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T-Mobile SDA review: T-Mobile SDA

T-Mobile SDA

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
7 min read
T-Mobile SDA
The SDA in T-Mobile SDA stands for Smart Digital Assistant, and overall, the device lives up to its name. With its compact and sleek form factor, it may look like any other candy bar cell phone, but the handset runs Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone Edition, arming you with the tools to stay productive on the go. It's loaded with all the wireless connections (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and EDGE) you'd want, as well as multimedia flair and a 1.3-megapixel camera.

Oh, and the phone itself? It sounds great, and you can chat till your heart's content with the SDA's extralong battery life. Our only major gripe would have to be the cramped keypad--an advantage we give to the similarly featured and priced Cingular 2125. All things said, the T-Mobile SDA is a smart phone for those who want to stay up to date and be more productive with their time; power users should consider the T-Mobile MDA, which includes a QWERTY keyboard and the full Mobile Office suite. The SDA will be available starting February 13; the price is set at $299.99, but you should be able to get it for less with a service agreement.


T-Mobile SDA

The Good

The T-Mobile SDA boasts a sharp, vibrant screen, as well as outstanding battery life and call quality. In addition, the Windows Mobile 5 smart phone is equipped with a 1.3-megapixel camera, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and EDGE support.

The Bad

The T-Mobile SDA's Mini SD card slot is inconveniently located behind the battery, and the keypad and navigation controls are a bit cramped.

The Bottom Line

For those who want to do more on the go, the T-Mobile SDA offers a winning package of productivity tools, multimedia, and great performance. We just wish the smart phone had a better keypad layout.
The T-Mobile SDA is smart not only in functionality but also in looks. At 4.5 by 1.8 by 0.7 inches and 3.7 ounces, the SDA won't slow down mobile professionals, and it's dressed in a cool silver for a polished look. The integrated antenna adds about a quarter inch of unwanted bulk, but it's not a deal breaker. More important, the candy bar-style phone is solidly constructed and is comfortable to hold.

Your eyes can't help but gravitate toward the T-Mobile SDA's sharp and vibrant 2.2-inch-diagonal screen, which has an unmistakable Windows feel. It has a crisp 320x240-pixel resolution and a 65,000-color output that makes viewing text and images easy on the eyes. Our only word of caution: The screen has a tendency to hold a lot of smudges and fingerprints, so you might want to keep a chammy nearby.

The SDA's tiny buttons may prove to be a challenge for those with larger hands.

Below the display are four minuscule buttons--two soft keys, a Back button, and a Home key--that may prove troublesome to those with larger digits. In fact, you may have problems with most of the T-Mobile SDA's buttons, since they're all pretty small. While the numerical dial pad is well backlit and tactile, the spacing between the 12 keys is cramped, making dialing by feel difficult. The navigation joystick is also tiny and requires conscientious effort in moving the cursor in the right direction, and you have to push the toggle square in the middle for it to select an item. Are your thumbs ready for a workout?

All that said, there are some bright sides to the T-Mobile SDA's form factor. The Talk and End keys that flank the directional toggle are spacious, and we're big fans of the dedicated media player buttons right above them. They're similar to those found on an MP3 player, including the play/pause, forward, and rewind buttons. A dedicated T-zone button rounds out the quartet.

On the T-Mobile SDA's left spine, you'll find a volume rocker and a shortcut key that launches the Communication Manager, where you can control all your wireless connections (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Phone, and Sync); a lone camera-activation button is on the right spine. Speaking of which, the camera lens, as well as a self-portrait mirror, is on the rear of the phone. Unfortunately, there is no flash. On the top of the SDA are the power button and an infrared port, while the bottom of the device has a 2.5mm headset jack and a port for the USB-synchronization cable and the power adapter. T-Mobile packages the smart phone with a wired headset, a USB cable, and an AC adapter.

There are, of course, trade-offs for the T-Mobile SDA's compact size. First, there is no QWERTY keyboard, so don't expect this to be an e-mailing machine; if this functionality is important to you, check out the T-Mobile MDA. Also, the SDA comes equipped with a Mini SD card slot, but it's located behind the battery, so that's a bit of an inconvenience.

Don't let its diminutive size fool you; the T-Mobile SDA packs a heavyweight punch in the features department. Running the latest Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone Edition, the SDA offers productivity tools to help keep you on task and connected to the office. You should be aware, however, that you don't get the full Mobile Office suite--just Outlook Mobile and not Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. Instead, the device comes loaded with the ClearVue Suite--ClearVue Document, ClearVue Worksheet, ClearVue PPT, and ClearVue PDF--which lets you view but not edit said files. We transferred several Word and Excel documents and a PowerPoint presentation to the SDA and were able to view them all without any problems.

Synchronizing our Outlook e-mail, Calendar, and Contacts on the T-Mobile SDA was also a snap. We used the included USB cable, and ActiveSync 4.1 took care of the rest. You can also configure the SDA to receive e-mails from your personal accounts (POP3 or IMAP4), including Hotmail, Yahoo Mail Plus, AOL, and Comcast. If you want quicker communication, the smart phone supports several instant-messaging clients--ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo, and AOL--as well as text and multimedia messaging.

As we noted in the Design section, the lack of a QWERTY keyboard makes the T-Mobile SDA better for viewing e-mails rather than sending them. However, thanks to the integrated Bluetooth, you can pair your device with a Bluetooth-enabled keyboard and fire off messages that way. Aside from Bluetooth, the SDA is equipped with Wi-Fi and EDGE support, so you can hop on to a hot spot while you're on the road and surf the Web using Internet Explorer Mobile. EDGE should also allow for high-speed data connections; indeed, cruising the Web on the SDA was a pleasure, thanks to the great screen and the faster upload times.

The T-Mobile SDA's phone book is limited only by the available memory and is quite robust, with room in each entry for up to 12 numbers, three e-mail addresses, and more; the SIM card holds an additional 250 names. For caller-ID purposes, you can pair a contact with a photo or one of 15 polyphonic ring tones. You can also assign them to caller groups. Other goodies include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, a task manager, a voice recorder, and a calculator.

Snappy happy: The SDA's 1.3-megapixel camera isn't too shabby, producing sharp and bright images.

The T-Mobile SDA isn't just about helping you be more productive on the road; it's also meant to entertain. It's armed with Windows Media Player 10, so you can listen to MP3, WMA (including WMA DRM), and WAV audio files, as well as WMV and MPEG-4 video files. There's 64MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM on board, but we suggest you save that for other applications and load up a Mini SD card with your multimedia files. The phone also includes two games: Bubblebreaker and Solitaire.

The T-Mobile SDA's 1.3-megapixel camera takes pictures in four qualities (Basic, Normal, Fine, and Superfine) and four resolutions (160x120, 320x240, 640x480, and 1,280x1,024). For getting the best shot possible, the SDA gives you a 2X zoom and brightness controls, and while there's no flash, you can adjust the settings to Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, or Night, based on the type of light you're in--or Ambience, as the phone calls it. If you're feeling a little artsy, you can add a picture frame or change the tone of the picture to Grayscale, Sepia, or Cool. We also appreciate the little details, such as the option for a time and date stamp, as well as a photo counter. The video camera records clips with sound in MPEG-4, H.263, or MJPEG AVI format and offers two resolutions (176x144 or 128x96). You also get many of the same tools as the still camera, such as the Ambience settings and 2X zoom.

Overall, the T-Mobile SDA's picture quality was good for a camera phone, sporting bright colors and crisp lines. The Night mode even did an admirable job, with images taken in dark environments. Once you're done with your masterpieces, you can save them as wallpaper or send them to friends and family via multimedia message or e-mail.

To really make the T-Mobile SDA one with you, you can customize the phone with different wallpaper, color themes, and sounds. Of course, you can always download more from T-Mobile's T-zones.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) T-Mobile SDA in San Francisco, and call quality was excellent. Conversations sounded clear and volume was loud, and our callers reported the same. They also said they couldn't tell we were using the speakerphone, and we had no problems hearing them. We paired the SDA with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset, and audio quality diminished slightly, but that may have more to do with the headset than the phone.

The T-Mobile SDA is great for all the Chatty Cathys of the world, thanks to its extralong battery life. The smart phone is rated for 4.5 hours of talk time, but the SDA blew that out of the water by lasting for a total of 11 hours. Standby time is rated for five days, and the phone had no problem reaching that mark.


T-Mobile SDA

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 9