(InfoSync World) At the time of its launch in 2001, the original O2 XDA received massive attention from the media as the very first Pocket PC Phone Edition device to hit shelves, offering unparalleled functionality in one single piece of equipment. Two years after, the WAN hand held marketplace is teeming with competition, and the XDA II must go head-to-head with several worthy competitors – and it does indeed have a few tricks up its sleeve.

Design

Boasting much of the same visual style as its predecessor – although somewhat updated – the XDA II fortunately bears one striking difference to the XDA: it no longer has an external antenna. Unfortunately, the slippery finish of the XDA is to some degree still present, but despite this, overall ergonomics are good, the point of gravity well balanced and the unit sits comfortably in the hand. At 190 g, it is however still a hefty package.

The O2 XDA II rids itself of many of its’ predecessors shortcomings

A 3.5″ transflective display graces the front of the unit, offering improved display clarity and brightness. ClearType performance is also good, and it doesn’t hurt that the display is of the 16-bit variety and as such capable of displaying 16 times as many colours as the original XDA – 65,536 of them, to be exact. The display is of course navigated by means of the stylus, which is an unusually long and comfortable non-telescopic contraption, whilst stylus travel ranks as adequate.

With regard to buttons, the front of the XDA II offers only four: on each side of the centered, five-way navigational pad sit buttons for receiving and ending calls, while on each side of the centered loudspeaker above the display sit two for calling up the Calendar and Contacts applications. These are joined by a power on/off button on top, and two buttons for quick access to picture taking and voice recording just above and below a volume rocker on the left side of the unit. All of these provide good tactile and audible feedback.

Two LEDs, placed in the upper left and right corners of the handheld indicate Bluetooth and GSM connectivity through periodic flashes of reasonable brightness when either radio is activated, and the latter also serves to alert users of new SMS messages and alarms. Meanwhile, a glance at the back of the unit reveals the lens of the XDA II’s integrated VGA camera, handily surrounded by a metal ridge for protection, as well as a vanity mirror just below the lens.

Audio is of course a vital part of a WAN handheld, and the XDA II performs very well in this area. Both the included 2.5 mm handsfree kit and the loudspeaker of the unit deliver good audio quality – the latter both in normal and speakerphone mode – although bass boost is non-existant and as such listening to tunes is best described as a tinny experience. The microphone of the unit proved expertly capable of picking up voice even at relatively long distances, meaning the needs of frequent speakerphone users should be well served.

Connectivity

Similar to the original XDA, the XDA II offers an SD/MMC Card expansion slot, but thankfully this now offers SDIO functionality, vastly expanding the possible uses of the handheld. Bluetooth has also been added, enabling the use of Bluetooth headsets supporting the Headset profile, ActiveSync over Bluetooth and through a dedicated application also dial-up networking for laptop users.

Dial-up networking is also possible via serial, USB and Infrared connections, rendering the XDA very versatile in this department indeed – although the Bluetooth user interface has been over-simplified and as a result just appears confusing. Also included is a rather nice USB cradle with an additional battery charging slot.

In the WAN department, the XDA II fortunately performs quite well. Despite the removal of its external antenna, GSM reception has improved slightly, as has GPRS stability, and the device now maintains a GPRS connection when it is placed in standby mode – essentially just switching the screen off. Support for an extra GSM band has also been added, and as the unit now supports 900/1800/1900 MHz it should be compatible with just about any GSM network on the face of the earth.

Specifications

Powered by a run-of-the-mill 400 MHz Intel PXA263 XScale processor, the XDA II is more powerful than any other WAN handheld currently on the market – although it shortly will face competition from T-Mobile and its MDA II. Memory is also abundant in this device as it boasts a whopping 128 MB of RAM, as well as 14.5 MB of non-volatile RAM.

The battery of the XDA II is of the Lithium Ion variety with a capacity of 1200 mAh, and just like its predecessor this device delivers excellent battery life when compared to Pocket PCs lacking WAN capabilities. Seen in the light of increased competition in its own niche, however, it is only slightly more than adequate. Tests revealed the XDA II to be capable of continuous audio output through Windows Media Player with its backlight switched off and its GSM radio enabled for approximately 6 hours.

Software

Compared with its predecessor, the XDA II boasts quite a few improvements in the software and services department as it not only offers Windows Mobile 2003, but also a new O2 Active user interface for enhanced integration with services offered by O2 for the device. Looking at Windows Mobile 2003, this brings with it increased performance, and also adds a truly ingenious over-the-air Exchange synchronization scheduling feature and support for Exchange 2003.

The new user interface of the Connectivity pop-up box eases the process of initiating connections which have already been configured, but the Connection Manager is as confusing and unintuitive as ever. On the bright side, the connectivity icon on the Start menu bar has received a makeover and is now more informative, while the ability to disable all radios with a single tap is great – although long overdue. Other improvements include the addition of separate volume controls for ringtone and PDA volume, as well as the ability to select between two different GPRS classes and methods of authentication.

A number of embedded applications grace the XDA II, of which the imaging-related ones in particular impress. All intuitive, the Camera, Album and Caller ID applications from IAStyle respectively enable users to take high quality pictures, browse and manage these and assign them to entries in the Contacts database. These are joined by a straightforward MMS client from Arcsoft, as well as the full ClearVue Suite of Office document viewers, a JVM from TAO and applications from HTC for enabling use of the XDA II as a wireless modem and for backup purposes. All in all, this is a very solid bundle and consists exclusively of quality applications – well done, O2.

The services aspect of the XDA II is governed by the O2 Active application, which overlays the Today screen with several direct links to online services from O2 mixed with links to on-device applications. Clearly an attempt to simplify navigation, the application might aid novice users not accustomed to advanced devices, but merely represents a hassle to others – as often is the case with navigational overlays.

Availability

The O2 XDA II is now available in the United Kingdom from 500 EUR with subscription, and is slated for introduction in other O2 markets shortly. Unlocked versions are also available and sell in the 800 EUR price range.

Conclusion

Although the XDA II by far outperforms other Pocket PC Phone Edition devices currently on the market, its feature set does not shine quite as much when compared to other, non-connected mobile devices in the market. Still, it offers a solid combination of handheld and phone functionality, and a versatile feature set that should be enough to satisfy the vast majority of users – it’s just not a revolution, that’s all. The O2 price is competitive, and as a result the XDA II comes recommended.

  • What?s positive: Rich and solid feature set; spacious memory; integrated camera; excellent connectivity
  • What?s negative: Connection Manager as apalling as ever; Bluetooth interface confusing

Mystech: I own the predecessor of this device, and am eagerly awaiting this newest incarnation.