Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/07/19/review_o2_xm/
O2 XM music phone
Intel Mobile Media Technology debuts
First UK Review Intel's XScale processors have traditionally been incorporated into PDAs and smart phones, and promoted by the chip giant as the ideal CPU to handle the heavy lifting these devices' operating systems require. But a few years back, Intel decided it ought to widen XScale's target market. The result was 'Manitoba', a feature-phone platform designed to show handset makers that XScale is just as relevant to lower-end devices as it is to high-end ones. Manitoba was launched early 2003, and Intel named Orange as a carrier as a partner.
Two-and-a-half years on, and Manitoba has finally arrived as a shipping product, though with the O2 logo rather than Orange's. O2 calls the phone the XM and is pitching it as an entertainment device, with an emphasis on music.
The XM's box sports a cunning sliding mechanism - pull out on side tray and a second tray slides automatically out of the other end. Remove the XM and you'll see it's a typical clamshell phone that might have come from Samsung, LG or any number of vendors. It's not unattractive, but neither does it stand out - ideal for carrier-branding, in other words.
Closed, the tri-band XM presents a 1.3 megapixel camera and an 65,000-colour external display. On the right-hand side of the base sits an SD card slot, protected with an easy-to-remove rubber cover, though getting the card in and out is difficult. On the other side is the similarly covered earphone slot, plus Play/Pause, volume and Music Player activation buttons.
The tip of the lid fits tightly against the handset's body, so it's almost impossible to open one-handed. The only place a chin or lip - think phone in one hand, luggage in the other - can get a purchase on the lid is along the side. Inside there's a very nice 176 x 220, 262,000-colour LCD, backlit keypad and navigation cluster. The central OK button doubles up as the menu activator. It's surrounded by a circular four-way control, which is itself encircled by buttons to active the two on-screen items, call make and break buttons, a Clear key, a second Music button (this one with an earphones icon rather than a musical note) and another for O2 Active.
All the keys are comfortable to use, and the proprietary OS that ships with the device is basic but straightforward and responsive. My only quibble is that you can't change the two on-screen options - Camera and Contacts - to, say, Messaging and Calendar. T9 is available for text entry, but it's pleasingly turned off by default. Using the keypad to type displays all the characters available on the key you've just pressed, making it easy to select the correct character without having to take your eyes off the screen. A nice touch.
The XM provides all the utilities and apps you'd expect from a mid-range handset, along with a pair of 3D Java games - Basketball and Boat Wars - and Music, Video and Image players.
Pressing either of the Music buttons calls up Music Player, a Java app which does what it says on the tin. The XM has 6MB of on-board RAM, so you'll want to store songs on an SD or MMC card, and O2 bundles a 64MB SD in the box. You can provision it through Music Player itself, which links through to O2's online store, or by loading your own MP3s. Connect up the bundled USB cable, and the card mounts on a Mac or PC as a mass storage device ready for drag and drop.
The buttons on the side of the handset allow you to control the player without opening the phone - as long as you don't want to skip tracks, or rewind or fast-forward. I can only assume Intel's engineers don't listen to music, or have never seen an iPod.
Downloading songs is limited only by the music store's insistence you browse through tracks by their initial letters. If you don't know the name of the song you're after, or your just out to see what's available, O2's music store doesn't make for an easy shopping experience. Even if you know exactly which track you want to download, you can easily go through around ten menus - each with a distinct pause while the handset downloads the next page, by WAP - to reach it: Browse Genres, Rock, Artists C-D, Artists D, Artists DE, Def Leppard: 87 Tracks, Track Names U-Y, Track Names UN-WH, Album: Adrenalize, White Lightning. Phew. Once you're there, at least you can listen to a 30s preview to see if the track's worth downloading.
At least downloaded songs play. The XM's Games menu offers a similar route to O2's Games Arcade store, but when I tried it I was only able to find a single item compatible with the handset, and that was the dubious sounding 'Hello World'. The pre-loaded games are fine, but the frame rate is low - 12-15fps or less, I'd say - and it's clear just how much anti-aliasing will improve mobile phone gaming.
But back to the music. Music Player offers adequate sound reproduction, but the bundled earphones, which also incorporate a handsfree microphone bead, are very tinny. The earphones' 2.5mm jack doesn't quite fit properly, so shaking the handset to simulate in-pocket usage would often cause the right-hand channel to drop. More positively, the XM pauses playback when a call comes in, picking the song up again as soon as the call ends
The XM comes with an 2.5mm-to-3.5mm jack adaptor cable, so you can plug in a regular pair of phones. I tried my iPod set, but the results were rather muffled.
Other niggles include the external display. Backlit it looks fine, but the backlight quickly goes out, forcing you to open the lid to bring it back if you want to, say, check the status of the battery or find out what time it is. If you have to open the lid, you may as well look at the main display, negating the need for the external unit.
On the plus side, the XM offers a Flight Mode, which disables the mobile phone radio so you can still play games and/or listen to music while you're on board an aircraft, at the movies etc. The 1.3 megapixel camera's not bad either, but the touted 4x digital zoom only operates when the camera is set to 'wallpaper' mode, ie. 176 x 220.
The XM is neither bad nor distinguished, but a classic me-too product. There are better music phones available and better gaming handsets too, but the XM doesn't do a bad job with either. Call quality is decent, though the battery life's a little under par for a phone of its class. O2 quotes 200 hours on stand-by and four hours' talk time. Under typical usage, I got five days out of it before it suggested I should recharge the battery. More intensive gaming would reduce that considerably.
Bought as a general-purpose handset, the XM unlikely to disappoint, but the most exciting thing about it is the box it comes in. ®
|Pros||Decent general-purpose phone; good music download service; nifty box.|
|Cons||No track skip/fast-forward/rewind buttons; undistinguished feature set; no Blutooth or infra-red.|
|Price||£180 pay-as-you-go; free with a contract|
|More info||The O2 XM site |