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.
The phone supports text and multimedia messaging in addition to e-mail and voice phone calls, but there's no built-in camera (the Audiovox PPC6600 offers an integrated VGA camera).Using Sprint service in the San Francisco Bay Area and while roaming in Mexico City, we tested the dual-band Audiovox PPC6601 (CDMA 800/1900) and were pleased with the call quality when holding the phone to our ear. The included stereo headset made it easier to hear callers in noisy environments. Unfortunately, the built-in speakerphone didn't fare as well since callers said they could hear a bit of feedback.
As a PDA, the device was responsive; however, being a Pocket PC, it began to slow down when multiple applications ran simultaneously. Battery life was admirable. In CNET Labs tests, where we repeatedly play a video clip with sound and backlight at high and all wireless functions turned off, the PPC6601 lasted a little more than five hours. Since our drain test was designed to deplete the cell as soon as possible, you'll get more mileage out of your battery under normal use.
Sprint's 1xRTT data network was reliable if not blazingly fast. The PPC6601 was able to quickly make the data connection. Low-bandwidth stuff, such as e-mail and even attachments, transferred fairly quickly. However, as with most mobile devices, surfing the Web exercises some patience as pages load more slowly. Also, complex sites such as CNET crashed the browser. Unfortunately, we weren't able to test out the EVDO data connections.
The PPC-6601 is rated for only 3.6 hours of talk time and just six days of standby time. Our testing indicated that those numbers about right. You can buy a spare battery to extend your time between charges if needed. Still, most road warriors will find that the PPC6601 just doesn't last long enough for them to get the job done. According to the FCC, this device has a SAR rating of 1.3 watts per kilogram.
CNET Labs project leader Dong Van Ngo and Senior Editor William O'Neal contributed to the performance analysis.