- Review Price: £279.00
Dell isn’t the sort of company that you normally associate with dramatic market shake ups but that’s just what happened when the company launched the Axim X5 at the end of 2002. By using its immense buying power Dell was able to provide a high quality Pocket PC at a record-breaking price. However, HP fought back with a string of well featured and affordable iPAQ devices. The time was ripe for a refresh to the Axim and with the X3i, Dell has delivered.
As with the first Axim, the X3 is available in both 300MHz and 400MHz flavours. However, the X3i enticingly adds integrated 802.11b WiFi and Bluetooth into the mix, placing the X3i as a direct competitor to the HP iPAQ h4150. For once UK technology lovers are better off than their US counterparts as Bluetooth was deemed an unnecessary addition in the US version of the X3i.
As you’d expect the Axim X3i runs Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003, and is powered by an Intel PXA 263 processor – essentially a PXA 255 with flash RAM built-in. To save power the CPU throttles itself down for standard tasks. Most of the time it runs at 200Mhz but it never felt sluggish in operation to me.
With 64MB of RAM built-in and 64MB of ROM there’s enough space to back-up vital data when on the road. Expansion capabilities are provided by a top-mounted SD card slot. This is SDIO compliant so you can use add-ins such as cameras. For space reasons however, there isn’t a Compact Flash slot – so the iPAQ h2210 remains the better option if that’s what you need.
The styling has had a significant revamp over the X5, and a good thing too. Out go the lardy curves of the original, to be replaced with a much sleeker oblong design. The iPaq h4150 is slightly thinner and shorter and a tiny bit lighter than the X3i, but the Dell is nevertheless easy to hold and will slip snugly into your pocket. Where the iPAQ sports curves the Axim X3i is oblong and more corporate looking. It’s smart, but might not be to everyone’s taste.
What sticks out on the Axim, quite literally, is the wireless aerial. When wireless is activated this glows blue like the light on top of a police car – it’s attractive to look at but I did wonder why Dell couldn’t integrate the aerial as HP has done with the iPAQ 4150. The fascia is uncluttered with an on switch in the top centre, which glows red when the unit is charging. At the base there’s a central rocker switch surrounded by the usual four shortcut buttons. On either side of these are two switches – the one on the left activates the voice recorder while the one on the right toggles the wireless connections (both Bluetooth and WiFi) on or off. To turn off one and leave the other on you need to use Dell’s Wireless software utilities.
WiFi worked flawlessly out of the box and it took literally a matter of seconds to connect to my wireless router and start browsing the Internet. It was also a simple job to connect to a Sony Ericsson t630 mobile phone – at least for exchanging picture files. Configuring the phone as a modem was a little trickier, but I discovered instructions online for connecting up an iPAQ to the phone and used those, which worked fine.
One area where PDAs have significantly improved is in display technology, and the Axim is no exception. The trans-reflective TFT screen is bright, and though it’s limited to 16bit colour, pictures are vivid enough that you’ll want to make use of the Windows XP style slide show facility built into the operating system. The screen resolution is a 320 x 240, which is currently the standard for Pocket PC. However, when browsing online I did wish the Axim had a 640 x 480 screen like the Toshiba E800 and the new offering from Asus announced at CeBIT. However, this resolution is unlikely to be standard at this price for a while yet.
The stylus is often a bone of contention but I found the one supplied to be suitable, with just enough weight to it.
Despite the presence of Bluetooth, most will choose to sync via the supplied USB cradle, and this worked well and speedily with Outlook 2003. When the charger is plugged into the back of the cradle it charges the Axim when docked; this is indicated by the Dell logo on the front, which impressively glows blue. The cradle also contains a slot for a spare battery and this can be charged while the PDA is docked. You can also charge the Axim without the cradle. However, the power cable doesn’t plug directly into the Axim X3i itself but rather into a supplied adaptor. This isn’t ideal, but you have the same situation with most iPAQs.
While you don’t have to lug the hefty cradle around to charge the Axim, if you need to sync while travelling you’ll have to purchase a separate cable, available from the Dell website for £9 plus VAT. Carry cases are also available, in both hard and soft variety. Dell was good enough to include samples in the review box. Both have integrated belt clips. The leather case is stylish but the hard case has a transparent front so you can see the screen – useful if you need to use the Axim in the rain.
So how about the crucial battery life? The Axim is powered by a 950mAh lithium-ion battery. Inevitably, running with both WiFi and Bluetooth on will hammer the battery and when I did so I had to recharge at the end of the day. Used more sparingly, you could reasonably expect to only have to charge the Axim every three days or so. As the battery is removable you could also buy a spare and carry it with you.
The software CD contains a number of applications but disappointingly most of these are trial versions. The only free ones are a Dell diagnostic utility and a PowerPoint converter.
Overall, the Dell Axim X3i is a fine PDA that’s good looking and feature rich, with WiFi and Bluetooth being a big draw. The problem however, is that the stylish and slightly more svelte iPAQ h4150 is available for less. Unless you’re kitting out your office and can get a special deal from Dell, the Axim X3i is just too expensive to recommend.
This Dell is a smart and professional looking PDA. It’s nippy to use, has a great screen and best of all offers integrated WiFi and Bluetooth. The trouble is, so does the iPAQ h4150 – and for less money.
Score in detail
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