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Appeared on: Thursday, January 12, 2006
Dell Axim x51v


1. Introduction

Overview:

Dell logoThe Dell Axim x51v is the successor to the very popular and highly acclaimed x50v introduced in 2004. Just as the X50v was the first Pocket PC to have Windows Mobile Second Edition, the x51v is the first to have the brand spanking new Windows Mobile 5.0. Now, as you will see later in this review, being an early adoptor is not always easy and there is no such thing as a “complete” new OS from Microsoft.

The Axim x51v does have some other improvements over the x50v – most notable the inclusion of 256 MB of flash ROM with persistent storage capability.

Dell logo

 

Additional features of the Axim X51 family include:

Design:

The X51v looks identical to the x50v (and that is a good thing.) The unit feels incredibly sturdy and it also feels heavier than it looks – but in a very solid and re-assuring way. The screen is HUGE (more on that later) and the sides of the unit have a rubber grip and feel very comfortable in the user’s hand. There are four buttons along the bottom which can be mapped to other programs. The default is calendar, contacts, messaging (the new name for email) and Home. In the middle sits the d-pad – small, but usable.

Along the side of the Aximx51v are three other buttons (see photo below) – wireless enable, voice recorder and lock (a great feature.)

Along the top is the Stylus slot, the headphone jack and slots for both SD and CF memory cards and the IR port.


The wireless enable, record and lock buttons along the left side.

The Package

 
  Hardware
PDA
Sync option: USB Cradle (std X51 520MHz & X51v 624MHz) or USB sync cable (std X51 416 MHz)
Adapter connector
Standard carrying case
Hard copy documentation
AC adapter & localized power cord
Standard battery (1100 mAh)

  Software
Operating System Applications:
Microsoft® Windows MobileTM  5.0 with Media Player 10 Mobile - Includes Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Voice Recorder, Notes, Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, Internet Explorer Mobile, Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, Calculator, Pictures, Jawbreaker, Solitaire, Messaging, File Explorer, MSN Messenger, Terminal Services Client, VPN Client, Infrared Beaming, Clock, Align Screen, Memory, Volume control, Landscape Mode support, WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access); Bluetooth utility, Certificates Manager, Password setting, Today theme tool, Download Agent

Dell Applications (On device):
File Store (nonvolatile file storage in flash ROM), Backup (utility for Backup/Restore to Memory Card), Switcher (access and launch programs easily), Power Status, Brightness, Microphone Gain Control, Version Display, Dell WLAN utility (with optional wireless model), Funk Odyssey Client (CCX 1.0)

  Getting Started CD
Microsoft Applications:
Outlook 2002, ActiveSync 4.0 (desktop device synchronization)

Full Versions:
Dell Axim Self Diagnostic Utility, Resco Picture Viewer, GEO RALLY 3D Game, Toy Golf 3D Game, Battery Pack (Lite)

Trial Versions:
CityTime, eWallet, SPB Finance, Journal Bar, Virtual Pool Mobile, Bejeweled 2, Full Hand Casino, Handmark Monopoly, Handmark Scrabble, Resco File Explorer, Links Pocket PC, Westtek ClearVue Suite, Calligrapher, Enigmo (requires X51v)

Trial Versions downloaded from the web:
Media Player 10 (full), Voice Command (trial)


2. Product Highlights - Specifications

Product Highlights

 

Technical Specifications

Processor
Intel® XScaleTM  PXA270 624MHz

Operating System
  Microsoft® Windows MobileTM  5.0 software with Windows Media Player 10 Mobile

Memory
  RAM: 64MB SDRAM
  ROM: 256MB Flash memory

Display
  TFT Color 16-bit, Touch Sensitive, Transflective LCD
  3.7 inches
  480 x 640 resolution at 65,536 colors (VGA)

Graphics
  Intel®  2700G multimedia accelerator with 16MB video memory

Control and Lights
  5-way Navigation button
  Wireless On/Off Button
Lock Switch
  4 Program Buttons: Calendar, Contacts, Inbox, Home
  Voice Record Button
  Reset Button
  Backlit Power Button
  Event Notification
  Charge Status
  Wireless Status



Expansion Slots
  1 CompactFlash Type II Card Slot (3.3v)
  1 Secure Digital / SDIO Now / MMC Memory Card Slot (3.3v)

Ports and Connectors
  Standard v1.2 (115 kbps) Infrared Port
  36-pin Cradle/Sync Connector
  3.5mm Headphone/Headset Jack

Dimensions
  Length 119 mm (4.7 inches)
  Width 73 mm (2.9 inches)
  Height 16.9 mm (0.7 inches)
  Weight 175 grams (6.2 oz)

Audio
  Audio Controller I2S Codec, WM8750 sound chip
  Stereo Conversion 16-bit stereo; 8.0, 11.025, 22.05 and 44.1KHz sample rate
  Full Duplex Record and Playback
  Integrated Microphone and Speaker

Power Supply
  AC Adapter
  Battery Type
  1100 mAh Lithium-Ion Removable, Rechargeable (standard)
  2200 mAh Lithium-Ion Removable, Rechargeable (optional)



Intel PXA270 Features and Benefits

Dell logo The Intel PXA270 processor is the first Intel XScale® technology-based processor to include Intel® Wireless MMX™ technology. This enables high-performance multimedia acceleration with an industry proven instruction set.

Another innovative feature is the Intel® Quick Capture technology, which provides one of the industry's most flexible and powerful camera interfaces for capturing digital images and video.

The new capabilities of Wireless Intel SpeedStep® Power Manager technology provide a quantum leap forward in low-power operation, while maintaining the highest levels of performance.
Intel XScale® Technology Highly scalable core up to 520 MHz
Embedded Packaging 23x23 mm with 1.0 mm ball pitch

13x13 mm with 0.5 mm ball pitch also available
Extended Temperature Range –40°C to 85°C ambient temperature range available
Product Life Cycle Anticipated five-year life cycle.1
Incredible Multimedia Familiar Intel® Wireless MMX™ technology instructions designed for high-performance multimedia, 3-D games and advanced video.
Advanced Camera Interface Intel® Quick Capture technology supports 4+ megapixel cameras for capturing digital images, video and low-power, real-time previews.
Enhanced LCD Controller Dual-panel LCD with up to 24-bit color. Hardware color space conversion with 256 KB of on-chip SRAM for faster video. Two overlays reduce LCD bandwidth. Integrated Intel Quick Capture technology enables fast video preview.
Reduced Power Consumption Wireless Intel SpeedStep® Power Manager technology with five low-power modes can change frequency and voltage dynamically. Wireless Intel SpeedStep Power Manager software enables built-in, intelligent power management.
Fast Access to Wireless Data Intel® Mobile Scalable Link provides up to 416 Mbps link between communications and applications processors.
Large Peripheral Set USB Host/Client

USB OTG

4-bit SD I/O

MMC/SDCard

Memory Stick

USIM card interface

Keypad controller
Memory Interface 100 MHz memory bus supports a variety of 1.8 V, 2.5 V, 3.0 V and 3.3 V memory.
1 Intel anticipates providing support for the Intel® PXA270 processor for a minimum of five (5) years from launch, pending sufficient, continued customer demand and other market conditions and factors. If and when Intel decides to no longer provide support for these products, we will follow our standard product discontinuance notification guidelines of six months to place last time orders and an additional six months to take delivery of the product.


3. Performance

Performance

This thing is fast – really fast. Except for those areas where it is slower than its predecessor. Sound confusing? Well it didn’t make sense to me either until I did a bit of research. VGA devices, up until Windows Mobile 5.0 had been traditionally slower than comparable non-VGA devices. This has something to do with having more pixels to handle on the screen.

WM5 is supposed to bring VGA performance into line with non-VGA devices. Other reviews I have read noted that screen redraws are quicker and icons and menus load better as well.

I did notice that programs like Pocket Word (Now called Word Mobile) and the Excel counterpart actually seemed to take a little longer to load on the new Axim x51v than on my older machine. I am told that WM5's move to flash memory as the storage medium could be the reason. Flash memory is slower than pure RAM and the Axim must take a program from Flash and put it into RAM before it loads – possibly accounting for a perceived slower load time. Once loaded, every program I tested was incredibly fast running.

Where this unit really shines is with 3D programs like the included Stunt Racer and Enigmo Games. I also tested a new version of Virtual Pool Mobile that took advantage of the 3D acceleration and the graphics and gameplay were simply the best I have ever seen on any handheld – period.

Video Acceleration:

Dell supplied me with a copy of Futuremark's SPmark '04 mobile benchmark tool.

SPmark is a full OpenGL ES 3D benchmark, capable of giving Axim a full video diagnosis. I tested both the “High Quality” and -- "Low quality" settings. There was a slight, very slight stuttering on the “High” setting but…wow…this is very impressive. The quality was “lower” as you would expect on the “low” setting but the image was very smooth. The results were an impressive 26 fps on the low setting and 8.9 fps on the high setting. Not bad at all. The 2700G Video card also allows you to play DVD quality video at full speed without taxing the main processor. Last but not least, the 2700G also provides output to an external display via an optional VGA adapter cable. This means that you can hook the X51v up to an external monitor or VGA-equipped television to show pictures, play games, type, watch video, or surf the web.

Wireless:

The Axim x51v comes with Integrated Bluetooth 1.2 and 802.11b Wi-Fi. Bluetooth 1.2 is news here since earlier PDA’s had version 1.1. Very few peripherals take advantage of the newer 1.2 version – but with the newer peripherals (like Bluetooth GPS units) there is supposed to be a speed and security advantage.

Pairing devices with Bluetooth in Windows Mobile 5.0 is very straightforward and pretty intuitive. Simply search for Bluetooth devices, enter pass keys if necessary and you are ready to go.

The Axim x51v comes with 802.11b Wi-Fi and, again, it worked flawlessly. The Axim immediately located my home network and I was on line surfing the Web in minutes. Wi-Fi was fast – really fast on the x51v. Web pages loaded faster than on my Notebook. To test video performance and Wi-Fi speed, I went to the windows media home page and viewed movie trailers and short films. They loaded without hesitation and looked great on the VGA screen. Dell also includes a two week trial for SmartVideo – a program and web site with great video content including live TV. Again, it worked flawlessly on the x51v.

Battery Life:

I seemed to average about four hours of continued use before needing to recharge. Dell claims that the x51v has about 15% more battery life than the x50v and that is because Flash ROM takes less power. However, my battery life was not consistent. There were times when I would leave the unit off at night fully charged and in the morning I had 60% or less battery life. With wireless running, my battery life dwindled significantly. When battery life reached 20%, I could no longer connect via Wi-Fi. The battery issues seem to be WM5 related and not a fault of the Axim.


4. Windows Mobile 5.0

Windows Mobile 5.0

If there is an Achilles heel to the Aximx51v, it is with the new OS. Now, in fairness, we know that if we are an early adopter of a new OS, there are bound to be some bugs. The few that I encountered were also encountered by several others as I saw on the forum boards of Aximsite and Dell’s own message boards. But, let’s start with the positive:

Problem areas of the new OS:

I mentioned Battery life issues before – but this seems to be an OS problem. For no reason, at times, the battery drains. During regular use, the battery seems great. The rumor mill says that Microsoft is busy on a ROM update to address this issue.

Another major issue was with SD/CF card recognition. Almost 50% of the time I found that for no good reason, the Axim failed to see my CF card with all my pictures and videos. I never “lost” the SD card – although others in the forums seems to indicate that this occurs on cards 1.0 GB and larger. A soft reset usually restored the ability of the Axim to “see” my CF card – but not always. This certainly led me to load my GPS maps and programs onto the SD card and not the larger CF card which was a bit of a hassle.

5. Conclusion

Conclusion

All in all, a very impressive device. The graphics, especially in the 3D department, is as good as it gets. The software in the bundle is quite extensive and includes both full and trial versins of some nifty applications, including games. Any downfalls had more to do with the operating system rather than the device itself, but this is to be expected from a new release OS such as WM 5.0.

Dell was very responsive to emails about some of the issues we encountered – they immediately offered to send out a new unit and told me a ROM update would be issued which should address these issues.

The Dell Axim x51v is available at www.dell.com for US$499.00. There are always coupons on Dealcatcher and Dealnews and other coupon web sites, along with promotions from Dell which should lower the price.

Pros

Cons



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