Audiovox seems to be a smart-phone factory these days. From the sleek SMT5600 to the innovative PPC6600 and PPC6601, the company is beefing up its line of convergence devices. Not to be outdone by its glitzier siblings is the reliable and business-friendly PPC4100. It offers a gorgeous 65,000-color screen, triband GSM/GPRS service, 64MB of ROM and RAM, and the ability to sync with a Microsoft Exchange server. Available through AT&T Wireless for $399 (less with a service plan), it's reasonably priced for a Pocket PC phone. That said, it is missing a couple of key features, so road warriors who need Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and a keyboard should pony up another $100 or so for the PalmOne Treo 650 or the HP iPaq h6315. Like the HP iPaq h6315 and the Hitachi G1000, the Audiovox PPC4100 is a Pocket PC phone and therefore looks more like a PDA. Only the stubby antenna on the top-right edge of the device and the small Talk/End buttons below the roomy LCD clue you in to the PPC4100's phone capabilities. Measuring 4.3 by 2.7 by 0.9 inches and weighing 5.6 ounces, the 4100 is actually slightly smaller than the Treo 600. Still, this form factor takes some getting used to, and many folks may find the PPC4100 too big to use as their primary phone. The construction is solid, but while we appreciate the user-replaceable battery, it sticks out from the back of the device and adds unwanted bulk.
Unlike the Treo, the Audiovox PPC4100 has no integrated keyboard, but the gorgeous 3.5-inch, 65,000-color screen takes advantage of the extra real estate. The 240x320-pixel QVGA display boasts deep, vibrant colors; with Internet Explorer, images looked crisp and detailed during our travels. And while we have no complaints with the well-sized screen, we would have liked the added functionality of a snap-on keyboard such as the one included with the h6315.
Audiovox clearly went for simplicity when designing the 4100's controls. While the Talk and End buttons are placed just below the display, there are no shortcut keys for, say, your contacts or your message in-box. Along the left side of the device is a Hold slider, a volume up/down control, and a small, three-way jog dial that stands in for a navigational keypad; depressing the dial is equivalent to pressing a Select key. While we're big fans of dedicated volume controls on PDA/phone combos, this particular control sits right at thumb level, periodically causing us to nudge the control by accident. The top of the device houses the antenna (which cleverly holds the stylus), a 2.5mm headset jack with a rubber cover, an IR port, and an SD/MMC slot. Also included in the box is a USB docking cradle, an AC adapter, a carrying case, and earbud and stereo headsets. The Audiovox PPC4100 offers a respectable feature set. Running on a solid (if not bone-rattling) Intel XScale 400MHz processor, the Audiovox packs in 64MB of ROM and RAM--decent but don't plan on storing more than a handful of MP3s on the device. Thankfully, there is an SD/MMC expansion slot for carrying your larger files. In addition to offering standard PIM functionality (calendar, contacts, tasks, and in-box), the PPC4100 comes with Windows Mobile 2003, so all of Microsoft's mainstays are onboard, including Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Internet Explorer, and Windows Media Player 9.0. Extra goodies include Microsoft Reader for e-books, WiBackup (a utility that backs up your PDA data), MSN Messenger for real-time chatterers, and a pair of games: Jawbreaker and the ever-popular Solitaire.
The PPC4100 is hit-and-miss when it comes to wireless connectivity. You get an infrared (IR) port for beaming business cards and data to other IR-equipped PDAs, and the device's GPRS data speeds give you world-phone power and steady, if slow, Web-surfing access. Unfortunately, unlike the h6315, the PPC4100 lacks Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support. Using the PPC4100 as a phone is easy: just press the Call button below the LCD, and the jumbo-size keypad appears on the screen. From there, you can access your contacts, speed-dial presets, call history, and notes. We like the PPC4100's speakerphone, which you can activate before making a call by pressing and holding the Call key. You also get a vibrate mode, text (but not multimedia) messaging, 10 polyphonic ring tones (you can download more ring tones from AT&T Wireless or use your own WAV and MIDI files), and caller ID.
The 4100 performs well as an e-mail machine. In addition to chat via MSN Messenger, the PPC4100 lets you access POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts. Corporate cats in a Microsoft Exchange environment will be especially pleased by the inclusion of the Office Online utility, which lets you sync up your messages, calendars, and contacts. We tested the triband (GSM/GPRS 850/1800/1900) Audiovox PPC4100 in Manhattan with AT&T Wireless service. Call quality was good, and our callers said they had no trouble hearing us. That said, we were a little disappointed with the earbud headset that comes with the PPC4100. It was adequate for phone calls, but when we listened to music files via Windows Media Player, our tunes sounded pretty stale, with little bass and a dull high end. And since the PPC4100 uses a 2.5mm headset jack, you won't be able to swap in high-quality earbuds (which use 3.5mm jacks). If you opt for the PPC4100 and consider yourself an audiophile, then don't forget to bring your iPod Mini with you.
As a PDA, the PPC4100 was a performance-chart topper. Running on the PPC4100's Intel XScale 400MHz processor, programs responded quickly, even with other applications operating in the background. But more impressive is the phone's battery life. In our CNET Labs battery-drain tests, where we repeatedly played a video clip with the backlight set at high, the PPC4100 lasted an astonishing 9.2 hours. Since our tests are designed to zap power as fast as possible, you'll get more mileage from your device with normal use. We managed to beat the rated talk time of 3 hours by an hour, and standby time is rated at 100 hours.
We had no trouble with the PPC4100's IrDA and GSM/GPRS capabilities. Web pages loaded at a respectable-if-not-lightning-fast pace. We also managed to sync our e-mail and contacts with our PC using the included cradle, but we were still disappointed by the absence of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. According to the FCC, the PPC4100 has a digital SAR rating of 1.32 watts per kilogram.