The mobile phone industry is frenetic at the best of times, but right now it seems positively hyperactive. The focus is all-singing, all-dancing smartphones and over the past few months not only has HTC’s fantastic TyTN II (P4550/Kaiser) been unleashed, but the iPhone, Palm Treo 500V, BlackBerry Pearl 8120 have all also put in an appearance, not to mention the Ubiquio 503G and Asus’ P526.
And it’s not over yet – not by any stretch of the imagination. Over the next few months we expect to see some exciting products from i-Mate hit the shelves, new handsets from Samsung too and, who knows, perhaps even T-Mobile’s SideKick Slide will resolve its technical problems and finally make it out into the wild.
E-TEN has joined in the general smartphone bonanza with three high-spec smartphones, of which the X600 here is the third I’ve looked in recent weeks. And with so much going on, and so many new handsets about, it’s going to have its work cut out to make an impact.
Fortunately, first impressions are very good. The X600 has to be the sexiest PDA-style phone I’ve seen: it’s small and compact, even more so than the rather nice GPS-enabled ASUS P526, measuring just 14.7mm thick, 58mm wide, 107mm tall and weighing a rather svelte 136g. It certainly slips very comfortably into a jeans pocket. Although you’ll probably want to avoid that, by using the leather belt clip case so you can keep it protected from scratches and dings.
It looks very swanky too. For my money it’s the best looking Windows Mobile phone out there right now. The screen has a black, brushed aluminium surround, while most of the rest of the chassis is wrapped in a lovely, rubberised finish that makes the X600 a pleasure to pick up and hold – and a lot more secure in your hand than many other soap-bar style phones. The final touch is a band of metallic burgundy that stretches around the edge of the phone, setting off the chromed buttons beautifully. If telecommunications eye candy is your thing, this is the phone for you.
Of course, none of this would be any good to you if it wasn’t easy to use, and thankfully the X600 makes a better fist of things than its big brother, the M800, which was equipped with a fiendishly fiddly set of heat sensitive buttons and a tiny joystick control. Instead, the X600’s joystick stands proud of its surrounding buttons and is tipped with rubber, so your finger doesn’t slip on it or get too sore as you’re using it. The backlit control cluster beneath the screen consists of proper buttons too, so they can’t be activated by accident.
There’s no keyboard for text entry as there is with the M800 – it’s simply too slim to fit one in – but E-TEN has made an effort to make up for this by adding to Windows Mobile’s handwriting recognition and fiddly screen keyboard text entry methods. The X600’s screen-based Easy Keyboard consists of much bigger keys than the Microsoft version and as a result can be used to thumb type on, but it’s not as good as the iPhone’s, and you have to concentrate hard to avoid typos every other letter.
This isn’t the only software extra, though; the X600 is positively bristling with others. On the Today screen, for instance, the X600 makes use of Spb’s excellent Mobile Shell software, which adds a finger-driven tabbed menu for access to recent applications; automatically updated weather forecasts for pretty much every major city you’re ever likely to stay in; quick contacts; quick alarm; and a world clock view.
Elsewhere, you get an excellent speed dial application; a modified phone view that’s nippier in use than the standard Windows Mobile one; plus a pop-up shortcut panel. The latter is activated by one of the buttons below the screen and has buttons for launching the task manager application (another extra); switching between landscape and portrait mode; and cycling through a set of predefined phone profiles among others. And there’s more too, including Voice Commander for voice dialling and control over various phone functions; an enhanced Wireless Manager application that makes it easier to set up Bluetooth and Wi-Fi; a backup utility; a call filter … the list goes on.
And then there’s the screen. Its resolution may only be 320 x 240, not the fabulous 640 x 480 offered by the Glofiish X800 and M800, but it is just as bright and clear – among the best you’ll see on any smartphone. There’s also a 2-megapixel camera and an FM tuner thrown into the mix, though as with so many other smartphones, the X600 is equipped with a 2.5mm headphone jack, so you’ll either have to stick with the (rubbish for music) bundled hands-free headset, or buy an adaptor if you want to use your own headphones.
But let’s not get not get carried away here – this is no TyTN II (P4550/Kaiser). Even though it’s loaded with a SirfSTAR III GPS receiver and Wi-Fi adaptor, the X600 is a disappointment when it comes to mobile data. As with BlackBerry handhelds and the iPhone, you’re limited to EDGE-enhanced GPRS, with not even 3G let alone HSDPA to speed web browsing along. Admittedly that’s fine for email if you’re using push, but start to browse the web or download large attachments and you’ll soon find the X600 wanting.
The controls aren’t exactly the bee’s knees either, despite being an improvement over the M800’s. Apart from being quite tough to depress, they lack external markings, so even in daylight it can be hard to see which is which. They do light up once you’ve pressed one of them, but you shouldn’t have to do this. There’s also no scroll wheel, which would make navigating lists easier, and the telescopic stylus, tucked away in the bottom right corner, isn’t the nicest to use either.
Finally, as with the other Glofiish products I’ve reviewed recently, performance isn’t wonderful. The 400MHz Samsung processor seems to get bogged down in the Windows Mobile mire frequently, making the X600 sluggish to use. Battery life is nothing special either. Despite the fact that there’s no 3G or HSDPA chip inside sucking the life from the seemingly high-capacity 1,530mAh battery, I rarely got more than two full days of general use. That’s using it for push email during the day, the occasional phone call, a bit of web browsing, plus a snap here and there. I even switched the GSM off overnight, though I did leave the phone in standby so I could use the alarm.
Being an E-TEN product, and with no UK network ‘fully’ subsidising handsets as yet, the X600 is inevitably going to have niche appeal. If you’re someone who places priority on looks over function, its super slick design and impressive pocketability make it a handset worthy of consideration. But despite the wealth of software extras, the GPS and the FM tuner I can’t help feeling that, for my £289.95 (£142 on 24 month contract), I’d want a little bit more.
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