Viewsonic V35 Pocket PC

New PDA

Reg Review Viewsonic's first PDA, the V35, was released in the US a wee while ago, but it finally made it to these shores a couple of months back. Pitched as one of the cheapest and thinnest Pocket PC devices around, we thought the V35 merited a closer look.

The unit itself is just 1cm (0.4in) thick, and a trim 12 x 7.5cm (4.8 x 3in) face-on. So it's smaller than its closest rival, Dell's Axim x5. It's lighter too, at 119.1g (4.2oz) to 195.6g (6.9oz). It feels light too, but not flimsy. It's made out of plastic, but it feels solid - though not the way a metal-cased device does.

Image copyright ViewsonicAlas it's no looker. The V35 is a classic 'slab' PDA, all straight lines and little or no concession to industrial design. You can argue that that doesn't matter since Pocket PCs are so clearly aimed at business roles. But as Compaq (now HP) showed with the iPaq and Palm with the original Palm V and more recently the Tungsten T, even executives like their toys to look good. Consumers certainly do.

The V35's front panel is dominated by its 3.5in 240 x 320 LCD. Given Viewsonic's background in the LCD monitor market, we expected the V35's screen to be better. It isn't bad, but it's not the brightest PDA screen we've seen, even with the backlight turned up to full. That may be one of the trade-offs made to get the price down. So is the XScale's processor speed: 300MHz not the more common 400MHz.

The V35 ships with Pocket PC 2002's ClearType option turned off, and turning it on we can see why: letters aren't so much anti-aliased as blurred. To be fair, this may be a common issue with Pocket PCs, but it was disappointing nonetheless.

Memory doesn't sound limited, but it is. The V35 comes with 64MB of RAM, but only just over a half of it - 36.5MB - is available to the user; the rest is reserved for applications. A neat - but by no means unique - touch is a built-in Flash disk to protect data even when the battery fails.

Below the screen are the usual application buttons and a four-way navigator control, which complements the Clie-style jog dial mounted on the left-hand side of the PDA. Next to the jog-dial is the control that activates the V35's voice recording facility - the built-in microphone is on the front of the devices, in the bottom left-hand corner, opposite a flower-shaped speaker grille - and below it is a recessed reset button.

The V35's right-hand side sports a 3.5mm headphone socket. On top is the power switch, stylus dock - within which is a telescopic implement; screwing off the end reveals a pin capable of reaching the reset button - IR port and SD card slot. The slot supports SDIO as well as memory cards, allowing the V35 to use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi adaptors, and the like.

The obligatory synchronisation cradle connector is located on the base of the unit next to a separate power point. The V35's power adaptor plugs into the cradle or straight into the PDA, so the device is as easy to charge as a mobile phone. A nice touch, that.

When fully charged, you'll get ten hours of usage out the V35, claims Viewsonic. Battery life depends so much on usage that we didn't carry out a specific duration test. However, using the V35 in the same way we use our regular Tungsten T, we found the former needed recharging more frequently than the Palm. An apples-to-oranges comparison, perhaps, but from past use of Pocket PC devices of comparable spec. we'd still say the V35's battery isn't the most capacious on the market.

Oh, and the power-saving CPU settings, which reduce processor performance in order to lengthen battery life, didn't seem to make an appreciable difference.

Speaking of the battery, the V35 implements a rather neat 'gotcha' in the form a recessed switch located on the back of the device. The switch disconnects the battery, and the V35 ships with the battery so disconnected. If, like us, you're not in the habit of reading product documentation, you'll no doubt do what we did and wonder why the wretched thing isn't turning on, even though the power's connected. There might be a very good reason for the incorporation of such a switch, but we can't see what it is.

Such concerns aside, we have to say the V35 isn't bad. Not great, perhaps, but not rubbish either. No one would buy one as a style accessory, but if you're in the market for a cheap PDA, you could do a lot worse. The low user memory size might seem an impediment, but it's more than enough for the personal information most PDA users keep, and in any case, the SD card slot provides for ample expansion to hold multimedia should be more interesting in the Pocket PC's use as an electronic photo album or MP3 player. Though its relatively short battery life may limit its use for such apps.

Above all, it wins on its weight and its equally light price. That said, it's not the cheapest Pocket PC around - you can probably pick up a Toshiba e330, a Dell Axim with a comparable spec. for under £200 - and lesser-specced devices for an even lower price. But the V35 has them beat on weight and size. ®

Rating      60%
Pros
  • Light
  • SDIO support
  • Good price
Cons
  • Low battery life
  • Not a looker
  • Limited RAM
Price      £229 excluding UK sales tax