Somehow, the PDA phone revolution passed me by. I was pretty content using a procession of regular mobiles such as Nokias, Sony Ericssons, Motorolas and the sundry.
OK, the real reason was that I could not afford or justify the stratospheric prices that these devices commanded. Or, if you’re married like me, happily, I may hasten to add, if the wife ever said, “Do whatever the @#*% you want”, it wasn’t a licence to take home an expensive, shiny new toy to check for your next dentist appointment. And remember when you pegged your home loan to a floating interest rate in the good old days… you get the drift.
Also, having lived and worked with Apple products for work and play, I was a bit leery and condescending about Microsoft-powered devices.
R ecently, however, two hefty Windows Mobile devices landed up for review—the O2 Xda Zinc and the strangely named i-mate JASJAR—both touch screen hand-helds with QWERTY keyboards.
O2 Xda Zinc
Equipped with a full, slide-out QWERTY keyboard, a sleek and stylish design liveried in gunmetal grey with silver accents, the feature-packed O2 Xda Zinc has a two megapixel camera, Wi-Fi connectivity and full 3G support, if you’re lucky to have it. Running on the Windows Mobile 5 operating system, the Xda Zinc has the mobile versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player 10 and Pocket MSN. The built-in Wi-Fi and the GPRS/EDGE wireless functionality make it an excellent email device, supporting push email from a Microsoft Exchange mail server, as well as standard POP3 and IMAP email accounts such as Hotmail, GMail and Yahoo! Mail. Also bundled is Bluetooth, A2DP and infrared connectivity. Powered by a 520MHz Intel Xscale processor, the Xda Zinc has 64MB RAM and 128MB ROM for storage (expandable via miniSD card). For the most part, the processor does a decent job switching between applications and playing heavy video files with aplomb.
The device is also bundled with loads of software that actually enhances the ease of use. There’s Mobimate’s popular Worldmate software, AutoInstall, AutoConfigurator which adjusts network settings, MessagePlus (a one-stop utility for messages), SMS Plus and Phone Plus featuring some nifty dialling features. Key in 6, 4, 6 and 8 on the onscreen numeric pad, you’ll get a filtered list of phonebook entries beginning with “Mint”. Email set-up is a breeze, and so is syncing to a PC, which will also trickle charge the Xda Zinc while connected via the USB connector. The GMail Java app is a quick download and works very well.
The slide-out QWERTY keyboard is excellent for the most part, with good tactile feedback and comfortably-sized keys. The keyboard is a little flat, but adequate spacing between keys means users shouldn’t have many problems typing SMS messages or emails. Unfortunately, sliding the keyboard in and out isn’t a smooth experience, and requires a rather firm grip. It isn’t spring operated, instead slides on a plastic rail on each side of the keyboard.
The 2.8-inch LCD touch screen with a 320x240 resolution and 65K colour isn’t the brightest and clearest smart phone display, but it’s more than adequate. An added plus is the screen’s wide viewing angle which makes it easier for more people to view videos. There is a dedicated camera button on the right-hand side, but hold on to your digicam as photos taken with the 2-megapixel camera were just OK. There is no flash, but rather a light, which is ineffective during low-light photography. There is also a video camera, which captures clips at resolutions up to 176x144, but the quality is way below average.
Battery life is a little below average, with figures of up to five hours of talk time and 220 hours of standby time. Users will most likely be forced to recharge the Zinc every two days—even more if the phone is being used heavily for multimedia features such as music playback and photos.
The O2 Xda Zinc is priced at (gulp!) Rs39,490. But for all you corporate hotshots working on the fly, this sophisticated device should be a pretty productive tool.
Years ago, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, many companies tried to make hand-held PCs based on Windows CE as a sort of mini-laptop. With the JASJAR, i-mate has decided to resurrect the concept, running the latest software from Microsoft, Windows Mobile 5.0. It packs the punch of every device on the market and it can do it all, including everything any other PDA can do as well as other phones and even some laptops. But, hello, why on earth does it have to look like my 15-year-old Sharp digital diary on steroids? If style and aesthetics mean a lot to you, please stop reading right now. The very name Pocket PC suggests oh-so-subtly that the device is able to fit into your pocket. Try that with the JASJAR and you’ll have strange women and men asking, “Is that a JASJAR in your pocket, or you are just happy to see me?”
Form factor and weight aside, the i-mate JASJAR comes with a swivelling 65k TFT screen with a display resolution of 640x480 pixels. Under the hood is a speedy Intel 520MHz processor with 64MB of RAM. Should you require more space, there’s also an SD expansion slot. The JASJAR is a 3G (UMTS) cum Tri-band GSM phone. It also comes with Wi-Fi 802.11b support so you can just go to the closest hotspot and check your mails and use the Internet. The i-mate JASJAR mobile phone also has a 1.3 megapixel camera of no consequence, which can take still photos up to a resolution of 1,280x960 pixels.
One of the major advantages of the i-mate JASJAR is the nicely spaced out and designed QWERTY keypad layout, so banging out long emails or word documents is surprisingly easy. Or, data can also be inputted using the stylus and 3.6-inch touch screen. The swivelling screen can rotate to the PDA form factor, but then this leaves it open to scratches, while closing it ensures it’s protected. However, while making a call, you’ll want to have the screen facing outwards, as the speaker and microphone are located here. The heft and size of the JASJAR makes it uncomfortable for long calls, so a Bluetooth headset is highly advisable. The durability issue was laid to rest when the device came to us with a large dent on its outer cover where the charger had dug in during transit—the JASJAR is constructed using a combination of metal and a hard plastic.
Like most current smartphones, the JASJAR runs Windows Mobile 5.0, and thus comes bundled with pocket versions of Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint), Outlook, Internet Explorer and MSN Messenger, making it possible to run your business almost entirely on the go, without ever having to chain yourself to a desk. Files and tasks can be synchronized with your desktop PC using ActiveSync, which also allows you to install any third-party Java applications.
And now we come to the real problem: the price. The JASJAR is not cheap at Rs43,000 and most people will be put off by its aesthetics, despite the allure of its remarkable capabilities.
Me? I think I’ll wait for the Nokia N95 later next month.
(Tell Harsh what other gadgets you want him to review. Write to email@example.com)