O2's XDA range is significantly boosted by the XDA Exec, which offers a number of firsts including Windows Mobile 5.0, 3G support and an ingenious hardware design that accommodates a Qwerty keyboard and a 180-degree-pivoting screen. O2 provided CNET.co.uk with a pre-production unit for this review.
A flurry of devices based on the same HTC Universal hardware as the XDA Exec is expected shortly from other UK operators, including the SPV M5000 from Orange. We're also expecting versions from operator-agnostic vendors i-mate and Qtek.
The XDA Exec is big, feature-packed and has an unusually flexible design that accommodates both traditional handheld and laptop-style operation. The two-tone grey and black lid lifts up, clamshell-style, to reveal a screen and a small Qwerty keyboard. However, users are unlikely to require the built-in keyboard all of the time, so the lid section swivels through 180 degrees, Tablet PC-style, and lays flat, leaving you with a more standard handheld configuration with the screen facing outwards. The screen automatically switches between landscape and portrait orientation.
The trade-off for this flexibility, of course, is size and weight: the XDA Exec is a giant compared to standard Windows Mobile handhelds, measuring 130 by 79 by 20mm and weighing 285g.
To enable effective use in both handheld and laptop modes, the XDA Exec is peppered with buttons and connectors. One of the shorter edges is button-free, while the other houses the power button and an SD card slot. The long edges are more cluttered. The rear (or right-hand) edge is home to the reset button, a 3.5mm headphone connector, Call and End keys, the stylus housing and a USB connector that handles battery recharging and wired synchronisation. Thankfully, the XDA Exec abandons the proprietary connector that required you to carry a converter to charge earlier XDA models while on the move.
The front (or left-hand) edge houses a pair of stereo speakers, a volume slider for both device and in-call control, a button for accessing the built-in voice dialling feature, a camera launch button and a button that turns on the screen backlight if it automatically dims.
There's also a large five-way navigation lozenge sitting below the screen in standard handheld mode, and to its right in laptop (clamshell) mode. The stylus feels reasonably solid, but it's short and flattened, rather than round like most styli or pens. As a result, it does not sit very comfortably in the hand. Annoyingly, the stylus only fits into its slot one way round, and invariably we found ourselves trying the wrong way first. O2 provides a spare stylus along with a USB cable for wired data synchronisation, a slip-style protective case and a stereo headset.
We were not able to make voice calls to our pre-production device, so we can't comment on the quality here. Both music and video sound were fine, although the maximum volume isn't terribly high.