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Dell Axim X5 Pocket PC

With the introduction of the Axim X5 Dell has really shaken up the PDA market. Starting at an unheard-of 199 dollars for the 300MHZ Basic model reviewed here, or 299 dollars for the slightly better equipped 400MHZ Advanced model which also ships with a USB cradle, and more memory the Axim X5 Basic is far and away the cheapest PPC currently available. With this low price-point Dell has made the X5 Basic affordable to a large portion of the market that before wouldn't have been able to purchase a PPC, including me.

Axim Front     Axim Rear

Specifications

Processor

-Intel XScale @ 300MHz

Memory

-RAM: 32MB SDRAM
-ROM: 32MB Intel StrataFlash ROM

Operating System

-Microsoft Pocket PC 2003 Premium

Display

-TFT Color 16-bit, Touch Sensitive, Transflective LCD
-3.5 inches
-240 x 320 resolution at 65,536 colors (QVGA)

Control and Lights

-Navigation button
-Scroll Dial - Up, Down, Action
-4 Program Buttons: Calendar, Contacts, Inbox, Home
-Voice Record Button
-Reset Button
-Backlit Power Button Event Notification
-Charge Status

Expansion Slots

-1 CompactFlash Type II Card Slot (3.3v)
-1 Secure Digital / MMC Memory Card Slot (3.3v)

Ports and Connectors

-Standard v1.2 (115 kbps) Infrared Port
-DC Power In
-40-pin Cradle/Sync Connector
-Stereo Headphone Connector

Dimensions

-Length 128 mm (5.04 inches)
-Width 81.5 mm (3.21 inches)
-Height 18 mm (0.71 inches)
-Weight 196 grams (6.9 oz)

Audio

-Audio Controller AC-97 Codec Chip; WM9705 Sound Chip
-Stereo Conversion 16-bit stereo; 8.0, 11.025, 22.05 and 44.1KHz sample rate
-Full Duplex Record and Playback
-Integrated Microphone and Speaker

Power Supply

-AC Adapter
-Battery Type 1440 mAh Lithium-Ion Removable, Rechargeable (standard)
-3400 mAh Lithium-Ion Removable, Rechargeable (optional)

First Thoughts

When I held the Axim X5 in my hand a few things really jumped out at me: Firstly, the X5 is slightly larger and heavier than many of its competitors, this is in part because most comparable PDAs only have one expansion card slot. I judge this added bulk a fair trade for the added functionality of having both a Compact Flash card slot and one of the SD/MMC variety. After all, what's an ounce or two among friends? Part of the benefit of having two memory card expansion slots though is mitigated by the SD/MMC's placement high on the left side where most users would normally be resting their thumb. Secondly the small X5 button that activates the voice recorder is also located on the left side of the unit and is flush mounted making it quite awkward to depress without the use of the stylus.

Axim Side View

When I popped in the Dell Companion CD and installed Active Sync on my PC so I could get to work in earnest on this review I found it's clunky user interface not to my liking, whenever possible I simply dragged and dropped data to my X5 in Windows Explorer. When I was forced to use Active Sync because it was required in certain software installations, even small programs of no more than a few meg seemed 56K modem slow when transferring between a PC and a X5. Something definitely needs to be done about this issue, personally I would start with giving the Axim a USB 2.0 interface.

In testing, with the power saving features set at about the midway point, the standard 1440 mAh Lithium-Ion battery lasted me between six to eight hours of normal use. Once reconnected to A.C. Power if left undisturbed the X5 would fully charge in ~ ninety minutes. If this is not enough battery life for your needs there is also the optional 3400 mAh Lithium-Ion which would more than double your battery life. The optional battery it should be noted though is slightly oversized and will add a couple more ounces to the the X5's weight.

Axim Without Battery     Axim Battery

As you can imagine the multimedia capabilities here are somewhat hampered by the size of the speaker, at low volume, the sound is somewhat tinny but serviceable. When you venture much past the halfway point the sound becomes very crackling and distorted, and is nearly unusable. 320k MP3s play back without stuttering as long as you aren't multitasking and as does PPC optimized video. For any serious listening chores though I would recommend you make use of the included X5 stereo headphone jack.

There are simply a ton of accessories available to purchase for your Axim X5. If you don't show some restraint here I am sure you could easily spend more than the price of the Axim X5 itself. Screen protectors, extra styluses, memory cards, spare batteries, hardshell aluminum cases. One word of caution here: If you want to buy your accessories at Dell make sure to compare prices elsewhere. For instance, once I had decided to purchase a Compact Flash Card modem for 79 dollars at Dell, out of curiosity I went over to Newegg to compare prices. They stocked a comparable modem for 44 bucks. Guess which one I am going to buy now?

Thoughts On PPC Software

[Note: If you are already familiar with, or not interested in the PPC Software market by all means feel free to skip down to the overclocking section you won't hurt my feelings, I promise.]

My experiences finding software for the Axim X5 were a very mixed bag. While ports of several popular shooters are available, Wolf3D, Doom, Quake, most are in Beta with each differing in the amount of functionality and framerates they offer, there also seems to be a shortage of high quality reasonably priced polished games. For instance, I was looking to pick up one of my all time favorites AOE Gold, after checking to see if it was available I was frustrated to find it priced at 30 bucks that is higher than what I paid for the regular PC version! Thinking I might have better luck with some board games I found Monopoly, and Scrabble, the full PC versions of which they are actually giving away right now in boxes of breakfast cereal these also cost 30 bucks for the PPC.

This bit of pricing insanity isn't limited to just games either, what better application for a PDA then messaging? I was looking to pick up AIM Well AIM for PPC 2002 is available but even it costs 20 bucks! WTF? A messaging client costs 20 bucks? It looks like I will be sticking with the, "Can you hear me now?, Good." method of mobile communicating for now. This is not to say that things are all bad particularly in the utility market. PDAMill for instance is a free software picture viewer that is a real find and so simple and easy to use I would consider using it on my desktop. PSC, also free is an amazing little screen capture utility. Quite possibly though the crown jewels of the PPC 2002 software market is IMO the two programs below.

Before I get to them though I would be remiss if I didn't confess that I seem to have taken a liking to the Microsoft Reader, I confess it is a little awkward to get used to reading a screen instead of a printed page but it is actually much more convenient than carrying a stack of paper backs on a trip and it is amazing all the good books available out there for free, right now I am busy reading Treasure Island one of my childhood favorites remarkably it's just as good as I remember it. I am surprised that this ability alone hasn't increased PPC sales more.

Overclocking

Even though I paid for an 300MHZ Basic Axim X5, being an overclocker at heart, of course I wanted it to perform at least as well as a 400MHZ Advanced Axim X5. While doing some pre-sale PDA research at Dell's own remarkably good support forums [Which I suggest any prospective X-5 buyer visit before purchasing an Axim], I discovered a mention of a PDA overclocking utility called Pocket Hack Master which I thought might help me do just that, while the full abilities of this program are beyond the scope of this review, let me just say that PHM also includes many other features other than overclocking, such as power management, process viewer, sysinfo to name a few. After writing to Anton Tomov the programs author, who generously provided me with a complimentary license for this review, I was within 5 minutes of starting PHM stably running my Axim X5 at 398MHZ, over a week later it is still running at that speed without a hiccup.

Benchmarking

Now that we have overclocked our X-5 how are we to verify the performance increase? Why the normal way of course, run some benchmarks. For the benchmarking portion of this review we will be using PocketPC Mark also written to run on various PDA architecture, by Anton Tomov the same guy who wrote PHM. Since the reference PD is a 400MHZ 3970 iPAQ, all tests are run with the Axim X5 overclocked to 398MHZ. The benchmark was installed to the main memory and all background applications were exited before the benchmarks were run. For memory card performance testing a Lexar 32MB 8X Compact Flash card was also utilized.

PPCMark 1     PPCMark 2     PPCMark 3

PPCMark 4     PPCMark 5     PPCMark 6

PPCMark 7

Very impressive, the Dell Axim X5 in its stock configuration is at best a very average performer, nonetheless when overclocked the X5 manages to best the reference PPC in almost every benchmark, in the graphics benchmark it more than doubles the performance of the reference unit!

Conclusion:

With any PDA in this price range a few design compromises are required. For instance I would liked to have seen a the Axim X5 Basic ship with more memory, and built in wireless capabilities that some of the other Pocket PC have would also have been nice. What makes the Axim X5 remarkable though is that none of these compromises is truly a deal breaker. When choosing between the X5 Standard and X5 Advanced the situation becomes a little less clear, while I clearly would have enjoyed the extra features of the X5 Advanced the extra hundred dollars would have likely put it's purchase beyond my reach. The Dell Axim X5 Standard is one of the few purchases I have made lately that I am just as excited about the product after buying it as I was before, as a jaded hardware reviewer that is high praise indeed and no small feat.

Pros:

  • Low price
  • Both CF & SD/MMC memory slots
  • Bright sharp screen
  • Good battery life

Cons:

  • No connectivity solution included
  • Poor placement of SD/MMC card
  • Mediocre sound

Added: July 19th 2003
Reviewer: JimAdkins
Score: 9  
Related Link: Dell
Hits: 30367
Language: english

  

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