I’ve been a Palm man for a long time. I got a PalmPilot around 1997 and I’ve worked my way through a Palm Vx to my current Palm Tungsten T3. I’ve been happy with all of them. But two weeks ago my T3 died. So I send it of the the shop, and got back a message saying that it would be about four weeks until I would get it back. So I went out and got a Pocket PC – a Microsoft Windows Mobile based machine from Dell – the x50v, which is pretty much top of the line among PDAs. It’s sports Wifi, bluetooth, vga screen, CF and SD card slots, so it sounds cool, but of cause even the coolest hardware is useless if the software sucks.
Now I got my Palm back in a week, but I decided to keep the Dell, and give it a chance. I’ll use both machines the next couple of weeks and the decided what to keep. Here’s my first impression of the v50x.
- It’s bigger than the T3, but not much. About a cm longer and a mm thicker. I haven’t looked a the spec’s but it feels about the same weight when I carry it in my pants pocket. It might be a bit heavier.
- The build seems solid. I’ve had it in my pocket, unprotected, for five days now and there’s not a scratch on it.
- The cradle can take an extra battery and charge that beside the PDA it self. I don’t have an extra battery, but the idea is good. A bad thing is that I can’t remove the PDA from the cradle with out holding it down. The cradle is either to light or the grip to tight.
- The screen is absolutely wonderful. It just looks so freaking good! I’ve tried taking the Compact Flash card from my camera (a Nikon 8800) and plucking it directly into the x50v and viewing them on the screen and the quality seems to be good enough that can preview pictures there (it’s hard to seen on the camera’s screen if the focus on a picture is exactly as you want it). That is cool. In my search for software I’ve used this list of software that supports the vga resolution of the screen.
- The WiFi works great and I had no problems connecting to my Dlink Di-624+ access point with WEP or WPA. I’ve tried war-driving with it and that work fine as well. Didn’t have any problems getting it to working with my Siemens S55 phone over bluetooth and GPRS. Took about five minutes when I found a guide on the net. I had a hell of a time getting that to work in the T3 and ended up buying an extra program that could configure it for me.
Software in the box
- Windows Mobile 2003 SE, seems okay. You don’t really see the OS for the To-day screen which is what you’ll get when you turn on the machine. There’s a start icon in the upper left corner and a menu on the button of the screen. F*cking stupid ? normal windows is the other way around, why change it? Anyway, doesn’t matter much and only took few minutes to figure out. The build in on screen keyboard is nice, but nothing fantastic. I haven’t played with the character recognizer yet. As default you can’t see that you have other programs running and you have to start a well hidden “task switcher” program to switch between programs. Stupid. But multitasking is actually a bigger usability improvement than I had expected. Being able to have more programs running at one time in really nice.
- The build in calendar, contact book, to-do lists (tasks) and notes seems okay. My needs in that regard aren’t that special, I don’t run a tightly run daily schedule, and mainly need something for addresses and something I can look in when people ask me if I’m busy next Monday evening. It does the job. No problems getting it to synch with outlook at work, but I can’t get the calendar to synch on the workstation at home. Keeps coming up with a message about unknown people (whatever that has to do with appointments in my calendar?).
- There’s build in versions of Word and Excel. I haven’t used them, so I’ll refrain from commenting on them. For now.
- There’s a build in version of Internet Explorer, which renders most pages just fine, but seems rather limited. I really miss the options of saving images, viewing the html source and the favorites functionality is rather limited. I haven’t figures how to have more than one IE “window” open at a time.
- The build in version of Outlook mail seems okay, and I had no problems getting mail from my pop3 server or sending from my smtp server. Some basic functionality is missing, like options to “select all messages”, which is quite annoying of you have a lot of messages you want to delete or mark as read. I tried nPopW, which seems really nice and is free, but it lost my setting once, and I haven’t felt like typing them in again. May do it when I get tired of outlook.
Third-party software (in semi random order)
- Backgammon. I’ve played a lot of backgammon games on that machine (and on the ones before it). I’ve actually paid for two them (Standalone Backgammon and Agushka backgammon). So I start out by trying a couple of the freeware backgammons for the PPC. Both Backgammon by AD, BGLoghtCE and Regges backgammon …how can it put this bluntly… suck! They look like crap (and don’t support vga) and are a pain to use (you have to move the pieces “by hand” and you have to role the dice “by hand”. Way to much work). The one by Avantgarde Digital doesn’t even a have a doubling dice. I’ll have to try a couple of the non-free backgammons and see how they fair. P.S.: I’ve made this comparison of different backgammon games of PPC.
- I use Planetarium on the Palm for star gazing. Rally nice and easy to used, with lots of good features and information. On the PPC there seems to be Orionic (freeware) and Pocket Stars (20us$). Orionic is quite beautiful even though it doesn’t support vga. But it really can’t do anything besides showing the current night sky, with constellations and star names. Quite slow and it’s probably close to useless. Pocket Stars supports vga and looks quite stunning ? it seems to have most of the functionality of Planetarium and then some more (most of it seems quite useless ? sextant navigation?!?). The observation log seems to be missing though. I think I’ll hand over the 20us$ for Pocket Stars and then send of a few suggestions to the author.
- The vga screen of the x50v is an invitation to movie watching. I’ve installed BetaPlayer (which supports both vga and the build in graphics acceleration) and it seems to work quite nice and the user interface is better than mmplayer which I used on the T3. I’ve thrown a 512mb sd card in the machine and while that isn’t enough to hold a full size movie it would be easy to buy a bigger card (CF cards in the multi Gigabyte size are becoming cheaper) and until then there’s PocketDivxEncoder which makes it very, very easy to re-encode a divx movie to a more fitting size.
- Solitaire. On the palm there’s a freeware Solitaire collection called simply Patience with 13 different solitaire games, good functionality and hi-res graphics. Haven’t found anything close for the ppc. There’s an included Klondike game, but that’s as basic as it gets (no undo, hints or automatic placement). Patiences Gold seems to do the job, but I haven’t tested it yet. Not freeware, but only 8us$.
- On my T3 I read news and ebooks using plucker. It’s about the coolest app for reading on the palm. Unfortunately there isn’t a ppc version of this program. But I decided to try and find a good RSS news gather/read and a good ebook reader instead. PocketFeed is quite nice for download RSS news and displaying them. It could be better – being able to see if you have read an item would be nice, but mostly it gets the job done and the price is right (free). For a book reader program I started of by trying Microsoft Reader – what a piece of crap. Ugly and terrible user interface. There’s Adobe’s PDF reader but if I really wanted bloated piece of crap I would just stick with Microsoft reader (PDF reader is 13mb for the installer!). The best I’ve found so far is µBook. Version 0.80 is free, but the new version 0.9b is 12us$. The new version supports more formats and vga. The vga support isn’t perfect (even the largest font is quite small) and it seems to crash on my html version of Neal Stephensons Quicksilver, but this could be it. p.s. Just found out that there a program called Vade Mecum for the ppc that can read Plucker documents. I’ve taken a quick look at it and it definetly have potential!
- Using a machines OS as it is out the box is like… not putting icing on the cake. You have to tweak it a bit. WisBar is a program for adding thing to the top bar (the part with the “start” icon”). Somebody released the original source and now there’s a bazillion versions of WizBar out there. Currently I’m running WisBar Advance 2 which support vga and lots of other cool enhancements (like closing programs when you try to close them , instead of just putting them in the background). I’ve running Calender+ which is a plugin for the today screen – it show more upcoming stuff from the calendar than the standard view. I’ve also added a PHM Keys rotate to one of my hardware buttons, which makes if possible to rotate the screen 90 degrees just by pressing a button (I use the home key). PHM Registry Editor seems like the best registry editor. Some of the other registry editors couldn’t edit or search – why do people even release software like that?
- WiFiFoFum is a nice little program for searching for wireless networks. MiniStumbler doesn’t seem to work on the x50v, but other than that it should be quite good. Total Commander seems to be the best combines filebrowser and unzipper. One of the other free unzippers I tried – ezyUnZip, acted quite erratically on my machine.
- I’ve installed Resco Photo Viewer, but haven’t had the time to play around with it or check if there’s alternatives. But it looks really cool.
- Things I still need to find: A good encrypted password store. A stop watch. A random key generator (for passwords). Mp3 player. Usenet reader.
I’ll get back with my verdict later when I’ve used the x50v a bit longer and then I’ve become a bit wiser on the software available for it.