Orange SPV M500 smart phone
First UK review The SPV M500 is Orange's take on HTC's 'Magician' compact PocketPC phone, which began appearing earlier this year in a number of guises, such as the i-Mate Jam.
Since then, the handset has been remodelled. The internal specifications are almost identical, so the changes are purely cosmetic, as you can see from my earlier review of the Magician. However, they certainly make the M500 - and the identical Krome Spy handset, just launched in Australia - much more attractive than the casing used by earlier Magician suppliers.
The M500's dimensions remain a palm-friendly and iPod-like 10.6 x 5.7 x 1.8cm, give or take a millimetre here and there. The weight's 150g. Gone is the pale plastic casing, replaced by a dark, metal shell with straight lines in place of the older models' gentle curves.
The front is still dominated by the 2.8in, 240 x 320, 65,000-colour LCD and the control cluster. A central button is surrounded first by a circular four-way navigation key and then by two panels, one above, one below each incorporating two buttons. The lower pair activate the Contacts and Calendar apps, the upper two are the familiar green and red call-make and -break buttons. Again, the design is crisper, more angular and more business-like. The navigator is smaller than before, but I found it no less easy to use for that, though I did find myself catching the other buttons more frequently than I did with the previous incarnation of Magician.
The left-hand side of the device sports separate camera, volume and voice-record buttons. On the right-hand side is a tiny circular power switch and the stylus. They're positioned toward the top of the device; toward the bottom is the infra-red port. On the base you'll find a mini USB connector and the 2.5mm earphones socket both recessed slightly and hidden behind a new rubber panel that makes the casing neater but is hard to open. Similarly recessed, but without the cover, is the SD IO slot on the top of the device, now marked with the SD logo. Alas, HTC has failed to make the removal and insertion of cards easier - there are no niches to give your fingers room to work.
The rear of the M500 hosts the 1.3 megapixel camera, now mounted above a self-portrait mirror and surrounded by a shiny, engraved circular panel for a more camera-like look. As before, the lower two-thirds of the back-panel slides off to reveal the tightly held 1200mAh removable battery and, beneath it, the SIM slot.
Inside sits a 416MHz Intel XScale PXA272 processor running Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition. There's 64MB of RAM, spilt between storage and run-time memory, and 8MB of Flash for backing up important information. The memory is ample, and the processor fast enough. Some apps are perfectly responsive, others less so, but then I've yet to see a smart phone that felt as responsive as an ordinary handset running a truly real-time operating system.
The M500 comes with broadly the same apps as the i-Mate Jam, though with a few of Orange's own utilities, such as Back-up, Orange Plus and Download, added. I also found Fonix's VoiceDial voice-recognition app was auto-installed when I started the M500 up for the first time, along with ClearVue PDF and PowerPoint readers, and GPRSMonitor, a handy tool which not only keeps track of how much you're spending when you use GPRS to send and receive data, but puts an extra status bar on the Today screen. The bar provides a small screen brightness adjuster, battery readout with estimated run time, GPRS activator, and Internet Explorer and Messaging activation icons.
Speaking of GPRS, the M500 can be set to either Class 8 or Class 10 operation, and will operate across 900, 1800 and 1900MHz GSM networks.
VoiceDial works well, particularly once I stopped shouting at the phone - the earpiece volume goes loud enough to make you think you're on speakerphone, though it isn't - and held it up to my ear. I thought I'd try it with a Bluetooth headset, but while the M500 paired with my Motorola HS850 first time round, it didn't work as expected with VoiceDial. While the software picks up what you're saying, it doesn't relay information back to the headset, so unless you can hear the handset's speaker, you can't tell if it's recognised your voice correctly. I'm still not certain the M500's own microphone wasn't picking up my voice rather than the HS850, but I think I was far enough away to trust the headset in this case. Taking VoiceDial's recognition on trust too, I just said yes after a suitable interval - it asks you to confirm or reject what it thinks you've said - and was always put through to the right phone.
As per other incarnations of Magician, the M500 isn't well adapted to one-hand usage - sooner or later you'll need to reach for the stylus, whether to call up the Start menu or dismiss a screen. This is the M500's only real limitation, and it applies equally to other Magician-derived devices. To be fair, it's more to do with the operating system, but it's disappointing compared to Palm's work ensuring the rival Treo 650 can operate one-handed.
Your battery life will vary, depending on call load. Orange quotes five hours' talk time and seven-and-a-half days' stand-by operation on a single charge of the 1200mAh battery. I got a little less than that, but then I had Bluetooth turned on. However, I noticed nothing to suggest a battery life significantly below the typical 1-2 days between charges common among smart phones.
The M500 - and the Spy, if you're down under - is a great PDA phone. It's a device that perfectly shrinks the classic PDA tablet form-factor to a size that allows it to feel comfortable as a mobile phone. I still believe Magician is the best keyboard-free PocketPC phone available, and I'd much rather carry it around than HTC's larger but keyboard-equipped alternatives. Only the Treo 650 comes close, and that has a keyboard and a different OS.
The M500 is only cosmetically better than older Magicians, like the i-Mate Jam, the O2 XDA Mini and the T-Mobile MDA Compact, but better it is. This is a much more attractive handset than its predecessors.
Orange customers looking for a more data-centric upgrade need look no further, and the other versions remain for folks after a SIM-free purchase or a version for other networks. If you're happy to switch carriers, the M500 is the best of the bunch. ®
|Orange SPV M500|
|Pros||Perfect size for a PDA/phone combo; good feature and application sets; Bluetooth; SD IO support.|
|Cons||Not well suited to one-hand operation; the tricky-to-use SD slot.|
|Price||£100 on contract|
|More info||The Orange SPV M500 site|