Tools Of The Trade: Slim, smart and impeccably well connected

Dell's new generation of pocketPCs are a class act
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Dell's first foray into the PocketPC business was the Axim X5. This was a fully featured Personal Digital Assistant that undercut most competing products by a good margin. But it drew some criticism for its chunky design.

Dell's first foray into the PocketPC business was the Axim X5. This was a fully featured Personal Digital Assistant that undercut most competing products by a good margin. But it drew some criticism for its chunky design.

The company's latest PDA has been slimmed down and smartened up, but it is still powerful. And Dell has retained its aggressive stance on price, with the cheapest X30 costing £161 including VAT and delivery.

The X30 keeps the same smart silver styling as earlier Axims, but the casing now has straight sides and is just a shade under a half an inch (1.25cm) thick. The new design looks good and will please users who found older Axims bulky: the new model weighs in at just 5oz (140g). The only disadvantage is that the new design is perhaps not as comfortable in the palm as the more rounded X5.

The screen on the X30 is bright, with a 240 x 320 pixel resolution, and the controls on the computer are easy to use and follow the standard PocketPC layout. Dell equips all its X30s with pocket versions of Microsoft software, including Outlook for email, Word and Excel.

The basic Axim model comes with a 312MHz processor, which is more than adequate for most PocketPC applications, especially given the machine's low price. But the two more expensive models are more interesting propositions.

Dell sells two X30s with built-in wireless networking, one with the 312MHz processor and one with a double-speed, 624MHz chip. Both models feature Bluetooth personal area networking and WiFi, based around the 802.11b standard.

Bluetooth enables connections to devices such as mobile phones or printers, while WiFi can be used to connect to wireless local area networks or public "hotspots" in places such as cafés, hotels and airports.

Dell is not alone in offering these connection options in its handheld computers, although it does so at a lower price than most of its rivals. Just as important, though, is ease of use. Both Dell's wireless LAN and Bluetooth management software was easier to use than the software on several similar devices we have tested. Dell deserves credit for this, as there is little point in businesses buying a cheap handheld computer that turns out to be expensive to support.

The other issue Dell seems to have addressed is power management. Earlier handheld computers equipped with wireless communications have suffered from poor battery life, especially if they are used with add-on network cards. We found that the X30 performed well even with its wireless networking turned on. The fact that turning all the wireless options off is just a matter of pressing a button on the side of the Axim also helps to preserve the battery.

Overall, the X30 is a competent handheld computer at a good price that builds on the strengths of previous Axim PDAs. The one compromise some users might not like is the removal of the Compact Flash (CF) format expansion slot, although building in the networking removes much of the need for the CF slot.

A Secure Digital slot remains for extra memory, but because the expansion options are limited we would not recommend the basic Axim X30 unless you are sure you have no need for WiFi or Bluetooth. The high-end model, which we tested, comes with a docking cradle, and its power might be useful for some business options, but for our money, the mid-range model at £231, including WiFi and Bluetooth, delivery and VAT, is a bargain.

THE VERDICT

The Dell Axim X30 series

Rating: 5 out of 5

Price: £161 (basic), £231 (312MHz PAN/WAN), £278 (624MHz PAN/WAN)

Pros: Price, features, networking, software

Cons: limited expansion

Available from: www.dell.com

Comments