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NEC MobilePro 200E PDA Review

September 13, 2003



The class of budget Pocket PC 2002 based systems within the price range of $300-350 is the hottest segment of the PDA market. Such models are included into lines of almost all PDA makers. And today we are testing NEC's version named Mobile Pro 200E.

The accessory pack is pretty scanty, as expected from the low-end model, but it includes all necessary stuff. The PDA ships together with a USB craddle, a charger, a leatherette cover, documentation and a disc.

Design

The computer is very thin. The Mobile Pro 300E used to be one of the slimmest Pocket PC based computers, and this budget model keeps the tradition. It looks so slim thanks to metallic panels as they are thinner than plastic ones and not less durable.




The front and back panels are metallic, and the side panels are made of plastic with a microrelief surface. When you hold it your fingers rest upon the plastic, and it makes the grip more reliable. However, the relief is not so pronounced, and the PDA "does have a chance" to slip out of your hand. This effect is typical of all superslim PDAs, and its plastic edging helps it only partially.

The controls are like in most budget Pocket PCs. It has a 4-way joystick in front, 4 standard application keys and holes behind which it houses a speaker and a microphone. The buttons and a joystick are very convenient thanks to the optical relief, hold-down pressure and keystroke. Connectors for the interface cable and charger are underneath. On the left is a reset button hidden in a hole, a record button and a scroller looking like Sony's jog-dial which however has a limited turning angle while Sony's one is a free wheel. On the top you can find an IR port, an SD/MMC slot, a power button and a stylus hole. The power button can't be accidentally pressed when you fish out the stylus. Finally, the right panel houses the headphones jack. The topology of the NEC Mobile Pro 200E is nearly identical to that of popular budget PCs based on the MITAC Mio 338 (Mio 338, RoverPC P3, ViewSonic V35 etc.).

The cylindric retractable stylus has average dimensions and weight - exactly such figures are considered to be right for most people. The upper plastic end can be unscrewed. Under it you can find a pin to press the reset button with.

The display is made of a transreflective touch-sensitive matrix of 320 x 240 pixels and 65,535 colors. The display doesn't differ from those installed on latest Pocket PC 2002 based computers and ensures a very good image.




The Mobile Pro 200E has a built-in Li-Ion battery of 900 mAh which can't be detached. This can be a downside regarding its portability but I think that in this respect a built-in battery is not worse than a removable one if the latter is not of the standard form-factor. But the problem is that you can replace a battery only in a service center.

The computer worked almost 4 hours non-stop from the full battery; we tried games, synchronized data, installed and studied applications, played music in the background mode etc. This is a modest result, - most other modern PDAs work longer.

The cradle coming with the PDA looks bulky and has a solid top. It's not difficult to put the PDA onto the information connector - it doesn't stick in there even if you put the PDA in there at a wrong angle.

The cradle has a USB connector attached. You can use it also to charge the PDA by connecting the charger to the USB plug - this is an unusual solution and not very convenient but it makes the craddle look more elegant as there is only one cable connected.

Functionality and software

The Mobile Pro 200E is based on the Intel XScale PXA250 processor clocked at 200 MHz, and also has 32 MB flash memory and 64 MB RAM. This is a typical configuration for most modern budget Pocket PCs. As usual, slow flash memory is used as ROM, and the OS takes a part of the RAM, that is why a user has only 36 MB at his disposal. But there is a built-in flash disc a bit over 5 MB for recording any data you'd want  (usually, it's used for important information of system utilities), and it's located in the unusable ROM part.




The PDA works under the standard version of the Microsoft Pocket PC 2002 that includes the Windows Media Player. In addition it has two utilities - eBackup and eMenu. The former can archive information from the personal manager (contacts, calendar, tasks, incoming messages), from the notes, recorder and other applications onto external media or into the flash memory available.

With the eMenu you can look through icons of the applications installed (like in the Programs window of Pocket PC's default Explorer) and run them. The programs are divided into groups displayed in separate windows and they can be switched with bookmarks. Apart from a traditional list of unread messages and active reminders in the calendar and todo list the eMenu also shows the battery status and memory usage. Finally, the task panel has one icon which invokes the list of active programs so that you can stop some of them and take out of the memory. This is probably the most useful eMenu's function because in all other respects this shell is equal or even inferior to the standard Pocket PC interface.

Performance. The first test will be VOBenchmark. Below you can see the scores of NEC's model in comparison to the best achievements of other modern PDAs.
 

VOBenchmark iPaq 3870 Mitac Mio 528 HP iPaq 1910 NEC MobilePro 200E
CPU FP 8.05 8.04 6.33 6.33
CPU Int 15.55 15.85 13.52 13.51
Graphics/Bitmap/BitBlt 8.20 12.01 47.74 16.86
Graphics/Bitmap/StretchBlt 0.55 0.55 0.60 0.54
Graphics/Filled/Ellipse 0.54 1.07 2.29 0.8
Graphics/Filled/Rectangle 0.56 1.37 3.85 0.98
Graphics/Filled/RoundedRect 0.51 0.94 1.74 0.56
Memory/Allocation 8.7 8.84 6.56 6.38
Memory/Fill 0.54 0.43 0.82 0.82
Memory/Move 0.86 0.76 0.33 0.31
Text 2.1 2.56 3.33 1.17

The test suite that measures the CPU performance demonstrates the scores equal to the other models coming with the 200MHz Intel PXA250. In this case these tests just prove the specs concerning the CPU type and clock speed. Note that the scores are a bit lower than the previous budget NEC Mobile Pro 300E had (it's built on the CPU StrongARM 206 MHz) - the fact that the 200MHz (low-frequency) version of the new processor is slower than the standard CPU of the old platform is well known.

In the graphics tests the NEC yields to the HP iPAQ h1910 in most cases and the gap is pretty wide. But the performance of other solutions based on the 200MHz XScale is on the same level. Obviously, NEC uses an architecture typical of budget (or maybe not only budget) XScale systems while HP made some changes to accelerate graphics. I got the same impression when used the Mobile Pro 200E  - the PDA seems to be a bit slow and opens the menu and applications with a delay. The XScale usually works slower with graphics than the StrongARM based PDA, and only in one case the Mobile Pro 200E showed the better score than the 300E and in one more case they were equal.




The memory speed is typical of the 200MHz XScale - obviously, NEC uses standard solutions here.

The NEC Mobile Pro 200E is too weak for playing DiVX video clips with the Pocket DivX player. Over two thirds of the frames were lost (1057-1120 out of 1530). The clip played jerkily and the image quality was poor almost in all even static scenes. This PDA doesn't suit for watching video with heavy compression algorithms, like all other budget Pocket PCs (for example, the HP iPAQ h1910 loses 671-821 frames, which also means unsatisfactory image quality).

Impression and conclusion

A potential owner of the NEC Mobile Pro 200E has to tradeoff its performance for the sake of its design. On one hand, the device is pretty slim and doesn't tend to slip out of your hand. The panels are made of aluminum - the material which is not that easy to scratch compared to plastic. On the other hand, the low performance of the 200E won't let you play video (maybe for demonstration only), and the interface works pretty slowly as well. In general, the NEC Mobile Pro 200E is a typical budget Pocket PC 2002 based PDA and it is so close to the Mitac Mio 338 that it makes me think that this is one more solution within this family.

Like other models of this class, this one is not a corporative solution. Its advantages are more significant for an average user than its disadvantages, that is why it can be considered successful - this is actually a Mitac-like PDA with the metallic case being its distinguishing feature. 

The Mobile Pro 200E will probably be a bit dearer than other models based on this platform. I'd say that this NEC can be a successful image solution in the budget sector for those who can pay a little more, if it were not for the strong competitor HP iPAQ h1910. This model will be probably cheaper and its graphical part is more efficient and releases you from delays while handling this PDA. Besides, the h1910 is a compact and beautiful device. The only its disadvantage relative to the 200E is the plastic case. Finally, the HP has just 16 MB RAM, i.e. it doesn't have a built-in flash disc and Windows Media Player, but it offers 48 MB of the memory available against NEC's 36 MB.

The NEC and the HP look equal and both can be a good choice in the budget class for users with "image" demands. When making a choice one should take into account the arguments above, current prices, his or her preference to trade marks and availability of the devices.
 

Ivan Melnichuk (ivan_melnichuk@ixbt.com)
 

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