Until recently, one of the main criticisms of Pocket PCs was their high price. But this is not the case with the Dell Axim X5, which is available in a $349, 400MHz flavor and an even more palatable 300MHz version that retails for just $249. Impressively, both identical-looking models are also well stocked with features, and the step-up 400MHz unit includes a cradle. The Axim's one shortcoming is its size: this isn't the sleekest or the most compact Pocket PC that you'll find. But for the price--particularly when you factor in a $50 mail-in rebate--this Dell is very enticing. Armed with a 400MHz XScale processor, 48MB of ROM, and 64MB of RAM, the Axim has plenty of processing power and storage to spare. On top of that, the unit bristles with ports and slots. However, all those components make the Axim a bit bulky--the unit measures a healthy 5.0 by 3.2 by 0.7 inches and weighs in at 6.9 ounces. This PDA is too large to slip easily into most pockets, especially when it is in its protective case.
|The Axim is a bit large for a handheld.|
|Even in profile, it looks no slimmer.|
The 65,000-color, transflective display measures 3.5 inches diagonally and offers a QVGA (320x240 pixels) resolution. You can navigate the Axim's menus via the five-way button below the screen or with a scroll dial on the unit's side. Power users will appreciate the fact that both CompactFlash Type II and Secure Digital (SD)/MultiMedia Memory (MMC) card slots are onboard and that the lithium-ion battery is not only rechargeable but also removable. A rechargeable backup battery safeguards against data loss while you're switching out the main cell.
A few features differentiate this Dell from its competitors. Black rubber runs along the Axim's sides, making the unit easy to grip, and the record and reset buttons actually reside underneath the rubber. Two rubber feet on the back of the Axim keep it from sliding around if it is laying on a desk or a table. The unit's attractive, aluminum stylus has a flattened design but is a bit awkward to use at first.
|Far-out, fancy, and futuristic: The Axim's cradle.
|Good luck fitting this jumbo package into your pocket.|
The Axim's futuristic syncing cradle gives the device a bit of pizzazz. When the X5 is in its cradle, a blue Dell logo shines from behind its semitransparent, silvery surface. Styling aside, the cradle doesn't put form over function; it recharges the Axim and connects to a PC via a USB cable, just as you'd expect. The cradle can accommodate the Axim with a higher-capacity battery installed, and it has a second slot for charging up a spare battery. Our only gripe is that there's no separate dongle for syncing the unit without the cradle. Internally, the Dell Axim X5 resembles many of its competitors. Its aforementioned 400MHz processor, 48MB of ROM, and 64MB of RAM are par for the course in the latest Pocket PCs. Likewise, the unit's 3.5-inch TFT display and Pocket PC 2002 operating system are standard.
There's actually nothing special about any of the Axim's other hardware features, except for the fact that there are so many of them. As we mentioned before, the unit has both CompactFlash and SD/MMC expansion slots. And while the X5 doesn't include cutting-edge technology such as built-in Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, the dual slots give users two different ways to add memory or peripherals.
And Dell has a slew of peripherals in the works. More mundane add-ons include fancier protective cases; two different kinds of keyboards; screen protectors; and extra styli, cables, cords, and cradles. For expansion, expect CompactFlash and SD memory add-ons, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi cards, as well as a higher-capacity battery.
|Both of the unit's batteries are replaceable.
|Pull the old switcheroo using the Switcher Bar.|
Dell's homemade Home application has a bubble theme to it.
Along with Microsoft Outlook 2000 and ActiveSync, the software CD includes a bunch of different programs to add to your Axim. A closer look reveals that most of these apps are already installed on the handheld, while nearly all the rest are demos or trial versions. However, you do get a PowerPoint viewer called IA Presenter and Resco Picture Viewer--nice bonuses. Across the categories of processor, sound, screen, and battery, the Dell Axim X5's performance ranged from satisfactory to outstanding.
Considering that the Axim has a 400MHz processor, we expected better performance than we got, though many programs have yet to be optimized for this handheld. For example, playing Hexacto Bounty Hunter 2099 Pinball was frustrating: the system would occasionally pause for a split second, and the ball would suddenly appear elsewhere on the screen--usually caroming toward the drain. Using PocketTV, the X5 played back MPEG video smoothly, except for fast-action scenes, where it dropped frames. However, such performance glitches are endemic to many of the Axim's competitors, and this model had no problem juggling multiple programs and switching among them with minimal lag time.
|Bright idea: The Axim's screen is one of the brighter, better displays that we've seen.
|The Dell could play most movies well but stuttered a bit in fast-action scenes.|
The X5 has a 65,000-color, 16-bit screen that offers a 320x240 resolution. Beyond the specs, we found the Axim's display to be bright, pleasing, and easy on the eyes. The screen doesn't have very high viewing angles, but the color and the brightness are uniform. The display is even bright at the very top, unlike that of competitors such as the Razor Zayo A600.
Battery life is the Axim's forte--Dell rates it at 8 to 10 hours, but we were amazed at how long the cell held up in our tests. Using Microsoft Media Player with the screen set to halfway bright, the X5 played MP3s for 6 hours, 22 minutes before the music cut off. However, the battery still had 16 percent of its charge left, and even though the unit could no longer play tunes, the battery lasted another hour before shutting down. The total battery life added up to be only about 40 minutes shy of Dell's rated time.