Dell Axim X50v review
According to some industry analysts, PDAs are a dying breed, being squeezed out of existence by ever more versatile smartphones. But if they’re dying, someone really ought to tell the manufacturers: this is the third time in four months that we’ve seen a Pocket PC that packs something a little bit special.
First came Fujitsu Siemens’ Pocket LOOX 720, with its built-in USB hub for plugging in flash drives and even keyboards, only to be swept aside by HP’s magnificent iPAQ hx4700, with its stunning 4in screen. But now Dell catches up and in some ways surpasses its rivals, by integrating an Intel graphics chip designed to not only play 3D games but also for connecting to a projector or screen.
To do the latter, you’ll need to buy the optional video cable that plugs into the bottom connector; the cable, which comes with the necessary software, costs an extra £33. And note that the X50v can make presentations up to 1,280 x 1,024 resolution, so it’s a potentially serious business tool.
We’re hard-pushed to find a business use for 3D gaming, but with the number of people we see each commuting day tapping at their PDAs, we suspect IT professionals will be using this more often than the presenting software. Dell bundles two games: Enigmo and Stuntcar Extreme. The first is a 3D puzzle game where you have to manoeuvre objects to divert a stream of liquid from its source to a pot. It’s no Tetris, but will make train journeys bearable. Stuntcar Extreme is much more fun: a fast-paced racing game, where you gain extra points for your stunts, it makes the most of the dedicated 16MB of video memory.
As with both the LOOX 720 and the iPAQ hx4700, the Axim X50v includes a 480 x 640 screen (convertible to 640 x 480 landscape thanks to Pocket PC 2003 Second Edition). This isn’t immediately obvious when switching the X50v on, with Dell opting for a 3.7in screen that’s only marginally larger than a conventional Pocket PC screen. As such, spreadsheets and web pages aren’t quite so easy to read in ‘small’ view as with the iPAQ, but they’re still a huge improvement on conventional 3.5in 240 x 320 TFTs. Even in programs designed for the lower resolution, it removes any sign of jaggedness and simply makes things look nicer.
The Axim’s remaining features are shared by its two rivals, but are no less welcome for that. Bluetooth and 802.11b WLAN both come as standard, with a hardware shortcut switch for instantly switching them both on. And immense expandability comes via a Type II CompactFlash slot and an SD/MMC slot, bringing the option of another 5GB of storage space: 4GB via a Microdrive, 1GB from an SD card.
Dell doesn’t go overboard with the amount of memory it includes as standard, with 64MB of RAM and 128MB of flash ROM – use the latter to store all your vital data, as it will never get lost even if the X50v runs out of battery life entirely.
And this proved to be one of the Axim’s weaknesses. In order to make the Axim as slim as possible, Dell includes a relatively small 1,100mAh battery – 300mAh less than the iPAQ. In practice, this meant the X50v lasted for around six hours under light use with the backlight set to medium, as opposed to nine hours from the iPAQ. All isn’t lost though: Dell offers a double-life battery for £53 (£63 inc VAT) that latches onto the rear of the unit, and cleverly integrates a battery-charging bay into the docking cradle.
The prime benefit of the smaller default battery is that Dell has created a notably more compact unit than either HP or Fujitsu Siemens. The Axim will slide into a suit jacket pocket without weighing you down or causing unsightly bumps, making it more likely that you’ll carry the X50v with you wherever you go than either of its rivals. Just note that the bundled carry case brings thickness to 25mm.