Audiovox 6601 / Sprint PPC-6601 Pocket PC Phone Review

by Reads (122,575)

The Sprint PPC-6601 is the same as the Audiovox 6601 Pocket PC Phone branded under the Sprint PCS Wireless provider brand.  Also sold in Europe as the XDA III, this device stands out from the crowd through its offering of a slide-out keyboard.  Following is a full review of the 6601 device.

Audiovox Pocket PC 6600 SmartPhone (view larger image)

Sprint PPC-6601 Specs:

  • Weight: 7.35 oz
  • Operating System: Microsoft Pocket PC 2003 Phone Edition (Second Edition)
  • Dimensions: 4.9″ x 2.75″ x 0.74″ (L x W x H)
  • Screen: 3.5″ QVGA 65K Color Transreflective LCD
  • Processor: Intel Dalhart 400MHz
  • Memory: 64MB ROM / 128MB RAM
  • Camera: No camera for 6601 model, built-in CMOS VGA camera for 6600 model (not available through Sprint currently)
  • Expansion Slot: Secure Digital (SDIO)
  • Wireless: Bluetooth, Dual band 800 MHz CDMA / 1900 MHz PCS Operation, 1XEVDO
  • Keyboard: Integrated slide-out QWERTY keyboard with backlight
  • Battery: Li-Ion rechargeable, 3.6 hours talk time or 6 days of stand-by
  • Features: GPS chip to provide location service for 911 emergency, Built-in Speakerphone, Supports English & Spanish

Audiovox 6601 Overview

Explaining the Audiovox 6601 and other devices that are actually the same, or very similar, but named differently is a confusing affair.  But here goes.  The Audiovox 6601 is actually the same device as the MDA III Pocket PC Phone, XDA IIs, and Siemens SX66 SmartPhone devices being offered in Europe under various different wireless providers.  The phone is originally designed and made by a manufacturer in Taiwan called HTC.  The Audiovox 6600 (not 6601) is the same as the 6601, but has a built-in CMOS VGA camera.  The Audiovox 6600 is not currently offered by Sprint, but might be down the road.  All of the devices being offered in Europe (MDA III, XDA IIs, Siemens SX66) offer the phone with Quard-band GSM wireless and built-in Wi-Fi.  The Audiovox 6600/6601 are CDMA based in regards to phone communication and do not offer built-in Wi-Fi.  To further add to the confusion, there is a new XDA IIi (not XDA IIs) coming to Europe in 2005 that will have a 624MHz processor, 1.3 MegaPixel built-in camera and should offer Blackberry support.  We don’t know if this updated device will be brought to the U.S. by Audiovox.  It’s a tangled web I know, and my head is spinning too, so let’s jump off of this roller coaster alphabet soup of product model names.

Audiovox 6601 / Audiovox 6600 (view larger image)

Basically speaking, the Audiovox 6600 is simply a phone rebranded several times over that exists in the global phone market already, Audiovox has bought the rights to sell this device in the USA and has worked with Sprint to offer it to customers on the Sprint PCS wireless network.

Pocket PC Phone versus Windows SmartPhone Overview

One thing you must realize, and that is easy to tell at a first-glance of the 6601, is that although this device is being offered via wireless carriers only, it is first and foremost a PDA.  I’ll say the same for the HP iPaq 6315, the last Pocket PC Phone I reviewed.  If you look at the Sprint 6601 or the iPaq 6315 and didn’t know they were a phone, you’d be surprised to find out they actually do have phone capabilities.  These devices use the same operating system as any other PDA out there, currently Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition is the latest Pocket PC OS, but a layer is added on top of the OS that gives it phone capabilities.  This extra software on top of the OS is what gives us abilities such as speed-dial, caller ID, speakerphone, conference calling, sending SMS messages and an on-screen dial pad.  This extra software then qualifies the PDA as being a Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PC Phone Edition.  A Windows SmartPhone device runs a different OS (Windows Mobile SmartPhone) and is a phone first and a PDA second.  A Windows SmartPhone is much smaller than a Pocket PC Phone and has only a numeric keypad, never a QWERTY keyboard such as the Audiovox 6601 has.  The Motorola MPx220 and Audiovox SMT 5600 are two examples of smaller SmartPhone type devices.  If you’re looking to buy a Windows based PDA/Phone integrated device, you must decide whether a PDA or Phone comes first in your life and then buy a SmartPhone if the phone aspect is more important, or a Pocket PC Phone type of device if a PDA with more processing power is what suits you best.

Features and In the Box

In the box (view larger image)

The Audiovox 6601 is the only Pocket PC phone currently on the market that offers Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition.  The 6601 has a relatively speedy Intel 400MHz processor, a generous 128 MB of RAM,  built-in bluetooth, a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, dual-band PCS 800 / 1900 MHz CDMA 1xRTT radio for WAN connectivity and nice looking 240 x 320 color TFT screen.

In the box you get the PDA/phone 6601 device, two-styli, software CD, stereo earbud headset, AC adapter/charger, USB Sync cradle and a horizontal carry case with belt clip.

Design

The weight of the 6601 at 7.35 oz is a little bulky.  You can definitely feel the sag in your pocket of this device.  The iPaq 6315 weighs 6.7 oz and that I thought was big.  Although the 6601 isn’t the biggest device out there, it can be classified as on the hefty side.

Front, Top and Bottom Side Illustration (view larger image)

Back, Left and Right Side Illustration (view larger image)

The casing is a nice looking silver on the front, and on the back black.  The device certainly feels sturdy due to its combined weight and solid feeling case.  The two LED indicator lights on top seem to give the 6601 a pair of horns.  The indicator on the right is green when your are connected to the Sprint Wireless Area Network (WAN) and orange when charging.  The indicator on the left flashes blue to indicate Bluetooth is enabled.  I like LED lights, but for some reason I find these annoying, I guess I don’t like the fact they’re oval and look like a pair of horns in the dark.

Below the LED lights at the top of the device are two shortcut buttons.  The one on the left takes you to your contacts in Outlook while the button on the right akes you to your Calendar.  In between these buttons is the speakerphone that also functions as a loudspeaker.  The loudspeaker is of good quality and great for use while talking hands free at your desk, if you prefer to use your phone in a hands free manner while walking around or in the car with a lot of background noise, then there is a hands free kit included to do this.

Below the speaker we have the 240 x 320 QVGA screen, more on that later. 

Right below the display are four skinny shortcut buttons.  From left to right these buttons do the following:

  1. Access the Start menu
  2. Access Email Inbox
  3. Access Pocket Internet Explorer
  4. OK Button (Basically same as Enter/Confirm button)

I love the fact Audiovox has put in the Start Menu, Pocket IE and OK button shortcut functionality.  This is not standard on other devices and Audiovox has made my life easier and made a smart design decision by making the shortcut buttons in this manner.

Below these four shortcut buttons is a top-notch 5-way directional pad (D-pad), with send call and end call buttons aligned on either side.  

On the left side at the top of the device is a hardware button than can be pushed to start voice recording, hit it once to open the voice recording application, hold it in to start recording.  Below that is a volume control button, it can control the volume of the phone and the device sound by simply sliding up or down accordingly.   Further down on the left-side is a shortcut button to open up Windows Media Player.  And finally below that is the IrDA port that will allow you to communicate with other PDAs or your computer in a wireless manner.

On top of the device is the power on/off button.  Next to the power button is the SecureDigital slot (SDIO capable) expansion slot.  You might want to use a Wi-Fi card in this slot or put in extra memory for Storage of large files.  The stylus is located on the top right of the device, it does not have a spring ejection or lock mechanism, but it is nicely designed an easy to pull your stylus in and out of.  Finally, on the top-left of the device is the 2.5mm jack for the hands free kit.  It’s covered by a rubber insert for protection

There is nothing located on the right side of the device, and on the back is just the removable battery.  We’d love to be able to talk about a camera back there, but instead all that exists is a cover below which you can feel the missing “eye” of the camera lens.

The back of the 6601 is seen here, notice the sliding track that allows the keyboard to slide out.  Also notice no camera lens, as this is the camera-less version. (view larger image)

On the bottom of the device is located the connector for slotting your PPC-6601 into its cradle.  The microphone portion of the phone and a soft reset button that can only be pushed using a stylus also reside on the bottom of the device.

Keyboard

But wait.  I covered the design from top to bottom, but that’s not really the whole story, because I’m leaving out the hide-away keyboard.  This is intentional though as I want to talk about the keyboard seperately.

Of course the keyboard is the standout feature that separates the 6601 from the crowd.  With the iPaq 6315 you have to worry about snapping on a thumbpad if you want a keyboard, and that’s a hassle.  It adds a lot of extra bulk to the device and you lose access to the directional pad.  Just look:

The HP iPAQ 6315 with its keyboard attached

The Audiovox 6601 Device Solves the need for a keyboard via a unique slide away mechanism (view larger image)

The actual keys on the keyboard for the 6601 have very little travel, necessarily so as they can’t possibly stick out if the keyboard is to slide away.  Rather, each key has a little nub behind it that you can feel when you press.  So you do get a certain amount of feedback from the keyboard by pressing a key and feeling the nub get depressed. 

Personally, I found the experience of using this keyboard poor.  It was hard to seperately push buttons, hard to tell when you had pushed them, the Fn and Caps button were particularly hard to use and the keyboard didn’t hold a candle to the $200 T-Mobile Sidekick II keyboard I recently used.  I’m comfortable saying the T-Mobile Sidekick II keyboard (also sold as the Danger Hiptop II) was without a doubt twice as easy to use for fast typing of messages. 

The other problem with the 6601 keyboard experience is if you want to use it as a thumbpad, you’ll be jamming out text with two thumbs, and therefore both of your hands will be holding the keyboard area.  The 6601 is so top-heavy when the keyboard is extended, as the center of device mass shifts significantly up on the y-axis, that it’s uncomfortable to type due to the fact you conciously have to counter the weight pulling and tilting the top end down. 

That’s two strikes.  Strike three would be that there are no cool shortcut buttons such as the commonly used “@” symbol that is intelligently built into some keyboards for mobile internet devices  That’s three strikes and it’s out right?

But I’m not done with complaints.  There’s no forcing function to show you the best way to slide out the keyboard from the device.  A forcing function is something that shows a user exactly how a physical function should be performed, it can be as simple as a sign on a door that says “Push” or a bar on a door that makes it obvious that’s what you push to open it.  On the 6601 there is no “slide here” sign or arrow that shows how to actually get to the keyboard.  This results in disaster.  Twice I was pulling on the back of the device to slide the keyboard out, twice the battery immediately ejected causing me to lose a phone call, data, and my temper.  I learned of course, I now use the speakerphone on the front of the device to push and slide the face of the PDA up to reveal the keyboard.

Sorry, but four strikes is more than out, so I can officially say I don’t like this keyboard.  I have yet more complaints regarding the way the thumbboard works with different applications, but that’s more of an OS issue so I’ll leave that for later and stop griping now (five strikes would just be mean).

Don’t get me wrong, I still respect the fact this keyboard is innovative and could maybe be built and improved upon.  Making a good keyboard for these types of devices is just plain hard and few are able to accomplish it, and none are perfect.  It seems to me the Treo 650 and Danger Hiptop II are the two devices out there I’d point to as being exemplary internet enabled devices with a good built-in keyboard.

The Backlight on the 6601 keyboard is fantastically bright (view larger image)

On the positive side, if you want to use the keyboard at night or in a dark room then you’ll have no problems seeing the keys, the backlight for the keyboard is so strong you might well just illuminate that entire dark area you’re in.

Screen

The screen on the 6601 is worth writing home about.  It’s not VGA like some of the latest high-end PDA devices on the market, but it’s very bright and beautiful.  The screen is QVGA (240 x 320) and 3.5 inches diagonal.  Most importantly, the screen is easily viewable out doors.  This is very key with a device intended to be used as a phone, it won’t just be sitting on your desk at work but will be carried with you everywhere including outside, so you’ll want to see what’s on the screen during those times too.

Processor and Performance

The 6601 is by no means the fastest Pocket PC on the market, the latest and greatest PDAs racket along at 624MHz these days, but the PPC-6601 can officially be called the fastest Pocket PC Phone.  The processor included with the 6601 is Intel’s 400MHz Intel PXA263 XScale processor.  400MHz is plenty enough for a Pocket PC Phone and it’ll accomplish all your needs in regards to handling the built-in PIM applications and playing video. It’s even fast enough to provide a decent gaming experience with rather demanding games.  The 6601 also uses an ATI graphics processor to aid in video playback and gaming performance.

Memory

The 6601 has an ample amount of memory.  With 128 megs of RAM and 14.57 megs of Flash ROM available for permanent storage, you’ll have more than what’s available with the HP iPaq 6315 whic features 64MB of RAM.  If Motorola actually releases its MPx Windows Pocket PC Phone device with 32MB of RAM (snicker) then this device will have 4 times as much as another of its competitors.

Phone Capabilities

My typical wireless phone device is a Sony Ericsson t68i phone. Yes, I know the t68 is so last year and quite an old phone at this point, but I’ve stuck with it because it’s small and a champ on battery life.  My favorite PDA of choice would be the iPaq 4150 (my review of the iPaq 4150), the small form factor iPaq with built-in 802.11b Wi-Fi.

My favorite PDA is the iPaq 4150 due to its small size

In other words, I like small and I’m not bothered by having to carry two smaller type devices, especially if they’re able to communicate via Bluetooth anyway. So I put my t68i and PDA aside and turned them in for the PPC-6601, an all in one Pocket PC Phone device.

I find myself challenged using the 6601 as a phone and I have to say that I can’t get over the nagging feeling that holding a larger style PDA to your head and talking just looks, well, dorky.  It’s just uncomfortable to hold a large flat device to your ear, plus all that oil on your face ends up on the screen. I really hate knowing how much oil there is on my face (no I don’t have acne and yes I do shower daily), so transferring it to the screen reminds me that I’m a sweaty and oily human being.

But using a small style phone is a personal preferences, and you might not have the same opinion as I do in regards to form factor of a phone.  And aside from the form factor, I can say this device acts as a great phone.  The speaker is nice and loud and nobody I talked to ever had trouble hearing me, which kind of amazed me as the microphone is located on the underneath side of the phone which I worried was not optimal for picking up a voice and filtering out other noises — apparently it is though.

When you enter phone mode by bringing up the phone application, the keyboard area with numeric keys automatically recognizes any key press as numeric, which is great.  During regular PDA use you have to hold in the “Fn” button and hit a letter to register a keystroke as a number.  You can also use the on screen numeric keys to enter numbers, you can use the stylus or even your fingers for the Touchscreen buttons as they are large enough.

I got excellent phone reception with Sprint PCS in New York City.  It put my T-Mobile service to shame.  Sprint apparently has much better coverage in the largest U.S. city than T-Mobile does.  It was a pleasure to experience this, I just wish Sprint was a GSM based network as I do prefer that over CDMA.  I won’t digress and get into the details of CDMA versus GSM though.

Battery

The 6601 has a 1490 mAh battery.  This is a good size capacity and easily provides a full days charge even with a lot of usage.  I setup Windows Media Player to loop through a WMA music file and the device kept going for about 9.5 hours before shutting down, quite impressive.  I’m usually at my desk during the day and have the device in its cradle, so it’s always juiced with power.  But on the weekends I left the charging cradle at work and easily made it through two-days without running out of battery, I estimate I used the device for a total talking time of 1-hour (and that’s a lot for me, not a big phone talker to be honest), 1-hour of web browsing and 2 hours of random stuff such as playing videos, music and downloading email

You can use the synch cradle to charge an extra battery simultaneously if you are a road warrior and know you’ll need a spare battery.

Software

As mentioned earlier, the Audiovox 6601 has the Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition on board.  The main advantage of having the Second Edition OS is that both landscape and portrait modes for screen viewing are supported.  This is great for viewing web pages when you are limited with screen size — it’s better to have to scroll down and up than side to side, and landscape mode gives you horizontal viewing so you have a a greater likelihood of only needing to scroll up and down for such things as web pages.  There are other enhancements to the original 2003 OS, most of which are small, and I have to add that the annoyingly hard to use Connection Manager remains.  A good piece of news in regards to connections though is that in the Programs menu there’s an application called WModem that you can use to easily setup the device as a wireless modem for your laptop.  Simply use the connector on the bottom of the 6601 to connect via USB or serial to your laptop.

Sprint hasn’t done a whole lot to customize the OS, in fact, the only visible Sprint addition to the OS is a link on the Today screen to access the Sprint PCS Business Connection groupware application for download.  You can also find a photo album software application that Sprint added in the Programs area, it’s called “Album”.  Zero creativity points on that application name. The PPC-6601 disappointingly has Window Media Player 9, not the version 10 which is the most recent.

One annoying thing about using Windows Mobile with a thumbboard is that the thumbboard integration is somewhat poor and usability of the keyboard thereby suffers.  For some applications the up and down arrows scroll you through text, buth then in others the arrows change the highlighted control and the directional pad changes lines in multi-line text.  When using the T-Mobile Sidekick II phone/PDA device the controls were consistent across all applications so you knew exactly which buttons to use.

No Wi-Fi or Camera

The equivalently priced HP iPaq 6315 offers both a built-in camera and wi-fi connectivity.  In fact, every version of this device sold in Europe does too (XDA IIs, MDA III).  I was a little disappointed to not have these features on the 6601 with the pricing being in the $600+ range. I once wasn’t a big fan of cameras on PDAs.  I’m still not really, but the idea of having the feature is growing on me.  I now have to count the number of times on two hands that I’ve been in a situation where I have my phone/PDA and wish it had a camera to take a picture.  On the bright side, business users will not want a camera as some companies disallow such devices, and if you want to take your PDA into a courtroom with you then it can’t have a camera.  Wi-Fi isn’t essential because the internet access via CDMA is faster than a 56Kbps mode, but wi-fi would be a “nice to have” feature.

Conclusion

If you need a PDA/Phone device and you’re needs come PDA before phone then this might be a good device for you.  The processor is fast, battery life is great, the built-in keyboard does prevent the need for having to carry an extra thumbboard accessory and the Sprint PCS Wireless Network will provide you with a good web browsing experience.  The fact this Pocket PC has Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition is great too since you can now easily use landscape mode for that web browsing you might want to do with your wireless device.  And if you want this Pocket PC Phone to function as a modem, it’s easy to do using the WModem setup wizard, then just connect the PDA to your laptop and you can download email and browse the web from there.

The keyboard isn’t the greatest to use, but at least we can still call it innovative and it is built-in.  The $629 price of this device and removal of the camera and wi-fi from the standard design is kind of disappointing, but these are extra features that are just nice to haves.  The weight of the device is a bit of an issue, it makes for a very bulky phone.that people like myself just can’t fully adjust too.  If you know you’re fine with the Pocket PC Phone form factor though, and don’t mind larger gadgets, then you’ll be fine with the 6601.

Pros

  • Great battery life, easily lasts a day of full usage
  • Extra windows, internet explorer, windows media player and confirm shortcut keys are user friendly and great additions.
  • Good phone reception, fast browsing (56KBps+) of the web using Sprint PCS CDMA based wireless network
  • Nice and bright screen, bright enough to see out of doors with some sun even
  • Fastest processor available for any Pocket PC Phone out there

Cons

  • Heavy and a bit clunky for use as a phone device
  • Price at $629
  • No camera, no wi-fi like the HP iPAQ 6315 has and other similar devices have
  • Keyboard is innovative with its slide out mechanism, but at the end of the day tough to use.

Pricing and Availability


LEAVE A COMMENT

0 Comments

|
All content posted on TechnologyGuide is granted to TechnologyGuide with electronic publishing rights in perpetuity, as all content posted on this site becomes a part of the community.