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Pondrew Reviews... the T-Mobile MDA Compact II

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#1
Pondrew

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Introduction
The T-Mobile MDA Compact II has been out for approaching a month now and is presently the only incarnation of this device (the HTC Charmer) on general release. As a followup to the extremely popular MDA Compact (HTC Magician) the device has alot to live upto.

The Compact II delivers what many Magician owners have most been craving, the latest version of the Windows Mobile operating system version 5.0. Added to which was an upgrade to Quad Band and the inclusion of EDGE. While the extra band can prove most useful to the modern world traveller, given the rollout of EDGE in the UK is far from certain the inclusion of this in the device could be seen as incidental.

Many people have been questioning whether the Texas Instruments OMAP 850 processor included in the Compact II running at 195MHz is able to match the performance of the original Compact's Intel Bulverde processor that runs at 416 MHz. They have also asked whether the upgrade to Windows Mobile 5.0 is really worthwhile.

What do I think after a month using the device? Read on to find out...

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Appearance & Form Factor
So, this is my MDA Compact II in the Graphite Grey flesh. The device is currently available in Baby Pink as well in case that tickles your fancy(!). There have also been suggestions in literature and from T-Mobile that it will be available in Blue but not at the time of writing.

As owners of the previous, near identical, MDA Compact model (and other HTC Magician derivatives) will know, the device is nicely compact and easy to carry, indeed unusually so for a Pocket PC Phone. This can be a mixed blessing if you are coming from a large screen Pocket PC as I am as the screen too has been shrunk. How much of a problem this is will depend on the software in question, usually it's not an issue. Where it could be a problem is for those who use the transcribe function (where you write reams of text with the stylus) alot but I personally only use it occasionally and haven't found it a problem.

The device uses a traditional SD slot rather then the Mini-SD featured in the MDA Vario so you'll either need an SD card or a convertor if you intend using a Mini-SD.

What's in the box
The MDA Compact II from T-Mobile presently comes with a screen protector but NO storage card. There is no cradle either (an omission the original Compact also suffered). As with other Windows Mobile devices, software CDs are supplied including a full version of Outlook and Activesync 4.0. T-Mobile also throw in a GPRS Monitor although most will get the device on Web N Walk and so should have plenty of data to play with. A UK power supply is included along with the now compulsory mini-usb cable to connect directly to a usb port on your desktop for syncing. Finally a spare stylus and stereo handsfree kit are included.

Windows Mobile 5

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The MDA Compact II offers the latest version of the Windows Mobile 5 operating system I have seen (newer then that in the XDA Exec or the MDA Vario). The operating system can certainly be suggested to be more polished then the last version of Windows Mobile 2003SE I have used. There is a polished look to it and, although this release was more about evolution then revolution, the introduction of persistant storage into Pocket PC devices is a real plus. No more fear of losing all should you be caught without your charger. Instead you can now turn off the device simply by holding down the power button and choosing yes when asked if you wish to turn the device off.

Another neat feature included in Windows Mobile 5 for Pocket PC is the inclusion of softkeys such as those enjoyed in the Smartphone version for years. A handy way of controlling the OS, T-Mobile further improve on the functionality by including a program in settings to assign whatever functions you like to the softkeys from the Today screen. I personally elected to keep Internet on the right softkey but change the left to File Explorer.

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For now Windows Mobile 5 presents some problems due to the lack of compatible software available. This will obviously become less of a problem with time but for now you need to be aware that much of you software library (assuming you are upgrading from an older Windows Mobile version Pocket PC) may no longer be compatible. The good news is popular software choices such as Pocket Scumm, TCMP Player, Pocket TV and TomTom Navigator have all received updates to ensure the software functions on the latest Windows Mobile OS.

There is one real concern I have about this new version of Windows Mobile. In Windows Mobile 2003SE I could safely run several programs and the Pocket PC would manage things by shutting down programs to free resources as needed. For some reason this isn't immediately happening in Windows Mobile 5 and as a result the device can slow significantly if you don't pay attention to what programs you leave open. Whether this is related to the new memory specification of 64meg ram (slightly lower then the 128meg ram I was previously used to using) or simply due to the Windows Mobile 5 memory management not yet being upto speed yet I cannot say but having spoken to other Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC users with HTC Wizards or HTC Universals it seems the OS not closing down programs is a common issue at the moment. Hopefully one that will be addressed in future releases. In the meantime, of course, closing programs in Memory Manager ensures against device slowdown.

Hardware & Performance

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As mentioned above, the new HTC Charmer brings a new memory arrangement and improves upon the HTC Magician's 64meg rom upto 128meg. The ram however remains at 64meg. This seems a shame given later versions of the Magician were boasting 128meg ram, could this newer device not have received the same? Maybe it would have gone some way to ensuring against device slowdown as the list of running programs gets longer and longer...

The other concern with this device is the change to the TI OMAP 850 processor at 195MHz. Having come from a 400MHz Intel processored HTC Blue Angel I DID notice some slowdown in comparison. Whether this really is because the OMAP 850 is slower in practice or whether it is because Windows Mobile 5.0 is more power hungry I cannot say. The difference was small however and the device performs excellently when used for playing music or running TomTom Navigator. Videos too play without problems although there is again doubt as to whether this device is able to outperform the previously Intel processored Pocket PCs.

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The phone function of the phone is perfectly usable with touch screen being little problem even for those who don't want to use the stylus. The Phone Pad makes use of the device as a phone almost as easy as a Smartphone while the sound quality is excellent with far less reports of echoing (something experienced with my previous device the MDA III). I have experienced next to no dropped calls and no issues of being unable to hear or be heard by the other end, this despite being in a poor signal area.

Battery life from the device is about what you'd expect coming from the MDA Compact. Two days with use when NOT turning the device off at night will be about standard, stretching to three days if you rarely use the device and are in an area with good signal coverage. While this is about the same as the previous MDA Compact it is slightly disappointing however it should be remembered that were you to turn the device off each night you could possibly stretch the time between charges to upto a week.

It is possible that the battery takes more then a month to 'settle in' but I expect my experience is pretty representative. Many were expecting the change to the OMAP processor to deliver powersaving benefits. Fair to say, the battery life is good but there's still more to come from Pocket PC Phone devices in the future...

Camera

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I personally have found the camera setup in the MDA Compact II (1.3mega pixel) to be by far the best in any Windows Mobile device and when it comes to taking still photos I consider it to be an outstanding camera phone. BUT when it comes to videos they can come out a little choppy (possibly a result of the slower processor?). Examples of photos follow:

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Not a great example but this archived video (you'll need to extract it using WinRAR or similar) gives you an idea of how choppy the recording is and how distorted the sound recording:
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Windows Media Player
I've long been a fan of Windows Mobile Media Player 10 with it's album art and the MDA Compact II has offered me the best Windows Mobile based music player solution yet. Excellent quality sound from the headphones or from the internal speaker (situated in the back of the device). The only thing to be wary of is if you are a fan of multi-tasking and forget to close down unused programs the lack of memory may begin to affect the music playback in extreme cases.

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The inclusion of a high quality (if a little plasticky) stereo handsfree kit with volume control is an added bonus and combined with a large (4meg anyone?) SD card the MDA Compact II is definately an excellent alternative to the iPod.

T-Mobile
As with most operators, T-Mobile have tweaked the rom on the MDA Compact II not just with the settings necessary to ensure the device is fully working straight out of the box but also with applications and features that they feel benefit the user. As with all devices this customisation happens immediately after turning on for the first time. I have to say that this customisation seemed to take a lot longer to process then my previous Pocket PC Phone device (possibly a sign of the slower processor?).

So what's included? A worthy addition in this case, as already mentioned, is the inclusion of the softkey program in settings allowing the user to assign whatever program they wish to the Today screen softkeys.

Clearvue PDF and a MIDlet Manager are also included, and, unlike the MDA Pro, Pocket MSN is included.

A rather more bemusing addition is EmailWiz from DAT Group PLC. It sets up your email account with the settings for many providers preprogrammed in. Now this would be a useful enough program but for the fact that Windows Mobile 5 actually already has this functionality built in. What's more, the WM5 email wizard is significantly better! Where EmailWiz couldn't help set up my Blueyonder email settings (apparently Blueyonder aren't big enough to qualify for the EmailWiz list!) the Pocket Outlook wizard could. Anyway, this duplication is almost certainly as a result of T-Mobile not realising an Email Wizard had been added into Pocket Outlook as this feature was missing from previous incarnations of Windows Mobile.

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The MDA Compact II is partially application locked whereby the installation of any program without a trusted signature will produce the above screen. This is a new feature on the MDA range although doesn't cause too much inconvenience and may actually be a Windows Mobile 5 change.

Conclusion
The MDA Compact II is a capable enough device and for those who have been wanting to upgrade from the Smartphone platform to a full Pocket PC Phone it should prove the perfect choice. The form factor is as good as the Pocket PC Phone format provides at the moment as is the Phone side of things.

For those who have previously had Windows Mobile 2003SE Pocket PCs packing 400+MHz Intel processors the improvements are slightly less tangible. The device is still a solid solution and the change to Windows Mobile 5 is on the whole a positive one. I still occasionally miss the larger screen and possibly faster response times of my MDA III (HTC Blue Angel) but given T-Mobile's good record of providing updates to their MDA range it is a fair bet that the MDA Compact II and Windows Mobile 5 will improve with a subsequent update.

The price of the device is very reasonable when taking into account offers of half price rental with inclusive data but those seeking a little more from their device will want to look long and hard at the slightly more expensive MDA Vario which is similar specification but with wifi and hardware keyboard included.

To conclude, I would highly recommend this device to anyone whose main requirements revolve around the Phone, Music Player or Camera functions. Those requiring a more power packed Pocket PC however should try before they buy to ensure against disappointment.

Addendum 10/01/06
Well, I've managed to benchmark the MDA Compact II against the MDA III to find out how much processing power the new TI OMAP processor has compared with the traditional Intel Xscale processor. See the results here

Edited by Paul (MVP), 08 November 2006 - 03:10 PM.

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#2
furby

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Nice review, makes me tempted as I feel like ditching my M500.


Quick questions:

How long have you had the phone?
And does it feel (and look) noticably smaller than the MDA compact?

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#3
PaulOBrien

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It is exactly the same size as the MDA compact.

P

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#4
furby

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It is exactly the same size as the MDA compact.

P

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Thanks Paul, just thought they might have shrunk the device a little. Gotta keep that trouser bulge down ;)

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#5
chucky.egg

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I think Pondrew has put me off this one.

The M500 isn't slow exactly, but I wouldn't want a slower device. Add to that the "software compatibility" and "running apps not closing" issues and it doesn't sound too hot to me.

Having said that the T-Mob bundle does sound pretty good, and I am expecting to leave Orange later this year.... maybe if I keep on dropping the M500 I might be tempted.

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#6
PaulOBrien

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I'm really enjoying my MDA Compact II I have to say.

I've found speed fine with only the occasional 'pause', all the apps I want to run work, and I use SPB Pocket Plus to close apps when I hit the 'X' anyway ;)

For the price, a real bargain IMHO!

P

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#7
scott2eyes

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I'd like to know how it compares to the Wizard/M3000/XDA mini-s/Vario etc.) (same OS, same processor, same RAM and ROM, but lacking the Wizard's slide-out keyboard.)

These are the two most appealing options for anyone looking to get a PDA on a free upgrade ATM...

[EDIT- comparing some other info- Wizard has wi-fi, both are the same width and height, but the Charmer is slightly thinner (18mm vs 23mm)- presumably on account of not having the keyboard, Wizard is restricted to mini-SD memory cards. But I'm curious as to whether there's a notable difference in performance.]

Edited by scott2eyes, 05 January 2006 - 02:25 PM.

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My (slightly out of date!) guide to the MPx200 (including customising the homescreen and Media Player):

*LINK*

#8
siksik6

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How about posting the photos full size in a zip or something please. would like to see them.

cheers

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#9
J273

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Does anyone know where i can get one of these ,i cant find 1 anywhere :cry:

Thanks

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#10
J273

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Does anyone know where i can get one of these ,i cant find 1 anywhere :cry:

Thanks

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



^^Sim free

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Iphone / Asus p750 / Samsung I780

#11
funkychicken9000

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Does it have wifi? The last review I found suggested not :s

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#12
Alison Astraware

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More questions from me. Pondrew's review says Quad band. The T-Mobile site says triband - which is correct? Will it work with my existing Socket Go wi-fi card?

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#13
PaulOBrien

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No...

P

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#14
Alison Astraware

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http://www.socketcom....asp?Type=SDIO2 Looks like Socket have WM5.0 drivers. Would you mind installing them on the device. If they don't crash then hopefully my wi-fi card will be fine.

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#15
Pondrew

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How long have you had the phone?

Just under a month.

I'd like to know how it compares to the Wizard/M3000/XDA mini-s/Vario etc.) (same OS, same processor, same RAM and ROM, but lacking the Wizard's slide-out keyboard.)

Haven't been able to compare directly myself but what I've been led to believe is that the Compact II is no slower and possible slightly more responsive then the Vario.

Does it have wifi?  The last review I found suggested not :s

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

No wifi and no keyboard.

More questions from me. Pondrew's review says Quad band. The T-Mobile site says triband - which is correct? Will it work with my existing Socket Go wi-fi card?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Definately Quad band. T-Mobile's website is wrong (just for a change :?: )
Don't know about your wifi card I'm afraid, haven't got one to test...

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#16
Pondrew

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I've made some additions to the review, a new section on the T-Mobile implementation and a few details added.

With regards any lack of speed or responsiveness, as with all implementations of Windows Mobile 5 it helps to ensure Error Reporting is turned off. Also I'm reluctant to say the processor is responsible or not able to cut it given how all applications do run fine.

It's just that when it comes to video playback and processor intensive tasks (like processing the external rom on first bootup) the device doesn't seem quite as quick as my MDA III with it's 400MHz processor. And given many have suggested the MDA Vario as being a little slow compared to previous Intel processored Pocket PCs it seems probable that the processor could be responsible.

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#17
brykins

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Haven't been able to compare directly myself but what I've been led to believe is that the Compact II is no slower and possible slightly more responsive then the Vario.


You're right there - I had both of them for a day and compared the two side by side and the Compact II feels quicker than the Wizard when using applications. I found the Wizard was sluggish loading apps and also running them, whereas the Charmer is still sluggish loading them but just as fast when running them as my old Magician.

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#18
Pondrew

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Good to hear.

Must admit I've got a dilemma at the moment as I never intended to keep both Pocket PC Phones (MDA III and MDA Compact II) but each has their own strong points and I can't decide which to sell on!

I suspect the release of an OFFICIAL WM5 rom for the Blue Angel would decide me on the side of the MDA III but even then I'd miss the superb camera and form factor of the Compact II. :?:

Maybe I'll keep them both for a while ;)

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#19
Peppermint Hippo

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Cracking review Pondrew. May invest in a Charmer myself. Prefer the size of my Magician but prefer the OS of the Wizard (but dislike the bulk) so this would be the perfect solution.

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Windows device history:

Smartphone:
Orange SPV C500 & Orange SPV C600
Pocket PC:
T-Mobile MDA Vario & Vodafone VPA Compact

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#20
Pondrew

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That's the funny thing. For now there isn't a Pocket PC Phone I would call my ideal device. The Universal, Wizard and Charmer all have their merits but I see none of them as ideal.

The day a rehashed Blue Angel is released (maybe slightly smaller but WITHOUT losing the larger screen size) with fast processor and VGA is the day I'm happy!

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