Mid December 2004 was a very significant milestone in the life of Pocket PC, and more specifically Pocket PC Phone Edition. Can you guess why? In December 2004, the iMate JAM was released to an unsuspecting world.
The iMate JAM was something of a revelation... the release coincided with Microsoft relaxing their restrictions around screen size, and therefore the JAM, with it's 2.8" QVGA screen, broke new ground in terms of compactness and viability as an everyday phone.
The iMate JAM was based on the HTC Magician reference design, that was quickly adopted by carriers across the world, who clearly saw that it was set to be a best seller. Those carriers included Orange, who released the Magician as the 'SPV M500', albeit with slight asthetic tweaks, which were generally well received.
HTC have continued to build on the success of the Magician. As well as a version of the Magician with 128MB memory rather than the original 64MB, HTC released the Charmer, with a virtually identical feature set, but sporting Windows Mobile 5 and the now ubiquitous TI OMAP 200 MHz processor - a battery life friendly processor replacing the 416MHz Intel XScale found in the Magician. The Charmer didn't seem to make much traction with carriers however, with only T-Mobile really taking it under their wing as the MDA Compact II. Maybe this was due to the fact that the HTC Prophet was on it's way...
So, to 2006... and the Prophet is here. Released first as the Dopod 818 Pro in the far east before appearing as the iMate JAMin and the QTek S200 worldwide, HTC's latest compact Pocket PC gets it's first outing with a carrier... as the Orange SPV M600!
If you've held / used either the Magician or any of it's variants, you'll feel right at home with the M600. At a shade under 150g, the device is light enough to be pocketable, and heavy enough to feel solid and high quality. At 108.8 x 59.3 x 18.4 mm, the size compares well with other Pocket PCs, and even Smartphones.
A quick look at the tech specs:
- Construction: Anodized Aluminum / Plastic
- Operating System: Windows Mobile 5.0 for Pocket PC
- Processor: Texas Instruments OMAP850 200MHz
- RAM: 64 MB
- ROM: 128MB (this is the area used for user installing programs etc)
- Interfaces: SD/MMC supporting SDIO, IrDA (SIR), Bluetooth 2.0, MiniUSB, Wi-Fi (inc WPA)
- Radio: 850/900/1800/1900, GPRS, EDGE
- Screen: TFT 2.8" (43 x 57 mm) 240x320 pixels QVGA, 65K colours
- Camera: 2 MP without flash (max photo resolution 1600x1200 pixels, max video resolution 176x144), macro mode
- Battery: removable Li-Ion , 1200 mAh
- Dimensions: 108.8x59.3x18.4 mm
- Weight: 148g
There's do denying you get a decent bit of kit for your money!
Sporting the latest version of Windows Mobile 5 for Pocket PC, known as AKU2, the device supports Push Email from Exchange servers out of the box, a big plus if you are either an enterprise user in an Exchange environment or a personal user with a hosted Exchange account (e.g. 4smartphone).
The TI OMAP 200MHz processor has been a cause of much debate. Despite the change from the 416MHz processor in the Magician, the 200MHz processor in the M600 - as a later generation device - doesn't perform at half the speed - in general use, the speed feels pretty much comparable, although power hungry applications, such as VOIP, will suffer in comparison. Of course, there is a trade off, and that is power consumption... the M600 is very frugal compared to it's predecessor.
With the advent of Windows Mobile 5, persistent storage comes to Pocket PC. Always included in the Smartphone version of the OS, persistent storage means that all of the data on the device is stored in ROM, meaning that should the battery go completely flat on the device, you'll no longer lose your data. Hurrah!
A welcome inclusion on the device is the full size SD port. In a world where MiniSD and MicroSD devices are becoming more and more popular, i'm very happy to see the M600 with a full size slot. I recently snapped up a 4GB SD at a bargain price, and now have a very spacious and competent portable music player. MiniUSB, IR and Bluetooth are included, although the omission of A2DP (Stereo Audio) support in the Bluetooth stack is disappointing - and something that will hopefully be rectified in a future update.
One of the most significant improvements to be found in the M600 is the inclusion of WiFi. Most impressive is that this is the first HTC device to feature 802.11g rather than the slower 802.11b. Together with Windows Mobile 5's support for WPA, this is a very useful addition... albeit one that should be used sparingly if battery life is important!
Rounding off the connectivity comes compatability with EDGE. EDGE is an advancement in speed over GPRS, think of it as a stop gap between GPRS and UMTS (3G). Orange UK have stated that they do plan to offer EDGE in the UK, although primarily as back fill for areas that will not receive UMTS coverage initially.
It's fair to say that HTC's previous efforts with regards to cameras in phones have been, well, 'disappointing'. As the first device in the HTC portfolio to offer 2 Megapixel shooting, the M600 takes fairly decent shots, although like previous devices it is handicapped in low light situations due to the lack of flash. A macro mode is included, which is a handy addition for taking pictures of business cards and the like.
The feel of the device as you hold it in your hands is hard to describe. The device - a combination of metal and plastic - is coated with a black 'soft touch' paint, that feels good to hold, and in my experience to date seems good at resisting bumps and scratches.
The front of the device is dominated of course by the 2.8" QVGA screen. It is sharp and bright, and feels perfect for the 320x240 resolution. Having seen 4 different HTC Prophet devices alongside each other, I have noted that the screen brightness and degree of 'yellowing' seems very variable... if you are purchasing your device in store, you might like to consider firing the device up at time of purchase, checking your are happy with the display - especially if switching from another Pocket PC.
Above the display sits the speaker, with a silver surround. Embedded in the speaker are 2 LEDs, yes, the annoying flashing 'in service' LED remains (it is also used to indicate charging status), together with a LED to indicate Bluetooth status. To the left of the speaker is a white 'M600' logo, accompanied by an Orange logo in the right hand side of the device. Below the display 'SPV' is written in white. I personally quite like the branding and think it suits the device, but should you disagree... 'sugar cubes' at the ready
Below the display sits the directional pad and a number of buttons. As well as the directional pad and red / green call buttons, the M600 sports dedicated keys for the start menu, OK, and the left and right softkeys. HALLELUJAH! Don't underestimate the significance of this addition... with these new keys and the improved Windows Mobile 5 Operating System, the M600 suddenly becomes a huge amount more viable as a device for 1 handed operation. To give you an idea of the significance, I recently switched to another Pocket PC WITHOUT the additional keys, and it drove me nuts to the extent I switched back within a day!
The top of the device is home to the SD slot.
The bottom of the device has the miniUSB port, a 2.5mm headphone jack, and the microphone.
The left of the device contains a dedicated camera button, a volume slider, a dedicated button for 'Comm Manager', and a loop for a lanyard. Comm Manager in AKU2 has been very much improved, but more on that later
The right hand side of the device includes the IR eye, the power button, and the stylus silo, which is home to a good length and fairly decent stylus... particularly compared with the trend torwards stubby extendable stylii found on devices such as the HTC Wizard variants (e.g. MDA Vario).
The back of the device includes an external antenna plug with a rubber bung, a mirror for self portraits, the 2 megapixel camera with a macro mode switch, a shiny section proclaiming '2 Mega Pixels', and a 'Designed for Windows Mobile' sticker!
On to the software!
Upon assembling your device from the compactly packed box, a tap of the power button sparks the device into life. The Orange splash screen is displayed while the device goes through it's boot cycle, which I am afraid to say is not noticeably quicker than previous Pocket PCs. After completing initial setup and a reboot, you are presented with the 'love-it-or-hate-it' Orange custom homescreen, and a very Orange-y theme. I have to confess i'm not a big fan, however at least on the M600 the custom homescreen can be turned off, unlike on some other Orange handsets!
If you've used Pocket PC before, everything will be familiar! With the exception of the soft keys that are new to Windows Mobile 5, it all looks pretty much the same!
App by app... what do you get out of the box?
A whirlwind tour of the start menu...
Calendar - This application allows you to view / edit your calendar, which can be synced to a desktop PC or an Exchange server. It's an easy to use application, yet still contains a good range of features. You can view your calendar by agenda / day / week / month / year, and items from here are also highlighted on the homscreen.
Camera - The camera application uses the whole screen as a viewfinder, and works very well. It includes a menu for switching ambience for different types of lighting, and includes 'greyscale', 'sepia', 'cool' and 'negative' effects. Contrast, brightness, saturation, hue and sharpness can all be adjusted. Date / time can be superimposed on the image if desired.
The application offers Photo, Video, MMS Video, Contacts Pictures, Picture Themes, Sport and Burst modes.
My only complaint with the application is that it defaults to landscape for pictures, and there seems to be no way to switch orientation to portrait... particularly annoying when superimposing date / time on pictures.
Macro mode for pictures can be enabled using the hardware switch on the back of the device, next to the camera lens.
Contacts - The contacts application contains, you guessed it, all your contacts! Again, they can be synced to either a desktop PC or Microsoft Exchange. There is an exhaustive list of fields you can have associated with each contact, including a field for a Contact Picture, which can also sync to your desktop PC or Exchange server (new for Windows Mobile 5!)
Internet Explorer - Internet Explorer has been slightly improved for Windows Mobile 5. It is relatively quick, and includes different modes for rendering pages as intended, or reshaped for the mobile device. Functionality is still quite basic in that there is still no support for opening multiple pages, but on the whole, using Pocket IE is a pleasant experience.
Messaging - Messaging is where all of your messages - SMS, Email and MMS live. Additional POP3 and IMAP accounts can be created here. Unlike other Windows Mobile 5 devices, the M600 does NOT support HoTMaiL accounts - more on this later. Messages are kept in seperate 'accounts' within Messaging, and you can switch between them using left-right on the directional pad.
Phone - Phone is where you make phone calls! HTC's 'IntelliDial' application is included, which means you can dial names of contacts in a 'Smart Dial' type way. Call History and Speed Dials are also accessed from this application, which can also be launched by hitting the green call button on the front of the device. Speakerphone and call conferencing are also accessed from this page, although Speakerphone can also be activated in call by holding down the green button.
Pictures and Videos - The M600 uses Microsoft's standard Pictures and Videos application, which is new to Windows Mobile 5. It serves as a central place to find all of your pictures and videos, and also offers very basic picture manipulation such as rotation, cropping and 'Auto Correction'.
Programs -> Accessories -> Download Agent - Who knows what this is for - it seems to be unused
Programs -> Accessories -> Help - The standard Pocket PC Help application, i'm willing to bet you never use it
Programs -> Accessories -> Modem Link - This allows you to configure your device to act as a modem when connected to your PC.
Programs -> Accessories -> Orange Plus - This is the SIM Toolkit application, that allows you to access your SMS based services such as sports news.
Programs -> Accessories -> SIM Manager - This allows you to manager your SIM card contact entries.
Programs -> Accessories -> Terminal Services Client - This allows you to connect to and manage Terminal Servers.
Programs -> Games -> Bubble Breaker - Jawbreaker is now called Bubble Breaker - pop groups of coloured bubbles!
Programs -> Games -> Solitaire - The old favourite - the Solitaire (Patience!) card game.
Programs -> ActiveSync - Here is where you set up / manage sync relationships, either with your desktop PC(s), or with an Exchange Server should you have access to one. You can sync Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, Notes and Media with a desktop PC, and Mail, Contacts, Calendar and Tasks with an Exchange server. Exchange Tasks sync is new to Windows Mobile 5!
This is also where you set your sync schedules, and enable direct-push always on mail if desired.
Programs -> Calculator - Does exactly what it says on the tin... a very (very) basic calculator.
Programs -> ClearVue PDF - This 3rd party addon application by Westtek allows you to view PDF files on your device - a useful addition.
Programs -> Excel Mobile - A mobile version of the Excel spreadsheet, with full viewing and editing capabilities.
Programs -> File Explorer - A simple file explorer.
Programs -> Java - An application to allow you to run Java MIDlets on your device.
Programs -> Notes - An application to manage 'sticky notes'. This syncs to Outlook Notes on your desktop PC. Note: As yet, Notes do NOT sync OTA to Exchange
Programs -> PowerPoint Mobile - View powerpoint slides on your device.
Programs -> PVPlayer - Packet Video player.
Programs -> Search - Search your device for items.
Programs -> Speed Dial - Manage your speed dials.
Programs -> Tasks - View / Edit your tasks. These may be synced to either Microsoft Outlook or Exchange (new for Windows Mobile 5).
Programs -> Voice Speed Dial - Exactly what it says on the tin
Programs -> Windows Media - Windows Media Player 10 mobile. A competent Media Player with integrated library management, album art support etc.
Programs -> Word Mobile - view and edit Word documents on your deivce.
Programs -> Zip - Create and extract ZIP archives on your device.
Comm Manager - Comm Manager, accessed by pressing the dedicated button on the left hand side of the device, is much improved in AKU2, and therefore on the M600. It gives you one place to enable / disable the phone, Bluetooth, WiFi, DirectPush, Activesync and even to mute the device.
There are a wealth of different settings under the settings menu of course Things that I think are most significant area:
- Button Lock features on this device. You can set the device so that when you turn it off, all buttons are locked except the power button - useful to stop the device being turned on in your pocket. A must have, but not all Pocket PCs ship with such an option.
- Phone Pad - The M600 ships with HTCs respected 'Phone Pad' implementation of T9. A further step towards one handed use - although using Phone Pad with a thumb isn't always easy due to the lack of tactile feedback - Phone Pad is another invaluable addition that doesn't feature on other non HTC Pocket PCs.
A point of note, and that is what's MISSING from the M600.
If you compare the M600 to it's HTC Prophet brothers, the iMate JAMin, the QTek S200 etc., you'll notice that they feature Pocket MSN, which is missing from the Orange device.
Why? Orange have plans to implement their own IM solution, and so have removed MSN Messenger from the device.
Unfortunately, Orange don't actually HAVE their IM solution available yet, but it's also worth noting MSN Messenger is not all you lose. Pocket MSN gives the ability to add HoTMaiL accounts to the Messaging application, and this is not available on the M600. This may be significant if you are a HoTMaiL user.
One other omission from the device, at least when compared to previous Orange Windows Mobile devices, is the lack of a Backup / Restore function. Again, we understand that a new and improved Orange solution for this is due at a later date...
The M500 was a very popular device, and rightly so, it took Pocket PCs to a whole new audience, and made a practical device for use where Pocket PCs never were before.
The M600 builds on this by taking the best features from the M500, and building on them.
It's a great device to look at and hold, and Windows Mobile 5 has made great improvements to the usability, and the additional hardware buttons make this a device that can be operated a lot more with one hand. Good though it is, it's not yet up to Smartphone standards for 'phone usability', but it's getting there.
The new hardware features, WiFi, EDGE, 2MP camera etc. etc. are all very welcome, and make this a small form factor powerhouse of a device... EDGE is a real bonus if you happen to live in a coverage area, else you may feel the lack of UMTS is a shame.
The lack of Pocket MSN functionality and backup / restore is a shame, i'd love to see Orange finish the replacements for things before they remove what is already there.
Push Email, made available through AKU2 works great on the device, and I know that i'd rather have the M600 than a Blackberry any day! Good though AKU2 is, the omission of A2DP (Bluetooth Stereo) is a shame.
In conclusion then...
If you can live with the lack of a keypad and the still imperfect one handed operation, the M600 is a stunner. I'm sure this device is destined to be a big seller... and for what it's worth... it is now the device of choice for both myself and my wife The real deal-breaker? Orange's data charges...
[PS Actual device shots to follow shortly!]