Months past the expected summer arrival date, the ViewSonic V36 is now available for purchase at COMPUSA, the ViewSonic Store and limited online retailers. The device has been highly anticipated by some, since it is the first Pocket PC with a built-in digital camera available in the United States. Additionally this unit is preloaded with the new Windows Mobile 2003 Operating System and incorporates a user replaceable battery.
The V36 has arrived into the mainstream consumer market after a quiet release of the ViewSonic "V37" which was mostly a give away model that was free to developers who purchased Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2003 software. After taking a close look at that model I was unimpressed with what seemed to me as a decline in hardware quality that was already considered marginal in ViewSonic's first Pocket PC model, the "V35".
So what about the V36? The unit is very similar to the past models in feel, looks and functionality. It is powered by a 300MHZ PXA255 processor and the new Windows Mobile 2003 OS. It also features a built-in camera and user replaceable battery. Does this new machine offer enough to warrant its $299 price tag. Please read on.
Here is what you get (including a power adapter). Notice that ViewSonic has chosen to leave out a cradle
for this model (available seperately).
In the Box
- ViewSonic V36 Pocket PC
- USB Synch Cable
- AC adapter
- Slip Case
- Removable Lithium Ion Battery (rated at 10 hour battery life)
- User Guide
- ViewSonic V36 Companion CD
- Memory and Processor
Unlike previous models in the ViewSonic Pocket PC family, the V36 has an acceptable amount memory. The unit includes 32MB ROM and 64MB SDRAM (57MB user accessible). The other units from ViewSonic have been criticized for their memory limitations. It is a pleasure to see that this issue has been addressed especially considering the need for additional space to store photos and video shot by the integrated camera. The V36 is powered by a 300MHz Intel XScale processor, specifically the PXA255 which has shown to be 30% more power efficient over its predecessor.
One would expect that ViewSonic, (a company that is mostly known for its exceptional screens) would include an outstanding display in its Pocket PC. While the screens on the V35 and V37 models are considered high in quality, brightness and contrast, it is disappointing to report that the screen on the V36 is not in the same league. Even more discouraging is the fact that even though this unit boasts a digital camera, the screen is absolutely horrible to use as both a camera display and to view photos.
What makes this screen so different from the displays on the V35 and V37 is a significant lack of contrast, poor color saturation and an overall dull appearance. Sadly, I cannot get past this issue, and will not consider adopting our review unit to become my everyday Pocket PC. I (along with many fellow PDA users) feel that no matter what "bells and whistles" any model offers, it is not even a consideration to purchase that a unit that has a poor display.
The sound on the V36's speaker is average for a Pocket PC. It is relatively similar in quality to the Toshiba e300 series or Dell Axim X5. One note to mention though, the "cracking sound" issue which plagued the V35, still occurs with this model. When the unit is first powered on, it takes time for the speaker to produce clear sound until the unit "warms up".
A feature that many potential buyers are seeking in the V36 is its 640x480 pixel digital camera. The camera is capable of capturing stills and even video as well. Although the camera software (included in the ROM) is excellent in functionality, the camera itself produces less than average quality pictures. The two photos below were the best I could get and were brightened up a bit with Adobe Photoshop in order to illustrate the actual clarity. An issue with the included camera is its lack of flash which makes it very difficult for users to get decent results for indoor or low-light photos. A flash might be a little much to ask for in a PDA camera, however I have noticed that other units that include cameras (such as the Sony Cli and Palm Zire 71), make better use of ambient light resulting in brighter and clearer photos than the V36's camera.
Outdoor shot. (Better color saturation in sunlight)
Indoor shot. (This was taken right underneath a bright light, but still
required some brightening in Photoshop.)
I decided to compare the V36 to two other popular Pocket PC models (the iPaq 2215 and the Dell AXIM X5 w/ the PXA250 / PPC 2002 OS), to give readers an idea of its comparitive performance. Take note of the graphics test results. They are quite impressive.
The CPU test. Not bad considering the 300MHZ processor.
File System access times. Not "earth shattering".
Graphics test, quite impressive!
The "overall" benchmark rating.
A nice feature of the ViewSonic V36 (and V37) Pocket PC models is that ViewSonic manufactures a Secure Digital Wi-Fi card that is designed to work specifically with these units. The card retails for $129.00 and can be purchased at the ViewSonic Store: http://store.viewsonic.com/html/ibeCCtpItmDspRte.jsp?site=VS_STORE ion=10822&item=70559
V36 Form Factor vs. the V35 and V37
There has been a lot of debate as to the durability and quality of the ViewSonic Pocket PC models since they are constructed of a very lightweight combination of silver and black plastics. Now that many other manufacturers have followed this same formula to bring down both the weight and production costs of Pocket PCs, I think that this form factor has become more acceptable by users. The V35 and V37 are both characterized by being very thin, light and "pocketable" units. The V36 is a bit thicker at .54 in. versus the .4 in. depth of the V35 and V37 models. It also weighs just a fraction (.4 oz.) more. It is most likely that the additional size is neccessary to accomodate the addition of the integrated digital camera. The power button has been moved to the left side of the unit that to me makes good sense, since it allows easier access. I find the directional pad on the V36 is somewhat difficult to manipulate. The feel is a little unstable, and annoying drawback similar to the problem that plagues the Dell Axim X5's D-Pad. Another minor annoyance is placing the IrDA (infared) port on the lower side of the unit, which makes it a bit odd to "beam" files to other users.
A welcomed change in the V36 is its user replaceable battery. However, based on the Spb Benchmark battery test results, the V36 battery life seems to be fairly poor in comparison to the average 4-5 hours that most Pocket PC's in this price range achieve. ViewSonic does not disclose the exact milliamp hour rating, they do claim "up to 10 hours" of use on one charge. I guess that means in order to get that much use, there can be no sound, backlight or pushing of the buttons!
The battery test results for the V36 are not promising.
My final thoughts are this:
1. An integrated camera is a nice feature, but in this case it is more of a gimmick than a useful addition due to its marginal photo quality.
2. This could have been a colossal opportunity for ViewSonic to grab a significant segment in the market for those seeking a Pocket PC with an integrated camera, however the lack of screen, audio and camera quality will ultimately disappoint consumers.
3. I can never get past a weak screen. It is even more disappointing to see manufacturers actually reduce screen quality on newer models.
4. Based on my test, the battery life is questionable.
5. The graphics performance on this unit is exceptional. I so very badly crave a nice display to go with it! If ViewSonic continues to manufacture Pocket PCs, it would be nice to see the units include displays of high quality that would be expected on a unit produced by a top screen manufacturer.
To Purchase via the Web
The V36 is available from a limited number of online merchants. The current lowest price is $279.
Barry J. Doyle
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