REVIEW: Dell Axim X5

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Dell’s goal in releasing the Axim was to get a foot in the PDA market — they may just have gotten two feet in though.  The Axim X5 is a good device at an excellent price, the 300 MHz Axim is quite easily the most feature rich and cheapest to buy Pocket PC at $199.99.  The 400 MHz device at $299.99 (includes USB cradle that does not come with the 300 MHz device) is also a bargain for top notch power at a low price.  Dell combined with the Wistron Group, owned by Taiwan’s Acer electronics, to rapidly develop the Axim and offer it at these prices.  The Axim will not get you bleeding edge technology or cutting edge design, but it will buy you good functionality and a solid all around Pocket PC.   So on with the review and let me tell you what you get with the Axim and what I like and dislike about it.

Dell Axim X5

In the box:

Here’s a picture and listing of all that the Axim X5 400 MHz device comes equipped with:

 400 MHz Axim X5 with removable battery
 1 stylus
 USB Cradle and AC adaptor
 Protective Case for the Axim
 Activesync 3.5 and Outlook 2000 on CD along with other trial software
 Getting started guide and manual (which is very thorough and good by the way, the best I’ve ever seen for a PDA)
At First I had Problems, Dell Responded and all was well:

In my initial thoughts article on the Dell Axim I professed some concerns with the device.  It in fact crashed after a couple of minutes of use and displayed the wrong device information, the settings said the device was a 300 MHz PDA with 32 MB of RAM.  After posting these problems here on BargainPDA Dell contacted us right away and after talking to their folks they walked me through a hard reset which somehow got the device to display the right 400 MHz information.

Go to start > settings > system > system information to check you got the right Axim!

Processor & Memory:

The Axim X5 I have is the 400 MHz device.  400 MHz of Processor power is very good while 300 MHz is also an ample amount.  The annoying thing is that a lot of the software out on the market has not been optimized to use the new Intel XScale technology chip that Dell has incorporated into this device, so huge performance increases in software you are used to using will not be seen.  The XScale is designed to speed itself up and slow itself down depending on the demand a software application is putting on it.  The theory is that this will save battery power by allowing the chip to scale down when it is not needed to run at its top speed.  But then when an application demands lots of processor power the XScale chip will be allowed to drain battery power and speed along.  I did a side by side comparison of the iPaq 5450 (the latest and greatest HP iPAQ device, $799) with the Dell Axim ($299) running the same applications and noticed no speed difference between the two, I did notice the price difference though (would you rather have two Axims or one iPaq?).  So rest assured that the Dell Axim performs on par with its peer 400 MHz PDAs.  The 400 MHz device comes with 64 MB RAM and 48 MB of ROM, very standard for the Pocket PC range.  The 300 MHz device is a 32 MB RAM PDA.  You can use either CompactFlash or SecureDigital expansion to add memory to the device, CompactFlash is cheaper but SecureDigital is the newer and faster memory expansion technology.

Form Factor & Size:

As far as size goes, the Axim is no petite Pocket PC, but it’s not as unbearably big as some make it out to be. Here are the stats on the size: 5.1x 3.2 x 0.7 in., 6.9 oz. Here’s a shot of the Axim next to the tiny iPaq 1910:

iPaq 1910 next to Axim X5

The Axim is about .5 in longer than the iPaq, .2 in thicker and 2 oz heavier. In other words, it’s significantly bigger than the smallest Pocket PC, but the trade off is that the Dell Axim is faster (assuming you have the 400 MHz) and more expandable.  To show the Axim’s size is about normal in the Pocket PC world, here’s a shot of it next to the iPaq 5450:

Dell Axim X5 next to iPaq 5450
The case for the Dell Axim is nothing to write home about really, not bad but just not thrilling. I’m not sure how I feel about the rubber grips that stretch along the entire length of each side of the Axim. On the one hand it does make it much easier to grip the device but on the other hand it makes the device look even chunkier.  Palm owners would likely cringe at the thought of rubber footing and padding being placed on their PDA. 

As far as layout goes, here’s what you’ll find in each area on the Axim:

Front:  Screen, speaker, 4 shortcut buttons, navigational-pad control, power button
Back: Main battery compartment, backup battery compartment
Left:  SecureDigital card slot, jog-dial, record button, soft-reset button
Right:  Stylus slot (top right)
Top:  IrDA communication, CompactFlash slot, headphone jack
Bottom:  Power connector, cradle/cable sync port

As far as form and looks goes, the iPaq 1910 runs circles around the Axim, but the Axim’s buttons are bigger and easier to push than the iPaq 1910’s. I found that the navigation pad on the Axim is a lot better than the smallish navigation pad on the iPaq 1910.  However, I’m not a big fan of the jog-dial on the side of the Axim, it doesn’t scroll, it provides more of a lever-like motion and pushing in the jog-dial as a button action definitely does not give a firm feedback.  I almost feel as if the thing might break each time I push it, placing it higher up on the side and making it more pleasant to push would be a good move for the next Axim.  The navigation-pad (circle joystick control in the middle) is good and I find it easy to use and roll my thumb in the direction needed.
The positioning for the CompactFlash slot and SecureDigital slot are very smartly laid out.  The CompactFlash is on top which is good because that is likely where you’ll have your expansion devices and it’s better to have them  sticking out the top than the side.  The soft reset button is easy to push when needed but hard to push by accident, that’s a good thing.  The record button for dictation is recessed quite a bit and is also hard to push by accident, but I find it is a little too recessed for easy access as well.

Expansion & Accessories:

Another thing to just love about the Axim is the dual expansion slots of CompactFlash and SecureDigital. These expansion slots also support IO devices such as Wi-Fi cards, Bluetooth cards, Radio FM Cards, Cameras and so on. In other words, the Axim is highly expandable and can grow with you — this is a very important point.  Here is a list of add-on accessories Dell already or will soon offer for the Axim:

 USB sync cradle
 Serial cradle
 Spare 1,440 mAH battery
 Spare high-capacity 3,400 mAh battery
 Replacement AC power adaptor
 Foldable keyboard
 Snap-on keyboard
 Stylus 3-pack
 Screen covers (12 pack)
 USB synch cable
 Serial synch cable
 CompactFlash cards 64/128 MB
 SecureDigital cards 64/128 MB
 BlueTooth CompactFlash card
 Wi-Fi CompactFlash card
 VGA-out adapter

This is just a list of the Dell branded accessories that will be offered, there are of course many other expansion devices on the market now that you can purchase and use with the Axim.  I really like the dual expansion option of the Axim and feel that it is one of the biggest advantages of owning this PDA.  I would recommend using the CompactFlash slot for accessories such as BlueTooth or Wi-Fi cards and then use the SecureDigital slot for your memory needs.  You can buy SD cards with up to 512MB of capacity now and 256MB cards are becoming much cheaper.

Screen & Speaker:

The screen for the Axim is definitely good, not the best I’ve seen, but there’s not much to complain about.  The Axim has 65,000 colors (16-bit) and a 320×240 resolution.  The screen is TFT and 3.5 in diagonal in display, both very standard for Pocket PC devices.  The backlight is distributed well all over the screen, there’s no such thing as an overly dim or bright spot.  The iPaq 1910 still has a leg up on the brightness and contrast when compared to the Axim though.

The speaker for the Axim is okay, nothing to write home about, it’s another Pocket PC where I’d recommend using headphones to avoid cringing at the tinny sound when playing MP3s.  The speaker on the iPaq series is better, but not by a whole lot and it certainly shouldn’t make or break a buying decision.


The Axim of course comes with the Microsoft Pocket PC 2002 operating system and applications built in. Standard applications include Pocket Outlook, Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, MS Reader, and Media Player.  These programs are included on the CD with the Axim along with ActiveSync 3.5 and Outlook 2000.  There are two cool applications built into the device, Dell Backup and Switcher, and are worth knowing about.  Dell Backup lets you back up everything stored in RAM (Outlook data, programs you’ve installed, etc.) or just to back up PIM databases (Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Notes, and Inbox). This is similar to the app some may be familiar with that comes with the iPaq.  Dell Switcher is a task switcher that lets you close down the current application, all applications, or switch between open applications.  This is a great shortcut device between apps, here you can see the switcher dropping down a list of open applications:

The Home view application for Dell lists all applications on the device, is easy to scroll through, and has a customized bubble look (XP like) worth looking at:


Dell also includes a wide variety of third-party applications on the CD that ships with both Axim X5 units. Disappointingly most of the software applications are free demo versions with links to the full versions that are not free!  However, you do get a PowerPoint viewer called IA Presenter and Resco Picture Viewer.  The Dell Axim has enough good software applications, but it is certainly not close to the iPaq in tons of useful software, but that’s part of the reason you’ll pay less for the Axim.


Bottoms Up!  Axim X5 on the right and iPaq 5450 on the left with batteries out.

The battery for the Axim X5 is removable, this is a great feature and I’m happy to see many manufacturers are adopting this method. The mechanism for removing the battery from the back of the Axim requires use of the stylus to unlock the battery, this is very simple to do and very easy to get the battery back in also. The battery is a 1,440 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery and Dell should soon release a long-life 3,400 mAh battery option.  Dell rates its 1,440 mAh battery as lasting 8 — 10 hours of constant use.  I’m happy to say that this is indeed about right.  I have been getting 7 hours of normal use out of the device on a regular basis after one charge, this is good, trust me.  If 7 hours isn’t enough then buy a backup and keep it constantly charged via the optional cradle, if you have the PDA and a backup battery charging at the same time you can view the status of charge on the backup battery via the Axim.


If you order the 400 MHz version Dell Axim the cradle comes boxed with the PDA, it is an option for the 300 MHz device.  The cradle is good and worth having, it can charge the Axim and a backup battery at the same time while synching with your PC.  I found it a little awkward at first to fit the Axim into its cradle, but quickly got used to the motion.  The benefit of having a cradle to keep the Axim screen in a viewable position and not lying on the desk is nice.  The cradle is also very cool looking, the neon blue Dell logo looks very swank on the chrome cradle. The light is futuristic looking but functional, the Dell light goes on and off in correspondence with the Axim being connected to the cradle or not and makes for great visual feedback


In the end the Dell Axim is not perfect, but for the price, functionality and expandability it is one of the most sensible PDAs to buy on the market.  If someone were to ask (and many do on the BargainPDA discussion boards) “I don’t want to spend a ton, but I’m looking to get a PDA that offers color, sound and all the basic features I use on my PC such as calendar, email and contacts, what should I get?” My answer would be, “spend $199 on the Dell AXIM X5 300 MHz device, you’ll get all you want and more plus the ability to expand if you like.”  If they want more power and memory, for $100 more the 400 MHz device makes sense to step up to, but at that price Toshiba, Viewsonic and HP have devices that are close in functionality and so it becomes a lot more sticky on making the call.  I like the Axim X5 over the Viewsonic V35, but the iPaq 1910 form and design has me liking it a lot, the problem with the iPaq 1910 is that it is slower and doesn’t expand.  If deciding between the Axim and iPaq 5450 (both 400 MHz devices), save your dough and go with the Axim since it’s half the price and you can add wireless to it for $100 or less.  Buying a PDA isn’t easy, it’s just the way with many electronic devices, but if what you’re looking for is a great PDA at a great price and you don’t need to be on the bleeding edge with integrated features then buy the Axim!

View pricing for:

Dell Axim X5 300 MHz

Dell Axim X5 400 MHz



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