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PDA and Smartphone reviews (Part 1)

PalmOne Zire 21
The Zire 21 is the cheapest, most basic brand name PDA money can buy. If you’re looking for a simple, inexpensive personal information manager then this is the one for you. Alternatively, most modern mobile phones offer a similar level of functionality although, to be fair, few of them will synchronise with your desktop computer like the Zire 21 can. The low resolution grey scale screen is, not to put too fine a point on it, horrible (but serviceable) and the 8Mb of memory is pitifully low by current standards, but the battery life is impressive and the processor is not half bad for the money. It also gives you access to the extensive range of third party applications that run on the Palm OS 5 platform, although be careful to check that they’ll be able to run on the devices’ limited specification before you part with any cash.

PalmOne Zire 31
If you’re looking for a low cost PDA but the Zire 21 is just a little too basic for you the next port of call is the Zire 31. For a little extra money you get a colour screen (albeit of the same low resolution), a faster processor and double the memory. The colour screen means that battery life isn’t quite as good as the Zire 21, but it’s roughly in line with most other colour PDAs. The device is primarily targeted at the consumer market, hence the built in MP3 player and headphone jack – it also lets you do a few neat things that the Zire 21 can’t, like adding a photo to somebody’s contact details so you never forget their face. Wireless connectivity is lacking, with infrared as the only option, but given the price that’s hardly surprising. Perhaps not the ideal business tool, but if you are looking for a birthday present that will score high brownie points you are onto a winner.

PalmOne Tungsten E
Although it’s getting a bit long in the tooth, Palm One’s Tungsten E is a reasonably priced workhorse. Its good points are a decent sized colour screen and stylish good looks which belie its low price. Although the processor isn’t exactly cutting edge these days, the Tungsten E still has plenty of punch to cope with all but the most demanding of applications and will happily play video clips. Sadly the machine offers no real wireless connectivity options other than infra-red and it’s this omission that is likely to turn many buyers away. If you can live without a wireless connection the Tungsten E represents an affordable but not-too-entry-level introduction to the PDA market. If connectivity is a must then it might be worth looking at alternatives from the Palm One range, such as the Zire 72 or the Tungsten T3, both of which are Bluetooth enabled.

Dell Axim X3 Standard
As ever Dell delivers good value for money with its Axim range, the lowest cost Windows based PDAs on the market. The standard X3 model offers a good sized colour screen, plenty of memory and a processor fast enough to cope with anything you care to throw at it. Other than the usual infrared connection the Standard model offers no wireless features – the X3i model features both wireless LAN and Bluetooth but costs over £100 extra. This is perhaps the main hole in Dell’s PDA range, there is no low cost Bluetooth only device and in terms of wireless connections it’s all or nothing. This aside, the X3 Standard offers a relatively low cost route to getting your hands on a Windows PDA. Bluetooth would be nice, but at this price-point perhaps an unreasonable expectation.

Sony Clie PEG-TJ27
Sony’s low-end model comes with an impressively large screen, an integral camera and good overall specification for the price, although like most of the sub-£150 models wireless connectivity is lacking. If the camera isn’t of interest to you then it’s worth noting that the Palm Tungsten E offers a similar specification at a slightly lower price. Also note that Sony devices use the company’s own MemoryStick format for expansion rather than more widely used industry standards such as SD or MMC cards. Although Sony has pledged to continue supporting the devices, buyers should bear in mind that the company has recently announced plans to withdraw its PDAs from international markets. However, this also means that you might be able to find this device at a bargain price as retailers try to offload their stock.

Dell Axim X5 Standard
Although priced a little higher, the Axim X5 Standard offers a fairly similar specification to Dell’s entry level X3 Standard model. The most noticeable difference is that the X5 features a Compact Flash expansion slot in addition to the more common SD and MMC slots. The real differences shine through when you look at the numerous variants of the two models, in addition to the Standard versions both the X3 and X5 have three other models in their respective lines with a host of optional extras. This ties into Dell’s business model of building customised devices to order rather than stocking lots of pre-configured machines. One of the benefits of the X5 is that it features a dual battery system that allows batteries to be swapped over without losing any information that is stored in its RAM.

HP iPaq Pocket PC H1930
Hewlett-Packard’s entry level PDA model comes with a plentiful 64Mb of memory as standard. No wireless options are provided in standard trim, which gives the device a slight disadvantage against the similarly priced Acer N30. At 124g the H1930 is one of the lighter models in its class, making it ideal for users who really don’t like lugging around hefty pieces of kit. Obviously iPaq is a powerful brand name, and allied to the industrial strength support and backup offered by HP makes these devices a favourite amongst business users. Unless you are dead set on a Windows based device it is also worth taking a look at the Zire 72 which offers a better all round specification albeit at a slightly higher price.

Acer N30
The N30 from Acer is the lowest price model to feature integrated Bluetooth connectivity, allowing it to be hooked up to a GPRS enabled mobile phone in order to get web and email access while on the move. With 64Mb of RAM and a respectable 266Mhz Samsung processor the device is able to offer plenty of performance and at the same time retains a nicely compact form factor. In this price bracket this is probably the best-equipped Windows based handheld you will find.

PalmOne Zire 72
Although the Zire range is targeted predominantly at the consumer market the Zire 72 is likely to capture the attention of home and business users alike. The device features a big 320 by 320 screen and a very impressive 1.2 mega-pixel camera which is able to snap good quality pictures. Bluetooth comes as standard, which means the device can hook up to a GPRS phone to provide web and email access. The 120 hour battery life is very impressive in comparison to the other machines in this class which generally offer less than ten hours of use. The funky blue casing might appeal to those who want something a little different to the usual brushed aluminium look, but obviously will not be to everybody’s taste.

Dell Axim X3 Performance
With a 25% faster processor and double the memory of the X3 Standard, this model is able to deliver improved application performance for power users. Other than this there is little difference between the two devices.

Dell Axim X5 Performance
Very much the same as the X5 Standard except for the increased processor speed and larger memory capacity. If application performance is of more concern than connectivity for you, this is the ideal model, but bear in mind that some similarly priced machines offer better wireless connectivity options.

HP iPaq Pocket PC H1940
Sporting 64Mb of memory and a Bluetooth connection the H1940 represents a good mid-range offering with plenty of features crammed into a compact, lightweight case. There is plenty of scope for expansion with all of the major card formats catered for. The supplied Nevo Universal Remote Control software allows you to use the machine’s infrared port to control TVs, DVD players and any other device that has a remote control. Like most Windows PDAs the battery life is not particularly astounding, but eight hours should be enough for most people to squeeze a days work out of the device before it needs a recharge.

Toshiba Pocket PC E400
Although it offers plenty of memory and a reasonably fast processor, the Toshiba E400 seems pricey considering that it lacks wireless connectivity. Also, for this price many manufacturers offer 320 by 320 screens whereas the E400 has a smaller 240 by 320 display. Although it’s a little expensive for a low-midrange device, Toshiba is a brand name synonymous with mobile computing and for that reason alone it’s safe to assume the E400 will find plenty of corporate buyers.

Sony Clie PEG-TJ73
This model features a built in Wireless LAN connection which means you can use it to get online whenever you in range of a public hotspot or an office wireless network. The 32Mb of memory is a little low considering that other devices in this price range offer 64Mb. The machine has a built in camera but it is a fairly low resolution device which looks positively stone aged compared to the Zire 72’s 1.2 mega-pixel offering. The 5 hour battery life is quite disappointing, although this is a payoff for the Wireless LAN feature. As we went to press Sony announced that it would no longer sell PDAs outside of Japan, so this model will soon be off the shelves, although you might find a few still working their way through the sales channel if you hunt around.

HP iPaq Pocket PC H2210
The H2210 features a fast 400Mhz Intel processor and a healthy 64Mb of RAM, giving it plenty of grunt for handling demanding applications. The built in Bluetooth means that it will be able to get online when linked to a GPRS capable mobile phone. A twelve hour battery life might not be as impressive as some of Palm One’s devices, but by Windows PDA standards it’s quite admirable. Also worthy of note is the inclusion of a Compact Flash expansion slot which gives a wider range of expansion options than the SD slot alone could offer. Plenty of performance, expandability and a Wireless connection make this a great package for the price.

Fujitsu Siemens Pocket Loox 420
The Pocket Loox 420 offers both Bluetooth and Wireless LAN connections, an impressive combination for this price point. The memory capacity and processor are both as good as one would expect from a mid range device and should be able to crunch through all current applications with no problems at all. The device had only just been launched as we went to press, so the price is likely to drop within a few months making the Loox 420 even more of a bargain. Considering its specification the Loox 420 is surprisingly light at 125g, so it should slip comfortably into a shirt pocket.

PalmOne Tungsten T3
The Tungsten T3 is one of PalmOne’s most popular models. The device features an extra wide 320 by 480 screen, but manages to remain fairly compact thanks to a clever sliding mechanism that can be opened when you want to use the full sized display and collapsed when not in use. The device can be used in landscape mode, making web pages and office documents easier to view and when used with an optional mini-keyboard the T3 should make a passable portable word processor. A built in Bluetooth connection means that the T3 can be used with a GPRS phone to access web and email services.

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