Today, PDAs are no longer one-trick ponies. They can organise data, connect to the Web, play music and videos, and more. Now, Dell has unleashed its newest talent: the Axim X50v. Like HP's iPaq rx3715 Mobile Media Companion, the X50v aims to blend digital entertainment with productivity for a PDA that does it all.
This pocket star's massive features list includes a VGA screen, a dedicated graphics engine, wireless connectivity, and Windows Media Player 10.0 Mobile. And similar to the Palm-OS based gaming handheld, the Tapwave Zodiac2, the X50v comes with a games bundle to satisfy the player in you. As the flagship model of the X50 series, the X50v costs around £250, but if you don't need all the bells and whistles, check out the midlevel model or the entry-level X50.
With the Axim X50v, Dell introduces a kinder and gentler design to its PDAs. We weren't big fans of the Axim X30's squarish edges, which gave it a drab and utilitarian look, so we welcome the X50's smoother, rounded edges and attractive silver and black casing. At 73 by 119 by 17mm and 175g, the X50v is slightly bigger and heavier than the X30 and certainly the HP iPaq rx3715. As a trade-off, though, the X50v is solidly built, and the rubberised sides make for a comfortable and solid grip.
The X50v's 94mm (3.7-inch) VGA screen is a sight to behold. Like the Asus MyPal A730, it has a larger viewing area than most PDAs and boasts four times the resolution of a QVGA screen at 480x640 pixels for sharper graphics and text -- a deft touch, since Dell touts this as a multimedia handheld. The four shortcut keys (Calendar, Contacts, Inbox, and Home) and the navigation toggle reside just below and, compared to the X30's, are quite diminutive. While this wasn't much of an issue with the shortcut keys, the smaller toggle proved trickier to navigate, especially for those with bigger digits, and we often pressed the centre Select button by mistake.
The left side of the PDA gives you access to a host of goodies. There's a lanyard hook, a lock switch, a wireless on/off button and a voice-record button. The one-touch access to wireless connectivity is particularly convenient, since you don't have to fish through the Settings menu to turn on Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
The top of the device houses a 3.5mm headphone/headset jack that accepts Walkman-style 'phones and supports VoIP and voice-recognition apps, the stylus holder and dual CompactFlash and SD expansion slots. There's a standard sync/cradle connector on the bottom of the device. Give the X50v a twirl, and on the back you'll find a battery-lock switch that enables the user to swap out the 1,100mAh battery, a Reset button and two rubber grips to prevent your handheld from slipping.
There aren't too many extras in the box, but you get a desktop sync cradle, a travel charger and a protective case. As mentioned earlier, the X50v has a user-replaceable battery, so if you're a road warrior you might want to invest in Dell's 2,200mAh extended cell.
A check under the Dell Axim X50v's hood shows a well-equipped and powerful handheld. There's an Intel 624MHz XScale PXA270 processor that, like any chip in this family, features SpeedStep and Wireless MMX technology to optimise battery life. However, the X50v doesn't stop there. Complementing the handheld's VGA screen is a dedicated Intel 2700G graphics engine with 16MB of video memory for better video playback and an improved gaming experience (see 'Performance').
Frequent travellers can take advantage of the graphics processor to give presentations on the go with Dell's Presentation Kit (not included), which includes a VGA cable to hook to the projector and Westtek's ClearVue Suite. Memory is ample, with 128MB of flash ROM and 64MB of SDRAM (139MB of which are user-accessible). If that's not enough, the dual CompactFlash and SD expansion slots should do the trick.
The expansion options are particularly attractive, since the X50 is the first Pocket PC to offer Windows Media Player 10.0 Mobile. Effectively, this means it's a better multimedia experience. Aside from being able to carry your favorite WMA, MP3, and WMV music files on your handheld, you can now view album art as songs are playing. Also, Windows Media Digital Rights Management 10.0 gives you access to audio and video content from subscription services, such as Musicmatch and CinemaNow.
If you like to show off photos and videos, you can do that too with WMP 10.0. But there's more -- to really drive home the fact that this is a multimedia device, the X50v ships with a games bundle that includes Stuntcar Extreme and 3D puzzles such as Enigmo.
Wireless connection comes in the form of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which can be used simultaneously. The X50v ships with a WLAN utility that shows signal strength, encryption options, certificate enrolment for advanced Wi-Fi authentication, and more. Bluetooth opens the doors to communication with other devices, allowing users to do even more with the X50. For instance, paired with Dell's GPS receiver, the X50v can be used as a navigation device, or you can connect to a Bluetooth keyboard, such as the Think Outside Stowaway, for more productivity.
Like the latest crop of PDAs, the X50v comes loaded with Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, which supports Landscape mode -- a boon if you're keen on flashing photos, surfing the Web or working on spreadsheets. As you would expect, Pocket Word, Excel, and Internet Explorer are present, while other applications and utilities include MSN Messenger, a VPN client, a clock, a calculator, File Store and Backup. There's also a companion CD with demo versions of programs such as Cash Organizer 2003, Full Hand Casino and McAfee VirusScan PDA.
From a performance point of view, the Dell Axim X50v was somewhat disappointing, as one of the PDA's best highlights -- the VGA screen -- turned out to be its biggest downfall. That said, we noticed similar hiccups in other VGA models such as the Asus MyPal A730 and the Toshiba e805, and while not ideal as your primary media player or gaming device, the X50v is still a very capable PDA.
This flagship model sports Intel's state-of-the-art PXA270 processor running at 624MHz, currently the fastest chip for Pocket PCs, as well as Intel's 2700G multimedia accelerator. Unfortunately, we were disappointed to see that all this power produced below-average video performance and subsequently affected its overall standing in our tests, scoring about 40 percent lower than the midlevel X50. Even in real-life usage, we experienced a noticeable lag in response time on the X50v when switching between applications.
Playing games on the X50v wasn't ideal. We tried out Stuntcar Extreme and enjoyed the great graphics on the VGA screen, but overall it was a sluggish experience, and the game often froze if another application was running in the background. Also, the small navigation toggle made it difficult to manoeuvre in the game. On a brighter note, when we were viewing Word documents or Web pages or performing other PIM functions, the screen produced sharp, crisp images and was even legible in sunlight.
Like the X50, the X50v's wireless connections worked very well. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth passed our test without a hitch, as the handheld instantly connected to access points and had great range.
Battery life was so-so. In our drain test, where we repeatedly played a video with the backlight and volume set at high with all wireless features off, the battery lasted almost four hours. By comparison, this was almost an hour longer than the A730, but fell short of the HP iPaq hx4700's mark of 5 hours, 25 minutes. Then again, the hx4700 doesn't have all the multimedia flair of the X50v. As our drain test was designed to zap the battery as fast as possible, you'll get more mileage with normal usage.
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs project leader Dong Van Ngo and Eric Franklin
Edited by William O'Neal
Additional editing by Nick Hide