Is small beautiful?

AXIA A108
This is the world’s smallest PDA Phone, running the Windows CE platform. Designed like a mobile phone, it boasts all the capabilities of a PDA, just in a much more convenient package than it’s bulky screen only counterparts. It’s a pairing of two beings, like a Fridge-Freezer, a Chocolate Orange or The Two Ronnies. When done well, it works beautifully, when done badly you end up with more of a Kylie and Jason affair. Luckily, Axia have made this pairing a success. 

Yes, my new friends at Micro River have let me in on their new exclusive product, labelled as the world’s smallest PDA Phone on Microsoft Windows. Measuring 110mm x 48mm x 22.25mm you could say it’s the size of a Nokia 6230 for example. This is very true, but then add the fact that along with a full numeric keypad, there is also a 2.2” TFT LCD with a touch screen and stylus, a 4 way navigation button, dedicated camera and volume controls and a slot for an SD card on the side, you’ll agree it’s quite an amazing little package. It would be fair to say that if Mr.Willy Wonka wanted to get his Oompa Loompa’s out on the road as field reps, this would be the PDA for them!
Design wise, this merging of two industry standard peripherals looks pretty good. The sleek black casing is complimented by the silver colour of the buttons and side panels. The screen is well set and at 2.2”, perfect for touch screen use, formatting and browsing. There are a couple of untidy areas. The rubber seals to cover the charging point is not just out of place, but not attached, so prepare to lose this. There is also a similar, though attached, rubber cover over the SD slot. However, with the stylus neatly tucked away in the bottom left corner, and a well styled navigation key with separate central control, these minor points can be quickly forgotten about as you admire the A108.
We’ve all seen the Windows CE platform PDA’s before. The operating system can be a bit rugged on a fully fledged PDA, and the future standard should be Windows Mobile 5, but the A108 is a bit different and with the help of some handy applications, puts the CE platform to a much better than average use. With the coming addition of integrated Skype, AA route planner and interactive weather facilities you can see how the clever people at Axia are using this platform to it’s fullest. The most interesting development is Axia’s E-Ticketing software. Although it will miss the world cup, the gates of the major German stadiums are set to be equipped with these little beauties to verify tickets on entrance. As it also verifies card payments, it will be used for the purchase of food, drinks and parking as well. This is a good use for a .net platform and uses the Axia/NFC card reader to carry out this operation.
Axia will provide you with a demo guide to help sell their new little friend, so I thought for the purpose of this review, we’d go through it.

Emergency exits are here and here…..

So, firstly you’ll know (and show) the dedicated Windows Start button. This takes you from the desktop displaying your appointments, the weather and emails etc. into the Start Menu. To go through the phone menus, you scroll down to ‘Categories’. Notice no stylus is needed for this operation. Brilliant. This will allow you to set up profiles and all the phoney things you’d find on say a Nokia 6230i for example.

 

SPECIFICATION
Size
Length 110mm
Width 48mm
Depth 22.3mm
Weight 120g
Main display
2.2in TFT
262K colours
Camera
1.3mp
video to 30fps
Software
Windows CE.net 4.2, web and email clients, media player, image viewer, MSN Messenger, Transcriber
Connectivity
USB, IRDA,
mini SD card
Battery

Standby 150 hours
Talk time 3.5 hours

 

 If you so desire, you can then turn on the transcriber and go into the SMS application. With the transcriber on you can use the stylus to write on the screen. Without it, you can thumb text using the numeric keypad and the predictive entry software. You see, PDA … phone….PDA…phone. Clever isn’t it.
So, the next suggestion to show the would be customer is the Beta Player that you install from the included CD. Although there is Windows Media Player present, this gives you the option of watching higher quality video clips and movies that you might have saved on your SD card for example. It can be an impressive demonstration, and if you then follow on by launching Internet Explorer 6 you can see the advantage of having the PDA Windows software yet again.
Whilst the majority of Smart Phones run Pocket Internet Explorer, the Axia A108 is true to it’s PDA label, boasting a full version of IE 6 allowing not just the capability of browsing without any reformatting needed, but you can also enjoy the web experience as if you were on a PC at home, including Secure Server transactions such as shopping or banking.
If you launch the mail client you’ll be demonstrating another impressive feature. Axias’ phone email client allows emails to display pictures and HTML formatting. Downloading the attachments allows you to open and edit Word documents (single column display) and Excel files, using the applications already installed. I think they are named TextMaker and PlanMaker, but don’t hold me to that. You’d be forgiven if you missed them first time round.
All work and no play….There are some fun features on this phone too. A reasonable 1.3megapixel camera that records video at the touch of a button makes this a very handy party tool. The battery life is good enough to make this process a worthy one, and again the addition of a memory card helps extend the average 55 MB memory available on the phone to basically whatever you want. And there is also the worlds most addictive game, involving a dragon and some rockets in a new twist on the old classic Pipemania. This basically kept me entertained for some time, the most fun I’ve ever had with a dragon and a rocket in my life.

Downsides…
Ok, I would be lying if I didn’t say that the lack of Bluetooth was not a small issue. You can’t use a Bluetooth GPS system or headset, but there is a stereo headset, and you can use IR, email, the internet or the SD card to transfer files. It’s a way round it, but not the best. Also we touched on the operating system being not as up to date as the new Windows Mobile 5. However, the system didn’t crash once (amazingly) and apart for some slow caching, it suits the style of the phone and the applications.
However, there is a new version on the way, the A308, which fills that gap and others. Large numbers of Germans and international journalists (but not The Don) could view it at last month’s CeBIT show; it will have Bluetooth and WiFi when it hits the streets. You’ll also get GPRS and EDGE connectivity as well as the triband GSM on the A108. This will be exclusive to Micro River just as the A108 is.
So the A308 will probably be the best thing since  …. well, since this thing; Which is still the world’s smallest PDA, and definitely the world’s smallest to come out of Malaysia (yep, that’s right).

Conclusion
It’s the same size as a standard Nokia, maybe marginally thicker, it’s a PDA with the convenience of a phone, it looks very impressive, connects seamlessly with a PC, is easy to use and comes with a stylish leather case. The battery lasts for 250 hours in standby mode, and when Skype becomes available for it, a data tariff will bring you a lot of value for money.
You could sell this to any businessman who wants to look the part and is the perfect tool for the Oompa Loompa with a board room positon.
The Axia A108 and soon to arrive A308 are available exclusively through MicroRiver. For more information see www.microriver.com or refer to the contact details below.

Available from MicroRiver
Tel: 0845 230 7007

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