Dell Axim X30 review: Dell Axim X30

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.9
  • Design: 7.0
  • Features: 9.0
  • Performance: 8.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good New Intel processor; runs Windows Mobile 2003 SE; integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; removable battery; light and thin.

The Bad Uncomfortable stylus; basic software bundle.

The Bottom Line The midlevel X30 is a feature-rich PDA with an affordable price tag to attract both consumers and business users.

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Review summary

In April, Intel unveiled its next-generation XScale processors for mobile products, and now, the first Windows Mobile 2003 OS-based handhelds to employ them have finally surfaced: the Dell Axim X30 series. Replacing the Axim X3, the midlevel X30 adds Intel's new 312MHz processor, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and the latest Windows Mobile OS. At $250 (after a $30 instant rebate), the X30 is an affordable solution for consumers and business users alike, and it's a better buy than the step-down model , which costs $50 less but has less memory and lacks wireless connectivity. If you need a model with more power, Dell offers a high-end version with a 624MHz processor for $300. The Dell Axim X30 didn't get much of a face-lift; it retains its predecessor's silver casing and rather plain look. But whether or not you're concerned with appearances, you'll definitely appreciate its compact size and light weight. At 4.7 ounces and 4.6 by 3 by 0.6 inches, the X30 is only a hair bigger than the Dell Axim X3 and the HP iPaq H4150 , a remarkable trait when you consider all the features packed in this PDA. Additionally, it sits well in the palm of your hand and feels sturdy enough to endure numerous trips from your bag to your car to your desk.

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No extreme makeover here; the X30 retains the same look as the X3.
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A view from the top reveals the IR port, the expansion slot, and the wireless antenna.

The screen is a standard 3.5-inch TFT display with 65,536 colors and a 240x320-pixel resolution. Just below it are the five-way navigational keypad and four traditional shortcut keys to your calendar, your contacts, your in-box, and your home page, all of which are user programmable. As a bonus, you'll find two labeled buttons on the outside of the shortcut keys; one is for the voice-record function, while the other enables and disables Wi-Fi. The latter is particularly handy, as it lets you access the Web with one click rather than having to navigate multiple menus. Turn the device over, and you'll find a speaker and the user-replaceable 950mAh battery. To disengage the cell from the handheld, you have to hold the unlock key while taking out the battery--but at least it's removable.

Lining the X30's left side are a standard headphone jack and a jog wheel that allows you to scroll through menu items and to easily navigate with one hand. These features cause that side to protrude slightly--not a major inconvenience but a bit of an eyesore. The right side houses the flat-shaped stylus, which never felt comfortable in our hands. We prefer the traditional round form.


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Line 'em up: Shortcut keys to your calendar, your contacts, your in-box, and your home page and navigational keypad.

Sitting on top of the device are the IR port, an expansion slot for SDIO/MMC expansion slot, and the antenna nub for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The antenna glows green and blue when Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, respectively, are on, but it adds a bit of bulk to the device. By comparison, many models with the wireless combo, such as the iPaq H4150 and the Toshiba e805, have a wireless radio seamlessly built in. Fortunately, Dell throws in a nice, soft protective case (with belt clip) that covers the antenna and allows for easy transport. We were disappointed Dell doesn't include the desktop cradle that comes with the high-end model, but the company bundles a USB sync cable, an AC adapter, and a power cord. Arguably, the most noteworthy improvement to the Dell Axim X30 is the next-generation Intel processor. This model is equipped with a 312MHz XScale PXA270 CPU, unlike the flagship model, which tops out at 624MHz. The new chip combines SpeedStep technology (originally found in Intel's chip for notebooks), which dynamically adjusts power according to the application, and Wireless MMX technology (for multimedia performance), both of which extend battery life (see the Performance section). Even with the energy-saving processor, Dell includes an internal backup battery so that you don't suffer any data loss if it runs out of juice. A high-capacity 1,800mAh cell is available for $99.

Also onboard is a healthy 64MB of RAM, but with the Axim X30's ability to play videos and audio files, you'll want to invest in a storage card to hold these memory-intensive files.

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Memory is a terrible thing to waste; carry your files on MMC media.

Unlike its predecessor, the X30 now includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, and it lets you use them simultaneously, unlike the Asus MyPal A716 , which can handle only one wireless function at a time. So, for example, you can use Wi-Fi to access your e-mail account, then print a message to a Bluetooth printer. Dell will also offer Bluetooth accessories (a GPS navigation system and a keyboard) for purchase in mid-to-late June, though pricing has not yet been determined.

As noted, connecting to the Web is simple with the X30's single-touch access, and once online, you'll find more useful tools through Dell's WLAN Utility app. The program displays signal strength and encryption (if any), and it lets you perform more-sophisticated functions, such as a link test and certificate enrollment for advanced Wi-Fi authentication.

The Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition (SE) enhances the experience with its Wi-Fi-protected access feature and landscape-orientation support, which offers a bigger viewing screen. You'll also find the staple Pocket versions of Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player 9.0, and more. Unfortunately, there isn't much else besides a backup utility, a program launcher, games (Solitaire and Jawbreaker), and trial software, such as McAfee VirusScan PDA and Cash Organizer 2003.
We had a lot of expectations for the Dell Axim X30, and we weren't disappointed by its performance. Sporting an Intel PXA270 312MHz processor and Windows Mobile 2003 SE, the X30 was, on average, about 15 percent faster than the Toshiba e805, which has an older but higher speed 400MHz Intel PXA263 processor. Although it doesn't have the 624MHz processor of its bigger brother, this X30 is still one of the better Pocket PCs we've used to date.

The X30 also offers striking video performance. Even though the screen doesn't have the highest resolution, it's bright, and video clips and games looked great on it. Images were crisp, and action shots were only slightly pixelated. The TFT display is easy to read in sunlight.

The Dell Axim X30's battery life was also impressive. In CNET Labs' drain test, where we let the device repeatedly play a video clip with the wireless radio turned off and the backlight set at High, the battery lasted up to 4 hours, 46 minutes. In our anecdotal test, which replicated normal, real-world use, the battery life was about 16 hours.

Its built-in wireless connections including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi also performed well, offering great range and a strong signal. Web pages loaded quickly, and it took mere seconds for the device to connect to a wireless network. The included Wi-Fi utility has loads of connectivity options. Again, unlike other Pocket PCs, the X30 allows you to have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on simultaneously, and we had no access problems when both functions were on.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs project leader Dong Van Ngo.

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  • Release date May 18, 2004