I’ve had my Dell Axim X30 (312MHz, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi) for about a week now and I think that now is the time to share my thoughts on it. The Axim X30 runs Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, which translates to it’s a little bit cooler than your standard Windows Mobile 2003 PDA.
This is not my first PDA. I started out with a 2MB Palm III when it was bleeding edge. The original Palm Pilot was still the most widely deployed Palm device. After using that for a year or so it was stolen and I replaced it a bit later with a Palm IIIxe. Same great Palm taste, blazing 16MHz processor with 8 megs of memory. I ended up snagging a 56k modem and the Palm folding keyboard for this bad boy. The X30 is not my first PocketPC device. I still have a running UR There @migo, which is a cool little (big) device from a company that no longer exists. Besides being ka-huge, it takes PCMCIA cards. I’ve been able to get a WPC11 Wi-Fi card working on it once or twice. The poor thing is just too big to actually carry around with you.
There are currently three trim levels of the Axim X30: 312MHz wireless-less, 312MHz with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and 624MHz with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. I own the 312MHz model with wireless fun. I would love to have picked up the 624MHz version, but last month when I wanted to order it there was a 20+ day build time. Right now there is still a 15 day build time. I’m just not that patient and didn’t want to have to pay for something that I wasn’t going to see for a month. You’re probably best off spending a little bit more for the faster model as long as they’re in stock.
Why the Axim?
I’ve been scoping out the Palm/Pocket PC arena lately and honestly the Axim X30 has the best bang/buck ratio at the moment. For $250 it has a latest gen 312MHz XScale processor, has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and runs Windows Mobile 2003 SE. There really isn’t anything else in that price range that can touch the specs of the Axim. The HP iPaq h4155 is a great device and considerably more compact, but also more expensive. The h1945 lacks Wi-Fi and has a slower processor and costs $30 more. I’ve never been able to get excited about the Toshiba models that are on the market. I wouldn’t be caught dead with an ugly Windows Mobile mobile phone even if they were affordable. When I boiled it down, the Axim was the only device that made sense.
What’s it Like?
It’s pretty cool. Microsoft has come a long way from the early days of Windows CE. Back then it was prettier than Palm but sucked. Today it’s almost like XP in my pocket. It is similar to yet more refined than Pocket PC 2002, which is what my upgraded @migo ran. It’s pretty yet functional. The today screen does a great job at giving me a heads up view as to what’s going on. My appointments, messages and tasks are right there in front of me, and I can drill down as neccesary with a quick tap. It’s a solid PDA, which is good. There’s tight Outlook synchronization of course, which is also good.
The wireless support in the Axim is not perfect. I was hoping that it would be, just as I do every time I buy a new gadget. I always manage to stay just close enough to the bleeding edge that things are not as refined as they could be. The Axim sometimes has difficulty connecting to my 802.11g access point. Sometimes it takes tinkering with the settings 2 or 3 times in order to get it online. I can’t completely blame the Axim though, it’s probably some weirdness of my WRT54G running in legacy mode.
The Axim does handle WPA though, which is a neccesity for me. Two nice wardriving bonuses include a netstumbler-like ‘Site Monitor’ utility that does a great job at sniffing out APs, but does not give as much information as ministrumbler. It’s great to have it baked in though, ready to sniff in just a few taps. There is also a link test utility which is good for taking a look at the details of signal strength and throughput. Another bonus is the ability to set up a VPN connection over whichever connection you choose. The Axim seems to get better than average reception, trouncing the built in Wi-Fi of my laptop but also outsniffing my WPC11 PCMCIA card.
The messaging app that allows you to read your Outlook email also allows you to connect to a POP/IMAP email account while on the go. I don’t check my main email account using any of my phones or this PDA, but each phone has its own email address, and I’ve set up a new email address for my X30. I usually set the reply-to to my main email address if I’m sending any outgoign email, but I mostly use mobile email connectivity for moblogging or as a quick way to copy apps/installers to my mobile devices.
Here’s one of the annoying bits of a Windows Mobile device. There are about 3.4 bajillion apps out there. Most of them fall in to the following categories:
- so old that they don’t work
- so new that they don’t work or require you to install a version of the .net compact framwork that breaks everything else on your device
I have found several apps that I can’t seem to live without, but I’ll leave that for another post. Right now my overall feeling toward software is *ugh*.
I’ve been forcing myself to use the ink-like transcriber as much as possible because it seems to be the most natural way of doing input on a PDA. It’s been hard not tapping away at the virutal keyboard, but I know doing that is just going to slow me down in the long run.
ActiveSync rocks, has rocked for some time, and will hopefully continue to rock. It gets the job done but doesn’t try to get in your way. Outlook handles all of the calendaring, tasking, contacts, and stuff like that. It’s quite cool actually. I guess I’m stuck with a dedicated Windows box for some time still.
Storage and Mobile Bloat
My X30 came with 64 megs of ROM and 64 megs of RAM. It takes SD cards, so I’ve slapped a 256MB card in there for storage on the go. The memory and the processing power sounded reasonable to me, however while I wasn’t looking the Windows Mobile world suffered another round of mobile bloat. I should have expected it, I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t Shame on me. Nothing seems to run blazingly fast, though everything so far has run acceptably fast. I’ve already seen some apps (like Skype for Pocket PC) that has a 400MHz minimum system requirement. My guess is that it’ll run on my 312MHz XScale, but if they do manual checking during the installation process, I’m hosed.
I do like the fact that there’s a vast framework already installed on my device which allows me to code up quick hacks in Visual Studio and play with them on a real device. It’s a shame that the Axim doesn’t ship with a KVM/JVM, so there’s no Java love. Not that I was expecting any. There are some third party JVMs/KVMs available, but that’s another post.
My suggestion is to pony up the extra $30 for the charging cradle. I skimped and went with cord/charger method, and it’s quite painful. The connection on the bottom reminds me of a PCMCIA ethernet card with a dongle. You know, the one that was always broken? If you want to sync the device, you have to plug the AC adapter in to the cord, and then plug the double headed cord in to the bottom of the PDA. It’s just awkward. The charging cradle is definitely worth the money, and I’ll be picking that up at some point down the road.
Eventually I’d love to pick up a keyboard. Dell makes one that looks pretty good that connects via the charging/docking connection at the bottom. Ideally I’d like to find a Bluetooth keyboard that works with the X30 so that I’m not tied to one configuration. A Bluetooth keyboard would also allow me to set the X30 to landscape mode which would be nice for editing documents and stuff like that.
You might want to look in to one of those multifunction pen/pencil/stylus/laser pointer things, as the X30 stylus is kinda lame.
The X30 ships with a slip in case that isn’t too shabby. I ordered their plain fold out leather case but am sending it back. The X30 itself is pretty thin, but the leather case made it way too thick to be all that portable. I’ve settled on the Rhino Skin case for the X30. It’s lightweight but hard, has two spots to hold SD/MMC cards on the inside of the case, and allows me access to all of the external buttons, holes, and controls. It does not protect the wireless bulge at the top right of the device, but I’m not too worried about it.
I can’t say enough that the Axim X30 is in my opinion the best bang for the buck in the Pocket PC world right now. In an ideal world it would also include a camera, but you can’t have everything you will ever need in one device. Besides if I’m really desperate, I can pick up an SDIO camera attachment or just transfer a photo via Bluetooth from my 3650.
It’s a solid buy folks, though it’s not perfect. I’ll post more about it as soon as I can.