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Orange's SPV C600 continues a long line of handsets from the operator that run on Windows Mobile, Microsoft's smartphone operating system.
This OS is related to the Windows Mobile software you find in Pocket PCs, but it's not a twin copy, more a close relative -- a cousin, of sorts. The two share the family characteristics of being able to synchronise calendar, contacts and tasks with Outlook, and you get a copy of Outlook 2002 with this handset as well as synchronisation software to make it easier. But they differ because the smartphone OS is designed for phones rather than handheld organisers, so that, for example, it doesn't support touch-sensitive screens, and it lacks some of the higher-end features of its cousin, such as word processing and spreadsheets.
While not the tiniest of phones, the SPV C600 feels comfortable to hold and fits neatly in a pocket. Styled in grey and silver, it's not the most eye-catching phone on the shelf, although its large screen does make others look underwhelming.
The screen really matters with smartphones. You need to be able to read it clearly, and it needs to be able to show plenty of information at once. If you want to read your email, or check out a Web page, you don't want to be forever scrolling or squinting.
So it's good news that the 240x320 pixels that make up the SPV C600's screen combine into a clear and crisp rendition, although it has to be noted that the 65K colours on offer won't stand up well in a numbers contest with handsets boasting 262K.
Two buttons that sit beneath the screen give you access to soft menus, while a mini joystick navigates around the screen. Call and End buttons are joined by a back button and one marked with a house icon that takes you to the Orange Home Screen. On the right edge of the casing a tiny button activates the built-in camera software -- with the lens and a tiny self-portrait mirror on the back of the casing.
The right edge has a similarly small button that launches you straight into Pocket Internet Explorer, and a volume rocker. Hold down the lower part of this rocker and you are straight into voice-activated dialling; hold down the upper part and you can make little voice memos to yourself.
The number keys are squeezed into a pretty small section of the casing, and while they are relatively well sized and, like all the keys, are very responsive, it might prove a stretch to get to the bottom row when you're using the phone with one hand. As a general rule, we find keys that run right to the bottom edge of a handset can be a problem in those situations.
The headset connector sits on the bottom edge of the handset, near to the slot that doubles as access for the mains power adaptor and synchronisation cable. It's a 2.5mm-size connector, which means you'll need one of those bulky converters to use your favourite 3.5mm 'buds, and because of its position, you'll need to sit the SPV C600 upside down in your pocket. Not impossible, but irritating.
As well as a pair of stereo earphones, Orange provides the cable you need to connect the SPV C600 to a PC, a copy of Outlook 2002 to store your calendar and contacts on your PC, synchronisation software and printed quick-start and handset manuals. Mac users are not catered for.
Getting around the applications on the handset is easy. Orange has its own Home screen with an icon bar in a vertical strip down the left edge. As you highlight each icon using the mini joystick it provides access to important software like contacts, SMS and email tools, your diary and Internet Explorer. There is also an icon that provides access to any four applications you choose.
When added to the softkeys, this system should provide quick firing up of most of what you need. The rest is available across a series of screens that offer a three-by-three grid of icons. No function is more than a couple of button presses away.
The SPV C600 functions perfectly well on its own as a phone and as a store for your diary, contacts and tasks. But it doesn't fulfil its role as a smartphone by working solo. It was made for sharing data, and specifically, to provide you with a duplicate of the important diary, contact and other information you have access to on your desk.
To help all this work you get a copy of Outlook in case you don't have it already. ActiveSync, Microsoft's synchronisation software, is also included. We'd suggest that if you are presented, as we were with our review unit, with ActiveSync version 4.0, you pop along to Microsoft's Web site and download the 4.1 version, as it irons out a few problems.
You use the ActiveSync software to share contacts, calendar, tasks and email. If you have Windows Media Player 10 on your PC you can synchronise music, playlists pictures and videos through this.
With so much synchronisation on offer you are going to want plenty of memory on your device. This is where things come unstuck, as there isn't a great deal available to begin with. Not all of the 64MB internal memory is accessible, and while Orange provides a top-up in the shape of a miniSD card, this only adds 32MB more.
If you want to get serious about using the SPV C600 as a music phone, for example, you'll need to invest in a considerably bigger card. Don't even think about using several smaller cards and swapping them in and out because the card slot is under the battery, so you need to power down to do a swap. This is irritating in itself, but doubly so because Windows Mobile smartphones are notoriously slow at starting up from cold.
In general use as a handset, the SPV C600 functioned very well. Calls were audible, the speakerphone is loud, and we didn't get any dropped calls. The side rocker makes it very easy to adjust volume during a call.
Because the SPV C600 can function as a mobile music player and will synchronise tunes with Windows Media Player 10 we decided to run a test of its ability to play music non-stop. We set the screen to stay always on for this. In real life you'll probably not mind having the screen turn off automatically, so this way means we thrashed the battery more than you will. We got just over 8 hours of battery life, and music playback right to the bitter end. We were pleased that the phone lasted more than an hour after it first told us the battery was low, too.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide