Back in February of this year, i-mate released the PDA-N. The PDA-N represented HTC's first foray into GPS enabled PDA devices. The device, also released as the Dopod P100, had a decent enough feature set, but with only WiFi / Bluetooth connectivity and no cellular connection it didn't find it's way into the hearts of many at MoDaCo. Internally, the device was codenamed the HTC Galaxy.
Although HTC weren't playing the GPS-phone game, others were. Eten shipped the G500 (now superceded by the X500), Mio shipped the A701, HP offered the iPaq 6515 (now superceded by the 6915) and Fujitsu are joining the party now too with the T830.
Well, look out... because HTC are back with their new GPS enabled device, the P3300... and it's a phone too Codenamed the HTC Artemis (or HTC Love, depending on who you ask), the new kid on the block is looking to depose the aforementioned devices with some rather innovative features of it's own!
But more on that later
Buying the P3300
Using Expansys as a price guide...
P3300 Deluxe Pack (including Western Europe TomTom 6 Maps) - £509.95
P3300 Starter Pack (including 1 TomTom 6 City Map) - £439.95
Expansys also sell the P3300 on a number of different O2 or Vodafone connections, thereby providing a 'virtual subsidy' for the device as if you bought it from the operator directly.
For comparison, i've included the prices of some of it's rivals...
Fujitsu Siemens LOOX T830 (cheapest package) - £494.95
Mio A701 (cheapest package) - £389.95
HP iPaq 6915 (cheapest package) - £359.95
E-TEN G500+ (cheapest package) - £319.95
In a nutshell, the P3300 is coming in at the top end of the scale price wise, with the exception of the T830, which does however pack a number of extra features (such as 3G radio, full size SD slot), although it has a 240x240 screen rather than the QVGA screen found on the P3300.
Unboxing the P3300
For the purposes of this review, i'm covering what I believe is equivalent to the P3300 'Taster' pack (the cheaper one without TomTom Europe, but with a TomTom single city), although my box was labelled a 'Marketing Sample', so I can't guarantee that you'll receive the same in the retail pack (but I think so).
THe HTC P3300 arrives in an uncharacteristically large box for a HTC device.. but when you open it, you see why.
The box contains the following items:
- a HTC P3300 device
- a spare stylus
- a USB sync cable
- a car charger
- a stereo headset with a USB connection to the device
- a mains charger
- a windscreen suction mount
- an external GPS antenna
The windscreen suction mount is on par with what I have seen for other devices (e.g. the Mio A701), but I strongly recommend that if you are purchasing one of these devices, you invest in a purpose made Brodit mount for your vehicle (DSL Developments - UK Brodit Supplier).
Hardware - overview
Hardware. Mmm... So that's where the P3300 starts to get interesting. It's not a top spec device in every respect, but it does have some very unique features!
Let me run you through the specifications first...
- Windows Mobile 5 for Pocket PC AKU 3
- Quad Band GPRS / EDGE
- FM Radio
- TI OMAP 850 @ 200MHz
- 128MB ROM
- 64MB RAM
- 2.8" QVGA 65K colour screen
- microSD expansion underneath battery
- 2.0MP camera
- miniUSB connector for sync / charge / headphones
- 1200mAh battery
- up to 3.5 - 5 hrs talktime
- up to 150-200 hour standby
- 58mm x 108mm x 16.3mm
- Unique RollR trackball
Let's talk about the good things first
The P3300 ships with AKU3, which means it's bang up to date with the latest version of the Windows Mobile 5 operating system. The .net Compact Framework 2 is in ROM, which means all your apps will run with the minimum of fuss.
The unit is small and light considering it's packing GPS connectivity! The GPS antenna is internal, so the device has a nice shape, with no ugly antenna bulge seen on other devices such as the Mio A701. The device is a nice dark grey colour with subtle HTC branding.
The device has the unique RollR trackball control method, although whether this is positive or not, we'll come to in the 'in use' section It also has an abundance of hardware buttons. As well as the usual Green / Red / Soft keys / Start / OK buttons that I expect to see on every Pocket PC nowadays (you hearing me Glofiish?), the device has dedicated keys for your chosen GPS application and Pocket Internet Explorer.
GPS on the device is powered by SiRF's SiRFStar III chipset, the latest and greatest when it comes to low power, high sensitivity GPS chipsets. This is supplemented by 'Quick GPS', the A-GPS service that allows for ephemeris download using your mobile data connection, thereby (theoretically) allowing quicker TTFF (time to first fix). The device stacks up to be a considerable navigation companion.
I'm not sure whether to mention the TI OMAP 850 processor as a positive or a negative Sure, it's slower clocked than the Samsung processor found on some of the top end HTC devices, slower than the 416MHz XScale found on the Galaxy, but it has something of a reputation as a battery life hero. It's also rather overclockable should you desire
Finally, the P3300 features a full size stylus! Hurrah! I've kinda got used to the extendable stubby feeble-excuse-for-a-stylus on the Hermes, but having used the one on the P3300 for a little while now, I realise how much I miss a decent stylus.
If you're a regular reader of my reviews, you'll know I tell it like it is, and it's exceptionally rare that a device gets away without any negatives. Well...
What the P3300 gains in GPS connectivity, it loses somewhat in cellular connectivity. 3G / HSDPA are not available on this device, although in it's defence, it does thankfully offer EDGE data speeds should your operator support it.
Again in comparison with HTC's Top Tier devices such as the Hermes, the P3300 loses features such as the side scroll wheel (which I really miss now, although there is the huge scroll wheel on the front!), the LED flash for the Camera (big deal, it's rubbish anyway), and of course there is no sliding keyboard. This wouldn't be so bad if the 'Phone Pad' T9 typing application was present on the device... but we'll come to that later.
In common with other HTC devices hitting the market at present, the P3300 has a miniUSB connector that doubles as the headphone port. No 3.5mm or even 2.5mm ports here, you WILL need an adaptor if you want to use your nice earphones
The screen seems to have some sort of matt coating - anti-glare I believe, which bizarrely means that when used in direct sunlight, I have found it is very poor in comparison to other Pocket PC devices. It's very strange, particularly on a device of this nature, but I did gauge the opinions of friends and colleagues who on the whole agreed with my assessment.
There is no IR port on the device (I find IR useful now and again, but I understand i'm in a minority!)
Finally, the RollR! It's a trackball, and a wheel, on a device. Hmmmm. Is it a negative? Or is it a positive? I'll come to that later
Hardware - around the device
The front of the device is dominated of course by the screen. It's 2.8" in size... as I mentioned previously it's good, except perhaps in direct sunlight.
Above the screen is the new HTC logo, and the speaker. There is a LED each side of the speaker, used to indicate service (green), GPS activity (orange), Bluetooth activity (blue) and WiFi activity (green on the other one!).
Below the screen you'll find all the hardware buttons, and the RollR. The hardware buttons are sensibly laid out and nice to use, the addition of dedicated buttons for your GPS application and Pocket IE is a nice touch, especially when implemented in such a compact but usable layout.
The RollR consists of a tiny white ball, which is used like a trackball on a computer. Rolling it up / down / left / right emulates the action of a regular directional pad, and you can also switch to an 'on screen pointer mode' to make the experience more like a Windows PC. The ball illuminates in a funky blue when in use. Around the outside of the trackball is the wheel, The wheel is shiny in appearance, and makes a quiet 'click' as you use it. It performs the same function as the wheel on the side of other devices, i.e. it performs the up and down directions depending on whether you scroll clockwise or anticlockwise. On my particular unit, the wheel is exceptionally 'loose', and feels very cheap. That's not to say it compromises it's use, it still works as intended, it just doesn't feel as good as I had hoped.
The back of the device contains a black piece of rubber at the top, behind the right hand side of which is the plug for the GPS antenna. This will be vital for you if you plan using your P3300 in environments such as a car with a reflective windscreen.
Below this, centrally mounted, is the 2 Megapixel Camera. I won't dwell on it too much, as it's a typical HTC camera (poor). There is no flash, and the self portrait mirror is mounted just below it, actually on the battery cover. Also on the battery cover is another HTC logo.
The left hand side of the device has a shiny silver strip, which contains a 'voice speed dial' button at the top, which opens the voice recording application when held down. Below this is a conventional volume slider, and at the bottom of the strip is the reset hole.
The right hand side of the device also has a shiny silver strip, and at the top is the power button. At the bottom is the Camera button.
The bottom of the device is home to the miniUSB port (for sync, charge and headset), the lanyard loop, and the stylus silo.
The top of the device is home to the speaker (which actually is on the top / back), which is sufficiently loud for a device of this type.
When you first spark up the P3300, you're greeted by the HTC logo, before the device launches into the AKU3 setup wizard. Traditionally the bane of Pocket PC owner's lives, the wizard has been improved slightly for AKU3. Most importantly, the annoying 'tap and hold' tutorial can now be skipped! Hurrah! In addition, email accounts can be configured during this first setup phase.
After the initial setup has been completed, and the device has performed it's Extended ROM customisations (followed by a reboot), the user is greeted by the Today screen. Presented in the now-familiar HTC ultra-green, the layout is very simple. The TomTom homescreen plugin is immediately apparent (TomTom 6 is in ROM on both the taster and premium packs), and the new 'Shortcut Bar' is also displayed. You'll notice the default configuration has shortcuts for power status, screen rotation, comm manager, backlight settings, quick GPS and mouse mode.
Let's talk about mouse mode. This shortcut toggles between the regular operation of the RollR (whereby it emulates the directional pad found on conventional devices) and a mode where a pointer appears on screen that is controlled by the trackball.
Application wise, all of the standard applications you'd expect from a Pocket PC are there. I won't go through them in detail, rather i'll talk about what's new and different on the P3300
- The P3300 includes an updated Bluetooth stack with some new features. More protocols are now support, and a Bluetooth Explorer / Bluetooth FTP application is now also in ROM.
- The Camera application on the device is the usual excellent HTC Camera client. It is a slightly newer revision than that found on the Hermes, but is identical in operation.
- Clearvue PDF is installed in ROM. Along with all previous HTC devices however, this doesn't seem to be the latest build. Interestingly, in the 'next wave' of devices (that have AKU3.2 installed), Clearvue PDF has been dropped, and replaced by Adobe's own PDF reader for Pocket PC.
- The P3300 has an FM radio built in, and an application to use it called, er, FM Radio The application is great, with RDS support, memories, Stereo / Mono modes and more. Of course, the headset needs to be plugged in when using the radio to allow it to act as an antenna, however you can select an option to play it through the loudspeaker. Sound quality is fine, although there is one annoyance. If you are using the device while you're listening to the radio, any action that makes a sound (such as clicking the Start menu) will create a harsh break in the radio playback, which is somewhat messy and unnecessary. This can be avoided by turning off these systems sounds of course, but it's far from ideal.
- Internet Sharing is a new application for AKU3. It makes the process of using your device as a modem for your computer a lot easier. You choose the connection method, choose the connection on your device to use, and off you go. Piece of cake
- QuickGPS is the P3300 A-GPS application. The premise is simple... instead of having to use the GPS signal to download the ephemeris data, the device downloads it over a web connection, and then feeds it to the GPS chipset. The GPS chipset the avoids having to start with a 'blank page' as it acquires the satellites.
- TomTom Navigator 6 is preinstalled on the device. In the taster pack it is installed without any maps, and you are able to go online from the device and download one city map. In the Premium package, a DVD is included containing full European maps.
As you'll note from the specifications, the P3300 has what appears to be a good memory size, with 128MB ROM. However, as you can see from the memory screenshot that was taken virtually immediately after a hard reset, things are not too great in this department. The amount of memory that is left for the user is smaller than I would have liked to see. I'm not sure if this is due to TomTom being installed or something else, but should you purchase a P3300, you will definitely want to buy a microSD card, and re-jig the default configuration.
Next, I come to Phone Pad. Oh, HTC why has thou forsaken me? 'Phone Pad' is actually nothing to do with phone functionality, it is (was) HTC's fantastic little implementation of T9 (predictive text) as a Pocket PC input mode. It worked GREAT, I (and many others) loved it, and it was one of the single biggest reasons to buy a HTC Pocket PC over those of other manufacturers. Basically, it's not installed on the P3300. HTC seem to have dropped it from their lineup altogether. Boo
My my, so we get to the In use section. Take a deep breath... and read on
First things first, let's talk about the general use of the device aside from the RollR.
In use, the device feels nice and brisk, with very few pauses belying the fact that the processor is 'only' a 200MHz OMAP 850 This experience is consistent with what I've seen on AKU3 devices in general... the latest OS coupled with a generous helping of RAM (altho not in this case!) adds up to a good user experience.
The P3300 holds on to both the mobile signal and WiFi signals as well as my other devices, indicating that the inclusion of a GPS antenna hasn't had a detrimental effect. Likewise, when GPS is enabled, it too doesn't cause any unexpected issues.
As previously mentioned, the GPS chipset in the P3300 is the acclaimed SiRF Star III chipset. It offers very high sensitivity with good power management, although that being said, GPS is still a big drain on power. By supplementing the GPS with the A-GPS download function, the theory is that TTFF (time to first fix) is much reduced. Unfortunately, the reality seems to be that it's taking as long to get a fix as my other non A-GPS SiRF III devices, so i'm not 100% sure it's working properly. On the plus side, once I have a fix, I've actually managed to walk right around the house without losing the fix at all, which is very impressive, and something that i've not been able to do on a GPS enabled PDA before now.
Having said that, I have noticed some performance issues when using the GPS in the car. I have been running the P3300 alongside my Hermes + Parrot CK3300 car kit, to compare signal strengths. In general, the P3300 has had a vastly superior signal, which I attribute to the fact that it is a far newer chipset and the fact it is sat on the dashboard , unlike the the CK3300 antenna which is actually below the dashboard, tucked away for stealth . In some urban canyon environments however, and particularly on a journey today under some trees, the P3300 would lose fix when the CK3300 was still merrily tracking away with a good signal strength. Very odd, and something that I will investigate further.
The Camera on the P3300 is typical HTC fare. It's just about 'acceptable' rather than 'good', and is particularly poor in low light. It lags behind the competition considerably, which is a real shame. It's particularly a shame because the HTC Camera app is really quite fully featured, if only they could work some magic with the sensors on their devices, they could really do well.
OK, so I can't put it off any more... let's talk about the RollR.
Firstly, I should applaud HTC's innovation... the RollR on the Artemis and the JoggR found on the Excalibur show that as a company they are not afraid to innovate with their control methods, and put them on real live shipping products. However... I had serious reservations about the RollR.
Let me start by saying that this is just my personal thoughts on it, and I would dearly love to hear what you, the readers, think of the RollR, whether you've bought a Artemis based device, or used one in store.
In a nutshell... I don't see the point of the RollR. No matter how skilled you are with a trackball, I think that your experience with the RollR is going to be poorer than you would find with a real keypad. The ball itself is a little too 'loose' for my liking, and even if you are very skilled and used to the ball, it's too easy to either end up going in the wrong direction, or as I have experienced, 'overshooting' the selection. The 'click' action too can be troublesome, in that I find when I click I occasionally accidentally knock my selection up or down, and end up clicking on the wrong thing.
The 'mouse mode' of the RollR has also been a much talked about feature. This mode replaces the conventional Pocket PC control with an onscreen mouse pointer, much like Windows on a Desktop PC. Once again - nice idea, but for me, it just doesn't work. Pocket PC as an operating system just isn't designed to be driven that way, and even after trying to persevere by running the pointer for a few hours... I really didn't like it. I found myself doing a ton of 'pointer miles' just to perform functions that were usually so simple!
The wheel works well enough - as you would expect. It feels cheap, and I don't especially like the action, but it works.
So there you have it, a review that has actually turned out far more negative than I thought it would when I started it.
Your experience with the P3300 will almost certainly hinge on how you feel about the RollR. I would find it very hard to recommend the purchase of a P3300 without trying it first, particularly for those who are already Pocket PC power users, who may find it just holds them up too much.
The form factor and appearance of the device is nice, the integrated GPS is a great feature (although i'm disappointed at the performance of Quick GPS), and despite the 200MHz processor i've found performance more than adequate in my usual usage scenarios. If it had a regular dpad, I would probably be raving about it now, and even considering it as my primary device, just because the integrated GPS is a real nice to have. Having said that, the memory usage after a hard reset is also something of a worry too.
So, in fact, this isn't really a conclusion at all. It's a 'it'll be a great device for some'... and maybe the best way to end would be to hear the feedback from other people who've tried it, or indeed own it!
If YOU are a P3300 owner, i'd be very interested to hear if you agree with my review and my conclusion... feel free to reply below!