note: The review model is a Toshiba e355. The e350 and e355 are identical models, however the e355 includes ArcSoft PhotoBase software for viewing and working with photos.
With all the excitement surrounding the launch of the newest “Microsoft Mobile OS,” the market is buzzing with news of the arrival of many new devices. Reports of devices which boast promises of integrated and improved wireless functions, enhanced power management and blazing multimedia performance are circulating in the media and on the web. Enter the Toshiba e355 with Pocket PC 2003 now officially dubbed “Microsoft Mobile OS.”
Toshiba describes this model as offering “Maximum Productivity for the Mobile User! Easy to use, the Toshiba Pocket PC e350/e355 Series features the new Microsoft Pocket PC 2003 operating system delivering enhanced schedule/calendar capabilities, wireless communication support and data backup synchronization.” I find this statement to be accurate in describing what this model offers. But let’s look closely at the true details.
SPECS AND INCLUDED SOFTWARE (as listed by Toshiba):
|Operating System:||Windows Mobile 2003|
|Dimensions:||4.9″ x 3,1″ x .4″|
|Processor:||300 MHz Intel PXA 255 Processor|
|RAM:||64MB SDRAM,16MB Flash ROM|
|Expansion Slot:||Secure Digital (I/O)|
|Battery Type:||1000 mAh Lithium-ion|
|Power:||autosensing AC adapter (100/240 V) for worldwide usage|
|Audio Out:||Speaker, stereo headphone jack|
|Display:||Reflective TFT color display|
|Resolution:||240 x 320 pixels|
|Viewable Image:||3.5″ diagonal|
|Software Included:||Additional software: Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Pocket Outlook , Pocket Internet Explorer, Microsoft Windows Media Player 9 for Pocket PC, File Explorer, MSN Messenger, Microsoft Active Sync 3.7, Microsoft Outlook and ArcSoft PhotoBase (e355 only)|
|Other Hardware:||Toshiba Pocket PC e355, USB Cradle, 10W AC Adapter, 1-Stylus, Soft Slip Case, Quick Start Card and Warranty Card.|
|Warranty:||1 year parts, labor and battery|
So with all the attractive new devices starting to appear on store shelves, how does the newest offering from Toshiba stack up? Let’s consider what features of the e355 make it a worthy pick from the crop of new arrivals. Let’s also look at how the e355 compares with its predecessors the e335 and e310?
First and most apparent, the form factor of the e355 is almost identical to the older models. However at closer observation, it is evident that Toshiba changed the looks of the hardware buttons and navigational pad to look a bit more “beveled” at the edges rather than simply round. The metallic case is very similar to past models with the exception that it is now a very cool looking charcoal, almost gunmetal color.
This brings up an important consideration to the form factor. This is one thin and light Pocket PC, but it is still built to tolerate the “bumps and grinds” of mobile use. Toshiba’s decision to stick with a metal case and buttons is a plus in my opinion. It is sad to see so many other manufacturers turning to cheaper plastics and trying to cover up the looks with pseudo-metallic buttons, etc. This is not to say that other manufacturers haven’t done a wonderful job designing devices that are sleek in appearance, lighter and less-costly, but one must question how well these plastic PDA’s can survive the daily grind before they crack or crumble. Ever left your PDA on a couch cushion for “just a minute?” My opinion; a metal case is more likely to survive an inevitable mishap than plastic.
Toshiba FINALLY welcomes transreflective screen technology. Hurray! The 3.5″ screen is fairly bright, colorful and clear. However, it doesn’t achieve the legendary iPAQ screen status, rather is somewhat brighter than the Axim screen, and it is evenly lit with excellent color saturation. Fonts appear crisp, and the unit handles ClearType well.
The speaker on Toshiba PPC’s has never matched the performance of the iPAQ models. In the case of the e355 the volume and clarity is sufficient, but it certainly is no Bose system! The good news is that MP3 and audio playback sounds excellent with headphones and the e355 includes a standard 3.5mm audio jack. The new ROM image includes software so the headphone’s left and right speaker balance can be adjusted. A built-in microphone is integrated into the top of the unit and a software gain control is also included in the ROM.
ON TO THE INSIDE:
What’s under the hood? For starters, the new Intel PXA255 XSCALE chip rated at 300MHZ powers the e355. This chip promises better power management and also improved performance (supposedly due to an increased bus speed over the older PXA250 chip). Toshiba includes 16MB of ROM and 64 MB of RAM. There seems to be no restrictions to user accessibility to the RAM as discovered in other PPC’s. Pocket PC 2003 “Professional” edition is contained within the ROM, so the user needs to install Microsoft Reader and ArcSoft Photobase (included) rather than the basic picture viewer included in the “Premium” version of Pocket PC 2003. The new Windows Media Player 9 is built into the ROM and performs supremely on this device. The video playback is seamless and does not exhibit obvious stutters and pauses between frames.
BACK TO THE BUTTONS:
The e355 includes all the standard Pocket PC hardware buttons. Additionally included is a jog/ scroll wheel on the left side, along with a hardware record button. And YES there is finally a software-based disable feature to avoid accidental activation of this button included in the new ROM. This will certainly make many users happy to avoid accidental recordings and unnecessary battery drain when the unit “mysteriously” turns on in your pocket or attach .
THIN IS IN:
The e355 may not exhibit curves or be referred to as a “sexy” device, but the thin form factor is definitely cool! The actual size of the unit is 4.9″ x 3.1″ and only 0.4″ thick (thin). Barely thicker than a CD case. The nice thing about the size is that it is easy to slip the e355 into a briefcase side pocket or you can carry it in a shirt pocket (don’t hunch over or you’ll be testing the impact resistance of the case!). The unit only weighs a manageable 5.2 ounces.
Although the e355 is not equipped with built-in wireless capabilities, it does have an SDIO Secure Digital slot for true add-on functionality. This will allow users to choose from a variety of new SD hardware cards such as WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and memory options without adding a bulky adapter or sleeve. On the top of the e355 is an infrared port for wireless active-synching (at a short 3-6 ft. “line of sight range”) and “beaming” files, business cards or other items to other PDA users.
Another point definitely worth mentioning is that the e355 has significantly better battery life than past Toshiba PPC’s. I estimate approximately 4-6 hours of actual use on one charge, much better than the 2-3 hours maximum on the older e335. Unfortunately the battery on the e355 is not user replaceable. The Lithium Ion battery is rated at 1,000 mAh.
Overall I feel that this unit is a compact, powerful, great-looking PDA which will make a fantastic option for the first-time buyer and power user alike. The only big disappointment that I have discovered is not with the unit itself, but incompatibilities of the new PPC 2003 OS with my favorite Pocket PC 2002 applications. Although the new Pocket PC 2003 OS has a lot of new little improvements, it can prove downright unstable and incompatible with PPC 2002 apps.
For example, I tried to use my Omega One Battery Pack. No incompatibility warning during install, but TOTALLY locks up the PPC when you try to use the “X” to close anything out. However it after communicating back and forth with Omega One I have been informed at the time of this writing, that a new version of this product that is compatible with PPC 2003 is already being finalized and made available to registered users. When I tried Hexacto “Slurp”, the unit totally locked up upon choosing the “quit” command from the game’s menu.
On the other hand, many programs will give you a warning during installation that they are “not compatible with this OS” but work fine. I guess many users will have to play the guessing game to see if older applications function properly under PPC 2003. Just a word to the wise, you may find yourself losing out on many of your old applications with the new OS, however, I am sure many developers akin to Omega One will update the most popular titles to adapt to PPC 2003 in time.
In final, I feel that the e355 is a good buy at $299 (suggested retail). As previously mentioned, it offers considerable improvements over its e335 predecessor including SDIO, a great transreflective screen, and a 300 MHZ PXA255 processor. The case is super thin, molded in a cool almost gunmetal alloy and feels durable. The navigational pad exhibits smooth movement and is easy to use. ALL 64 MB of RAM are accessible to the user (outside the memory reserved to run the OS) Therefore, Toshiba gives the other competing “$299er’s” a challenge for your business.
-Barry J. Doyle “Lavalamp”