O2 may have the iPhone all to itself in the UK, but that hasn't stopped the company from continuing with its own Xda range of smart phones. The Xda Zest is the latest addition to the clan but, instead of being targeted at business types, this time O2 is aiming the handset at pay as you go users. As such, the handset is available for the relatively low price of around £250, without the need to take out a hefty contract.
The first thing you notice when you start up the Zest is that, although it uses Windows Mobile 6.1, the menu system looks completely different. This is because O2 has loaded the Zest with its own touch interface (a reworked version of Spb's Mobile Shell), providing you with a 3D grid interface with large, chunky buttons that you can press with your finger. It's easy to use, responsive (thanks, no doubt, to the handset's speedy 624MHz Marvell processor) and does a good job of hiding away most of the traditional, wonky Windows Mobile menus.
The phone's screen may be small, but it's still impressive. Thanks to its 480x640-pixel resolution, photos and Web pages look sharp, and, because it's bright, the screen's easy to read even in direct sunlight. With both Wi-Fi and HSDPA support, it's no surprise that Web pages load very quickly. O2 has also sensibly pre-loaded the Opera Mobile browser on the phone, which is much more useable than the usual Internet Explorer Mobile.
The handset also has built-in GPS and comes with a trial version of the Co-Pilot Live 7 navigation software. This works for two weeks before asking you to shell out £50 to activate the full version.
On the storage front, you get 256MB of Flash ROM and 128MB of RAM, so there's plenty of space onboard for storing extra applications and data, and you can also add more space via microSD cards.
When it comes to call quality, the Zest puts in an excellent performance, and battery life is good too. We got around two days' use out of it before it needed a recharge.
The Zest's styling is rather workman-like and certainly won't turn any heads. It's quite wide and also relatively thick -- no-one could describe it as sleek. The glossy rear panel also tends to pick up smudges from fingerprints and the like.
At 71mm (2.8 inches), the screen is on the small side compared to many other Windows smart phones, and the SD card slot is rather awkwardly placed underneath the SIM card holder, which means you have to take out the battery to swap memory cards.
The phone's camera is also relatively basic. Although it has a decent, 3-megapixel resolution, there's no flash so, while shots taken in sunlight look okay, those taken indoors in pubs and clubs descend into a sea of blocky, dark pixels.
The Zest isn't the sexiest-looking smart phone on the market at the moment, but it is easy to use and a great little performer. We love the simple interface O2 has tacked on over the top of Windows Mobile, and the broad range of features on offer is surprising, given the handset's relatively low price. If you're looking for a cheap and cheerful smart phone, make sure to check it out.
Edited by Charles Kloet