When we first heard about the Audiovox PPC6601, we were excited by its concept. By hiding a full QWERTY keyboard behind a full 3.5-inch screen, the device promised to be an extremely powerful smart phone, poised to give a serious run for its money. The PPC6601 is endowed with plenty of features to catch the business user's eye, such as Bluetooth, ample memory, and a speakerphone. Though we're inclined to laud the PPC6601, the keyboard is quite small, and many users may find that they are unable to type much faster with it than they can enter text with a stylus. Furthermore, the handheld is heavy enough to make some wonder if their needs may be better met by an ultraportable laptop. Factor in a $630 price tag, and its appeal narrows to a small niche of mobile workers. The PPC6601 is a capable Pocket PC-based smart phone, but those put off by its hefty price tag will also find many of their needs served by less expensive PalmOne Treo 650. Unlike some other Pocket PC mobiles, such as the and the HP iPaq h6315, which somewhat resemble a phone, the Audiovox PPC6601 simply looks like a PDA. If it weren't for the Talk and End keys on the face of the device, you wouldn't suspect that it has phone capabilities. As you might expect, a gadget with all the bells and whistles of both a Pocket PC and a cell phone isn't the smallest or lightest model available. As a PDA, its size is substantial (4.9 by 2.7 by 0.7 inches), though its rounded corners help hide a bit of its bulk. However, at 6.8 ounces, we think it's more weight than most people are willing to carry around, especially as a primary cell phone.
The highlight of the PPC6601's design is the QWERTY keyboard, cleverly hidden behind the display. A solidly constructed mechanism allows you to slide the entire face of the handheld up to reveal the keyboard. Unfortunately, the keyboard is small and flat. The keys are printed on a single sheet of plastic with a tiny bump over each letter. Because of this design, users with larger fingers will have a difficult time using it. In some ways, it makes a BlackBerry keyboard feel enormous. We couldn't type as quickly or as confidently as we could with other thumb keyboards. On the upside, the keys are brightly backlit, so it's easy to type in darker environments, and it's still nice to have the option of a keyboard when you need one.
The 3.5-inch QVGA screen dominates the front of the device, and with its 240x320-pixel resolution and 65,000-color output, text and images are crisp and bright. Just below it is a set of four customizable quick-launch keys (Home, Inbox, Internet Explorer, and OK, by default). Strangely, these didn't include the Contacts and Calendar buttons; instead, they're relocated to above the screen on either side of the speaker. Though not a major inconvenience, it's still a notable design quirk. Two indicators above those buttons let you know that the phone and the Bluetooth radios are on. You'll also find a navigation pad and the Talk and End keys at the bottom of the face.
The power button, the stylus silo, and an SDIO/MMC card slot for adding memory occupy the top edge of the device. There's also a 2.5mm headset jack; while it fits the smaller cell phone-type headsets, you'll need an adapter if you want to plug in Walkman-style phones. Along the left side are buttons for launching the voice recorder and Windows Media Player, a volume rocker, and the infrared port.
On the back, you'll find the removable battery and a port for attaching a car antenna (for better phone reception). The supplied battery is quite slim. If you expect to go long stints between charges, invest in an extra battery; the included desktop USB charger has a slot to charge the spare. The device also comes with a belt holster and stereo earbud headphones that let you listen to your Pocket PC or talk hands-free.The list of included features on the Audiovox PPC6601 is long but not particularly inspired. It operates on Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, so it has all the PIM applications you've come to expect from a PDA (address book, calendar, in-box) and Pocket versions of the most used Microsoft office tools: Word, Excel, and Internet Explorer. Other extras include Windows Media Player for listening to music and audio books, Microsoft Reader, plus some demo software such as Citrix's GoToMyPC.
To run all this software, the PPC6601 uses a 400MHz Intel PXA263 processor with 64MB of ROM and 128MB of RAM. That's plenty of memory for your contacts, calendar, and business documents plus a healthy number of additional applications. Furthermore, the SDIO/MMC card slot allows you to add storage if you need more room for music, photos, or other files. The slot also supports accessories such as Wi-Fi cards. Unfortunately, this is your only option for Wi-Fi since it's not built in--a disappointment for such a full-featured device. However, you get an infrared port and Bluetooth, so you can use Bluetooth headsets and transfer data wirelessly. The PPC6601 also works as a modem to connect your Bluetooth-enabled laptop to Sprint's 1xRTT network (the PPC6601 also takes EVDO network connections for those who live in a market where this is available). And while we're on the subject, we have to applaud Sprint for its setup Web site. After you complete the final step on the installation CD, it takes you to Sprint's Web page where it walks you through setting up your favorite sites and an e-mail account as well as downloading new ring tones and themes. It made using the Web with the phone a lot easier straight out of the box.
The PPC6601's phone features are simple to use. Pressing the Talk button brings up a large onscreen number pad that's easy to dial with a fingertip, or you can go through your contacts list and press the Talk key twice. Once the keypad is up, you also can easily access your speed-dial list and call history with a press of the button. Compared to a standard cell phone's, the Audiovox's large display makes the call history especially easy to scan. Also, the OS does a pretty good job of integrating the PDA applications with the phone so that you can easily turn the last call you received into a new contact or send an e-mail to an existing contact with a tap of the stylus. After placing or receiving a call, you can activate the speakerphone by holding down the Talk button; an icon will appear in the toolbar to indicate it's on. We also liked how easy it was to talk hands-free while taking notes or using the other PDA features. Other phone features include a vibrate mode and three-way calling.
The e-mail client that ships with the PPC6601 supports multiple POP3 and IMAP4 mailboxes and a single Microsoft Exchange server account. Unlike a BlackBerry, which automatically notifies you when you receive an e-mail, you have to turn the PPC6601 on to see if you've received any new messages. However, Sprint does offer GoodLink as an extra service for businesses which automatically notifies client devices when new mail arrives. In addition to GoodLink, the PPC6601 supports Sprint's PCS Business Connection desktop software which pushes e-mail from your desktop Outlook to the device. This enables you to access your corporate e-mail without having to involve your friendly neighborhood IT people.