Rear of the year? Axia’s phone-plus-PDA

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Sometimes you want David Beckham from six years ago and you get Victoria Beckham from six years hence. Sometimes you want a single gismo that will do everything – make phone calls, keep your diary up to date, let you play at what-ifs on your spreadsheets –
 and what you get is an ugly lump that you can’t get near your ear or a sleek handset that can’t actually display anything other than an eight-digit number. So let’s hear it for the phone with J-Lo’s rear end …

When you try to put everything together in one package, sometimes you can end up with a Steven Gerrard. Other times, you can end up with a disaster, like the Motorola ROKR. Some times however, you can just overlook a few things in the search for perfection.

The Axia we reviewed in April definitely seemed to fit in with the last statement.
A high-end business phone/PDA without Bluetooth could be looked upon as the Eunuch of the mobile world. We were however promised a version that would fill the holes that were all too apparent in the review.

And here it is, the A308, and it’s a very different beast.
Boasting a new rounded tush that would make J-Lo jealous, plus Bluetooth, WiFi and Windows Mobile 5, this handset surely must be the new flagship for the range.

Ok, but have they left anything out? You have the newer version of windows pocket PC, a glorious 2.2in touch-screen display, all those connectivity goodies, and a camera. So what’s missing?

Well, maybe 3G for data speeds, but with EDGE, GPRS and WiFi there are other options available. If it did run on 3G, then we’d have the complete package; but what we do have is the only available handset that looks like it’s a phone (compact size and numeric keypad), that works like a PDA (touch-screen and stylus), and that runs on Windows Pocket PC version 5.

Arrows of desire
In the box you get the device, some CDs, a couple of necessary cables (charger and data), a memory card and a strange velvet pouch, akin to something Robin Hood would have put gold coins in. This surely has to change to a leather case such as the other high end PDAs arrive with (and much like the previous Axia had). And I’m sure things will indeed change when they realise that the Sheriff of Nottingham is on to them.

The A308 does look a little bit cumbersome at times. Parts of the design are a bit plasticky like the SDAs of this world, and it is rather thick compared to the phones of the moment. But maybe this is the sacrifice you make to have all this technowizadry available on one phone-like device.

It’s heavy, yes, but it feels OK in the hand, and a bit of weight adds to the fact that you do have an expensive bit of kit. Not brilliant in the shirt pocket though, and I’d think twice before placing it in your back pocket as that rounded edge might make it look like you have a slight problem going on in the toilet area.

Using the software was easy, mainly because it’s a version of Windows that feels just like your PC; and with the stylus in hand, it’s easy to navigate around. With your finger you would have trouble. Keeping it in phone proportions means the screen is smaller than a conventional PDA’s, so the stylus really is key here.

It also connects to the PC with ease, again due to the seamless integration of a Windows to Windows transfer.

It’s not really the operating system I want to focus on here. We know Windows Mobile 5, we know how it works and what it does, and even Friar Tuck (still on my Robin Hood theme) could see that the Axia handles it well and processes all the functions with a similar ease to many of the top brand devices in the market place.

Phoning home
As a bonus, the clever guys at Axia have made a few funky applications available for this release – such as INFOmate, a piece of software that formats web pages to fit on the screen, avoiding the need for scrolling. Little afterthoughts like that really do make it a very well-rounded (ho ho) handset for the businessman on the go.

However, it’s mainly the phone-like aspect that separates the A308 from its counterparts, so lets delve into that area.

Using the phone as a phone is the joy of this device. In the past a PDA has been annoying as a phone, and sliding out keyboards or thumb-printing the screen to tap in a number has never been much fun. The Axia has a numeric keypad, a five-way menu button for navigation, and soft keys; they give this device a phone-like feel and the user the ability to use it like a normal Nokia handset.

The menu buttons and soft keys will take you to things like your files, phonebooks and the home screen, and you could possibly go through your whole life without even so much as removing the stylus from its safety-catched home on the base of the unit (unless you were really Robin Hood and needed something that resembled an arrow in a hurry).

Hot dog
The other little bit of clever design in the Axia A308 is the hot-swap battery function, allowing you to slide one out and one in at the same time. I’m not sure why this is needed. Surely a power-down wouldn’t wipe the memory?
It might be so you don’t have to switch it off and then wait for it to reboot perhaps? I’m not sure, but it sounds good: Hot-Swap … yeah baby … I’m Hot-Swapping! Well, maybe not.

The phone works well both as a phone and a PDA. It connects to the web via WiFi just like your PC would, and downloads all your contacts and spreadsheets from your PC. It even displays them and you can edit and email them as well. It’ll use the Media Player to play movies and music, even allowing you to use tunes as ringtones, and unlike Little John, really is as small as they claim it to be.

The problem is that it looks more like a Tonka toy than a serious gadget. Well, to me anyway. But should this distract us from the fact that it is the smallest PDA/smartphone device on the market? That it does pretty much does anything you ask it to too? Probably not, though I am very, very shallow.

The Axia A308 is available exclusively from MicroRiver on 0845 230 7007.

 

SPECIFICATION

Size
  • Length 113.3mm
  • Width 48.8mm
  • Depth 20.8mm
  • Weight 8128g

Main display

  • TFT LCD, 2.2in Transflective, 262K
  • colours, 240×320 pixels, white LED touch screen

Processor

  • Intel PXA272 CPU 416MHz

Software

  • Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC,
  • Pocket Internet Explorer,
  • Windows Media Player 10,
  • Windows Messenger,
  • Transcriber software

Memory

  • Flash 128MB, RAM 64MB;
  • miniSD slot

Connectivity

  • Quad-band GSM,
  • integrated GSM/GPRS/EDGE,
  • WiFi, Bluetooth 1.2, IrDA

Camera

  • 1.3mp, fixed focus

Battery

  • Standby 120h

Talk time 4h