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DELL Axim X5 PDA Review

July 13, 2003

Dell Axim X5 covers two versions - Entry and Advanced. They look identical, and differ in the CPUs (300 and 400 MHz) and RAM size (32 and 64 MB).

These PDAs were first displayed at Comdex at the end of November 2002. Bill Gates, in his speech devoted to mobile technologies personally demonstrated this computer. The sales started about that time as well.

The package of the Advanced model includes a stylus, a cradle the interface of which can be chosen (COM or USB), a special protection case, a user guide and a CD with Activesync 3.5, Outlook 2000 and some other programs. The weight (196 g) and dimensions (128x81x18 mm) let call it a pocket-type PC, but it's pretty big anyway.

In front is a display, 4 functional keys, a navigation key and a power button. The left panel has even more various controls: a Reset button, a digital record button, and a scroll joystick (which is functionally identical to the Sony's Jog Dial) which lets you make all operations with one hand. The right side panel has a stylus hole. Above is an IR port, a headphones set and a Compact Flash slot; below are power supply and interface connectors.

The Li-Ion battery, 1400 mAh, is used as a power source. But the manufacturer recommends a battery of 3100 mAh which increases the rundown time up to 25 hours.

Processor and memory. The processor clocked at 400 MHz handles all tasks excellently. The one running at 300 MHz demonstrates decent quality as well. But software available on the market is, for the most part, not optimized for the new XScale technology used in this PDA, that is why we don't expect much performance boost when running applications.

CompactFlash, Secure Digital. This PDA houses two expansion slots. The CompactFlash Type II is on top, and the Secure Digital is on the left. They let you connect to your computer a great deal of various devices, for example, Bluetooth cards, cameras, keyboards. The number of devices which can extend functionality of the Axim X5 will be further increasing. The Secure Digital slot is useful also because prices for SD cards have lately significantly dropped. Besides, the way the expansion slots are arranged is nearly ideal: the SD is tucked on one of the sides, a good position for memory cards, and the CF slot is put above, a handy position for WiFi modules supported by the Axim X5.

The PDA came with two keyboards, a cover and a Margi Presenter-To-Go CF-VGA adapter. They keyboards are not of much interest because similar models for Jornad and iPaq PDAs are selling for a long time already. The Margi device will help you arrange a mobile presentation right on your lap.

Display. The 3.5" display, 320x240 pixels, is definitely good. This TFT screen can display a bit over 65000 colors (16-bit). The image is bright and expressive. The backlight is well distributed over the screen - too dim or too blight spots are not noticed.

Sound. The sound in the Axim X5 comes from a mono speaker. But there is a jack for stereo headphones. The built-in mic also supports only mono sound.

Software. Axim comes bundled with the Pocket PC 2002 Premium software developed by Microsoft for pocket computers, and with applications including Pocket Outlook, Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, MS Reader, and Media Player. But the most useful applications supplied are Dell Backup and Dell Switcher. The Dell Backup can help you make backup copies of any data in the memory (in Outlook and other programs installed). You can also make backup copies of various data bases (Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Notes etc.). Dell Switcher is a task manager which can close a current application, all applications or switch between them. All these features can save a lot of time when working simultaneously with several applications. The CD contains some more applications, but all of them are demo versions and are not worth much attention.

Buttons. Like most Pocket PCs, the Axim X5 has a 4-way joystick and several functional keys on the front panel. They are also called application shortcut buttons. They are Calendar, Contacts, Mail, Home (by default). The memory card slots are in very good positions. The Reset button can be easily pressed when necessary, but it won't react to accidental touching. The record button is elastic as well. The power supply button is pretty small, some may find it difficult to press it. The jog dial on the left side is very useful, - it allows you use some functions, like adjusting a volume level and scrolling windows, without the keyboard.

Stylus and cradle. Both Axim X5 variants, Basic and Advanced, come with a stylus, but the Basic model doesn't have a cradle with it (only a cable for PC synchronization). The Advanced version sports a semitransparent plastic cradle. Cradle is a useful thing, - it lets use charge the PDA's battery and one more battery when the PDA itself is connected to the PC. The cradle will take little space on your desktop. The stylus is plastic, and it nicely fits in the hand, and leaves a good impression when you work with it.

Conclusion. The Axim X5 is a very good choice for its money. It includes functions vital for a modern PDA (a lot of memory, expandability, high-quality color display) and some features which let us handle this PDA with ease (removable battery, two expansion slots, jog dial). The only downside is that it's a bit too massive. What I'm really fascinated with is rubber stripes on its sides: they hold the computer tightly in your hand.

Evgeny Myatin (mz@htu.ru)

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