- Review Price: £199.95
To be a success, a business handset has to tick a lot of boxes. It has to look good without being gaudy. It has to do a good job of delivering email, managing contacts and browsing the web. But most importantly it has to hang together as a workable product.
That’s where Toshiba’s Portégé G710 fell short: it tried desperately to squeeze as much as possible in for a low price, but because it failed in a couple of key areas, it failed to make the grade. That’s where recent products from lesser-known phone manufacturer Asus have impressed.
Its P320 and M930 smartphones weren’t perfect, but one thing you couldn’t level at them was that they didn’t make sense. Each filled a niche; each was unique in its own particular way. The M530W – a Windows Mobile 6 Standard phone – is next in line, but with its ubiquitous BlackBerry-style QWERTY candy bar styling, it has a harder job to impress.
And it doesn’t make a great first impression. It looks business-like enough in matte black with silver highlights, but there’s nothing that marks it out from the crowd. It’s neither as slim or light as the Toshiba Portégé G710 (it’s 0.5mm thicker at 13.8mm and 5g heavier) nor as striking to look at as the BlackBerry 8820 or the Motorola Q 9h – the bog-standard up, down, left, right and okay navigational control sees to that.
But for all that, it seems to have got the ergonomics largely right. The directional control isn’t too fiddly to use and the keyboard – probably the toughest thing to get right – is usable too. Again, the latter isn’t as good as the BlackBerry 8820’s, the G710’s or the Motorola Q 9h’s – I’d have liked a slightly more rounded profile left to right and a little more distance between the keys – but it’s by no means terrible, and with a little concentration and practise you’ll soon be typing out emails reasonably swiftly.
The buttons surrounding the directional pad are sensibly-sized and well-engineered. You get the usual Windows Mobile 6 Standard collection of pick-up and hang-up, home, back and soft keys just below the 320 x 240 resolution TFT screen. And around the edges is a decent complement of controls as well. On the right edge you’ll find a button to launch the camera application, the power button is on the top, while on the left is a volume rocker switch and a clickable jog-wheel – handy for one-handed navigation of contacts and emails. The connections are found ranged along the bottom: a standard mini-USB for charging and syncing, plus a 2.5mm audio socket for headset connection.
It all adds up to a phone that’s solid and sensible-feeling. And that sense is backed up by a seriously impressive set of vital statistics. Again it may lack the headline-grabbing GPS receiver of the G710, but where the Toshiba handset was woefully lacking in the welly department, the M530W is able to well and truly put the boot in. Running affairs is a potent 416MHz PXA270 processor from Marvell. It’s not the fastest processor I’ve ever seen in a smartphone, but it’s all the M530W needs, and is fast enough that you’re never left waiting too long for an application to load.
Couple that power with a decent web browser (such as Opera Mini), and browsing the Internet feels as natural as it was frustrating on the G710, despite the phone only supporting the non-HSDPA 3G standard. Elsewhere, tri-band GSM, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, a reasonable allocation of 256MB storage and Bluetooth 2.0 top off the sensible, if not ground-breaking specification. Even the meagre 64MB of RAM, which is normally enough to have you reaching for the task manager every couple of hours, doesn’t seem to have too much of a negative impact on performance.
Call quality is clear as a bell, with volume levels plenty loud enough, and even the two megapixel camera is better than average. Though it’s never going to replace a proper digital camera, it does do a reasonable job of taking simple snaps in decent light. Low light performance is especially impressive, it has a flash to help out when conditions get the better of it, and a front-facing video call VGA camera has been thrown in for good measure.
But there are two key weaknesses here. The first is a minor gripe: as with the M930 before it, the M530w is not equipped with Office Mobile – it only has readers for Excel, PowerPoint, Word and PDF files pre-installed. It’s a strange omission, but adding the excellent Dataviz Documents To Go, which is better than Office Mobile anyway, will only set you back a few quid extra (£15), should you feel the need to edit and create documents.
More seriously, the battery life is a big disappointment. Asus has accompanied that powerful processor with a weedy 1,200mAh lithium-ion unit that is unlikely to get you through a weekend without needing a charge, even with relatively light use. Despite the 4-5 hour talk-time and 250 hour standby rating, I found the phone ran out short of the two-day par that most Windows Mobile smartphones seem to adhere to. That, unfortunately, just isn’t good enough and it undermines all the good work done so far.
The relatively short battery-life is a shame because otherwise the M530w is a good, solid, business email smartphone. It may not be the sexiest on the planet, and it may not have headline grabbing features such as GPS, but neither does it have any serious shortcomings – it’s easy to use and its core specification is able to run the demanding Windows Mobile OS without breaking sweat.
It’s very cheap, too, at a mere £199 including the VAT unlocked. But the high powered processor takes its toll on the battery and that means the M530w is far from the perfect alternative to the BlackBerry 8820. Alas, even the price can’t sweeten that bitter pill.
Score in detail
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