I have a reputation at work as the gadget guy — I’m always showing up at meetings with some new gadget that I’ve purchased or am demo-ing. My view is that life is short, and anything that can help me finish more tasks in less time is always worth a try.
Last March I bought an IPAQ 4155. Between my experiences with my HP laptop and then this latest HP IPAQ, I’m forgoing all HP products from now on. It’s just not worth the hassle. Besides which, companies (including HP) recently began releasing PDAs based on the new Intel 624mhz XScale processor. Since I rely on my PDA to help manage remotely located equipment, it was time to move on from the IPAQ 4155.
So I convinced the boss to spring for the Dell Axim X30. I thought about the Axim X50, but I really need something that I can carry with me comfortably on my belt clip pretty much 24/7 without getting in the way too much.
This week, the X30 finally arrived. Overall, it is a big improvement over the IPAQ 4155.
The X30 is quite a bit bigger and bulkier than the 4155, but it is still pretty small. Dell still uses a very rectangular design which makes the PDA feel a bit like a small paperback book. That suits me fine, but users who absolutely must have the smallest, thinnest PDA available will probably want to stick with the IPAQs.
I didn’t do any benchmarks, but it feels significantly faster than the 400mhz XScale that the 4155 uses. 80 percent of my time on my PDA is using Agenda Fusion to sort and filter the thousands of “to-do” tasks I have going on at any moment. Filtering those on the 4155 would frequently bring up the Pocket PC version of the hourglass, but I’ve yet to see such slowdowns when performing similar operations on the new PDA.
I do a lot of work with audio and video, and am impressed by the combination of the faster processor along with Windows Mobile 2003’s audio/video options. Obviously you’re not going to get DVD-quality video on a 320×240 screen, but I’ve played around with a few clips that would be more than adequate to show clients using just the X30. It’s not something I will use often, but it’s nice to know the option is there.
The X30 nicely implements the improvements in Windows Mobile 2003. The single biggest improvement there is the ability to switch between portrait and landscape mode. The Axim X30 allows me to set a button to toggle back and forth between the two modes, though novice users would be hard-pressed to figure out exactly where they would need to make that change and how they’d go about making it. I read a lot of novels, technical documents, and other materials on my PDA, so having landscape display baked into the OS was reason enough to justify an upgrade.
I complained earlier this year about how difficult it was to properly configure the IPAQ 4155’s wireless features — in fact I have had a number of people bring me their 4155’s to configure their WiFi because it’s a bit too difficult even for relatively advanced users. The Axim X30 is much better, though still a bit difficult, I suspect, for novices. The problem remains that to successfully configure WiFi on PDAs, you need to know all sorts of networking jargon. Maybe it’s just a problem that can’t be configured for easy install, but I suspect that some enterprising interface company could come up with a better solution. The X30 also supports bluetooth for those who care.
One additional caveat — I tend to wear 3-4 gadgets on my belt at any given moment, depending on what I’m going to be doing during the day, so I have no problem coming across as unfashionably geeky. Those not so inclined, however, shoudl be aware that the engineers at Dell apparently have a thing for lights, blinking and otherwise. The X30 has a very small external antenna which lights up blue when activated. The power button starts blinking red when the battery runs low. Depending on the battery status and WiFi connection, the X30 can look like a Christmas tree at times. Some reviewers have complained that this might be a downside for business users.
With a 624mhz processor and WiFi options, the X30’s only downside is the short battery life. Setting the processor to full speed, turning on WiFi, and turning the brightness all the way up, I barely achieved 3 hours worth of battery life. Turning off the WiFi helped a little, but I still received less than 4 hours of battery life. Like I said, I do a lot of reading on my PDA, and it was a bit annoying to read a novel during a three hour trip and worry that the battery was going to run out before reaching my destination.
Dell does sell an extended-life 1800mAh battery, which I did order. The problem is that the battery sticks out about 1/4 inch from the rear of the X30 which then renders the PDA incompatible with all of the cases for it. It also means you can’t lay the PDA flat on a surface for reading or other task. I’ll probably end up carrying mine around solely for emergencies or breaking down and buying another 900mAh.
Speaking of charging the X30, the folks at Dell skimp and leave out a cradle for the X30. I don’t really use cradles, since I don’t sync my PDA and rarely take it out of its RhinoSkin case, but for people who do want to sync/charge with a cradle, that’s going to be an extra cost (Dell does include a sync/charge USB cable which works fine).
Clearly PDAs with 4″ screens and 640×480 resolutions are the future, but I’d prefer to wait another 8-12 months to see more options there and perhaps even faster processors (from my personal testing and reviews, the 624mhz processor is still a bit sluggish pushing around the pixels required for a 640×480 display). Until then, the X30 is an excellent alternative that will more than fit the bill until the VGA PDAs come down in price a bit.