The first “XDA” did much to establish the market for smart phones in the UK, and the latest version, sold as the MDAIII on T-Mobile (and the XDA II on O2) follows the same formula: a full-sized PDA (personal digital assistant) screen; the Windows Mobile Pocket PC operating system; support for GPRS; and buttons on the device for the main Windows functions as well as to make calls.
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The MDAIII adds WiFi wireless networking to its predecessors’ GPRS data connections, as well as a neat keyboard that slides out from underneath the screen.
The enhancements make the MDAIII heavier than some other smart phones, but it is not much bulkier than standalone handhelds from manufacturers such as Dell or HP. The addition of the keyboard – just large enough for relatively fast, two-finger typing – is a real bonus for anyone who wants to send emails on the move.
The other drawback of Pocket PC-based devices – a relatively short battery life – is not too much of a problem with the MDAIII, considering its functions. Although using the WiFi connection will drain the power more quickly than using the device purely as a phone, battery life should be enough for two to three days without a recharge. The battery is removable, so you can carry a spare.
The MDAIII comes with all the usual features of a Windows Mobile device: email, web browser, media player, voice recording and a calendar. It also includes a VGA digital camera, 128MB of memory and an expansion slot for memory cards.
However, some of the features seem to come at the expense of ease of use. Trying to set up the MDAIII to work with different networks means navigating the Windows set-up menus. Several of these still mention modems – which the MDAIII does not have – but not WiFi.
This forces handheld makers to install their own software to manage connections. The software T-Mobile has picked for the MDAIII is not as easy to use or as flexible as some of the alternatives.
During our trial, it proved impossible to configure the MDAIII to work on a home wireless network, as the software does not support the security settings for the wireless access point.
It was also impossible to connect the MDAIII to a T-Mobile hotspot. Every attempt resulted in the MDAIII falling back to its GPRS link. This, though, worked well.
The features of the MDAIII make it attractive to those who want a fully featured handheld computer that doubles as a phone. But it is not recommended for anyone who will rely on using it with a wireless home network.
Pros: plenty of features, keyboard.
Cons: WiFi connection proved useless in tests.
Rating: 2 out of 5.