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On the right side of the chassis is the power button – of course this doesn’t actually power the unit down, unless you hold it for a few seconds, it simply turns the screen on/off. Below the power button is the Communications Manager button – from here you can switch on/off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and the phone antenna, among other things. Finally on the right is a shortcut to the 2-megapixel camera.
On the left there’s a slot for a micro-SD (or TransFlash) card. To be honest I would have preferred a full size SD card slot, as seen in the SPV M600, but I assume that when you’re squeezing this much into a relatively small chassis, compromises have to be made. Also on the left is a dedicated button for voice commands and another OK button.
The last feature on the left is arguably the best hardware improvement over the Vario design – a jog dial. Opinions seem to be split on jog dials, some people love them while others hate them – I’m definitely in the former camp. I remember reviewing the Sony Z1 phone many years ago and loving the fact that you could scroll through menus using the jog dial, while other journalists criticised the phone for having the jog dial, saying that it was unintuitive to use! That said, I think the introduction of the BlackBerry has improved the jog dial’s social standing these days.
There’s a telescopic stylus hiding in the base of the casing. It’s the same stylus that shipped with the Vario and I have to say that I far prefer the solid metal stylus that came with the SPV M600.
Sliding the screen to one side reveals the integrated keyboard, just like on the MDA Vario. The keyboard on the M3100 is very different from the Vario, in that there is no spacing between the keys – in fact it looks like a smaller version of the keyboard seen in the SPV M5000. How well you can use the keyboard on the M3100 depends on a couple of things – how small your hands are and how dexterous your thumbs are. If like me, you’ve got fairly small hands and have spent most of your life playing video games, you’ve probably got both those bases covered.