Mini XDA II - PDA Smartphone
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Mini XDA II – PDA Smartphone Review

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Although I thought the V3 was a brilliant phone, it just wasn’t the phone for me. I haven’t had a PDA in sometime now. With all the smaller laptops I’ve been buying, there just isn’t a reason for me to have one. All the functions of a PDA seem lost on me. But with the trend towards Smartphones that merge all the functions of PDA with the convenience of a mobile phone, I knew I would eventually be lured to one.

I had stayed away from the XDA phones initially because of their size. It was predominantly a PDA with phone functionality built-in. But that wasn’t enough to lure me over. Other Smartphones like the Treo 600 were all suitable alternatives, but they each had their own shortfalls as well. After trying out the P900 and the P800, I knew the Sony Ericsson models just didn’t measure up as well. As a result, I have stayed away from Smartphones over the past year.

When I first read about the Mini XDA II, I was wondering if this could finally be the phone that wins me over. The specs looked ideal – especially its size. But I needed to see the unit in person before I made up my mind. When it finally hit the stores, I went in to take a look. The unit was as small as the specs said it would be, and the overall shape and finish looked very good.

Mini XDA II - PDA Smartphone

Mini XDA II - PDA Smartphone

Within 2 days from when I first saw the unit all the Mini XDAs available in the market were sold out! I couldn’t believe it, were that many people looking for and waiting for a small Smartphone? I didn’t feel the same appeal to the phone that so many others seem to have. Turns out the Mini is an extremely popular model. Anyway, I kept looking at all the specs and comments about it and after weighing my options, I decided to take the plunge. Knowing that there was still a very good 2nd hand market for my V3, I decided to swing a deal and get my Mini XDA. It took me another few weeks but eventually, I got one. I’ve given the handset a good run through over the past few weeks.

Form

First of all, the main appeal of the Mini XDA right now is the size. By no means is this a small mobile phone (like the V3), but for a Smartphone, this is definitely one of the smallest and best looking. The Mini XDA is a very simple design – a brick style handheld with the body more typical of PDA than a phone.

The screen dominates the entire front of the handheld although there are buttons and a joypad located right below the screen. At first glance, the screen looks much too small – for a PDA, especially if you already using a full size PDA. But after awhile with the Mini, you get used to the size and suddenly it doesn’t seem that small anymore. In fact, I really have come to admire the size of the screen as well as the size of the device. It’s small enough to fit in pockets, yet large enough to view the necessary information, including scrolling through screens of text.

Mini XDA II - PDA Smartphone Button

Mini XDA II - PDA Smartphone Button

Button layout is very good and you can easily access all the necessary buttons including the on/off switch, camera, start/end call, etc. The joypad is very good and highly responsive. The pen slides just down the right side of the phone and is easily accessible. The SD card slot is at the top, very typical to any PDA. On the back of the phone is the camera lens along with a “mirror” that lets you take self portraits. The bottom of the phone has the charge/sync port as well as the earphones connection.

The outer shell is a nice metallic finish although it is a dull grey color rather than a bright shiny grey. In many ways, this reminds me of my Vaio finish. I read somewhere that the phone scratch’s very easy so I’ve bought a protective shell for the phone (a rubber cover I like to call the “condom” cover).

The sides of the phone have this black plastic grill that goes all the way around. It actually creates a very nice unique look for the phone (although that’s certainly less visible with the cover around it). At first glance, some have said the Mini looks very “feminine”. I would disagree with that – the Mini is a very sleek looking phone and actually looks very high-tech. I like that they didn’t try to do too much to the design like make it black (like the XDA IIs) or give it a plastic finish (like many of the Nokia phones which make them feel very “cheap”). All in all, the form certainly is very good and makes not only for a good looking handset but a functional one as well.

Function

After using it for sometime, I can say that this is my first real Smartphone. Although I’ve tried and played with many others, this is the first one that has real use as both a phone and a PDA. The real distinguishing factor about this one is that it’s a fully functional PDA first and a phone second. The others I’ve had, even the Sony Ericsson P900 were all phones first and a PDA second. This actually made them rather disappointing.

Part of this functionality has to be attributable to the new Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition operating system. I can certainly see all the old PDA Pocket PC attributes from the iPaqs that I used to own. This update has all of the same features, but seems to flow much better, especially with the add-on functionality of the phone.

Let’s start with the phone first. The Mini is certainly adapt at making phone calls. Placing and receiving a phone call is a breeze with the dedicated connect/disconnect phone buttons. An onscreen dialpad pops up and although the screen is touch sensitive, the use of the stylus is probably more responsive than your fingernails. In fact, screen sensitivity is much less than comparable PDAs. I put on an additional clear cover/screen protector which prevents scratches and grease stains on the screen but could possibly have made it even less sensitive than it already is. Still, it is adequate enough for use and actually can be a good thing as you wouldn’t want all the data to be accidentally accessed while in your pocket.

Overall, I didn’t expect voice quality to be very good. Well, actual usage was somewhat mixed. While others can hear me very clearly, indicating that the microphone is sensitive enough, the sound quality from the phone can sometimes waver in and out. On a loud street, sound quality can be relatively weak and it can sometimes be tough to hear the other party. It’s not because it’s too soft, because the volume levels are more than adequate, but there just isn’t a very clear connection and sometimes I find myself unable to tell what the party is saying. Is this a problem with my mobile provider? I don’t think so and I tried a different SIM card in the phone and had similar results.

Still, this was not a problem I encountered all the time, but periodically, I did have some trouble with voice quality. The problem is a somewhat static-like distortion which blurs out the other person’s voice. Thus far, I’ve had about 3 conversations that I had to call the person back, but the second connection was improved after I moved into a more quiet area. So overall I’d rate the voice quality as just slightly above average, but certainly not great and not as good as some mobile phones. Certainly acceptable for today’s standards – maybe we’re just too used to perfect quality all the time. I should add that the speakerphone works fine and so far, I’ve been happy with the quality of sound from that.

Now onto the PDA function – I’ve really been impressed with the Mini as a PDA. The main thing that really caught my eye was the speed of the system. It was much more reactive than I remembered from my older PDAs. Switching between programs, opening files, making changes, viewing PDF, etc. all flowed effortlessly. Even better was the ease in which ActiveSync was installed onto my PC and then connected to the Mini. Absolutely no problems, faults or issues happened at any point, and it has been a breeze ever since. I remember in the past there were all sorts of difficulty that I had in the sync process and also in the exchange of data. There have been none to date and I don’t know if it’s the better computers, better OS, or the Mini. Either way, it works great. I’m not sure if everyone will have the same ease of connectivity and integration, but I hope so.

I think all the features are fantastic. Word/Excel read all my files, my Outlook synchs perfectly, and even third party programs like Avantgo and Clearvue work well. My mobile phone provider even has a program that allows me check my e-mail using GPRS and that works well as well (though it is kind of slow). The point is that all the PDA functions worked very well and they were fast and smooth. I should add that other functionality like MMS worked without a hitch.

The stylus works well with the functions of the PDA. You have plenty of text input options to choose from so that makes everyone’s personal preference relatively easy. I use a combination of the keyboard and the T9 text input to send messages which works well for me. SMS is actually made easier with the Mini than a regular phone.

One interesting thing that I didn’t realize was that the PDA never actually gets turned off. There is an off switch with turns off the device, but it really just switches off the screen and puts the PDA in a semi-sleep mode. You can still receive calls even when its “Off” so it technically isn’t really off. There’s an “Inflight Mode” which turns off the radio/mobile phone signals for when you’re on a plane but other than that, the phone technically stays on.

When you open different programs, those programs still in the system even when you close them down. You have to get into the settings and stop the programs from staying in the background or it does slow down the system. I don’t know if I need to, but I like restarting the phone (soft reset) every so often just to get things rebooted.

Although the screen is rated at just 64k colors, I was expecting to be disappointed with the quality of images, colors, contrast, and sharpness. But, from that perspective, I was very impressed. The screen is bright, clear and sharp enough for all the functions of a PDA. I was hoping for one of the brighter screens like those that I’ve seen on newer mobile phones (like the Sharp GX32) but this was no worse/better than the Motorola V3 screen which is supposed to have a 262k color screen.

Mini XDA II - PDA Smartphone Back

Mini XDA II - PDA Smartphone Back

One big disappointment in functionality is the camera. As I have read others write, I would agree as well that image quality taken with the camera has been very disappointing. The 640×480 images taken with the Sony Ericsson P900 before were much clearer and sharper. Although the Mini has a 1.3 megapixel camera, images aren’t very good. Also, the responsiveness of the camera was somewhat slow between when you take a picture and when it is recorded. Although I don’t really use the function of the camera much, I must say that it should have been better given the specifications. You can also record video and that was fairly decent relative to other video functions on other phones but certainly not as good as digital cameras that have video recording functions.

Mini XDA II - PDA Smartphone Battery

Mini XDA II - PDA Smartphone Battery

I’ve seen a lot of comments about the battery life of the Mini and how disappointed people have been. I think many of these comments were written by people that haven’t used the Mini. In truth, I have had no issues related to the Mini in terms of battery life. I gave the Mini a very strong workout the other day, talking for an extended period of time, checking e-mail, sending messages, reading Avantgo for 30 minutes, etc. and I still couldn’t get the battery life down to 60% after a full day. As a result, I would rate battery life no worse or better than many mobile phones today. The battery is a hefty 1200 mAh which is nearly twice that found in many mobile phones. My opinion is that for those of you worried about battery life, don’t worry. If it’s such a big deal, you can always buy a spare one.

I should add that one of the big reasons that I have not had a problem with the battery life is that I am in front of a laptop all day long. I usually plug in the PDA to the laptop in the day as it synchs to my Outlook. So when you combine the use/frequency of synching with your PC and then charging a phone at night all week long, you never can run out of battery! (A synch/charge cable is provided.) I’ve used the phone on the weekend from Friday night to Sunday night without charging the Mini and it never even got low on battery. So, to me, battery life isn’t an issue.

The phone has plenty of other functionality. Bluetooth setup was very easy and I transferred all the contacts from the V3 using Bluetooth. One big disappointment that many have mentioned and complained about is the lack of built-in WiFi. Certainly, this is one add-on that I really missed. I would have loved to be able to connect to WiFi on the go, especially when we have plenty of free WiFi networks here in Asia.

Mini XDA II SD slot

Mini XDA II SD slot

If WiFi is needed, you’ll have to purchase a SD WiFi card. While this is an easy solution, it sometimes can be impractical as the SD slot is usually taken up by an SD card that carry’s your information. In addition, most SD WiFi card, including the Sandisk one that has 256MB of space built-in, has a piece of the card that sticks out which makes me worry that I might break/snap it off. If I have to keep inserting and taking out an SD WiFi card, I’ll probably lose it. I wish WiFi were integrated, but that would probably drop battery life even more and may not have necessary fit in this small shape. Still, I hope it’s something that is planned the next time around.

Factor

I can’t tell you how much fun I am actually having getting to use a PDA Smartphone. The combination of a full working PDA with a mobile phone has been fantastic. I was always scared away by the size of the Smartphones because I didn’t want to carry around a huge device. Well with the Mini, that’s no longer an excuse. The Mini is comparable to many mobile phones in terms of size but has all the functions of its larger PDA Smartphone brothers. The OS has finally gotten to where it no longer crashes all the time and where the response time is absolutely superb.

The phone was launched well over a month ago, but in many stores and locations, it’s sold out. I was in a computer mall today and people were searching all over the mall for Mini XDAs. That alone proves its popularity and if I didn’t have one, I’d probably not understand its attraction. Having had one, I can tell you that I’m happy that I made the switch over to a Smartphone. I don’t think I can ever go back to a normal mobile phone. It’s not perfect (better sound quality and built-in WiFi would have been awesome) but it’s the best Smartphone in the market today and I would rate it an ESSENTIAL piece of gadget hardware. I’m glad I got one and I’m pretty sure you would be too.

 

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