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REVIEW: O2 Xda star Windows Mobile 6 Professional Smartphone
Posted by Arne Hess - on Thursday, 15.11.07 - 17:19:08 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 45706x
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For the past weeks I had the pleasure to use the recently announced O2 Xda star (O2 Germany's version of the HTC Touch Dual) Windows Mobile smartphone and if I say I had the pleasure I definitely mean it was (and still is) a pleasure. Since the introduction of the Windows Mobile non-touchscreen Smartphone, I haven't used Pocket PC Phone Editions as my primary mobile phone anymore (except for some shorter tests if I reviewed a device) but this smartphone I'm using now for over four weeks as my primary smartphone. You might wonder what makes the device so good, especially because it lacks some basic features like WiFi what I normally request from all my smartphones? Well, it's the combination of design, size, Windows Mobile 6 Professional features and HTC enhancements.

But first of all let us start with the specs. The O2 Xda star features Windows Mobile 6 Professional and is therefore a touchscreen smartphone. Unfortunately it supports triband GSM/GPRS/EDGE at 900/1800/1900 MHz and singleband UMTS/HSDPA at 2100 MHz up to 3.6 Mbps only and while it sports Bluetooth 2.0+EDR it lacks WiFi, not to talk about GPS. Therefore it's radio- and connectivity-wise somewhat limited with a strong focus on the EMEA and APAC markets but North American users, as well as international outbound roamers, will be able to use EDGE at 1900 MHz networks only - if available.

Nevertheless, the other features, like the 2 megapixel main and front facing CIF video telephony cameras, the Qualcomm 7200 chip at 400 MHz and 256 MB ROM/128 MB RAM are absolutely state-of-the-art and the definitive highlights of the Xda star are the slide-out SureType-like QWERTZ keyboard and the 2.6" TouchFLO enabled Bio Touch touchscreen.

Typically for O2 Germany, the German carrier uses its own industrial design and the Xda star looks a little bit different to the HTC Touch Dual. Basically it follows the design guideline of the O2 Xda nova (bigger 5 way D-Pad with nicer arranged call buttons) but unlike the Xda nova, the Xda star doesn't features a glossy housing but a black soft-touch housing which is less fingerprint sensitive and definitely feels nicer. Together with the chrome batten, it gives the rocking solid device a great look and feel.

The device isn't overloaded with buttons and keys. Beside the D-Pad and the call buttons it only sports the volume keys and the camera shutter. Nothing else; neither softkeys nor the Windows Mobile typical Start or OK keys. This gives the design a sleek look and feel:


However, as soon as you slide out the keyboard, you get the previously mentioned QWERTZ keyboard (QWERTZ not QWERTY because this is a German device):

HTC offers two versions of the keyboard: a traditional 12 keys phone pad look-alike version and a 20 keys QWERTY keyboard and O2 Germany decided to use the BlackBerry Pearl like SureType kind of QWERTZ keyboard which means each button features 2 characters. In addition, the keyboard features a full 10 keys phone pad plus some special characters. For better usability, HTC added XT9 as predictive text input mechanism which suggest the right characters and words quite good. If a word isn't in the directory, it can be added manually to be used later again. (see the previous video for the keyboard in action).
Unfortunately HTC made a mistake in the implementation and the hardware keyboard layout depends to the selected XT9 input language. As long as you have selected German, everything is fine but if you switch to English XT9 (which can be common if you often reply to English E-Mails), the layout switches to QWERTY while for French it becomes AZERTY. That's definitely a bug which needs to be addressed.

HTC definitely invested some time to improve its TouchFLO idea even more (see the previous video view for TouchFLO in action). In addition to the TouchFLO cube (which got a 4th page on O2 Germany's request), HTC also improved the Connection Manager to make it more thumb-use friendly and added QuickTasks which launches, if you slide out the keyboard (see the previous video view for QuickTasks in action). However, QuickTasks only appears if you are not in another application you might want to use the keyboard for (which definitely makes sense):

QuickTasks allows you to create a new E-Mail, SMS or MMS straight from the application as well as adding a new appointment, task, note or contact to Outlook.

As I said, the TouchFLO cube features a fourth page now and includes two application quick-launch pages, the multimedia launcher for fast access to your music, photo and video collection as well as a quick dial interface which can be customized:


Last but not least, O2 Germany finally also added the HTC Today screen plug-in which was left in the first ROM of the O2 Xda nova. This Today screen plug-in provides information about received messages and missed calls as well as a customizable weather forecast, a customizable application launcher and access to several phone profiles:


Application-wise, the O2 Xda star is nearly complete and includes, beside the Windows Mobile 6 Professional typical applications like Office Mobile 6.1 (with support of Office 2007 files), Outlook Mobile, Windows Live (including Messenger), Internet Explorer Mobile, additional applications like Java ME, Flash Lite 2.1, O2 Germany's O2 Commcenter SyncML client as well as a streaming player (which can also stream YouTube Mobile videos). Unfortunately Microsoft's Remote Desktop Client Mobile was left again, which makes the device less attractive for administrators:

Optimized and slightly different to the original Windows Mobile user interface is the software dial pad which is - again - TouchFLO optimized. Beside looking different it also includes functions, Microsoft hasn't added to the original dial pad yet - like a button for UMTS video telephony:

Furthermore, during a call, it offers you the possibility to open either the contact's details or a blank note where you can enter some notes:

Also new is the camera interface which is - again - TouchFLO thumb optimized. No need to use the stylus to change the settings or to snap a photo or record a video:

However, even if the camera features 2 megapixel, the results are still far away from best in class Nokia or Sony Ericsson camera phones (bellow the unedited original 2 megapixel photos - click to enlarge):

But anyway - for MMS and some blog postings, the quality is good enough already but the 3 megapixel autofocus camera, as used for the O2 Xda orbit 2/HTC Touch Cruise would be the better choice. Nevertheless, snapped photos can be viewed in HTC's new photo album application which is again thumb-use optimized:

This camera album allows you to easily brose through your photos, view them in full screen mode as well as assign photos to contacts or send them via E-Mails as well as MMS. Unfortunately, video isn't supported yet.

Final Conclusion

I said it initially that using the Xda star is and was a pleasure and you might wonder why? Well, it's the combination of Windows Mobile 6 - which is the best Windows Mobile version today, HTC's clever enhancements - TouchFLO works so well that in most case3s you don't need the stylus, and O2's Xda star design.
The device is small and light, it fits easily into the pocket and it does what I expect from a smartphone first: being a mobile phone. The TouchFLO/keyboard combination is a pleasure to use, doesn't matter if you are looking for a contact, if you have to enter a phone number or if you write a SMS or MMS message. The most important mobile phone tasks are easy to use and the voice quality is brilliant.
Furthermore it's a complete Windows Mobile Pocket PC and beside Remote Desktop Terminal it includes everything I need. I definitely love the way HTC enhanced some standard features and applications. Doesn't matter if it is the thumb optimized scrolling through the contacts or web pages, switching between E-Mails accounts or browsing though the photos - there is less need to use the stylus. Even if TouchFLO isn't yet available for all applications (like browsing though the calendar), HTC did definitely a great job if you keep in mind that they still have to follow the Windows Mobile guidelines. Hope we will see further improvements in the future as well.

Talking about the downsides: The missing W-LAN is definitely a downside for me. Sure, it supports HSDPA up to 3.6 Mbps but there are reasons where WiFi comes handy. Doesn't matter if you want to watch a movie via your Slingbox at home or if you are in a hotel while travelling to reduce costs. The official reason for leaving WiFi out of the Xda star (as well as the HTC Touch Dual - O2 hasn't cut it off but it's also not available in the HTC reference design) is the fact that there was no space on the board. Might be true, could be wrong. Quite frankly - if HTC enabled WiFi and maybe even GPS, there wouldn't be another reason to by a HTC TyTN II or even a HTC Touch Cruise since the Touch Dual/Xda star would combine best of the other two devices. So I can imagine that it was left for commercial reasons which I can understand from HTC's point of view but which is bitter for the user. Anyway - GPS can be added through external Bluetooth GPS adapters and instead of WiFi you can use HSDPA, as long as your carrier offers any reasonable data packs (which O2 Germany does).

Talking about Bluetooth and data: It took a little bit longer for HTC to support Bluetooth 2.0+EDR but with the latest devices it's support. This makes the O2 Xda star a great wireless modem for Notebooks and I've used it quite a bit with my Tablet PC. Speed was more than acceptable in HSDPA areas.

Okay - let me summarize why I like the Xda star so much: It's the design (which I like more than the HTC Touch Dual design) and while the device is feature-rich, it doesn't looks like a techie geek toy; it's the HTC specific TouchFLO enhancement and the overall feature-set of the device; and - except the missing WiFi - it provides everything I want from a Windows Mobile smartphone and thanks to the customization, it's easy to use - even without a stylus which I don't want to use for basic phone tasks.

The O2 Xda star is available since Tuesday this week, exclusively from O2 Germany. Without a contract, it retails for 419,99 Euro. Depending on the 24 month contract, it's available from 29,99 - 219,99 Euro.

Cheers ~ Arne


 
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Comments
Posted by MTM on 16.11.07 - 02:33:31

Hi Arne, and thanks for a great review.

I know it's probably not the best time of the year to test it (you have got more snow than here in Denmark, judging by those pictures), but how does the screen behave in direct sunlight? Still readable or completely washed out?

Posted by Arne Hess on 16.11.07 - 12:07:04

Sun? What do you mean with sunlight? Can you please send me a photo? ;-)
No, seriously - thankfully I was testing it before we got the snow here so I can judge on it already. As with most of the latest Windows Mobile smartphones from HTC, also this one isn't as good in direct sunlight as the old Compaq iPAQ were. However, it's usable and you can tune up the background light straight from the Today screen. If you have the brightest selection, it works pretty good.

Posted by Sachin Palewar on 16.11.07 - 15:06:23

Well this is an excellent review. However I am really not sure about the line - windows mobile 6 is best OS for smartphones. Ya I agree that it may be most feature rich OS. Well at times I feel too much features make it really unsuitable for mobile phones.

I think MS should not try porting everything available on desktop to mobile phones. Its not the way to go in my opinion. However I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on an article on NY which talks about windows mobile 6 -  http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/08/techn … ref=slogin

However I must say that HTC Touch really makes windows mobile a lot more appealing with  its TouchFlow interface.

Regards,

Sachin Palewar
http://www.palewar.com

Posted by MTM on 16.11.07 - 20:11:26

Arne, thanks for the reply. I can see the brightness selection on the home screen being pretty smart at that point.

Sachin, I'll give you my comments on that article. I agree with the following:

"If it takes four presses on the More button just to see everything in the Start menu — and you provide no direct way to get to the first page from the last — you need to redesign."

"If your Web browser can’t play Flash videos, it should just say so. It should not say, “Make sure the path and file name are correct and that all the required libraries are available.”"

The rest seems to be personal opinions on his side, which I mostly disagree with. No task manager? This isn't a Nokia 3310, it has 64 MB of RAM (and newer phones has 128 MB)! The idea with a smartphones is exactly multitasking, and then a task manager is an absolute requirement. Windows Mobile actually shuts programs down when needed, so he shouldn't have to deal with the task manager at all if he doesn't want to. That Windows Mobile's memory management maybe not is the best is another matter, which actually just gives a good reason to have a task manager.

"A locking feature, which prevents the buttons from being pushed accidentally in a purse or pocket, is nice. But it should be optional. And one button press should suffice to unlock it; two in sequence is just annoying."

What?! One-press unlocking? Yes, that would surely be a good idea, because when the phone is in your pocket it will never hit just one button accidentally...?! Do any phones actually come with one-press unlocking nowadays? I know most Nokias (both smartphones and non-smartphones) also require two presses, so why bash Windows Mobile on that ground?

This man lacks insight on what he is reviewing. It's like making a housewife review a Formula 1 car. Of course the car sucks - there's not even room for the kids!

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