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Dell Axim X50 review: Dell Axim X50

Dell Axim X50

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
6 min read
Today, PDAs are no longer one-trick ponies. They can organize data, connect to the Web, play music and videos, and more. And now, Dell has unleashed its newest talent: the Axim X50v. Like HP's iPaq rx3715 Mobile Media Companion, the X50v aims to blend digital entertainment with productivity for a PDA that does it all. This star's massive features list includes a VGA screen, a dedicated graphics engine, wireless connectivity, and Windows Media Player 10.0 Mobile. And similar to the Palm-OS based gaming handheld, the Tapwave Zodiac2, the X50v comes with a games bundle to satisfy the player in you. As the flagship model of the X50 series, the X50v costs $499, but if you don't need all the bells and whistles, check out the midlevel model or the entry-level X50. With the Axim X50v, Dell introduces a kinder and gentler design to its PDAs. We weren't big fans of the Axim X30's squarish edges, which gave it a drab and utilitarian look, so we welcome the X50's smoother, rounded edges and attractive silver and black casing. At 0.6 by 4.7 by 2.9 inches and 6.2 ounces, the X50v is slightly bigger and heavier than the X30 and certainly the HP iPaq rx3715. As a trade-off, though, the X50v is solidly built, and the rubberized sides make for a comfortable and solid grip.


Dell Axim X50

The Good

Large VGA screen; great graphics; included gaming bundle; Windows Media Player 10.0 Mobile; fast processor and ample memory; integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; sleek design; user-replaceable battery.

The Bad

Heavy; small navigation toggle; lackluster software bundle; so-so battery life and video performance.

The Bottom Line

The Dell Axim X50v is filled to the brim with PIM and entertainment features; unfortunately, it suffers from subpar performance.
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Looking good: The X50v sports a sharp VGA screen.

The X50v's 3.7-inch VGA screen is a sight to behold. Like the Asus MyPal A730, it has a larger viewing area than most PDAs and boasts four times the resolution of a QVGA screen at 480x640 pixels for sharper graphics and text--a nice touch since Dell touts this as a multimedia handheld. The four shortcut keys (Calendar, Contacts, Inbox, and Home) and the navigation toggle reside just below and, compared to the X30's, are quite diminutive. While this wasn't much of an issue with the shortcut keys, the smaller toggle proved trickier to navigate, especially for those with bigger digits, and we often pressed the center Select button by mistake.

The left side of the PDA gives you access to a host of goodies. There's a lanyard hook, a lock switch, a wireless on/off button, and a voice-record button. The one-touch access to wireless connectivity is a particularly nice convenience since you don't have to fish through the Settings menu to turn on Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The top of the device houses a 3.5mm headphone/headset jack that accepts Walkman-style 'phones and supports VoIP and voice-recognition apps; the stylus holder; and dual CompactFlash and SD expansion slots, while there's a standard sync/cradle connector on the bottom of the device. Give the X50v a twirl, and on the back, you'll find a battery-lock switch that enables the user to swap out the 1,100mAh battery; a Reset button; and two rubber grips to prevent your handheld from slipping.

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Wireless connectivity and voice-recording functionality are only a click away on the X50v.

There aren't too many extras in the box, but you get a desktop sync cradle, a travel charger, and a protective case. As mentioned earlier, the X50v has a user-replaceable battery, so if you're a road warrior, you might want to invest in Dell's 2,200mAh extended cell for $99.

A check under the Dell Axim X50v's hood shows a well-equipped and powerful handheld. There's an Intel 624MHz XScale PXA270 processor that, like any chip in this family, features SpeedStep and Wireless MMX technology to optimize battery life. However, the X50v doesn't stop there. Complementing the handheld's VGA screen is a dedicated Intel 2700G graphics engine with 16MB of video memory for better video playback and an improved gaming experience (see Performance). Road warriors can take advantage of the graphics processor to give presentations on the go with Dell's Presentation Kit, which includes a VGA cable to hook to the projector and Westtek's ClearVue Suite for $79. Memory is ample, with 128MB of flash ROM and 64MB of SDRAM (139MB of which are user accessible). If that's not enough, the dual CompactFlash and SD expansion slots should do the trick.

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The X50v comes with a games bundle, but the small toggle takes away from the overall experience.

The expansion options are particularly attractive since the X50 is the first Pocket PC to offer Windows Media Player 10.0 Mobile. What does this mean for you? In short, it's a better multimedia experience. Aside from being able to carry your favorite WMA, MP3, and WMV music files on your handheld, you can now view album art as songs are playing. Also, Windows Media Digital Rights Management 10.0 gives you access to audio and video content from subscription services, such as Musicmatch and CinemaNow. Do you like to show off photos and videos? You can do that too with WMP 10.0. But wait, there's more--to really drive home the fact that this is a multimedia device, the X50v ships with a games bundle that includes Stuntcar Extreme and 3D puzzles such as Enigmo.

Wireless connection comes in the form of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which can be used simultaneously. The X50v ships with a WLAN utility that shows signal strength, encryption options, certificate enrollment for advanced Wi-Fi authentication, and more. Bluetooth opens the doors to communication with other devices, allowing users to do even more with the X50. For instance, paired with Dell's GPS receiver ($249) the X50v can be used as a navigation device, or you can connect to a Bluetooth keyboard, such as the Think Outside Stowaway, for more productivity.

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Windows Mobile 2003 SE lets you do the old switcheroo and view apps in Landscape mode.

Like the latest crop of PDAs, the X50v comes loaded with Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, which supports Landscape mode--a boon if you're keen on flashing photos, surfing the Web, or working on spreadsheets. As you would expect, Pocket Word, Excel, and Internet Explorer are present, while other applications and utilities include MSN Messenger, a VPN client, a clock, a calculator, File Store, and Backup. There's also a companion CD with demo versions of programs such as Cash Organizer 2003, Full Hand Casino, and McAfee VirusScan PDA.

Editors' note: Due to time constraints with the product launch, we were able to run only one battery test instead of our standard three. We will continue testing the product and update as soon as we get the results.

From a performance point of view, the Dell Axim X50v was somewhat disappointing, as one of the PDA's best highlights--the VGA screen--turned out to be its biggest downfall. That said, we noticed similar hiccups in other VGA models such as the Asus MyPal A730 and the Toshiba e805, and while not ideal as your primary media player or gaming device, the X50v is still a very capable PDA.

This flagship model sports Intel's state-of-the-art PXA270 processor running at 624MHz, currently the fastest chip for Pocket PCs, as well as Intel's 2700G multimedia accelerator. Unfortunately, we were disappointed to see that all this power produced below-average video performance and subsequently affected its overall standing in CNET Labs' tests, scoring about 40 percent lower than the midlevel X50. Even in real-life usage, we experienced a noticeable lag in response time on the X50v when switching between applications.

Playing games on the X50v wasn't ideal. We tried out Stuntcar Extreme and enjoyed the great graphics on the VGA screen, but overall, it was a sluggish experience, and often, the game froze if another application was running in the background. Also, the small navigation toggle made it difficult to maneuver in the game. On a brighter note, when we were viewing Word documents or Web pages or performing other PIM functions, the screen produced sharp, crisp images and was even legible in sunlight.

Like the X50, the X50v's wireless connections worked very well. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth passed our test without a hitch, as the handheld instantly connected to access points and had great range.

Battery life was so-so. In our drain test, where we repeatedly played a video with the backlight and volume set at high with all wireless features off, the battery lasted almost four hours. By comparison, this was almost an hour longer than the A730 but fell short of the HP iPaq hx4700's mark of 5 hours, 25 minutes. Then again, the hx4700 doesn't have all the multimedia flair of the X50v. As our drain test was designed to zap the battery as fast as possible, you'll get more mileage with normal usage.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs project leader Dong Van Ngo and Eric Franklin.


Dell Axim X50

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 6