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If you read my review of the Orange SPV M5000 a few weeks ago, you'll already know that I like the idea of a connected device with an integrated keyboard. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, the perfect pocket companion for me would be a Psion Series 5 that I could fit with a SIM card. Unfortunately that's not going to happen, but at least the industry is starting to realise that a keyboard equipped device brings many advantages over a traditional handheld PDA style product.
One of this new breed of connected devices is the T-Mobile MDA Vario. The Vario is far smaller than the SPV M5000, although still a fair size by mobile phone standards. That said, it does fit in the hand nicely and is more comfortable to use as a phone than previous Windows Mobile devices I've used.
At first glance the Vario looks much like a small PDA, complete with four-way pad at the bottom and two soft keys. However, beneath the two soft keys are Call and Hang-up buttons, which give away that this is more than just a small PDA. Also above the screen are shortcut buttons for your Inbox and browser, again highlighting the connected nature of this device.
But the best trick that the Vario has up its sleeve is that the whole front of the device can slide to one side revealing a keyboard. As soon as you slide the screen over, the display switches from portrait to landscape mode, making it far easier to type documents. A landscape orientation also makes browsing web pages easier, although the screen resolution of 320 x 240 limits the Vario's usefulness in this department.
The keyboard itself is obviously small, but having got used to typing on SPV M5000 I found that I could instantly produce text at a decent speed - in fact I'm writing this review on the Vario right now. But it's not all good news with this keyboard, although all the letters are present and correct, every key has had to double up with a second function since there simply isn’t enough room for all the keys. The biggest issue with the keyboard is that there are no dedicated number keys, meaning that you have to use the function key every time you want to type digits.
Surprisingly though, I found myself getting used to the constant function button presses to obtain the desired characters - with a coma requiring a press of the function key I had no choice but to get used to it. On the plus side, the keys do glow blue when you’re typing, but once you're accustomed to the keyboard you won't be looking at the keys anyway.