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REVIEW: O2 Xda cosmo Windows Mobile Smartphone
Posted by Arne Hess - on Sunday, 10.09.06 - 12:39:47 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 65626x
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Soon to be released by O2 Germany and recently announced by HTC, the O2 Xda cosmo (previously known as HTC Excalibur and now, also known as HTC S620) is something completely new for HTC since it follows the BlackBerry idea - a mobile phone with a QWERTY keyboard as also available by Motorola as the Motorola Q and Samsung as the Samsung SGH-i320.
Feature-wise, the Xda cosmo includes everything you might expect from a state of the art Windows Mobile 5.0 Smartphone. It's powered by TI OMAP 850 CPU with 201 MHz, features quadband GSM/GPRS/EDGE, Bluetooth 2.0 with stereo support, WiFi b and g connectivity (but excludes UMTS and IrDA), 128 MB ROM, 64 MB RAM which is extendable through microSD cards and a 1.3 megapixel camera for photos and videos. It's sporting a 2.4 inch QVGA landscape display supporting 65k colors. The Xda cosmo measures 111.5 x 62.5 x 12.8 mm which makes it pretty flat. As introduced before, with the HTC TyTN and HTC MTeoR, also the Excalibur isn't sporting a separate headset jack anymore but the HTC's slightly different looking mini USB jack is used instead - which HTC is calling now "HTC ExtUSB" and which is even trademarked now.

All the features above are pretty standard, for top class smart phones, but the highlight of the device, which makes it so different to all previous HTC Windows Mobile Smartphones, is the integrated thumb-keyboard and the HTC JOGGR control pad, which replaces the rocker/wheels, previously used for Smartphones.

The sales pack includes the device, one 960 mAh Litium-Ionen-Polymer battery, a 110V - 220V AC charger, a mini USB to USB sync cable, a wired stereo headset, the manual and a CD-ROM with ActiveSync and Outlooks 2002.

The Excalibur - even if it is a candybar device - looks different from all the candybar Smartphones we have seen so far from HTC and it reminds pretty much on the Motorola Q, the Samsung SGH-i320/SGH-i600 and for sure the classical BlackBerrys. This design makes the device pretty squarish while it is - with its 2.8mm only - pretty flat:

The combination of black plastic and the silver bezel makes it looking classy even if I think 50 % of the readers of this review will disagree. But as always, you can discuss a design forever without coming to a common agreement.

While the upper part of the keyboard is pretty much Windows Mobile Smartphone standard, is it featuring a D-Pad (the Excalibur is featuring a D-Pad again, not a joystick), the green and red call buttons, two soft-keys the Home and back key, the lower part of the keyboard is the previously mentioned QWERTZ keyboard (the QWERTZ layout will be used for the German retail version only, the worldwide English version will features the QWERTY layout) where every key as several meanings which includes the alphabet, the special characters and the number pad to enter phone numbers.
Here are also the Internet Explorer and Pocket Outlook keys located (in the lower right corner), which you might have expected on top of the keyboard (as it was located with previous Windows Mobile Smartphones). Bellow the keyboard the microphone is located:

On top of the front side, above the QVGA landscape display, you have the speaker with typical two LEDs which indicates GSM reception, Bluetooth connectivity as well as it is used for charging indication:

The 1.3 megapixel camera is located on the backside if the device, next to the mirror for self-portrait photos which is also the antenna-jack cover. On the right, the device has the loudspeaker which is used for audio playback or if the device is in hands-free mode during phone calls:

On the left, the device is sporting the power switch only. No record button or camera shutter:

And on the right you have HTC's new JOGGR control pad which replaces the previously used rocker or navigation wheels (see my separate review of the HTC JOGGR here):

On bottom you will find one connector only - the mini USB jack (which is called HTC ExtUSB now) which is protected by a gum cover. This mini USB jack - which is 100 % compatible to standard mini USB cables - is used for charging, synchronization and is also the host for the stereo headset:

The main question is how the keyboard is working in the daily use and I had the pleasure to use the device for roughly two weeks now. First of all: If you came from a standard mobile phone keypad, you will also feel mostly at home if you use the keypad the first time, thanks to the dedicated (silver) number keys - as long as you enter just a telephone number from the Home screen. You don't have to activate the number keys first but you can enter the phone number like it would be a standard phone keypad. However, if you want to use Windows Mobile's Smartdial option, you have to use the full QWERTZ/Y keyboard which looks sometimes a little bit strange. Let's say you are searching for "Arne": The A is also the # key, the R is the 3 key, N is not used for numbers and E is used for 2 as well. So you end up with the search results for Arne but also with the entered telephone number "#32":

All the rest is Windows Mobile Smartphone standard as well - select the contact, navigate left right to select the number you want to dial and press dial.

But for sure, the thumb keyboard wasn't included to be used to irritate users while entering a phone number but to enhance the messaging capabilities, namely making it easier to enter texts. Even if the keys look pretty small and fumbling, it's working better than I expected when I saw the device the first time.
No question, it can not compete with slide out thumb keyboards like used for Pocket PCs, e.g. for the HTC Hermes, and the keys are even smaller than some BlackBerry keyboards but messaging is also a joy with the Excalibur keyboard.

If you get used to it, you can type pretty fast, at least with two thumbs and the upper D-Pad makes navigation through the menus easy as well.

Software-wise the device is powered by Windows Mobile 5.0 but it's using the latest AKU 3! As with previous AKUs, also AKU 3 has most of its changes under the hood and it doesn't includes too much new stuff.

However, some features are new - most notable the "Internet Sharing" application, which replaces HTC's propriety "Wireless Modem". Nevertheless, Internet Sharing is more or less the same as Wireless Modem since both applications allow Notebook users to use the device as a wireless modem to connect to the Internet through the device's wireless connectivity but for Bluetooth, the Excalibur allows to use the Bluetooth PAN profile now:

Also new is the "Bluetooth Explorer" which allows to easily connecting to other Bluetooth enabled devices through the Bluetooth FTP profile:

All other applications and functions are known from other Windows Mobile Smartphones. Still, the device has no native Office Mobile application suite but ClearVue viewer for Word, Excel and PowerPoint as well as for PDFs only.

Final Conclusion

Getting a final conclusion to the paper or in this case to the web server isn't that easy for me. No question, it's definitely a great device and it does it very well, for what it was designed for. Maybe the lack of not having a BlackBerry history makes it so hard for me to judge here. I'm using GSM phones since 1992 but never had a BlackBerry in regular use. Yes, I'm a heavy messaging fan and I'm sending SMS/text messages and MMS as well as E-Mails every day as well as I receive messages on my mobile phones but I get used to use T9 which works pretty good for me. I've tried the Excalibur for many messaging types like SMS, MMS, E-Mail and chat and it's definitely working great - especially for chats it's working better than a regular T9 keypad since you can enter texts way faster.
However, if I use the keyboard for regular phone stuff like entering a phone number or searching a contact, I'm getting confused (while I'm sure even I could get used to it) but as I said before - it's definitely the lack of BlackBerry experience.
If you are a BlackBerry user and you want to change to the Windows Mobile platform, e.g. to use Microsoft's Push E-Mail solution, I'm sure you will manage the use way better.
The keyboard, as far as I can tell you, is definitely comparable to BlackBerry keyboards which are the benchmark at all.

Nevertheless, I've mentioned it before, the Windows Mobile Smartphone OS wasn't designed to be used with a wheel (or in this case JOGGR) only and you always have to switch between the JOGGR and the D-Pad. Scrolling up and down within E-Mails, web sites and even the Start menu works great and the JOGGR is definitely worth to be used. However, as soon as you navigate one level deeper, for instance in the Start menu, you can not use the JOGGR anymore or if you use it it's inconvenient.
So it's less a problem of the device but more a problem of the user interface which was never designed for this kind of use.

However, all the feature richness of the Xda Cosmo makes it impressive device. I mean we are talking about a mobile phone with inbuilt W-LAN, which lets you connect everywhere to inexpensive high-speed broadband networks to do your work and if you are out of a W-LAN coverage, the device either connects you via GSM, GPRS or EDGE - in all four GSM network bands we have all over the world. The Xda cosmo is a real business word traveler and roamer.

A little bit outdated is the 1.3 megapixel camera; I would like to finally see at least 2.0 megapixel cameras with - even more important - qualitative improved lenses and camera chips. But anyway, for a snapshot and a MMS or E-Mail attachment, the camera is fine.

Always a topic to discuss is the used CPU as well as the battery time. Regarding the TI OMAP 850 processor which is running at 201 MHz (only), I can tell you that I'm pretty satisfied with the speed. I've tested it with a couple of short vides, I've listened my music through my Bluetooth stereo headset, I've watched some live TV using my Slingbox and I've even tried navigation. Everything worked fine but for sure you can bring such a CPU easily to its limits by - let's say - using it for GPS navigation and watching the same time live TV while listening the audio through Bluetooth stereo. That's way too much for a TI OMAP CPU but that's not what the processor was designed for. It was rather designed to provide the best performance while saving as much battery power as possible and the standby without a heavy use is realistically around two days. With regular use (having phone calls, surfing the web as well as sending and receiving E-Mails) it easily works one full day but for sure - standby always depends on the individual use.

So all together I can say that the device is worth to be used, if you want to use a Windows Mobile device with a thumb keyboard which is equipped with all the latest and greatest technologies. If you don't care a thumb keyboard, you might want to better stay with a more traditional Windows Mobile Smartphone like the HTC Tornado series which is also running Windows Mobile 5.0, also features quadband GSM/GPRS/EDGE and also includes W-LAN.

Cheers ~ Arne

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