated as units from HP and Dell. Surprising, considering ViewSonic has an excellent reputation for their CRT and LCD monitors!

The speaker volume is not very loud, and you may notice occasional speaker popping, especially for the first minute after the unit is turned on. MP3s sound good when using stereo headphones connected to the headphone jack. Headset volume is adequate but you won't have to worry about accidentally deafening yourself as you might with the amazingly loud iPAQ Pocket PCs. There are no control panel adjustments for audio output or input.

Digital Camera

The V36 has a .3 megapixel VGA digicam capable of taking still images at 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 in size, and movies (with audio) at 320 x 240 or 176 x 144 in size. While VGA CMOS cameras in PDAs and phones don't take glorious pictures, the ViewSonic is among the best, rivaling top dog Sony. Videos are jerky but sharp. Like most cameras in this class, it doesn't have a flash.

To take pictures and movies, you'll use the pre-installed VSCam application. This app runs in landscape mode and uses the full screen. It takes a second or two to load, and then you'll see a large on-screen 280 x 210 pixel viewfinder and you'll be ready to take pictures. If you plan on using the camera frequently, you might want to assign one of the 5 application buttons to VSCam.

The application is very full-featured; and though the interface isn't very intuitive, once you figure it out, you'll be shooting pix with ease. VSCam allows you to set image resolution, set 2x digital zoom, specify the storage folder, turn on/off the shutter sound, select color saturation from 5 presets, select white balance (auto, Daytime, Nightfall (sic) and Indoor), select brightness from 6 presets, set flicker control and even set right or left handed mode (this controls the screen direction rotation when the app goes into landscape mode).

The preview windows updates quickly as you move the camera around (or as your subject moves), and you can either use the on-screen capture button or press the center of the d-pad to take your picture. Still images tend to have a pink to purple cast (regardless of white balance setting) which can be fixed up in Photoshop or other capable image editing applictions. Like all low end digicams, images taken in bright sunlight wash out to white and some odd color shifts may occur. Indoor pictures are reasonably good for this kind of camera, without undue noise (whitish or colored speakles in the image).

Microsoft Pictures, a part of the Windows Mobile 2003 Premium OS is the default viewer for your photos. If you wish, you can use any 3rd party image viewer to work with the standard .JPEG images which are ~45k in size at 640 x 480 resolution. Movies are recorded as MPEG files, though I received error messages when I tried to play these files using Pocket MVP on the Pocket PC and on the desktop using Windows Media Player 9 and QuickTime Player 6.4. You can play back the most recently shot movie using VSCam, and that worked fine.

sample photo

ample photo

Above, sample photos taken with the Viewsonc V36 built-in camera. The cat was backlit which most low cost cameras have trouble exposing properly. The outdoor scene was shot on a sunny day, and you'll notice the white walls have a majenta cast..

To see the full size image unedited, click on the images above.

Battery Life

The ViewSonic V36 has a 930 mA Lithium Ion battery that's user replaceable (yay!). Battery life when running in Auto mode has been quite good, even with camera use. Under average use, you should get 3.5 to 4 hours on a charge. Like other PDAs with user replaceable batteries, the V36 has a backup battery which preserves the contents of memory when you swap a new battery in. The charger plugs directly into the PDA since there is no cradle.

Software Bundle

This is a budget Pocket PC, but even so, it has less bundled software than other budget models. It comes with Westtek's ClearVue Presentation Viewer and AvantGo! which is free software. Of course, the V36 comes with all the standard Pocket PC applications such as Pocket IE, Pocket Outlook, and Pocket versions of Word and Excel along with various other Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 apps such as MS Reader, Terminal Services and the Pictures image viewer application. eBackup is pre-installed in ROM and this will allow you to backup and restore the contents of the PDA to an SD memory card.

Optional WiFi Card and Accessories

Optional accessories for the V36 include a sync/charging cradle, a serial cable, folding keyboard and the $129 ViewSonic SD 802.11b WiFi card which we received for review. The card works with the V36's Windows Mobile 2003 OS and its Zero Configuration Connection Manager. In addition the driver offers enhanced features such as a status icon in the system tray that has popup menus which will tell you the current channel, transmission rate, link quality and strength, current IP info and the name of the base station to which the V36 is currently connected. It supports 64 and 128 bit WEP encryption and 802.1X. The driver occasionally caused device slowdowns when we tried to connect to new access points.

The SanDisk SD WiFi card and Socket SD WiFi card work well with the V36 in our tests.

Benchmarks

We've run benchmarks using VOBenchmark 3.0 from Virtual Office Systems. I've compared the iPAQ 1945 and the Toshiba e355, all of which run Pocket PC 2003 on comparable processors. Note the SD card speed isn't that good for the ViewSonic, but other numbers are excellent. Higher numbers are better (shown in bold).

Test (all are Pocket PC 2003 models) ViewSonic V36 (XScale 300 MHz)
Auto / Superior (fastest) CPU Setting
HP iPAQ 1945 (Samsung 266 MHz) Toshiba e405 (PPC 2003, XScale PXA261 300 MHz)
CPU Floating Point 12.65 / 12.68 9.33 9.51
CPU Integer 26.88 / 26.95 18.41 20.13
Graphics Bitmap BitBlt 57.81 / 65.54 28.06 15.51
Graphics Bitmap StretchBlt 7.80 (grow) 6.00 (shrink) / 12.60 (grow) 8.90 (shrink) 14.40 (grow) 11.50 (shrink) 14.30 (grow), 11.70 (shrink)
Graphics Filled Ellipse 1.84 / 2.56 2.67 3.16
Graphics Filled Rectangle 8.74 / 10.00 5.99 7.38
Graphics Filled Round Rect. 1.56 / 2.09 2.15 2.36
GAPI Lines 12.40 / 15.70 35.90 38.60
Memory Allocation 8.42 / 11.30 8.56 8.42
Memory Fill 1.06 / 1.98 1.34 1.01
Memory Move 0.92 / 1.25 0.77 0.86
Text( ClearType enabled) 4.00 / 5.90 6.20 6.90 with ClearType Enabled
SD Storage Cards 64 meg SanDisk card was used 64 meg SanDisk card was used 128 meg SanDisk card was used
LRR/LRW 0.82, 0.02 / 0.82, 0.02 1.40/0.30 0.56/0.28
LSR/LSW 0.81, 0.02 / 0.83, 0.02 1.39/0.32 0.55/0.34
SRR/SRW 66.88, 0.80 / 72.14, 0.80 419.26 /0.86 184.06 /0.86
SSR/SSW 18.28, 1.01 / 18.94, 1.01 37.69/2.05 14.17/1.91

Conclusion

Pro: If you've been jealous of Palm Zire 71 and Sony Clié NX owners' cameras, then rejoice. Besides being the only Pocket PC with a digicam, it takes very decent pictures for an integrated VGA CMOS camera. The unit is very fast and won't make you wish you'd gotten a 400 MHz model. Battery is user replaceable. Con: The screen isn't as sharp, contrasty and color saturated as HP iPAQs and others. The unit seems a bit on the large size for a unit with no wireless radio or CF slot taking up internal space. Not much bundled 3rd party software.

List price $329. Includes a USB sync cable, charger, battery, stylus, slip cover, printed manual, CD ROM and PDF manuals for the V36 (same as printed manual) and a digital camera manual.

 

Specs:

Display: transflective 3.5" TFT color LCD, 64,000 colors. Resolution: 240 x 320.

Battery 930 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.

Performance: 300 MHz Intel PXA255 XScale processor. 32 MB NAND Flash ROM, 64 MB built-in RAM (57.11 megs available to user).

Size: 5.0 x 3.0 x 0.54 (in). 127x 76.8 x13.8 (mm). Weight Approximately 4.8 ounces (137g).

Camera: VGA CMOS .3 megapixel 640 x 480 still camera also capable of taking movies with audio.

Software: Pocket PC 2003 operating system. Microsoft Pocket Office suite including Pocket Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, MS Reader, and Outlook. Also Voice Recorder, Windows Media Player for Pocket PC, Pictures, Terminal Services as well as handwriting recognition. Westtek Presentation Viewer and AvantoGo! also included.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack . Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 9 included.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot. Has SDIO support.

 

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