The Axim X50s run the latest version of PocketPC – Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition. It’s interesting that every time I’ve gone back to using a PocketPC from a Palm, I can’t help but notice how much snappier PalmOS is. This was true even when I forced the Axim to run at 620MHz at all times, rather than the auto setting. That said, I still prefer using PocketPC. One key reason is ActiveSync, which assuming you use Outlook, is far better at keeping your PDA and PC synchronised than on a PalmOS device, as anything you change on the PC gets syncronised with the PDA immediately and automatically. This means you’re far more likely to have the information you might need with you at any time. I guess this pins me down as an unreconstructed Microsoftie but if that’s the case so be it.
One of the benefits of Windows Mobile 2003 SE is that it natively supports VGA in both landscape as well as portrait without any fuss. This enables you to see far more than you can with standard QVGA screens. The quality of the screen also can’t be faulted. It’s bright, clear and evenly lit and makes pictures look great and text easy to read. This helps make the X50v easily the most pleasant to use PDA in my experience.
What’s even better about the display is that it’s backed by an Intel 2700G Marathon graphics accelerator with 16MBs of video RAM. Interestingly this graphics chip is based on a PowerVR graphics chip from Imagination technology, which most famously was found in the late lamented Sega Dreamcast console. So amazingly there’s a bit of the Dreamcast in this Axim.
To show off the power of the graphics chip, Dell has included a disc with two games, a racing game and another that was too bizarre for me to work out how to play, but looked great. The graphics were genuinely impressive on both. There is a good range of titles available for download online but I hope more are created that really take advantage of the power on offer here. In the meantime, If you’re interested in seeing what your Axim can do, you can download some demos from PowerVRs web site.
Combined with VGA resolution, and a choice between a Compact Flash slot capable of accepting a Type II card, and an SDIO compatible SD card slot, the Axim is set-up nicely to act as a portable video player. My previous experience of getting DIVX content to play on PocketPC have been pretty dissapointing, but in a quite timely fashion an independent programmer has come up with a new application for PocketPC for reading DIVX and XVID content with far greater performance than any previous application. There’s even a plug-in available to take advantage of the ‘Marathon’ graphics chip. This app is called ‘BetaPlayer’ and can be downloaded here. Don’t be put of by the ‘Unstable’ description as it worked flawlessly for me. Once installed I copied over a 700MB DIVX film to my 1GB IBM Microdrive, and was simply bowled over by the smoothness and quality of the playback. In one fell swoop this makes the Axim X50v a serious alternative to carrying round one of the new breed of bigger and heavier hard disk based video players, depending on your needs.
Of course, if you want a games machine and a PDA in one, the Axim has a rival in the Tapwave Zodiac. However, the Zodiac is undeniably a games machine first, and a PDA second, while the Axim is very much the other way round. While the screen on the Tapwave is also superb it’s considerably harder to get video on to the device.
Taken as a whole the Axim is a simply superb machine for organisation, work, games, and movies. Battery life proved to be very respectable, and with only the occasional use of Wireless and movie watching you could go for a couple of days before recharging, while under somewhat more intense use, you could expect to last a working day with it.
The new Axim X50 range has gained a few ounces but also some curves and a few new tricks. It’s fast and powerful, and delights in showing off its new graphical capabilities. It’s also flexible thanks to the presence of dual expansion slots. Save for an integrated phone and GPS, there nothing missing, though if you want esoteric additions such as biometric fingerprint security or a trackpad you’ll have to look to HP’s iPaq range. The really good news is that Dell has dropped the price of the X50 range since its introduction so you can pick up the top-of-the-line X50v for a truly remarkable £289. This is certainly the best PDA I’ve ever used and at that price there’s precious little reason not to bestow upon it an Editor’s Choice Award.