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REVIEW: O2 Xda comet Windows Mobile 6 Professional PDA Phone
Posted by Arne Hess - on Friday, 21.09.07 - 12:43:53 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 43838x
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During the past days, I had the pleasure to use O2 Germany's latest Windows Mobile device, the soon to be released O2 Xda comet. While O2 Germany decided not to launch the HTC TyTN II (HTC Kaiser), it decided to release another follower of last year's released Xda trion (aka HTC Hermes) and unlike the HTC Hermes and and HTC Kaiser, the O2 Xda comet is a quite "traditional" Pocket PC Phone Edition, without sporting a thumb-keyboard but touch-screen focused only. As you might have read already, the O2 Xda comet isn't a brand new device anymore, since sprig it's available in Asia as the O2 Xda Atom Life already and O2 Germany decided to pick-up O2 Asia's top product to sell it in Germany now as well.

While, from the form factor, the Xda comet is quite traditional, the inner values far away from being traditional. By sporting an ultra fast Marvell XScale PXA 270 CPU which is clocked at 624 MHz, this Windows Mobile 6 Professional devices also features triband GSM/GPRS/EDGE at 900/1800/1900 MHz and dualband UMTS/HSDPA at 1900/2100 MHz which supports HSDPA phase 2 with download speeds of up to 3.6 Mbps (even if O2 Germany is currently supporting 1.8 Mbps only). Furthermore, WiFi b/g, Bluetooth 1.2 and even IrDA are inbuilt which allows to connect the device under virtually all circumstances.

But the CPU and HSDPA aren't the only highlights, another one is the massive storage capacity of 1 GB of ROM and 64 MB of RAM which provides a good amount of space for storing MP3 files, movies and even whole country maps for navigation systems (and if this isn't enough, the memory can be extended with miniSD cards). And the memory can also be used to record radio shows because the device also includes an FM RDS radio.
The 2.7 " touch-screen display 65k and the main camera, which includes a photo light as well,  supports 2 megapixel and also features a macro mode. A second camera on the front can be used for UMTS video telephony as well as self-portrait photos and videos (even if it is VGA only).
So except the somewhat outdated Bluetooth 1.2 module, the device is pretty well equipped, even if it misses GPS but even with all the features above, the O2 Xda comet measures 106 x 58 x 19 mm only at a weight of 148 g.

The sales box includes the typical items for today's Windows Mobile 6 Professional devices including the O2 Xda comet, a 1530 mAh Lithium Polymer battery, a wired stereo headset, a USB to mini USB sync cable, a software CD-ROM incl. Outlook 2007 (trial version) and ActiveSync 4.x and the manual. Not included is a case!

As I said before, the Xda comet follows the typical look and feel of a (what I call it) "half-sized" PDA phone and beside the two illuminated call keys and the D-Pad, the Xda comet also features two soft-keys below the screen (also illuminated) as well as a Windows Start key and a O2 MediaPlus key.
Above the screen, the device features the speaker (which also holds the red, orange, green and blue LEDs) and the mentioned UMTS video telephony camera:

Quite interesting is the location of the speakers. First of all the Xda comet features stereo speakers and the speakers are not located on the backside but on the front, left and right from the keys bellow the screen. For a media centric device, which the Xda comet is, it makes perfectly sense to have the speakers on the front since the sound comes clearer then having the speakers on the back (which is quite typical for today's Pocket PCs).

On the back, the device is sporting the 2 megapixel camera (including a mirror for self portraits) only which also features a photo LED:

On the right side, you will find the camera key which is also used as the camera shutter and the key which starts Notes to record voice notes. On the left you have the volume keys and the IrDA port:

While the side keys with its embossed symbols looks somewhat nice, it's hard to feel the volume keys since they sit almost flushed with the surface.

Unlike most HTC devices (and the O2 Xda comet isn't manufactured by HTC but by Quanta), the Xda comet features a regular 2.5 mm port for the stereo headset. While you still need an adapter for most stereo headsets (which are 3.5 mm in most cases), such an adapter can be found easier and it's mostly cheaper. Left to the 2.5 mm stereo port, the device features a typical mini USB port which is used for sync and charging the device:

Unlike O2 Asia, which uses a glossy black finishing for its O2 Xda Atom Life (similar to the glossy surface of the Xda nova), O2 Germany decided to change the housing to a black matt finishing which keeps fingerprints away from the surface.

All together, the O2 Xda comet is a nice looking, well balanced device. It's not a design-highlight but size-wise it fits perfectly into pockets and the focus is on the inner values, not on the design since the Xda comet is definitely addressing heavy users.

The real difference, to other Windows Mobile Professional phones, can be found under the hood - namely at the software extensions. 

The Home screen is decently branded (it features the Microsoft's original Home screen plug-ins only, except the addition of the Genion "Home and City" indicator) and doesn't include any fancy additions. Also the dial-pad looks quite original, without any additions except the Video telephony key:

The software version, I got for this review, was running Windows Mobile 6 Professional with AKU 0.4:

Beside all the typical Windows Mobile 6 Professional goodies, the O2 Xda comet provides a little bit more - including the recently missed Remote Display application, some dedicated O2 MediaPlus applications as well as Java ME and Spb GPRS Monitor:

For sure, the Xda comet also includes Office Mobile, including Word Mobile, Excel Mobile and PowerPoint Mobile in its latest version which allows opening, reading and editing Microsoft's new Office 2007 file format.
Since the Xda comet is one of the few Windows Mobile 6 Professional devices which include the Remote Desktop client, which is now optional, it might be the perfect device for system administrators which need this functionality. And thanks to HSDPA, Remote Terminal Desktop works perfect:

But anyway, besides being a great productivity tool, the Xda comet also offers outstanding entertainment functionalities, including the inbuilt FM RDS radio, support for DivX and 3GP streaming. All this is part of O2's own MediaPlus application which gives a fast and easy to use access to your photos, videos, music and the radio:

All the media above can be easily accessed from one unified user interface and plays either in Microsoft's original Windows Media Player Mobile (including DivX videos since Quanta/O2 linked the required DivX codec into the Windows Media Player Mobile) or pictures are showed in Microsoft's Pictures and Video application.

The only exception is the radio which works with its own radio application. An automatic channel search makes it easy to find available radio channels and if the received station supports the RDS signal, you even the station name as well as the station type:

While the radio application needs the connected headset, which is used as the external antenna, it's possible to switch between the stereo headset and the internal stereo speakers to listen the music.

Another interesting and somewhat unique radio feature is the possibility to record radio (straight to the internal 1 GB memory) as well as using the radio as the alarm:

Furthermore the radio can switch off automatically with its sleep timer (pretty handy and I've tested it a couple of nights).

But the Xda comet isn't a great working radio only but it also works perfectly with videos, doesn't matter if played localy or streamed. Thanks to the integration of the DivX codec, the device can play WMV and AVI files in the Windows Media Player.
And the additional 3GP compliant Streaming Player (which is unfortunately not embedded into the Windows Media Player Mobile but a stand-alone application) can also stream UMTS typical 3GP files as well as YouTube Mobile streams:

And, for a better sound the Xda comet comes with an Equalizer and features SRS WOW HD including the SRS TrueBass:

Thanks to the strong processor, even CPU-intensive tasks like Slingbox streaming works fine, up to 25 Fps:

However, even for such a task, the Xda comet doesn't pay its tribute to the battery runtime. The device was able to stream 2:50 hours via UMTS/HSDPA before it turned off automatically and required a recharge. Compared to other Windows Mobile 6 Professional devices, not a bad value at all (not to say it's a pretty good result).

The Xda comet features two cameras, the 2 megapixel main camera on the back, which makes photos up to 1600 x 1200 pixel or records H.263 and MPEG4 videos up to 320 x240 pixels and the front camera which is also capable to snap photos (up to 640 x 480 pixels) and record videos (up to 320 x 240 pixels).
The display acts (for both cameras) as a monitor and provides all necessary information:

Bellow some unedited 2 megapixel sample shots (click to enlarge):

As you can see above, the quality isn't too bad for a Windows Mobile camera, even if the colors are somehow a little bit washed-out, for a Windows Mobile cam, it's more than acceptable.

Last but not least the communication capabilities. As said before, the O2 Xda comet is a triband GSM and dualband UMTS devices featuring GPRS, Edge and HSDPA.
While triband GSM is good enough for outbound roaming to North America, UMTS and HSDPA might be supported as well. While neither the US nor Canada supports UMTS at 2100 MHz, UMTS 1900 MHz is supported in some parts of the country, mainly by AT&T (formerly Cingular).

Thanks to the previously mentioned front camera, the device supports both - 2G voice calls and 3G video calls:

The devices HSDPA capability supports a theoretical download speed of up to 3.6 Mbps (which isn't supported by O2's HSDPA network yet but 1.8 Mbps is the maximum) which makes the device a great modem for the Notebook (if connected via USB) as well as it provides enough bandwidth for sending and receiving E-Mails.
Unfortunately, the QVGA screen is a little bit too small to call this device a "surf-pad". VGA or WVGA is the standard today and therefore, O2 is only offering the original Internet Explorer Mobile but not Opera Mobile (which shows its real advantage on VGA and WVGA devices). But for some web surfing on optimized websites, the Internet Explorer Mobile, in combination with the QVGA screen, is doing good enough anyway:

Thanks to the 624 MHz CPU, the page rendering is conveniently fast and it's a pleasure to surf on even bigger, non optimized websites.

Final Conclusion

As skeptical I was when I got the device, as impressed I'm now - after I've used the Xda comet for three weeks. Since it is available in Asia for a fairly long time already, it doesn't have any teething problems anymore. The hardware is rocking solid which is no wonder since it's not Quanta's first Pocket PC and the company has a long history in manufacturing Notebooks as well and also the software integration is done solid.

However, I'm not too satisfied with the screen due to its narrow viewing angle. If you watch it from the top, it's too dark and it becomes better from the middle only while it gets somewhat too light if you watch it from the bottom. So you have to find your position to make it working which could annoy if you are watching a video, especially if used in landscape.
Furthermore I'm somewhat disappointed about the used Bluetooth 1.2 module. While it provides wireless stereo and remote control (A2DP and AVRC), the bandwidth Bluetooth 1.2 provides is too limited to use it as a wireless (HSDPA) modem for Notebooks (even if it is sufficient for UMTS use). Also filling up the gigantic 1 GB memory via Bluetooth takes forever and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR would be the better choice. Well, for some reasons 1.2 was decided and you either have to accept it or not (thankfully you can also use USB to connect the device to the PC).
But that's the only remarks I have about the hardware, all the rest - including the quality and look and feel is perfect.

But why I was skeptical then? Well, maybe it's because the Xda comet, with its different form factor and feature set, came at a time where everybody was awaiting the HTC TyTN II - the new Kaiser (emperor) under the PDA phones. Sure, due to its more limited (triband GSM/dualband UMTS) WWAN connectivity, the Xda comet isn't the best in class world traveler but for Europeans and Asians it's quite sufficient (and how many times does we leave our continents) as well as it roams well if it has to. While, in my humble opinion, GPS would be a nice add-on, I'm not addicted to inbuilt GPS (since I can use external GPS Bluetooth receivers anyway) and features like the inbuilt FM radio provides way more value for me (while traveling or commuting). All together you can even say that O2 (and Quanta) did a great job in fine tuning the device's media capabilities. The O2 MediaPlus interface combines media tasks in a pretty nice and easy to access user interface and the front facing stereo speakers makes the device an even more useful media device. Furthermore you have inbuilt DivX support and 3GP streaming support. While 3GP streaming is supported by some competing devices as well, DivX (for the video junkies here) is quite unique.

Last but not least I was pretty impressed by the battery runtime. You might think that a 600 MHz CPU drains your battery in the wink of an eye but far from it. The Xda comet performed best in my Slingbox streaming test scenario where a device, with turned on Bluetooth, has to stream continuously and the Xda comet streamed 2:50 h before it switched off automatically (which is enough to watch a full movie including commercial breaks). If you compare this to a Toshiba G900, which came to 2:30 only, you can see that the 624MHz CPU/1530 mAh Lithium Polymer battery combination cooperates quite well.

So overall I can say, that I'm pretty happy with O2 Xda comet and I can definitely recommend it to everybody who doesn't needs a thumb-keyboard as well as isn't in need for inbuilt GPS. If your focus is a different, like using your device for media entertainment, the Xda comet is simply great. Not to mention that the Xda comet is the only currently available Windows Mobile 6 device which includes Microsoft's Remote Desktop client for Windows Mobile; which makes the Xda comet the best choice for system administrators!

For me, O2 released a pretty sufficient combination of speed, memory and stand-by time altogether packed in a nice small form factor which is a pleasure to carry. The Xda comet is definitely my current Windows Mobile Pocket PC phone of choice

With a 24 months contract, the O2 Xda comet is available for 149.99 Euro from end of this month (without a contract, you can get it for 549,99 Euro). The O2 Xda comet is an O2 exclusive device, no other carrier will offer.

Cheers ~ Arne

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