A sleek black-matt finish and slide-down QWERTY keypad are the most striking physical changes in the upgrade to O2’s XDA but first impressions can be deceptive. There’s plenty here to get fans of the first device salivating and even more to attract first-timers looking for something smarter than the average smart phone.
While it retains the same design ethos as the original, a big touch screen surrounded by a sprinkling of tabs and buttons, the real desirable stuff is in the detail of the XDA IIs, a feature-packed device that acquits itself admirably both as a mobile phone and a handheld computer.
Adding 802.11b Wi-Fi to Bluetooth certainly enhances its wireless credibility and business appeal but it doesn’t stop there. The Pocket PC operating system (OS) has been upgraded to the Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, the slickest and most sizzling we’ve seen to date, reminding the Symbian camp — the alternative OS found on the likes of Nokia and Sony-Ericsson phones — that Microsoft still has plenty to say in this market. Its familiarity and easy affinity with the Windows desktop environment will make it many people’s preferred choice.
The OS works comfortably with a 400MHz Intel XScale PXA264 processor packed into the device along with 128MB of Ram and 96MB of Rom. There are more powerful handhelds on the market but what the buying decision really comes down to is usability, a notoriously subjective business. For some, the inclusion of the QWERTY pad will be overkill, especially for those that have long since mastered the letter recognition software (is there anyone out there?) or are happy enough to write directly on to the screen with the stylus or tap in letters via the onscreen keypad.
For veterans of Psion organisers who long ago perfected fast typing using thumb and index finger the inclusion of a real pad will be welcome. It slides down from the beneath the main chassis similar to a grown-up transformer toy and glows blue when you press its raised letters. Very cool. If you’re unconvinced of its worth you might be well advised to check out the XDA IIi, €49 cheaper it also boasts 520MHz processing power and a much better camera.
Measuring 12.5×7.2×1.9cm, the XDA IIs weighs in at 205g, chunkier than its predecessor because of the keypad. This will doubtless put off people who have grown accustomed to slim design on the BlackBerry. The difference is that the XDA is much more about mobile computing; its functionality really does offer a viable alternative to dragging a laptop along on a business trip. As well as Pocket versions of standard Microsoft fare and the usual personal information management tools, there’s the ClearVue application suite that boasts PowerPoint along with Acrobat.
O2 says the battery life is 25pc longer then its predecessor, with a claimed four hours talk time and 168 minutes standby. This should suffice for most users especially if the device spends a portion of its working day recharging in its cradle where it can be synced up with your main computer to share and update information using Microsoft’s ActiveSync software.
The 3.5-inch 65,000-colour 240×320 display is used to good effect by an onboard camera and digicam, reminding us that the XDA IIs is not all about work. Some grumble that such features are inappropriate on a business phone but I have no complaints. The 0.3-megapixel camera is particularly well supported with excellent picture and album software.
Other useful features include a secure digital input/output multimedia card expansion slot, a 2.5mm handsfree socket and a loudspeaker. Nice refinements include a power status indicator that now pops up on the main Today screen and an improved microphone for recording messages.
Variations of the HTC-made device are available on other networks in the UK but here in Ireland it’s the exclusive property of O2. As such, it’s a compelling device for the operator to lure business users its way. The only other question is how long we have to wait for O2 to get its next-generation network up and running and deliver the 3G version. Football clips would look great on that 3.5-inch screen.
By Ian Campbell