For the past month or so I've had the chance to use the Orange SPV E600, based on the HTC Excalibur and their first attempt at, and my first experience with, a QWERTY Smartphone. With the popularity of RIMs Blackberry’s and Microsoft’s clear aim of taking on their success with Windows Mobile, in particular with services such as Push E-mail, a device such as this is a big step forward. As such it is clear HTC have had this in mind when designing the E600, giving it a good looking design and stylish finish.
Hopefully this review will help with a purchase desicion for those currently sitting on the fence over getting a standard Blackberry, or taking the plunge and going all out for the more versatile Windows Mobile device. This is made more interesting by Orange including Blackberry Connect software, allowing for the E600 to connect and synchronise with Blackberry services. Coupled with the power of Windows Mobile does this make the E600 a killer messaging device?
Orange SPV E600 - from £free (subject to contract)
HTC S620 Smartphone - £249.95
HTC S710 Smartphone - £294.95
Samsung i320 - £209.95
Samsung SGH-i600 - £324.95
If you're in the market for a new Excalibur-based Smartphone, due for an upgrade or even looking for a new contract, taking an E600 on Orange is clearly the cheapest option. Looking at HTCs version though, the S620, the Excalibur is priced fairly competitively in between the S710 "Vox" and Samsung i320. For a fairly reasonable £250 the S620 is a decent device and sports a larger screen than the cheaper i320.
- Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone AKU 3.5
- Quadband with EDGE
- TI OMAP 850 @ 200MHz
- RAM/ROM 64/128MB
- 2.4" 320x240 TFT (landscape)
- QWERTY Keypad
- JOGGR touch-strip
- SDIO MicroSD (transflash) slot
- USB 1.1
- Bluetooth 2.0
- Wifi 802.11b/g
- 1.3MPix Camera
- 960mAh Battery
- 62.5mm x 111.5mm x 12.8mm
Finally its definitely worth noting the addition of HTCs new "JOGGR", a touch sensitive strip along the right hand side of the E600 allowing for easy access to Pocket Outlook and a back action, and a scrolling action.
Around the Device
So here's a whistle-stop tour of what to expect on a SPV E600.
Let’s start with the screen. It's a good sized 2.4" landscape job, with bright and vibrant colour and, unlike other devices I've used in the past (PocketPC's in particular), in my experience performs well in direct sunlight. Moving down we come to the standard Smartphone soft keys, start and end call, home and back keys, and in this case a D-pad.
Next we have the QWERTY keyboard. The traditional 0-9/*/# keypad is incorporated into the left hand side of the keyboard and is highlighted in silver, rather than the standard black. The numbers and special characters are accessed using a Fn key, and there are also Caps (shift), tab, symbol, camera, Internet Explorer and Messaging keys arranged to either side of the spacebar. Interestingly this is it for hardware buttons (other than power), with the sides of the device left untouched.
The screen and keyboard are have a rather nice looking brushed-aluminium surround and chrome edging around the outside edge and earpiece, giving a classy overall finish.
On the back we find the minimalistic style continues, with the 1.3MPix camera lens and self portrait mirror tucked discretely into the top left corner - note that this device does not have a flash - and a rubberised finish to the entire back of the casing. This lets you grip the device comfortably and securely, so as not to feel like it will slip out of your hands as you type away.
As I mentioned above, while the majority of mobile phone handsets nowadays are adorned with a plethora of additional buttons around the sides, the E600 has only the standard HTC mini-USB (with squared-off corner) and rubber flappy bit on the bottom and on the left hand side a power button...oh yeah, and the JOGGR! It’s a touch-sensitive strip, the same kind of thing you'd find on any modern laptop touchpad or the clickwheel/menu strip on iPods and some Creative PMPs. On the E600 it's positioned along the right hand side of the screen and is split into three sections, two smaller areas at the top and bottom for Back and Messaging respectively, and a third larger area in the middle for scrolling.
Obviously the E600 includes the standard Orange homescreen we’ve come to love (or hate!). Personally I quite like it, although I admit I miss the MRU when I am using it. It is a newer version to the last one I saw on a Smartphone, the C600, and has a slick smooth scrolling action when a menu item is selected.
The Start Menu includes all the usual apps, albeit in Orange’s frankly awful looking blocky grey and orange icons. Interestingly the device comes pre-installed with Blackberry Connect software allowing a user with access to a Blackberry Enterprise Server or Blackberry Internet Service account to sync their e-mail and calendar. As I don’t have access to any Blackberry service servers I did not try this out (and why would I want to, with my e-mail, calendar and contacts managed via Exchange!), however it gives an interesting alternative to a user who’s company’s, or personal, e-mail solution uses the Blackberry service, yet wants to keep the versatility of Windows Mobile. Note that this is not installed in-ROM, when I hard reset the device it was no longer available on the Start Menu and no option to reinstall from the CD (although admittedly I only had a brief root around on the CD). - Update - I noticed earlier that there is a link to download Blackberry Connect again stored in the device favourites, just a shame the Orange webserver isn't configured to allow .cab downloads so all you get is a page of garbled text!
Again, Orange has decided to remove Pocket MSN from the device, so unless you have a third party IM solution or access to the WLM Mobile beta, IM is not available on the E600. The camera app is the newer version from HTC, providing a full-screen viewfinder. Overall this gives a good experience when taking pictures, with all the useful camera info overlaid on-screen. Finally there is a PDF and the ClearVue suite for .doc, .ppt and .xls files installed in-ROM to allow viewing of Office and PDF documents. This is a fairly clear indicator for Orange’s target market and is a nice extra touch.
So with a device so clearly aimed at the messaging-lover, be it e-mail or text (or IM!), the keyboard has to live up to the task. While obviously the keyboard is small, and personally I have quite chunky fingers, I have to say overall I was relatively pleased with the keyboard's performance. Vertically the keys are a few millimetres apart, which is fine, however to make up for their close horizontal proximity the keys have slightly smaller tips, providing a suitable gap in-between each key. I certainly didn’t struggle to type with it, although I admit that their size does require a relatively good aim! They have a nice and soft, yet clicky response and generally do not need excessive pressure to respond. The question of usability of QWERTY over the traditional t9 is a tricky one, personally I found it’s probably no faster, however for a person used to QWERTY and unfamiliar with t9 it's a great substitute. I’d imagine it would also be a more comfortable solution in the long run for someone who uses messaging a lot. Overall it’s a nice keyboard and I had no issues with it in day to day use.
The E600 also includes the new “xt9” predictive text system. Presumably this is standard in the Windows Mobile Smartphone build used here but clearly it is fairly useless in the case of the E600. It’s on by default and, to be honest, makes input using the keyboard annoying. Standard multi-tap input mode does not interfere with the keyboard input, however switching to this mode isn't particularly obvious. The number pad is also intelligent enough to determine when numeric entry is required, for example when dialling a phone number or entering a device-lock PIN, and automatically switches to numeric entry. This is something I have not experienced on PocketPCs with hardware keyboards, which require symbolic mode to be selected whenever numeric entry is required, and makes the device usability a lot smoother and intuitive.
The screen is a generous 2.4” affair and the qVGA resolution gives a crisp and clear display. This is the first landscape Smartphone device I’ve used and while in some cases the lack of vertical resolution makes applications feel a little cramped, for example WLM Mobile or the file explorer, it does come into its own with the devices key functionality - e-mail and web browsing. The “widescreen” format feels a lot more natural when reading and writing e-mails or longer text messages. When browsing the web the wider format, on a screen that has a height a fraction of a PCs display resolution (even on portrait devices) again feels more natural. PocketIE'ss performance is particularly responsive, however unfortunately the device is only GSM compatible so there is no nippy 3G connectivity. EDGE is included which is a reasonable in-between (although I don’t have EDGE coverage where I live so I was unable to test it). When connected via WiFi the browsing experience is a real treat, with fast page loads and the ability to quickly switch between sites. The connection speed provided is used to its fullest potential and PocketIE really uses the extra bandwidth well!
The battery life was another area I was pleasantly surprised in. When I first set the device up as part of my normal setup routine with a new device, turned on BT and left it. This got me about 2 days standby which, to be honest, is pretty much what I expected. However after disabling BT I was pleased to find that battery life doubled, giving me almost a full 4 days standby! My daily usage is somthing in the region of maybe 10-20 minutes of talking, 5-10 text messages, push e-mail and the odd bit of browsing and chat. It’s still nothing like the 7 days claimed by Orange but it’s the best battery life I’ve had on a Windows Mobile device for a while.
Finally - the JOGGR. I really, really want to like this feature. In normal use this works in the same way as Up/Down on the D-pad, in-call it adjusts the in-call volume. Now here's the thing, maybe I'm missing something but with a lack of standard volume keys I can find no way to adjust the system volume when out of a call. Also it's positioning is all wrong, if you're right handed, your ear will more than likely knock the volume up and down as you talk away. For us lefties, its nigh-on unreachable. Don't get me wrong, when it works, it’s great, but it's not quite right. Maybe others will have better experience with it, if you do, please let me know below!
When I first saw the E600 I was dubious about the size, it is fairly wide in the hand. However the slimness of its design, a mere 13mm, really does make up for this. As far as Windows Mobile Smartphone’s looks go it certainly ranks high up on my list!
But I’m sure that’s probably not why you’re reading this review. Performance-wise I was pleasantly surprised. HTC have employed their trusty TI OMAP 850 again and while it isn’t the newest of processors, it’s stable and reliable. The phone is responsive in day-to-day use and web browsing really is great, especially on WiFi. In fact, I'm going to be really disapointed when this goes back to Orange, as I'll have to switch back to my C600.
Lack of 3G is a shame but at least there’s still EDGE, if you have coverage. If you do a lot of texting or e-mails on your phone and are in the market for a new device, this phone really should be high on your list. The keyboard, while a little small, I found was useable and battery life was a really nice surprise.
On the downside, again lack of 3G really is a pain nowadays. The camera is HTCs usual job and its performance isn’t really worth mentioning, it does have a nice application if you do use it a lot though. Another really annoying point is Orange again removing Pocket MSN, one of the key reasons why I enjoy using Windows Mobile handsets.
Overall, a great messaging device, with the added benefit of Blackberry compatibility, slim form-factor and impressive battery life.
Great for Internet browsing
Good screen, even in direct sunlight
Decent battery life
Only Windows Mobile 5
Blackberry Connect not in-ROM, and not available on the CD(?)