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Trium Mondo GPRS

Part Two...

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Reg Smartphone Roundup Earlier this year Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard were chastised by US advertising regulators for effectively claiming the PocketPC platform offered out-of-the-box wireless Net access. It didn't, and M$ shouldn't have said as much.

Had the software company waited three or four months, it would have been able to offer Trium's Mondo PDA as Exhibit A - a PocketPC device that does indeed sport built in wireless connectivity.

But Mondo is more than PocketPC's answer to the Palm VII. It's also one of the first devices to support General Packet Radio Service, a next-generation cellular network technology. GPRS is the basis for so-called 2.5G networks - it's not quite a high-speed, third-generation technology, but by providing a network that transmits data in packets, much like the Internet itself, rather than patching caller through to caller on a discreet circuit, it's able to offer that Holy Grail of mobile comms: always-on Net access.

If only that was what Mondo actually offered. A GPRS-based device it may well be, but surfing any site at any time isn't one of Mondo's unique selling points. Why? Because so far the only cellular network Trium has partnered with is British Telecom subsidiary Cellnet, and the best it can offer mobile comms users right now its Genie WAP portal. In other words, always-on Net access on the Mondo is limited to WAP sites.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't WAP designed to allow pre-GPRS slow GSM connections to cope with Web-style content? It was, and that makes its use on a faster GPRS system seem rather ridiculous. Surely with a decent always-on connection we should be getting the full Web experience, screen-size permitting?

Mondo does at least let you do that, allowing you to dial into an ISP via GSM as if you were connecting across a modem and a landline. PocketPC's version of Internet Explorer displays sites accessed this way rather nicely, but because it's using a GSM link, it's a slow process and you pay for the call duration rather than by bytes you cause to be sent across the network.

So Mondo is handicapped by using the wrong content solution with the right connection, and vice versa. We'd be happier with WAP if there were any WAP sites worth viewing. There aren't, and the few that might be aren't hosted by Genie and so won't load on the Mondo. Vainly we tried to read the seminal WAP Insight (www.wapinsight.co.uk/wml/), but Mondo wasn't having any of it and just kept showing server errors. We're prepared to believe this is Genie's fault rather than Mondo's, but since the two are - for now at least - inextricably linked, it may as well be.

Connecting to the wonderful world of WAP on a continuous basis naturally hits the battery hard, and that goes double when you're using the kind of hardware Windows CE needs. To help conserve power, Trium equipped Mondo with a monochrome screen. In these days of colour Palm m505s and Compaq iPaqs, Mondo's screen looks decidedly old-fashioned.

Mondo's metallic grey and gold livery doesn't help either - it looks to use like one of the 1960s stars of Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150.

And speaking of the 1960s, Mondo owners will plenty of hair would do well to use the supplied earpiece. Mondo doubles up as a mobile phone, but while greasing up your Nokia might not matter too much, it's not a good idea when the display is as pivotal as it is in PDA applications.

And that's really the problem with the Mondo: the compromises it makes to enable a PDA to become a cellphone and vice versa. It's hard to see anyone replacing a PDA and a cellphone (particularly one with a built-in modem, as many do these days) with a Mondo, particularly the GPRS version.

Our advice: stick with the GSM version, which will do everything that the GPRS version can, and what it can't, you almost certainly won't need. In a year's time - perhaps even six months - it might be worth five hundred notes, but not yet. There are better PDAs out there, there are better cellphones. And, thanks to Nokia's 9210, there are better smartphones.

But keep trying, Trium - your time will come. ®

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