O2 Xda Orbit

17th Mar 2007 | 00:00

O2 Xda Orbit

iPhone? What iPhone?

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

A superb mobile companion, as long as the lack of a physical keyboard doesn't put you off

Like:

<p>SirF StarIII GPS chipset with Ephemeris Extension support</p><p>Wi-Fi</p><p>11-pin mini USB interface</p>

Dislike:

<p>Virtual keyboard</p><p>Micro SD card slot</p><p>128MB (shared) ROM</p>

After the force of Apple's iPhone launch, you would be forgiven for thinking phone manufacturers were quaking in their boots. Not so. The iPhone is overpriced, designed for leisure over functionality and won't even be available in the UK in time to beat off any potential competition. It also doesn't have GPS - a feature of O2's new Xda Orbit.

Let's get one issue out of the way right now: unlike the O2 Xda Mini S - and many other smartphones - the Orbit has no physical keyboard for you to thumb your way through email, Word documents or any other extensive input. Instead you must make do with the standard virtual keyboard - the same frustrating micro-space for stylus tapping since its first release over a decade ago.

If you're after a Blackberry-like device, you might as well stop reading now. But if you're after a powerful mobile office tool that can also double up as your route finder, media player and a host of other devices, then read on.

The sturdy build and unfussy lines are first evidence of a slick design. The jog-wheel, with its tactile clicking mechanism, is used to navigate most menu systems. If you prefer, the central blue illuminated micro-ball mouse provides ultimate control with a press-to-click option. Input via the touchscreen is also possible with the use of slender fingers, but a stylus is provided if required.

The screen is gloriously bright and its size is proportioned perfectly for the overall Orbit dimensions; you have a device that comfortably fits in your trouser pocket with a screen arguably large enough to watch news footage on - and in landscape mode if you wish.

The Orbit's designers have really gone to town with attention to detail including a secure lock on the battery, although the choice of removable flash media is a minor quibble. Micro SD might be the new kid on the block but there's more than enough room in the Orbit's chassis to take Mini SD, which is cheaper and offers much higher capacities. Anything which can increase the woeful in-built storage capacity is welcome and you'll want to put in as much as you can and leave it there.

Xda on the road

A recent taxi ride to a business meeting provided enough time to catch up on some emails. More impressive was the seamless transfer of the Internet link from GPRS to using a local Wi-Fi loop, speeding up the connection and reducing any potential costs massively.

You must, of course, enable the Wi-Fi circuit for this to occur, as if it was left on all the time battery life would be atrocious. As it is, though, the device sustains itself on a single charge for a capable length of time. A mix of some Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, along with an hour or so of Internet browsing, another of voice calls and a couple of hours of GPS still left a good few hours of charge. For lighter weekend use, it managed from Friday through to Sunday afternoon before dying.

Fortunately, if you're caught short, a standard 11-pin mini-USB cable can charge the device from any USB connection with enough power.

The integration of satellite navigation is very welcome, especially as the CoPilot Live software is designed for use both in a road vehicle and for walking. Having different instructions to take you against the direction of one-way streets and up pedestrian alleyways cuts travel time down drastically.

GPS uptime was also impressive, because when a portion of the M4 was closed we had to find our way through A and B roads to get to our destination. Within 30 seconds the unit had connected via the 20 GPS channels, mapped our new route and presented it in a clear 3D view. The voice reminders were less clear; they suffered at the hands of the diminished Orbit speaker, especially when external noise was above average. This meant that more than once a quick glimpse at the unit was required to clarify our direction.

It's hard to fault the market leader - Tom Tom - for its sat nav products, but with the Orbit integrating pretty much all you need from GPS as well as a whole lot more into one tiny, tidy package, you have a few less things to carry around with you.

Adding a capable two-megapixel camera (for video and still images), an FM radio and an MP3 player to the myriad of functions already described, it's also amazing value when subsidised with an O2 contract. If you can get over the lack of a full, physical keyboard - and let's be honest, they're not that great anyway - then this is one of the most powerful mobile communication, computing and navigating tools on the market. Ian Robson

O2Wi-FiVideoSatellite navigationPortable audioMobile phonesInternet
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