Product review: Xda Exec

4 Oct 2006

Anyone smitten by the charms of the O2 Xda range will not be disappointed by its latest 3G incarnation. There may be a growing band of smart phones built around the Windows Mobile 5.0 platform — HP’s latest iPaq and an upcoming Palm Treo to name but two — but the Xda Exec (pictured) still has enough to distinguish itself from the crowd.

Gadget fans will drool over the swivelling LCD that does a neat 180 degree turn to transform itself from a tiny tablet PC into a tiny laptop. Folded flat for phone use it’s reminiscent of its predecessors, dominated by the 3.6-inch touchscreen which becomes the keypad when you want to make a call. Pull up and twist the screen, however, and it takes on a very different appearance. The full Qwerty keyboard is revealed on a mobile device that makes the best case yet for leaving your laptop at home.

Nokia has already been down this road with the 9500 and 9300 Communicators, fold-out phones with full keyboards and larger-than-average screens, but the Xda wins out both in terms of style and functionality. Ergonomically it’s a wonderful piece of design and reassuringly robust. The keyboard is a joy to use with big enough keys to accommodate even the fattest fingers.

For many, the Exec’s biggest shortcoming will be its weight. At 285g it’s heavier than the Communicators and everything else on the market, but it still manages to fold up into a compact clamshell (130 x 79 x 20mm) that slips easily inside a pocket. Whether you think it’s worth the weight will depend on how much you value what it can do.

Packing 128MB of internal memory and the pocket version of Microsoft’s software into its shell, the ‘anywhere, any time’ work mantra becomes a reality with this little gem. Windows compatibility has always been one of the greatest selling points of the Xda. When you’re office bound, simply hook it up to your desktop computer via the USB and synchronise the data you want. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enhance its connectivity.

A growing number of devices support the operating system because Windows Mobile 5.0 has improved compatibility with Microsoft’s Exchange Server, offering businesses a more affordable route to push-email solutions made ubiquitous by BlackBerry. After many years of threatening to extend its dominance of the desktop to the mobile environment, Microsoft looks like it may be starting to deliver.

It’s not all work with the Exec. The 1.3 megapixel camera is supported by a nice range of software for cropping, zooming in or running a slide show. Use Media Player for digital music and video playback, sourcing content from the onboard memory or additional data stored on an optional SD card.

For some, the size and form factor of the Xda Exec will be too unwieldy to consider. For others it will quickly become their most valuable business tool and a one-stop mobile entertainment device. This reviewer is emphatically in the second camp.


Handling: *****
Features: *****
Performance: ****
Value for money: ****

By Ian Campbell