ASUS have taken a very familiar looking PDA handset to a place where other PDA manufacturers fear to tread: the sub AU$700 price range.
We did a double take when we opened the box of the ASUS M530w, wondering "Have we seen this phone before?". The M530w is a very familiar looking PDA-phone, resembling certain BlackBerry handsets, but looking nearly identical to Palm's Treo 500 device.
The M530w is a hand-friendly 65mm wide with an ergonomically positioned jog-wheel under your thumb when using your left hand. The navigation buttons are well laid out and easy to distinguish for quick use, however, the QWERTY keypad below the nav keys is comprised of positively tiny buttons, and mis-strokes were, for us, a familiar occurrence.
The 2.4-inch landscape QVGA display isn't outstanding by any means, but then, the M530w isn't being sold as a media player, and the screen does the job of displaying e-mails, text messages and Web pages just fine.
ASUS have approached the mobile market with a similar approach to what we'd expect to see from ASUS notebooks, that is, a bare-bones Windows Mobile 6 operating platform and nothing extra. Unlike HTC's Windows Mobile devices, the M530w has no funky interface shell to give the drab WM6 interface some fun and flare.
Not only is this interface dull, it's also laborious to navigate. Searching through pages of settings is less than ideal and will have you wishing for category tabs like we see in Nokia's S60 settings and on Sony Ericsson phones. Unlike WM phones with touchscreens, finding useful info, like the remaining battery life, is likewise several pages of drilling down rather than selectable from the "Home" screen.
For business users these cosmetic concerns may seem extravagant. After all, we are talking about Windows Mobile whose functionality outweighs its yawn-worthy aesthetic. There's support for all popular e-mail protocols, Windows Live messaging and Internet Explorer, and the M530w is able to view MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, as well as PDFs, but not edit them.
Short of HSDPA, the M530w has connectivity options covered. 3G data speeds, WLAN (802.11b/g), Bluetooth, and USB for charging and data transfers are all included.
The M530w also sports a 2-megapixel camera, although the quality of our test images was nothing to get excited about. It also has a MicroSD card slot and, unlike most of the WM PDA-phones we've seen, the M530w has a dedicated 2.5mm audio port for headphones.
In regards to processing the M530w is a capable workhorse, but fell a long way short of being a speed demon. The M530w runs on a Marvell PXA270 416Mhz processor with 64MB of RAM and feels somewhat underpowered. Interface navigation is mostly fluid, but accessing applications requires some patience.
We've come to expect one or two days of battery life from WM PDA-phones, so we were pleasantly surprised when we still had battery at the beginning of the fourth day of testing, and saw this repeated during our second battery cycle. This testing included moderate use of talk and messaging, several hours of MSN messenger and some Web browsing.
Call quality, for the most part, was good, and the volume of the internal speaker was adequate enough to make for clear conversations. Likewise messaging and e-mail are simple tasks, even if the itty-bitty keypad tested our dexterity.
Spending time with the ASUS M530w is an unremarkable experience, with no extras or speed boost to attract our attention, and no glam or flare to spark our interest. Our eagerness to be "wowed" aside, the M530w is a bargain-priced alternative for anyone looking to streamline their Windows based workflow from the office to their handset.