In the world of Windows Mobile devices we come across lots of incarnations of the same model, with different names. The O2 Xda Exec seems to follow the same rules. While it’s well known by more tech-savvy users by its codename HTC Universal (HTC is the manufacturer and Universal the product code), end users will know it with a variety of names: Dopod 900, i-mate Jasjar, O2 Xda Exec, Orange SPV M5000, QTEK 9000, T-Mobile MDA Pro, Vodafone VPA IV.
Regardless of name, the devices will vary very little in form factor and basic features. Depending on which version you come across it will have different customisations or built-in third party programs – all dictated by the mobile operator or distributor.
We have the chance to test the O2 Xda Exec branded device. This was the first time I found a device with options to install either the operator branded settings, themes and applications or a “Corporate” version, which is password protected and allows full control of the device, with no branding at all. I liked this feature! It may be common for O2 to do it like this, but certainly not usual on the devices I usually try (the ones from i-mate).
Click the images for a large picture
The O2 Xda Exec is running the new Windows Mobile 5.0 recently announced. It is a very versatile device, and I think its form factor clearly states its business market targeting.
How versatile is it? Well for starters it will connect to a standard GSM/GPRS network so you can have voice and data directly on this device. If your needs claim for a faster mobile connection, then it will connect to a UMTS network up to 384Kbps (here in New Zealand I am using the Vodafone 3G service). But if your costs are getting too high when using this cellular connection then you will find the option to connect to wireless LAN networks appealing – and fast, with 11Mbps connections.
Another proof of its versatility is the ability to place and receive voice calls while a data connection is in place. Placing or receiving a voice call will not interrupt a longer download, or stop emails being received.
If you have a Bluetooth headset or a Bluetooth enabled PC then you will be able to connect these too. I had no problems performing ActiveSync over this wireless connection, and I was able to connect my Tablet PC to the UMTS network by simply using the DUN (Dial-Up network service), as easy as any other standard phone. The O2 Xda Exec also worked well with my SuperTooth II Bluetooth speakerphone.
If you don’t have a Bluetooth enabled laptop but still want to use the O2 Xda Exec to connect your computer to the Internet, don’t worry. The device comes with a program that will switch the USB connection from ActiveSync to Modem Emulator, so that you can use it as a USB modem. By the way, it connects and charges via a mini USB cable, which is quite handy for travels.
This device has a very interesting form factor, and it will work by default as a mini-laptop – when open it will have a QWERTY keyboard, including soft keys for the new menus available on Windows Mobile 5.0, and dedicated keys to access Pocket Internet Explorer, Inbox, Start, [OK] and context menu. It also has keys for the Call, Video Call and End Call functions.
The backlit keyboard was a nice surprise. I got used to it quite fast and was able to type emails and posts in our forums without problems.
One new feature on Pocket PC devices introduced with Windows Mobile 5.0 is the Soft Key. This has been used before on Windows Mobile for Smartphones, but these context sensitive menu options make their debut on the Pocket PC world with this new OS version. The soft keys are areas on the bottom of the screen that act like menus, and can be activated with a tap on the screen or through special hardware keys – in the O2 Xda Exec these are marked with a “-“ (dash).
However, when using the device as a Pocket PC (i.e. with the screen completely open and converted) you will notice some buttons are missing: there’s only a directional pad with an action button on the right side of the LCD, and a small secondary video camera, used for live video calls. There are no Calendar or Contacts buttons there. This is a shame because we can swivel the screen (pretty much like those convertible Tablet PCs) and use the device as a standard Pocket PC, but losing the quick access to some functions.
Live video calls worked well, although the picture is a little fuzzy when moving - but when stable the image is very good. Voice calls are nice, with good sound.
The screen is great. The 640x480 pixels LCD is very visible outdoors, while providing VGA resolution. The fonts are clear and sharp, making it very easy to read. Also, the screen orientation is automatically changed from landscape (when open as a mini-laptop) to portrait (when used as a Pocket PC) mode.
The O2 Xda Exec is based on an Intel CPU running at 520MHz. As other Windows Mobile 5.0 device it comes with the new memory model implemented with Windows Mobile 5.0. The main difference from previous Pocket PC devices is the use of flash memory to store data and RAM for program execution only. The flash memory is 128MB but only about 43MB is actually available for the user.
Programs with high IO requirements can impact on overall performance, since writing to flash memory is slower than writing to RAM. This will be something that all Windows Mobile 5.0 devices will go through, and developers will have to be more careful now that the flash memory is used by default.
I certainly recommend installing all programs on a fast SD card, saving the internal flash memory for some programs that require this kind of memory, such as Today plug-ins and the OS databases (Calendar, Contacts, Email). Also make sure you set Outlook Mobile to store any email attachments to an external card.
The built in applications are vastly improved when compared with previous Windows Mobile versions. For example Contacts can now synchronise pictures with Outlook, and this same picture is shown when an incoming call is announced. Still on contacts the left soft key will be context sensitive. For example when listing a contact the soft key option will change between Call, SMS, Email, Web depending on what field is highlighted.
The Messaging application in Outlook Mobile is also much better now. For example you are presented with the option to add a contact when tapping on an email address that is not in the Contacts database yet.
The big changes though are on the Mobile Office applications. Word Mobile can now handle things that caused problems before – for example tables and pictures. And Excel Mobile can now manipulate charts. For people that rely on PowerPoint slides to communicate ideas, there’s a new PowerPoint Mobile application – but this is just a viewer though.
It also comes with MSN Mobile, a new free application that used to be a paid add-on for Windows Mobile 2003. It integrates MSN Hotmail and MSN Messenger to the Pocket PC's today screen, making it even more useful.
In terms of multimedia it shines with Windows Media Player Mobile 10, and it even comes with stereo speakers. But the sound quality is not that great, and background noise will make it sound bad. The best alternative is still to use a stereo headset.
The HTC Universal comes with a built-in 1.3 megapixel digital camera and a very bright light. It also supports MMS directly from the Messaging application, so you can take pictures and send them directly from your device, via MMS or email.
The model I tested (ROM 1.13.48 19 September 2005) does not have the new Messaging and Security Feature Pack in ROM yet. This software is an add-on announced by Microsoft that, when used together with Microsoft Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2, allows push e-mail and remote device management. This will be added later by the manufacturer, but it will depend on the mobile operator or distributor to actually release the update. So check with your distributor first if this is a requirement.
My impressions? Based on prices set for this model I think it is certainly appealing to the enterprise market where it can replace a laptop with the advantage of portability.
Let's see if we can test the i-mate Jasjar in the near future and compare the impressions with another model.
You can read my thoughts on this device when compared with other Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PCs for more information.
Complete wireless solution: GSM, 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Enhanced Mobile versions of Word, Excel, Messaging
Feels slow when compared with previous Windows Mobile devices
Image Gallery (click image for larger picture)
Today screen with new MSN Mobile plugin
Quick control of radio communications
Configuration options for communications
Wireless LAN information at the fingertips
Wireless LAN power management
Memory information: new memory model
Live video call over 3G networks
Word Mobile now compatible with images, tables and more
Bluetooth: Microsoft software, but functional
Bluetooth ActiveSync: easy setup
Better looking email including Contacts picture
Messaging and contacts integration
Easy to use and better looking Contacts application