Pocket PC

18 Dec 2003

Product: Dell Axim X3i
Price: €398 (Delivery €12)

Choosing a pocket device is much more personal than selecting a portable PC. It will presumably travel with you most of the time, so design and form factor, weight and display quality and so on are all important as well as ease of use for your style of working and most frequent tasks. They can be at least as significant for its potential value in your working life as the more orthodox considerations of applications and performance. The new Dell Axim X3i scores highly on both sets of criteria.

This is slim and light unit (77mm thick with standard battery, 142gms) and a bright 2.25×3 inch ‘transflective’ screen that reminds you happily that a colour display is for clarity as well as aesthetics. It is touch sensitive, so input is by stylus or fingernail and function control is via the screen or the side scroll button or five-way navigator button centre front. Sound is predictably tinny from the built-in speaker but very good through standard stereo earphones while the voice recording quality (the Axim has a built-in mike) is surprisingly good. What distinguishes the Axim X3i from two companion models in the line-up is Wi-Fi, which faultlessly picked up internet connectivity in several locations.

The Axim runs on Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC on a 400MHz chip and comes with the matching versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and Media Player as well as standard PDA tools such as a calculator. It also has the essential facility to synchronise with a desktop PC (Outlook plus Word and Excel files) through a USB-connected cradle. Data is held either in the useful 64MB RAM or same capacity ROM for non-volatile storage (a small ‘bridge’ battery holds data while the main battery is removed, eg for swapping with a spare). Usefully, there is a slot for optional Secure Digital card and the capacity range for these now goes from 8MB to a massive 512MB although that would cost more than the Axim itself.

Other third-party devices can use this card slot, notably cameras, while many users would appreciate an external folding keyboard rather than the onscreen tap-a-letter input. Infrared connectivity also extends the links to other devices but there is no Bluetooth.

A notable application is the handwriting recognition which is excellent and speedy using capitals, less impressive with joined up cursive. But there is a mutual learning process and more patient souls would undoubtedly do well. Drawings and notes can also be stored as image files.

All in all, there is not much anyone in business would need to do away from base that this little beauty would not handle very well. The facility to work in landscape format on the screen would be valuable, especially for Web browsing and documents such as spreadsheets. The device price is also right.

The standard slim battery has reasonable life between charges for ‘normal’ use but both Wi-Fi web browsing and sound output drain it within a few hours, certainly less than a working day. The optional long life battery adds bulk and weight but doubles the working time. A useful adapter means the Axim can run or be charged separately from the desk cradle, which in turn has a second slot to allow a spare battery to kept at the ready.

Since Wi-Fi is such a battery drain, the stub antenna has a light to indicate that the device is linked to the network and a dedicated button makes or breaks the connection as required.

The external control buttons are not for large hands but almost all functions can be controlled through the screen and nylon-tipped stylus.

By Leslie Faughnan

Delivery charge as stated in e-Thursday 18/12/03 was incorrect. Correct charge is €10 plus Vat