Brighthand Reviews the Toshiba Genio e550g

by Reads (11,594)

The first thing you notice about Toshiba’s Genio e550G handheld computer is its screen. It’s BIG, really BIG. At four inches diagonally, it’s easily the largest screen on any handheld computer to date. But the Genio e550G is more than just a big, pretty face.

After using it for a few days you begin to appreciate all of its other qualities, from its quick 400MHz Intel PXA250 processor to its dual expansion slots. Still, what we found most remarkable about the Genio e550G is how Toshiba managed to squeeze all this into such a thin, lightweight package.

Form

The Genio e550G may not turn a lot of heads, at least not like Sony’s flip-and-twist Clie NR70V or T-Mobile’s Pocket PC Phone, but that’s not to say that it’s an unattractive device. It’s not. It’s just, well, understated.

Its plastic shell is a staid matte silver except for a touch of charcoal below its big screen, where its application buttons and navigational pad are neatly positioned. It’s comfortable to handle, mostly rectangular but with a slight curve at its base and an even slighter taper from top to bottom. And it weighs a mere 6.1 ounces, nothing too heavy for the hand, or the pocket.

The Genio’s buttons are designed to be easy to press, though not accidentally, which may not be as appreciated by gamers as it is by non-gamers. Since the buttons are either flush with the device or slightly recessed, it admittedly requires a purposeful action to activate them. This includes not only the Power button and the four application launch buttons on the front, but the Record button–used for taking voice notes–located on the side as well.

The Navigation Pad, on the other hand, is a gamer’s delight. There are actually two swappable ends for the Navigation Pad, a mushroom-shaped button (see picture above) and a flatter circular button. Each give the feeling of a joystick more than a directional button, making for effortless scrolling through a list of contacts. We only wish that, in additional to its unique Navigation Pad, Toshiba had included a scroll wheel on the Genio e550G’s side, as it saw fit to do with its e310 handheld.

The dual expansion slots — a Compact Flash type II slot and a Secure Digital slot — are found on the top of the Genio, alongside the stereo audio jack. It’s a bit tricky inserting and removing cards from the CF and SD slots (it’ll take a fingernail to do it), but on a positive note its hinged Compact Flash slot cover is easily the best we’ve ever seen.

The Genio e550G comes with a rechargeable lithium ion battery — unfortunately it’s not user replaceable — that can be charged directly with the two-piece AC adapter or through the cradle (the AC adapter connects to a port on the rear of the cradle).

An interesting bonus with the Genio e550G is the USB Host port on the side of its cradle. Yes, Toshiba has stolen a page from Casio’s playbook. (Casio included a USB Host port on its Cassiopeia E-200 Pocket PC.) We tested the e550G with a USB mouse (after installing some neat mouse pointer software) and a USB keyboard and they both worked well.

A USB Host port is something we’d like to see on all cradles, and possibly on all handhelds in the future if power issues can be worked out. We understand that handheld manufacturers look to improve their bottom line with higher profit accessories–accessories that work only with their devices–but standard interfaces are what helped build the personal computer market, so why not try it with the PDA market. We’re sure that consumers would love it.

Still, overall, we give the Genio e550G a GOOD rating based on form.

Function

Speed. The Genio e550G runs on Intel’s XScale-based PXA250 application processor, which it can run at either 200MHz or 400MHz (user controllable in Settings through a Processor applet), and is backed by 64MB of RAM. Pretty powerful stuff for a handheld computer. Still, we noticed occassional sluggishness that did not appear to have any rhyme or reason. Processor benchmarks show the new XScale processor to be fast but unfortunately that has not yet translated into dramatically faster performance on the current crop of Pocket PC.

Memory. You can certainly store a lot of data and programs on a Genio e550G. There’s 64MB of built-in RAM and slots for Compact Flash and Secure Digital memory cards (which we successfully tested with a myriad of Storage cards including a IBM 340MB Microdrive, a 128MB Kingston Compact Flash card, and a 64MB Lexar Secure Digital card), certainly enough capacity for all but the most hardcore handheld enthusiast.

Multimedia. Sights and sounds are becoming increasing important to handheld users, and the Genio e550G tackles both of these areas quite admirably. Its high-resolution screen is capable of displaying 65,536 colors, which is required for realistic photo rendering. But it is a reflective rather than transflective display, so while it offers better viewability outdoors than its main competitor, the Compaq iPAQ 3900 series Pocket PC, it lacks the iPAQ’s brightness and contrast indoors. And there are a few annoyances noted by early Genio users including a slight pinkish hue when viewed using lower brightness settings, ghosting and shadowing, and an occassionally annoying auto-dim feature. Plus it lacks a protective flip lid, so you’re required to purchase a case (unless you’re content with the slipcase that comes with the device). Still, despite its shortcomings, it’s an excellent display–truly one of the best we’ve seen.

For audiophiles, the external speaker and the stereo headphone jack (tested using a pair of Labtec headphones and Windows Media Player 8 for Pocket PC) both produce good quality sound with excellent bass response for a handheld computer.

Communications. While the Genio e550G doesn’t come with any built-in communications capability, we were able to successfully test it out with a variety of communication accessories. These included the Socket Low Power Ethernet Compact Flash card, a Socket Digital Phone Card connected to a Motorola v-series cellphone, several different Compact Flash modems, a Symbol Wireless Networker 802.11b Compact Flash card, and a Socket Bluetooth Compact Flash card.

Power. Battery life has typically been the weakest link for Toshiba’s handhelds, and the e550G is no exception. Powering two expansion slots, a large color screen and a fast processor is sure to drain any battery. However, Toshiba has released a PC Card sleeve for the Genio e550G that includes a 1500 mAh battery, and you’ll need all the power you can get.

Applications. The Genio e550G comes with the standard Microsoft Pocket PC 2002 software, including Pocket Word and Pocket Excel. It also includes a handful of additional applications on the installation CD that you can install if you wish.

Overall, we give it a GOOD rating based on function.

Value

At $599 the Toshiba Genio e550G Pocket PC is considered a high-priced handheld computer, in the same price range as the Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC. For this you get the fastest processor currently available in a PDA, the largest color screen, and two expansion slots to handle the two most popular card types — Compact Flash and Secure Digital. Not bad. Still, it doesn’t include built-in wireless networking of any sort — no Bluetooth, no 802.11b, no GPRS — so that brings it down a notch on the value scale.

Overall, we give it a GOOD rating based on value.

Bottom Line

The Toshiba Genio e550G is one of the best handheld computers we’ve ever reviewed. It combines top of its class performance with an excellent color screen and a slew of features, and it does it all in a thin, lightweight package.

So what stops it from being rated EXCELLENT? Well, it could be thinner, with a flip lid and a scroll wheel, and it could have built-in wireless networking. And it could be priced under the magical $500 mark. That would surely do it.


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