Connected handhelds that are small but highly usable are hard to find. The XDA Mini S is admirable because it manages to combine both these features. This is mainly due to its clever sliding keyboard. This lets you get the most from its operating system and bundled software, which includes the likes of Pocket Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. It's certainly not without its faults -- the audio quality during voice calls is almost unforgivable for a handset of this sophistication, so if you spend more time talking than you do creating digital documents you may want to look elsewhere.
The 02 XDA Mini S is based on the HTC Wizard, the inspiration for many handsets, including the i-mate Jam. As a result, it doesn't look particularly 'mini' on initial inspection. It's only slightly larger than a pack of playing cards, but its 58 by 109 by 24mm frame looks distinctly chubby next to normal phone handsets such as the ultra-thin Motorola Razr V3.
Its relative bulk can easily be forgiven once you realise it's hiding a neat trick up its sleeve -- its screen slides horizontally away from the body of the handset to reveal a Qwerty keyboard. The orientation of the display then automatically switches from portrait to landscape, and you an use your thumbs to navigate through menus or enter text into the handset's various applications.
It's not essential to use the keyboard -- the XDA Mini S has a wealth of shortcut buttons scattered on almost every corner. There's an on/off switch at the top of the unit; camera and voice-dialling/application-launching buttons to the right; a volume control slider on the left; and four buttons on the front. Two provide one-touch access to Internet Explorer and the message inbox. The other two are context sensitive, changing function depending on where you are in the menu.
The screen measures 71mm (2.8 inches) on the diagonal and is touch-sensitive. The XDA Mini S includes the requisite stylus tucked away in its rear quarters. This impressive little tool extends with a satisfying, hydraulic-like action complete with whooshing noise. On the whole, the entire unit is aesthetically pleasing, with our only real gripe being the slightly plastic-looking outer casing.
The XDA Mini S is built on Windows Mobile 2005 Pocket PC Phone Edition. This is a versatile platform that has much in common with desktop operating systems like Windows XP. Most of the navigation is done via the Start menu button positioned at the top left of the screen. The device comes pre-installed with Mobile versions of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Internet Explorer and Outlook. Like BlackBerry handsets, the XDA supports Direct Push technology, which means your emails are sent directly to the handset -- you don't have to remember to log on and check for new mail.
The Qwerty keyboard makes a great accompaniment to the above applications, and makes entering emails a breeze. It lets you type messages and lengthy documents quickly and with ease. Unfortunately, there's no number pad, just a horizontal strip of numbers. This means dialling phone numbers can be a little unintuitive, unless you use the somewhat fiddly virtual keypad that appears on-screen.