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Dell Axim X3 (300MHz) review: Dell Axim X3 (300MHz)

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The Good Thin and light; excellent value; decent battery life; removable battery.

The Bad Lackluster software bundle; uncomfortable stylus; no synchronization cradle.

The Bottom Line While it isn't loaded with features, this 300MHz handheld is an inexpensive and reliable Pocket PC.

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7.1 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Utilitarian in every way, the 300MHz Dell Axim X3 is for those who value a no-nonsense PDA and can do without some of the features found on higher-end models. Lacking many of the creature comforts of the faster and better-connected Pocket PC devices, this entry-level X3 makes up for that with decent battery life, 64MB of combined memory, and a hard-to-beat $229 price tag. This is the PDA for those willing to give up top speed and built-in wireless connectivity for a good buy in a small case.

At 4.6 ounces, Dell's Axim X3 is 2.3 ounces lighter than the company's popular predecessor, the Axim X5. Its measurements (4.6 by 3.0 by 0.6 inches) are slightly larger than those of HP's iPaq H4150. It not only fits comfortably in the hand but slips easily into and out of a shirt pocket with hardly a bulge. At worst, the squarish design is boring, but those who thought the X5 was too bulky will appreciate the slimmer case.

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Pocket-friendly: At 4.6 ounces, this Dell won't leave a bulge in your pocket.
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Topped off: The top of the unit features the IR port and an SDIO expansion slot.

The 3.5-inch (diagonal), 320x240-pixel, 65,536-color transflective screen matches that of most other current Pocket PC devices. Along the top of the unit are an infrared window and an SDIO expansion slot. The latter allows the use of Secure Digital (SD) or MultiMediaCard (MMC) memory, as well as a growing list of compatible peripherals such as cameras and wireless adapters. But you might need strong fingernails; it's a bit harder to seat or release cards in the X3's SD slot than it should be. Those who still need to use the larger CompactFlash cards will want to opt for the older Axim X5 or the HP iPaq H2210. Another gripe: The flat, aluminum stylus stored on the top-right side is slightly uncomfortable to use.

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Light load: This low-end Axim lacks the extras, so you might want to spend some extra cash on the optional 1,800mAH battery.
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Bring it on: If the 32MB of RAM aren't enough, you can always add your own SD or MMC media.

Underneath the screen are the standard five-way navigation key and shortcut buttons for your calendar, your contacts, your in-box, and home. Two extra keys--one on each edge--can be programmed for virtually any task from the Settings menu (the voice recorder and Windows Media Player are the default). The jog dial on the left side is great for scrolling through Web pages or interminably long contact lists.

Along the back are a recessed Reset button and the system's removable 950mAh battery pack. For $100, Dell sells an optional 1,800mAh cell that should just about double the time you can spend away from an AC outlet. You'll also notice that a synchronization cradle isn't included with this unit. Instead, you get a USB syncing cable that's easy to pack and take on the road.

While not a speed demon, the X3's specs should be plenty for most users. This model is powered by a 300MHz Intel XScale PXA255 processor and packs 64MB of total memory: 32MB of SDRAM (25MB of which are available) and 32MB Intel StrataFlash ROM. While the ROM flash memory is nonvolatile--meaning, you won't lose your data after a power loss--only 3.5MB are free for storage. This basic model lacks the Wi-Fi abilities of its 400MHz big brother, but adding a wireless adapter to the expansion slot will enable online possibilities.

In the event that users choose to get this model online with a wireless expansion card, Dell has included its easy-to-use wireless LAN setup utility. Also--continuing to assume the use of a third-party wireless adapter--the X3's software supports multiple POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail boxes and works with Microsoft-centric corporate virtual private networks. Even the most technically inclined will likely need help--and access permissions--from their corporate IT department to set up some of those higher-level functions, however.

Other than that, the X3's software is standard issue: Windows Mobile 2003; ActiveSync 3.7; Pocket versions of Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, MSN Messenger, and Windows Media Player; and several other application demos on the CD. In addition to an extended battery and a syncing cradle, a fold-up keyboard is available as an aftermarket upgrade.

Like all Pocket PCs, the X3 can double as a voice recorder and a portable media player. The standard 1/8-inch headphone jack will work with any Walkman-style headphones, and the small rear-mounted speaker can be used for low-fi audio playback. You'll want to supply your own SD or MMC media to store songs or videos, however.

Even with the 300MHz Intel XScale PXA255 processor and 64MB of combined memory (half that of the 400MHz models), the Axim X3 responded sprightly to commands and clicks, and it didn't lock up during a week of intense use. It never lags when displaying the slick graphics of Hexacto's Bounty Hunter 2099 pinball or balks at loading a large Adobe Acrobat document. The bright, transflective color screen compares favorably to that of competing Pocket PCs on the market. It works well, indoors or out, and was so bright that we had to set the backlight to only 70 percent. On the audio side, digital music files sound great.

With lower power demands, the system's 950mAh battery lasts longer than that of either 400MHz X3 models we reviewed. Video came through crystal clear with no ghosting, although there was a hint of jumpiness. In our tests, this unit had an acceptable battery life of 4 hours with the screen dimmed to 50 percent, or 10 minutes longer than Toshiba's e355. The X3 can pump out MP3 tunes for 4 hours, 45 minutes on battery power--better than the 400MHz system but still more than an hour short of the 6 hours, 22 minutes yielded by the X5's larger-capacity battery. It also has some of the same quirks of its more powerful brothers: the system stops charging at 99 percent, and--like Windows Mobile 2003 devices from other manufacturers--when it hits 14 percent, the video player stops working.

Using its USB cable, the X3 moved data at 195Kbps and synchronized two months of appointments and a contact list containing more than 700 entries with a 2.2GHz Pentium 4 system in 46.1 seconds, one-third longer than the same routine with the 400MHz models and on a par with the Toshiba e740.

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