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HW news: XPERIA X1, HP iPAQ 210, Samsung i780, Asus P750, i-mate etc.

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By Menneisyys, Retired Moderator on 5th March 2008, 08:54 PM
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There is a lot of hardware news. As they’re pretty much interdependent, I devote a single article to all of them.

a. First, let’s start with the, in my opinion, most important news item: as you may have heard (see related PPCT thread HERE), Sony may only release the XPERIA X1, without doubt the most revolutionary Windows Mobile phone to be released this year, only next year in February. This, in the meantime, has been refined: the device is officially stated to be released H2 this year. The reason for the 2009 release date given in the official product page is as follows: “The only reason for the mysterious “10th of February release” is the fact that Sony Ericsson (or should I say Microsoft) has yet to decide on when to publicly announce the operating system and technical specifications of the X1, and thereby also a precise release date”

Indeed it’d be pretty much suicidal for Sony-Ericsson to wait almost a year with the release. It’s NOW that there aren’t any decent high-resolution (W)VGA devices on the market, not a year later, when
  1. there would be at least E-TEN (now: Acer) to offer the V900 and Gigabyte the MS808, which both have a digital TV tuner compatible with both handheld and standard terrestrial broadcasts and also have really decent specs. Also, BlackBerry and the Symbian / feature phone folks should not be underestimated either: S60 Touch is promised for this year (the just-announced Nokia N96 may pale in comparison to it if it's true what Nokia predicts - that is, at least something like that of Nvidia's really-really excellent GUI) and there are rumors of a touchscreen BlackBerry too. Other manufacturers may also come up with Android and LiMo-based, “killer” devices and, speaking of Linux, there’re rumors of a new Nokia Internet Tablet, this time incorporating WiMax support (one of the biggest and most frequently uttered buzzwords of this year’s MWC).
  2. the current hardware (particularly the Qualcomm MSM7200A chipset), assuming it isn’t changed / updated, becomes outdated in a year. Not only because of the Samsung S3C6410, which MAY be shipping then or the also way better and more powerful TI OMAP 3, which is available even now, but also because of Qualcomm’s own, new announcements (most importantly, the QST1105), which may also become available (and even shipped with some new models!) this year for industry-wide deployment.

b. Let’s go on with the HP iPAQ 210. I have some good news for you.

While it’s still not certain when CorePlayer really receives support the heavily advanced multimedia decoding features of the new PXA3x0 processors (including the PXA310 in the 210), it’s pretty much certain it will some time – see THIS brand new thread for new info. This is certainly good news - at the time of writing my last iPAQ 210 article, it was still unknown whether it would be supported or not (remember the fate of Nvidia GoForce 5500? It'll pretty much unlikely it'll ever receive any support in CorePlayer and, without it, VGA models based on the GF5500 are pretty much useless at playing back high-resolution videos.)

Also, I have some other good news to report on screen quality-wise. As was mentioned in my previous article, I’ve started a thread at BrightHand asking for help in comparing the screen to that of the iPAQ hx4700, the predecessor of the 210. With my standardized set of screen quality tester shots, fellow Smartphone and Pocket PC Magazine blogger Al Harrington has made some comparative shots of the 210 and the hx4700. They’re as follows (as usual, click the thumbnails for full-size shots):






As can be seen, the screen is on par with the old hx4700 screen, contrast-wise (and, as I've been told, also minimal backlight-level wise, which is VERY good news, considering that, so far, the hx4700 has been the most eye-friendly night-time Pocket PC because of the really-really low minimal backlight level). Note that the hx4700 ran at a definitely lower brightness level; hence it seems to be much darker in the photo. (Unfortunately, it’s notoriously hard to make decent shots of PDA screens, particularly without decent tripods – that is, tripods that are able to make vertical shots like the 128RC fluid head from Manfrotto I use for shots like this. It was very expensive but MUCH better than low-end tripods like those of hama – the latter must be known to fellow Europeans.) Make sure you buy such a semi-professional tripod + video / photo head if you plan to make comparative PDA screenshots in the dark.)

This piece of news certainly makes the iPAQ 210 probably the most appealing standalone VGA PDA of today, particularly if you need a big (4”) VGA screen. Remember: ALL the announced Windows Mobile phones have a 2.8”...3” (W)VGA screen; the only exception is the heavy and, in my opinion, because of the PXA270, outdated (even with the new, x7510 version) and pretty much awkward Advantage / Athena, the x75x0 and the painfully buggy O2 XDA Flame, which almost surely won’t be upgraded to WM6.

Remember: the iPAQ 210 does NOT have a phone built-in. Should you need a (W)VGA device with a phone, you need to remember two things:
  1. as has already been stated, they announced/soon-to-be-released devices (including the XPERIA X1, the MS808 and the V900 – that is, the “Holy Trinity” of the forthcoming, very appealing models – not counting in the T-Mobile Compact IV, which will only be available for T-Mobile customers) all (!) have far (!) smaller screens (2.8" (with the X1, 3", but it's WVGA) as opposed to 4"). I’ve already touched upon this subject in my previous i-mate article, but it’s still worth mentioning again: particularly if your eyesight isn’t the best (any more) and/or you plan to run your handheld in a (tweaked) native VGA mode (as opposed to the standard SE VGA) and/or you want to use Opera Mini (the best browser IMHO) or any app that may use small characters on it, a 4” VGA screen is far better than a 2.8… 3” one.
  2. Currently, there aren’t any decent(!) VGA phones out there – as long as you don’t want to stick to the HTC Universal (or, even worse, the buggy O2 XDA Flame or Toshiba G900.) Also, all these phones have (with the Toshi, substantially) smaller screens.

If all these are a big problem with you (much bigger a problem than keeping a separate PDA and phone with you), you might definitely want to go for the non-converged, “traditional” way – that is, the HP iPAQ 210, which, currently (and for at least half a year – and even more, if 2.8”…3” (W)VGA screens are just too small for you), seems to be the best VGA model you can have.

What phone should you use in addition to the iPAQ 210 to access the Net, you may ask. Basically, you can use any with Bluetooth and, preferably, a quick Internet connection (the 2.75G EDGE at least, but 3G and, even better, HS(D)PA is definitely better).
 
 
5th March 2008, 08:54 PM |#2  
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Speaking of the fast HSDPA, you need to be aware of the fact that the iPAQ 210 supports Bluetooth EDR, which allows for far faster data transfer between the phone and the iPAQ. However, to make use of this feature, the phone itself must support EDR. Fortunately, most (if not all) HSDPA-enabled phones come with an already EDR-compatible BT. Note that, with lower Internet access speeds (UMTS at most), the restricted speed of a non-EDR phone won’t be the bottleneck.

Note that as the iPAQ 210 (fortunately - albeit it sometimes still exhibits the driver memory problem so common with WM2003SE and the Widcomm BT stack) still has the Widcomm / Broadcom Bluetooth stack, it's compatible with both traditional DUN and non-traditional PAN phones. That is, if you want to access the Internet via GPRS (EDGE, UMTS, HSPA etc.), you can use both DUN (which is, incidentally, far easier to use) and PAN. This means that, should you want to use a recent (at least WM5 AKU3) Windows Mobile phone as a modem for the 210, you can do this even without deploying the well-known DUN hack co-developed by me to avoid having to rely on PAN. (Having support for PAN also means you can also use Bluetooth access points like the just-released Bluegiga Access Server 229x. And, of course, you can also use Wi-Fi.)

Also, when shopping for an additional phone and you have enough money, you might want to go for a phone that is diametrically opposed (!) to the feature set of the 210 – and in no way similar to it. That is, it’s strong at what the iPAQ is weak at and vice versa. Just some examples of what I mean by this:
  • The 210 has a very bad speaker – therefore, try to get a phone with (a) decent speaker(s), particularly if you often listen to, say, music or (GPS) navigation directions via the speakers. For example, the Nokia N95 has freaking good speakers.
  • The 210 can’t really be used to access MS Exchange or RIM BlackBerry push mail for more than, say, 10-12 hours (because it’d require it constantly be switched on and, via BT, connected to an external phone or, even worse, via Wi-Fi to an access point, which would mean you would end up having to recharge it, say, every day – even if you keep the screen shut down). Therefore, should you need push mail, go for a phone that supports these itself. Most smartphones (not to be mistaken for “dumb” feature phones!) out there support these technologies, let them be either based on Windows Mobile, Symbian or BlackBerry* – but, again, NOT only Java MIDlet-only feature phones. (*: note that BlackBerry phones don’t support MS Exchange natively or via third-party programs.)
  • The 210 doesn’t have GPS built-in; therefore, go for a phone that does so that you don’t end up having to purchase a third device (a sole GPS receiver) to keep with you (and/or leave at home / lose).
  • The lack of the built-in keyboard (thumbboard) isn’t that big a problem, in my opinion, with a 4” device, particularly if you use a full-screen keyboard like that of Spb (Spb Full Screen Keyboard). Should you still REALLY need a phone with a thumbboard, make sure you shop for one that has it. (But, again, you may find a full-screen keyboard far faster to operate than a tiny thumbboard – it’s just bigger, albeit, generally, lacks the tactile feedback. And, you can use an SMS / mailer client on your iPAQ, should you want to quickly enter SMS messages on your iPAQ, as opposed to your thumbboard-less phone. See THIS for a complete elaboration on these external SMS handler apps.)
  • The 210 doesn’t have a 3D hardware graphics accelerator. If you would like to play 3D games / Java MIDlets, go for a phone that has it.
  • There’s no FM radio in the 210: therefore, you might want to go for a device that has one.

In my opinion, if you have the necessary money, go for the Nokia N95 (or, if you’re in the U.S., the N95-3 so that you can have 3G in there) as a separate phone. It’s an almost exact opposite (complementer) of the 210:
  • it has great, loud and stereo sound – actually, I don’t know of a better phone with better, louder speakers. Particularly phenomenal is the stereo widening effect, which you’ll love if you often listen to music through the speakers while, say, doing another thing in another task (for example, browsing the Net with Opera Mini)
  • has both MS Exchange or RIM BlackBerry access (both with third-party apps, of course) – no need to continuously run a client on the 210 and, consequently, have a very bad battery life
  • has a GPS - albeit it can’t be used from the iPAQ; nevertheless, the (if you don’t need vehicle / pedestrian navigation, free) Nokia Maps and the (commercial) Garmin XT, which both support the GPS in the N95, aren’t bad at all – on the contrary, sometimes they turned out to be even better and more up-to-date than Nav’N’Go’s iGo.
  • it has an FM radio
  • it’s 3.5G (HSDPA); that is, if you REALLY need speed (on the expense of much lower battery life – as is the case with all 3G phones), you can have it – unlike, say, any of the newer (post-8700) BlackBerry phones.
  • has a GREAT camera – much better than in any other smartphone (but NOT necessarily feature/dumbphones like Sony-Ericsson’s CyberShot camera phone series or LG’s new Viewty. But, again, these are dumb feature phones without any advanced features or not-just-Java third party apps.)
  • if you’re a gamer, you’ll particularly like the 3D hardware acceleration, which, currently, isn’t supported by any Windows Mobile, let alone BlackBerry (and most feature – except for some Sony-Ericsson models - phones). Also, Symbian has some games not available at Windows Mobile and its MIDlet support is, in general, way better than that of either Windows Mobile or BlackBerry. The N95 is also part of a dedicated gaming platform, Next-Gen N-Gage, which has (or, at the time of writing, will have) several high-quality titles. This means you’ll have access to both worlds: games on both Windows Mobile and Symbian (including Next-Gen N-Gage and 3D hardware accelerated Java MIDlet games).

    Still speaking of gaming, you can ask whether you’d better going for a QVGA Pocket PC phone for games because several games run faster / better on QVGA devices than on VGA ones. In my opinion, better (!!), well-optimized titles don’t exhibit (much) difference (if at all) in speed between QVGA and VGA devices. Of course, lower-quality, badly optimized games like, for example, those of Beijing Huike Technology (see THIS) will always be worse. But, in general, these games are simply not worth playing at all – not even at QVGA devices. In general, there’re much better and much more VGA-friendly alternatives to all titles that run slowly on VGA Windows Mobile Pocket PC’s.

    Finally, I haven’t even mentioned the
5th March 2008, 08:54 PM |#3  
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  1. touchscreen CPU usage bug plaguing all (!) non-Xscale-based HTC Windows Mobile phones
  2. sub-par graphics / gaming performance of all Qualcomm-based, HTC-manufactured phones, making playing quick-paced action games almost impossible.

Of course, you can’t go wrong with any other phone either, but, frankly, I just don’t see the point in purchasing (!) a phone that has almost the same feature set as the iPAQ 210. Why purchase a QVGA Windows Mobile phone in addition to the iPAQ, when you will use the iPAQ most of the time for, say, browsing, e-book reading etc., and the phone will almost surely be inferior to the N95 in many respects (camera, gaming and multimedia capabilities etc.) – again, because it doesn’t have the complementer feature set of the iPAQ 210? And, again, most of the stuff that you can do on a QVGA WinMo phone, you can also do on the iPAQ, while functionality that requires a constant network connection (MS Exchange / BlackBerry) can also be accessed on the N95. (And I haven’t even mentioned call recording and local answering machine support, which, in general, are in favor of Nokia's phones – see THIS for more info & links.) This is why I’ve been recommending getting a phone that has an entirely different (complementer) feature set (and even operating system!) than the iPAQ 210. You get the best of both worlds: currently the best Symbian phone with the best camera, excellent gaming capabilities, speaker, phone, connectivity, Push Mail support and the best standalone Windows Mobile Pocket PC with a huge and excellent VGA screen and up-to-date (PXA310) CPU.

You can also consider getting a BlackBerry as a phone, but you need to be aware of the following facts:
  1. no 3G support at all, let alone 3.5G (HSPA)
  2. no support for MS Exchange at all
  3. no high-quality games; only Java MIDlet games exist and they’re far worse than even on Windows Mobile (see THIS for more info on this issue), let alone on the Bluetooth, 3D HW acceleration-enabled N95
  4. no (or, in the consumer models, pretty bad) camera
  5. being dependent solely on Java, pretty poor 3rd party software support (even worse than that of Symbian)

As a plus, you do have a thumbboard (and, on the Pearl, SureType) – but, again, the 4” screen of the iPAQ is large enough to make it unnecessary, unless you don’t want to fire up the iPAQ to, say, answer to / enter an SMS as conveniently as possible.

Finally, I don’t see the point in purchasing a feature (dumb) phone either unless, say, you’re absolutely sure you’ll never need Exchange / BlackBerry push mail access (which is, to my knowledge, is impossible with current “dumb” feature phones.) Also, if you’re a gamer, you will want to go for a hardware accelerated and Next-gen N-Gage compliant N95 instead of a phone without hardware acceleration and only capable of running Java MIDlet games (as opposed to the native and, therefore, much faster N-Gage titles).

BTW, THIS thread is also worth checking out on the various new models, their shortcomings, how the N95 compares to them.

c. as far as the Samsung i780 is concerned (particularly the optical mouse), HoFo forum member doni’s comments HERE are worth checking out.

d. the Asus P750, which I’ve already mentioned in my i-mate article, may also be worth checking out. While it does not really have up-to-date hardware (for example, it’s still based on the outdated PXA270 architecture), it’s still pretty decent. In addition to the MoDaCo thread I’ve recommended, THIS HoFO thread may also be of interest. Note that as it’s not a HTC product, it won’t have “cooked ROM” support by XDA-Developers. Fortunately, there are some Russian ROM cookers that will? may? make sure it’ll receive the latest “unofficial” operating system upgrades. (BTW, the case is the same with Samsung’s phones. With the exception that I don’t know of a hacker / ROM cooker community to actively developing / “cooking” new ROM’s for them.) Also note that, currently, it has major multimedia problems – for example, full incompatibility with SlingPlayer (see THIS post in THIS thread.)

e. Bad news of i-mate – according to Engadget, poor retail performance saw i-mate's US division enter mass layoff mode on Friday. Giving up on the American market may be even fewer (future) devices. (Also see THIS PPCT thread.)
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