Dell Axim X50v wireless PocketPC
The perfect PDA?
Review While recently we've seen big names like Sony and Toshiba leave the PDA market, Dell has become a major player in the Pocket PC arena with its Axim line, most likely due to its ability to offer a well specced yet attractively priced device, writes Benny Har-Even.
And here comes its latest line-up: the X50 series, successor to 2003's popular X30 offerings. There are three Axims in the X50 range: a basic one offering a 416Mhz processor, a QVGA screen, 64MB of ROM and Bluetooth; a 520MHz version with 128MB of ROM and integrated Wi-Fi; and at the top of the range - the one I'm looking at here - the X50v, which offers a 620MHz CPU and a 3.7in screen boasting a full VGA (480 x 640) resolution. Dell is also now offering a bundle with a GPS solution too. The 128MB of ROM is good but some might think the 64MB of RAM a bit stingy in a top-end unit. It's arguably so, but with dual expansion slots to play with the small memory complement isn't the end of the world.
Earlier Axims sported a rather angular and business-like look, but the new X50 design offers rounded edges and a curved base reminiscent of the original iPaq. The two-tone black fascia with silver piping round the edges looked very smart in the pictures though I have to admit to being slightly disappointed with the finish when I took it out the box.. The build quality is good though, with a solid feel to the body, and the stylus comfortable in the hand and well placed at the back on the right-hand side. The buttons are in the conventional Pocket PC arrangement. The power switch sits at the top centre and glows when the unit is being charged.
Down the left-hand side are a number of items. At the top is a lanyard hook and below this is a hold button that works in the same way as a key lock on your phone. It's an usual inclusion but a welcome one, as it ensures that the Axim won't switch on accidentally in your pocket, leaving you with a flat battery just when you need to use it. That said if you activate the hold switch when the device is on, you can't turn it off either and at first when this happened I forgot the lock was enabled leading me to fear that the device had locked up.
The next button down is the Wireless button, which activates the integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Getting connected with my router at home was straightforward. The device requested my WPA Wi-Fi security password and I was away. Setting up a Bluetooth connection with a Sony Ericsson V800 3G mobile phone proved a little more troublesome, but once I'd found the correct dialling scripts online it worked well. Transferring pictures from a T630 handset proved more straightforward. A consumer IR socket is also present, so with suitable software you can use the Axim as a universal remote control.
Below the Wireless button is one that activates the record mode, enabling you to take notes either by speaking into the built-in microphone or with the stylus. When I went to pick up the Axim I often accidentally activated this button, especially when I took the PDA out of its cradle. Perhaps a better place would have been slightly lower down, rather than in the middle. Speaking of the cradle, the one included isn't as large or as brash as the one bundled with the X30 range. Out goes the glowing blue Dell logo for a more understated (and cheaper, presumably) affair with no backlight. As with the old cradle there's a slot for recharging a spare battery.
A very welcome sight at the top of the device are slots for Compact Flash and SD IO devices. This is impressive considering that the X50 range is smaller than the dual-slot HP iPaq hx4700, and adds a wide range of expansion possibilities.
The Axim X50s run Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition. It's interesting that every time I've gone back to using a PocketPC from a Palm, I can't help but notice how much snappier Palm OS is. This was true even when I forced the Axim to run at 620MHz at all times, rather than the automatic setting, which cuts back the clock speed when it can to conserve battery power. That said, I still prefer using a PocketPC. One key reason is ActiveSync, which assuming you use Outlook, is far better at keeping your PDA and PC synchronised than Palm OS' HotSync, as anything you change on the PC gets synchronised with the PDA immediately and automatically. This means you're far more likely to have the information you might need with you at any time.
One of the benefits of Windows Mobile 2003 SE is that it natively supports VGA in both landscape and portrait. This enables you to see far more than you can with standard QVGA screens. The quality of the screen can't be faulted either. It's bright, clear and evenly lit and makes pictures look great and text easy to read. This helps make the X50v easily the most pleasant to use PDA in my experience.
What's even better about the display is that it's backed by an Intel 2700G 'Marathon' graphics accelerator with 16MB of video RAM. This graphics chip is based on a PowerVR graphics chip from Imagination Technology, which most famously was found in the Sega Dreamcast console.
To show off the power of the graphics chip, Dell has included a CD with two games: a racing title and another that was too bizarre for me to work out how to play, but looked great. The graphics were genuinely impressive on both. There's a good range of titles available for download online but I hope more are created that really take advantage of the power on offer here. In the meantime, if you're interested in seeing what your Axim can do, you can download some demos from PowerVR's web site.
Combined with VGA resolution, a choice between a Compact Flash slot capable of accepting a Type II card and an SD IO-compatible slot, the Axim is set-up nicely to act as a portable video player. My previous experiences of getting DIVX content to play on a PocketPC have been pretty disappointing, but in a quite timely fashion an independent programmer has come up with a new application for PocketPC for reading DIVX and XVID content with far greater performance than any previous application. There's even a plug-in available to take advantage of the 2700G graphics chip. This app's called BetaPlayer and can be downloaded here. Don't be put of by the 'Unstable' description - it worked flawlessly for me. Once installed I copied over a 700MB DIVX film to my 1GB IBM Microdrive, and was simply bowled over by the smoothness and quality of the playback. This makes the X50v a serious alternative to carrying round one of the new breed of bigger and heavier hard disk-based video players.
Of course, if you want a games machine and a PDA in one, the Axim has a rival in the Tapwave Zodiac. However, the Zodiac is undeniably a games machine first and a PDA second, while the Axim is the other way round. While the screen on the Tapwave is also superb it's much harder to get video on to the device.
The Li-ion battery on the Axim is removable, and is located behind a cover that's held in place by a locking switch. I'd have preferred this to have clicked firmly into place rather than just being held by the lock, so care has to be taken if you ever swap out the battery, which has a rating of 1100mAh. Above the battery lock is the reset button.
Battery life proved to be very respectable, and with only the occasional use of Wireless and movie watching you could go for a couple of days before recharging, while under somewhat more intense use, you could expect to last a working day with it.
The new Axim X50 range has gained a few ounces but also some curves and a few new tricks. It's fast and powerful, and delights in showing off its new graphical capabilities. It's also flexible thanks to the presence of twin expansion slots. Save for an integrated phone and GPS, there's nothing missing, though if you want esoteric additions such as biometric fingerprint security or a trackpad you'll have to look to HP's iPaq range. The really good news is that Dell has dropped the price of the X50 range since its introduction so you can pick up the top-of-the-line X50v for a truly remarkable £289. This is certainly the best PDA I've ever used.
|Dell Axim X50v|
|More info||The Dell UK site|
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