Dell Axim X50 and X50v Review

by Reads (357,994)
  • Pros

    • Dual slots
    • Tiny form-factor
    • Optional VGA
    • Optional WiFi
    • Attractive design
    • Ample flash memory

  • Cons

    • No compatibility with previous models
    • Tiny buttons and directional pad
    • No jog dial
    • Power-hungry features


Like previous Dell Axims, the new Axim X50 comes in several different types. The most cutting-edge of these is designated the X50v, for its VGA screen. The low-end and mid-range models, both called the X50, shall for the purposes of this review be referred to as the X50 Basic and Advanced models, respectively. All three share more or less the same form-factor and design, except for a slightly larger screen on the X50v.

Design & Style

The first thing I noticed upon unwrapping the X50 was that Dell’s design ethic has changed significantly. Gone are many of the design elements of prior Axims, and in their place is a new attitude both in style and substance. This is most readily apparent in the X50’s black case with silver trim. The front area, above and below the screen are a glossy semi-reflective black. This is surrounded by a U-shaped stripe of smooth light silver, hinting at a mettalic flake color, all around the front lip. The sides and rear lip are a smooth and slightly rubbery matte black, tapering to a more textured black plastic on the center back of the device. This sounds like a lot of different design elements, but in reality they all come together, and the differences disappear except for the eye-catching band of silver running around the edge. You can feel the difference though, and the choices in plastic feel very nice resting in the palm of your hand.

Dell has also done away with the sharp rectangular design of the X3 and X30 series, opting for a more curvy and contoured unit. The X30 was always a little cubesqe for my taste, and in some grips the bottom corners could poke into my palm. Not so on the X50. All the edges are smooth, and the bottom corners are rounded, allowing you to hold the machine in a variety of grips with perfect comfort.

Left to right: PalmOne Tungsten|T5, Dell Axim X50v, HP iPaq 4700, Dell Axim X30.

It may be hard to believe, but the X50 is almost the exact same size as my X30. It’s a little thicker, and its main body is a bit taller than the X30’s, but the X50 lacks the antenna projection of the X30, making it shorter overall. And, with the curved edges and corners, it can actually feel smaller in the hand. The WiFi and Bluetooth status LEDs that used to reside in the antenna have moved to the upper right corner of the case, where a light blinks when wireless is enabled: blue for Bluetooth, green for WiFi, alternating for both.

Overall, the styling is much more reminiscent of Dell’s black-and-silver desktops and laptops than it is of previous Axims. For the first time, I could look at my Dell laptop and tell on style alone that these were from the same company.

The cradle has undergone an equally dramatic transformation. Whereas the older X5 and X3/X30 cradles were a showy, translucent dark silver color reminiscent of polished hematite, the X50’s cradle is all business. It’s design is a nearly flat square with a raised niche on one side, matte black on top, with what feels like a brushed aluminum underside with rubber feet. The base is weighted, and there’s a depression for charging an extra battery behind the spot where the X50 rests. There’s also an inconspicuous LED on the front which indicates the status of the spare battery: orange for charging, green for full. The spare stylus holders and light-up blue Dell logo from the older cradles are no more. The new cradle design is a lot more understated, and unlikely to look out of place in any environment. I personally never had a problem with the older, shiny cradles, but the new one does have a certain appeal to it, and it doesn’t distract from apprecciation of the machine resting in it.

The X50’s buttons and directional pad are recognizably similar to those on the X30, but even so, they haven’t escaped the redesign. The new buttons and directional pad are noticibly smaller than those on the X3/X30 family. Some gamers aren’t going to like this one bit. The controls still feel good, however, and I didn’t run into any problems navigating or launching applications.

Moving to the flip side, more changes can be found around the battery compartment. In the older Axims, to remove the battery you used the stylus tip to slide open a spring-loaded latch that held the battery on. There was no battery cover plate to deal with, because the battery packs themselves were an entire portion of the back of the machine, including the casing. This made it easy to attach a higher capacity extended battery, reduced the amount of hassle in swapping batteries, and made it possible to carry an extended battery as a single-piece stored in your pocket.

The X50 abandons this, instead opting for a more conventional system of a removable plate covering a seperate internal compartment where the battery rests. Just below the cover is a small switch that locks the battery cover in place. Inside is a simple Lithium-Ion battery snugged into its slot. Physically, the X50’s standard battery isn’t much larger than the standard battery on the X30, but it packs an additional 15% capacity, 1100 milliamp-hours over 950.

The plastic plate that covers the battery is the only place on the X50 where I felt that the casing wasn’t as strong as I’d like it to be. The battery cover noticibly flexes, and sometimes even does so when it’s installed and locked down. It’s hardly a danger–more on the level of petty annoyance, if that, but it merits mention.

The changes continue on the left hand side of the case. On the X30, this was home to the jog dial and headphone jack. However, the X50 has dropped the jog dial from the Axim design entirely. Now occupying the left side of the Axim are two application buttons, an eyelet for a lanyard, and a most curious looking switch which we’ll get to in a minute. By default, the top application button enables or disables the internal wireless radios on the Axim, while the bottom one functions as the voice recorder switch. Both of these can be remapped to other functions. I quite easily programmed the lower button to scroll down, a little compensation for the loss of the jog dial. The side buttons feel a little bit squishy, but otherwise they work fine.

That curious switch that I mentioned a moment ago is actually a lock switch. When the switch is in the locked position, the X50 will not respond to any commands. Not button presses, not touchscreen input, not even the power button. Slide it back down, and the X50 is once again controllable. I would assume that this feature is meant for when the X50 is being used as a music player, or as a simple precaution against it being turned on by an accidental button press while in a pocket or bag.

The right side of the X50 is bare.

Moving along, we reach the top of the unit. From left to right we see the stylus, CompactFlash slot, SDIO slot, IR port, and headphone jack.

Top, X50 stylus. Bottom, classic Axim stylus.

The X50’s changes even extended to ditching the classic Axim stylus design, the famous ‘skinny metal fish,’ in favor of a new round stylus. I admit that I’m going to miss the old stylus, and the new one hasn’t done much to dissuede me from that opinion. The new stylus has a metal barrel with a plastic writing tip and plastic end cap. It’s a little thin for my tastes, and it can be tricky getting used to pulling it out of its silo. It’s not apalling by any means, but it takes a little getting used to. Of course, that could be said for the fish-stylus as well.

Both of the X50’s expansion slots are mounted on top of the machine, generally the most convenient location for them. At first glance, it’s a little difficult to tell them apart, as they’re packed right next to each other. And, right on top of them, is the X50’s high-powered infrared port, suitable for use as a universal remote control–with the right software, a trial version of which comes with the X50.

I had a bit of a change-over shock when I first started using the X50. Compared to my familiarity with the X30, the new design seemed strange. With a little time and use, however, that feeling evaporated, and I fell in love. The way that the X50 rests in my hand feels perfect, the styling and color give it flair, and the size and weight feel comfortable without going too far in any direction. I like it.

Tech Specs

Axim X50 Basic

Processor:

416 MHz Intel XScale PXA270 with WMMX

Operating System:

Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition

Display:

3.5 inch 240 x 320 QVGA screen

Memory:

64 MB RAM (50 MB available); 64 MB flash ROM (30 MB available)

Size & Weight:

4.68″ x 2.87″ x 0.63″, 167 grams (5.9 ounces)

Expansion:

CompactFlash Type 2 and SDIO slots

Docking:

36-pin connector, standard USB cradle

Communication:

Integrated Bluetooth 1.2

Audio:

Internal monaural speaker; microphone; 3.5mm headphone/headset jack

Battery:

Standard 3.7 volt, 1100 milliamp-hour Lithium-Ion battery; optional 2200 mAh LiIon battery

Input:

6 remappable application buttons; 5-way directional pad; touchscreen

Software:

Windows Media Player 10, 802.1x security client, Outlook 2002

Other:

Consumer IR, lock switch

List price:

$299

 

Axim X50 Advanced

Processor:

520 MHz Intel XScale PXA270 with WMMX

Operating System:

Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition

Display:

3.5 inch 240 x 320 QVGA screen

Memory:

64 MB RAM (55 MB available); 128 MB flash ROM (90 MB available)

Size & Weight:

4.68″ x 2.87″ x 0.63″, 167 grams (5.9 ounces)

Expansion:

CompactFlash Type 2 and SDIO slots

Docking:

36-pin connector, standard USB cradle

Communication:

Integrated Bluetooth 1.2 and 802.11b WiFi

Audio:

Internal monaural speaker; microphone; 3.5mm headphone/headset jack

Battery:

Standard 3.7 volt, 1100 milliamp-hour Lithium-Ion battery; optional 2200 mAh LiIon battery

Input:

6 remappable application buttons; 5-way directional pad; touchscreen

Software:

Windows Media Player 10, 802.1x security client, Outlook 2002

Other:

Consumer IR, lock switch

List price:

$399

 

Axim X50v

Processor:

624 MHz Intel XScale PXA270 with WMMX

Operating System:

Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition

Display:

3.7 inch 480 x 640 VGA screen; Intel 2700G Marathon graphics accelerator with 16 MB video RAM; VGA output

Memory:

64 MB RAM (49 MB available); 128 MB flash ROM (90 MB available)

Size & Weight:

4.68″ x 2.87″ x 0.63″, 175 grams (6.2 ounces)

Expansion:

CompactFlash Type 2 and SDIO slots

Docking:

36-pin connector, standard USB cradle

Communication:

Integrated Bluetooth 1.2 and 802.11b WiFi

Audio:

Internal monaural speaker; microphone; 3.5mm headphone/headset jack

Battery:

Standard 3.7 volt, 1100 milliamp-hour Lithium-Ion battery; optional 2200 mAh LiIon battery

Input:

6 remappable application buttons; 5-way directional pad; touchscreen

Software:

Windows Media Player 10, 802.1x security client, Outlook 2002

Other:

Consumer IR, lock switch

List price:

$499

 

Processor

The X50 series offers a variety of processor speeds depending on the model you choose. Each model also has the ability to scale back its processor speed when idle, saving battery power.

Unfortunately, I can not currently offer complete benchmarks on the X50v that would have real meaning. The current version of SPB Benchmark takes a rather large exception to the presence of the 2700G Marathon graphics processor, resulting in a graphics index score that is less than 10% of the unaccelerated X30’s. This, in turn, drags down the Benchmark index and the Platform index. According to Dell’s notes, they’re working with SPB to update SPB Benchmark so that it can take the Marathon into consideration, so hopefully we’ll be able to see proper benchmarks in the future.

You’ll also notice that the scores which are provided for the X50v are a little lower than the Axim X30 with the same 624 MHz processor. There are two possibilities on this count. One is that the X50 is just a little slower than the X30. Another is that the prototype units that Dell shipped us for review, complete with some persistent bugs, aren’t quite up to the level that the final production units will be.

  Axim X30 Axim X50 Advanced Axim X50v
SPB Benchmark Index 2113 1793 Unknown
CPU Index 2475 2066 2279
File System Index 1487 1275 1372
Graphics Index 5329 4662 Unknown
Platform Index 1493 1342 Unknown

 

Operating System

The X50s run Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, the newest version of Microsoft’s mobile OS, which adds a seamless landscape display mode, support for VGA screens with four times the resolution of previous PocketPCs, and a variety of minor tweaks. On top of that, the X50s come with the new Windows Media Player 10 bundled into the system.

Since I’ll cover the Axim’s VGA attributes under Display, let’s discuss the landscape support. I actually found the landscape support on the X50s a lot more flawless than I did on my X30. I encountered none of the previous crashes, and landscape just seemed to work.

I must say that I’m not at all thrilled with Windows Media Player 10. For one thing, I find it’s interface unpleasent. For another, it has a downright aggrivating habit when listening to music with the screen turned off. Every time you pause the music, the screen turns on. And it doesn’t turn off when you unpause the music. It just stays on. I assume that this was done to prevent people from accidently leaving the machine on and paused with the screen off, but they way it was handled is just idiotic, forcing you to check the screen every time you pause. Microsoft should be slapped.

 

Display

The X50v is the first Axim to use a VGA screen, offering four times the resolution–and thus, four times the sharpness and clarity–of a conventional quarter-VGA screen. The X50 Basic and Advanced use the older QVGA screens, like most existing PocketPCs.

The difference a VGA screen makes could be described as the difference between a cheap paperback novel and an expensive hardcover. Everything is cleaner, crisper, brighter, and neater. Text is clear rather than fuzzy or jagged, web pages look more like a desktop, photos look natural.

The screen quality is superb. There’s absolutely no fading or yellowing to the screen, and all the colors are crisp and vibrant.

Left, HP iPaq 4700. Right, Dell Axim X50v.

Currently, while all the standard PocketPC applications natively support VGA, most third-party applications haven’t been updated to be fully compatible with the new resolution. WM2003 Second Edition compensates for this in a variety of ways. Plain text is automatically rendered at the proper size and with greater sharpness and clarity–you’d hardly even know that something like Pocket TV Browser or your favorite email program weren’t natively VGA compatible. Old graphics, and graphic intensive programs that don’t support VGA, are handled by a process called pixel doubling. This is where the OS takes what would be one dot on an old screen, and doubles both its width and length. Essentially, the old programs are stretched to fit the new screen. This tends to cause them to look a bit blockier than they would on an older screen, but it’s the price paid for compatibility with older applications. As current applications get updated to take advantage of the new screens, this concern should go away.

I hear a lot of sturm und drang about how useful a VGA screen is in terms of actual function, readability, size… and one hell of a lot of wrong information about how implementation of VGA is handled. (For those who don’t know, sturm und drang is a German phrase meaning “storm and stress.”) Allow me to clear a few things up. As I’ve already mentioned, Windows Mobile does not do pixel doubling in all applications. The text is far from being too small to read–the default setting is great, but you can adjust the text to any size you want, to cram in more information or to make the screen more legible. By default, the system renders text at about the same size it would be on a QVGA screen, but with vastly improved clarity and quality. I personally have perfect eyesight, but I’ve also tried the X50v on people who don’t. They remarked on how much clearer and easier to read the VGA display was compared to the older screens.

The X50v is also the first PocketPC of any brand to implement Intel’s 2700G ‘Marathon’ mobile graphics chip. The 2700G is essentially a full-featured graphics processor, with 16 MB of video memory, 2D and 3D acceleration, video decoding, and automatic power-saving features, all shrunk down into a single chip and integrated into a PocketPC. This is further supported with native implementation of 3D programming APIs such as Open GL ES, making it easier for developers to create high-quality 3D games.

The X50v also comes with two games preinstalled that show off the VGA screen and 3D acceleration. Enigmo is a 3D puzzle game, and Stunt Car Extreme is a racing game that, while not terribly imaginative, shows off the 3D capabilities in good form. I tell you, it’s a weird thing to be sitting there playing a game on your PocketPC that I am pretty sure would not have run on the desktop PC that I owned three years ago.

Also under display capabilities, the X50v features support for a second, external display. With a VGA output cable, sold as part of Dell’s $79 ‘Presentation Bundle,’ the X50v can drive an external monitor or projector for use in presentations. I didn’t receive this, so don’t have any personal experience with it.

 

Memory

All three versions of the X50 come standard with 64 MB of RAM. The X50 Advanced and the X50v also pack 128 MB of flash ROM, while the X50 basic has 64 MB. Since each model has varying amounts of this memory actually available to the user, I’ve put together a table to make it simple.

X50 Basic X50 Advanced X50v
RAM (Avail.) 64 MB (50 MB) 64 MB (53 MB) 64 MB (49 MB)
ROM (Avail.) 64 MB (30 MB) 128 MB (93 MB) 128 MB (91 MB)
Total available memory 80 MB 145 MB 140 MB

There’s been a certain amount of grumbling about the fact that the X50v doesn’t have 128 MB of RAM. Personally, I would cheerfully accept 128 MB of RAM, but on the other hand I don’t find it indispensible either. With the free-falling price of flash memory cards, and the generous amount of flash ROM in the mid- and high-end devices, it’s a relatively simple matter to install programs and files to flash memory and leave the RAM for running applications.

 

 

Size & Weight

The X50, and most particularly the X50v, are small but relatively heavy. The size difference between an X50 and an ultracompact unit like the Axim X30 or iPaq 4150 is nearly negligible, but the X50 does have approximately an additional ounce and a half of weight on the smaller units. I don’t mind this at all, and actually find the weight quite satisfactory, but others may feel differently.

Top to bottom: Dell Axim X50, Dell Axim X30, PalmOne Tungsten|T5, HP iPaq 4700.

 

Expansion

It’s hard to have more expansion capabilities than the X50. The combination of CompactFlash Type 2 and SDIO slots mean that the X50s can use just about any peripheral on the market. Since WiFi and Bluetooth are already built-in, the slots are freed for additional memory, wired or wireless modems, micro hard drives, GPS, or anything else you like. The X50 family’s SDIO slot features a full 4-bit interface, providing extra speed in transfers to and from high-speed SD cards.

I have to say that I love having dual expansion back. Though I’ve been using an X30, and an X3i before that, I’ve always kept my X5 in service for CompactFlash related tasks, and it’s so nice to have two card slots again, coupled with the convenience of built-in wireless.

Some of the intitial rumors circulating about the X50 line have claimed that the low-end X50, which ships with just Bluetooth, can only add WiFi via an SDIO card, not via a CompactFlash card. As far as I can tell, this isn’t correct. While I don’t have a low-end unit to actually test, I’ve looked all through the specs that Dell provided, and nowhere have I seen anything to imply that the low-end X50 cannot use a CompactFlash WiFi card.

 

Docking

Unfortunately, Dell has again chosen to change the docking connector on their Axims, invalidating all older cables, keyboards, and attachments. I really wish they’d quit doing this. It’s disruptive to the peripherals market, it’s disruptive to the Axim brand, and it means that when new customers start buying the X50 they’ll be unable to find peripherals until they start coming out for the new connector. Not to mention the fact that I have to buy another sync/charge cable.

I was pleasently surprised to discover that all three versions of the X50 come with a USB cradle rather than just a cable. Normally, Dell’s low-end units come with a cable, and the cradle is only bundled with the top of the line. Of course, these are also the most expensive low-end and mid-range models that Dell has yet produced, so it’s definitely a reasonable inclusion.

Though I’m not pleased at Dell’s decision to swap connectors again, I do think that it might have some benefit. The X50’s connector seems to be better constructed and more durable than the X30’s connector. Hopefully, now that they’ve got a good design, they’ll stick with it in future models.

 

Communication

Every model in the X50 line comes with integrated Bluetooth 1.2 wireless communication, supporting all the usual profiles–dial-up, object exchange, networking, Activesync, serial, etcetera–plus one surprise, which is headset and hands-free profile support. Usually, headset support is left turned off on PocketPC Bluetooth implementations. The idea behind activating headset and hands-free is that the X50s are fully equipped for Voice over IP support if someone wants to use it. The Bluetooth transceiver is Class 2, which means that it has a maximum range of about 10 meters, or 32 feet.

The mid-range X50 and the high-end X50v also come with built-in 802.11b WiFi wireless networking. Range is moderate, not as far as I’d like, but certainly adequate for most purposes. After all, I am of the mindset that you can never have too great a wireless range.

 

Audio

The X50 has all the usual range of audio capabilities, including a microphone, internal speaker, and headphone jack. I’ve found audio volume to be excellent, much more than I need, and quality crisp.

Something that the X50s have in the audio department that other PocketPCs don’t is a dual-purpose headphone jack. The 3.5mm jack on top of the X50 doesn’t just serve for headphones, but can also accept a 3.5mm headset/microphone plug. Like the X50’s support for Bluetooth wireless headsets, this is meant for Voice over IP support, as well as theoretical voice-command applications.

 

Battery

All the X50s come with a removable, replacable 1100 milliamp-hour Lithium Ion rechargable battery. If you need more battery life, you can buy a second 1100 milliamp-hour standard capacity battery to swap into the Axim when the first battery runs low, or get a high-capacity 2200 mAh extended battery that increases the size of the device, but offers significantly more runtime between charges.

All battery tests listed were performed with the standard 1100 mAh battery. Dell didn’t send me one of the extended batteries, so I can’t offer any definite tests on them. However, it’s reasonable to extrapolate from capacity, meaning that the twice-as-large battery should offer about twice as much life. In wireless tests, WiFi self-deactivated at 25% battery remaining, and Bluetooth was active until the device shut down. These first tests are mostly pessimistic in nature, meant to measure a bare minimum of projected battery life, rather than actual everyday usage.

X50 Advanced X50v
Max. brightness, processor active 3 hours, 59 minutes 2 hours, 43 minutes
50% brightness, processor active 4 hours, 25 minutes 3 hours, 26 minutes
50% brightness, wireless on 5 hours, 52 minutes 3 hours, 44 minutes

The tests leave no doubt that the sharper screen and faster processor on the X50v can eat into its battery life. However, I also ran another test, this time optimistically, designed to find out what the maximum battery life of the X50v is. I turned the screen to the minimum level of brightness–which is actually still quite bright–and left the processor mostly idle, as it would be for simple tasks like reading, typing, and PIM.

X50v maximum life: Approximately 8 hours, 30 minutes

Not bad at all if you’re not trying to kill the battery, and the X50 Advanced would probably be even better. It’s an inescapable fact of mobile computing that if you crank up the screen brightness, turn on the wireless, and get that ultrafast processor cooking, your battery life will suffer. That’s part of the reason that I wanted to include the results of this test, because the pessimistic torture-testing performed above doesn’t reflect real use.

 

Conclusion

Though it lacks some of the appealing characteristics of its predecessors, the X50 offers a host of all new reasons to like it.

At first, I didn’t think that I was going to be terribly impressed with the Basic and Advanced X50s, but now in some ways I’m as impressed with them as I am with the X50v. The low end X50 is essentially an iPaq 2215 with more style. The mid-range is an iPaq 4150 with dual-slots. Dell has managed to create competitors for two of the most popular models of PocketPC in one fell swoop, and on top of that imbue them with a new operating system, faster processors, and larger batteries. And as the final clincher, the high-end unit is pretty close to the Holy Grail of the current PocketPC world: a small, fast unit with dual slots, dual wireless, and VGA, all for $500. You make some trade-offs on the way, and there’s no such thing as a single ‘perfect’ handheld computer–everyone’s needs differ. But the X50s are closer than most.

Pros:

  • Dual slots
  • Tiny form-factor
  • Optional VGA
  • Optional WiFi
  • Attractive design
  • Ample flash memory

Cons:

  • No compatibility with previous models
  • Tiny buttons and directional pad
  • No jog dial
  • Power-hungry features

Bottom line:

Power, style, price, and a few trade-offs. A solid value.

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.