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O2 Xda Orbit review

Some smartphones are smarter than others

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Our Verdict

A smartphone that's easy to use and comes with some innovative features

For

  • Fully-integrated satnav system

    Touchscreen smartphone

    Wi-Fi connectivity

Against

  • No 3G

    Camera lacks autofocus

    No typewriter keyboard

Smartphones by their very nature are capable of doing smart things - but all to often you need to buy more software and add-ons to get the functions that you really need. Satellite navigation is a case in point.

Many smartphones can be set up to give you directions as you drive, taking the place of your TomTom - but you need to get a Bluetooth GPS antenna and a package with all the maps and routing software before you are up and running.

The O2 Xda Orbit is therefore a breath of fresh air. It not only comes with a built-in GPS receiver but also comes with UK road maps, CoPilot Live 6 software, a glass-mount goosenecked cradle, and a car cord. It provides everything you need for touchscreen controlled navigation out of the box.

This neat all-in one kit is not just clever because of its integrated approach. For those that wanted a mobile that can handle Office files, explore the internet and run a range of other applications, it is undoubtedly also a lot cheaper than having a separate Sat Nav system and phone.

O2 will let you have this for free, of course, if you pay enough monthly but a version direct from the manufacturer, the HTC P3300, can be bought SIM free for a reasonable £370.

Having built-in GPS in the phone has other advantages. There is only need for one cradle in your car, for instance. And you are not tempted to leave your GPS unguarded in your car when you park. Furthermore, you can use the GPS for expeditions on foot or when you find yourself in an unfamiliar town.

As the latest in the successful Xda series, the Orbit offers a great deal more than simply a novel piece of integration. This touchscreen phone has a huge 2.8-inch display which using the supplied stylus gives you much faster access to functions than most regular phones can offer.

Easy operation

A couple of taps and you are delving deep into the menu structure, and a simple press of a feature will bring up the range of options that are currently possible. The fact that it uses Microsoft's Windows Mobile 5.0 mean that you intuitively know the operating system's peculiarities, simply because it feels so similar to the way your desktop PC works.

Unlike some Xda models (and other HTC-manufactured clones) this particular model does not have a fold-out typewriter console. Instead, text is tapped in using an on-screen virtual keyboard, which undoubtedly gets you communicating much faster than with any multitap or predictive text system.

Without a keyboard, this is a small and neat Pocket PC phone. And finished in matt black with brushed silver edging, it is very smart too. But although this handset offers built-in GPS and a smartphone for under 130 grams, it should be pointed out straight away that the Orbit is strictly a GSM only affair; if you want 3G connection speeds and services then you will have to look elsewhere.

Fortunately, for the emailing executive you are not limited to quad-band GSM operation - you can also hook up using the invaluable built-in Wi-Fi capability.

Thanks to the touch-sensitive TFT screen, the button count of the 17mm thick handset is kept to a minimum. However, two innovative interfaces are provided to provide alternative ways of navigating your way around.

An ingenious trackball is provided for cursor movement and option selection; this miniature mouse-like button has its own blue backlight for lowlight operation. Around this is a circular trackwheel - which you rotate to speed yourself through lists, or to bring up other options. Both are great additions to the Windows Mobile platform's interface.

A fast key is provided for GPS activation, and we were impressed by the speed that the unit acquired satellites, so it was up and running in no time at all.

The CoPilot Live software works well most of the time, and certainly the mapping is up to date, with new roundabouts in our part of the world being in the cartography. Obviously, the screen is small by in-car satnav standards but its is legible enough for most, and the amount of customisation is impressive. The voice choice is limited - only one option in UK English - but you could switch to American or Aussie twangs should you so choose.

It is not the best satnav system we have ever used. Some spoken instructions were too late for our liking - irritatingly so, if you had not taken in on-screen mapping and written notes. More galling still was the poor use of navigation terminology.

'Bear right' for instance was sometimes used when most would describe the manoeuvre as 'turn right'; but on other occasions 'bear right' was used when all you needed to do was drive straight on. Fortunately, if you fail to interpret instructions, the device re-routes you without sweat or raised voices. It is also possible to use this device with alternative satnav software and mapping (such as TomTom's own).

The Orbit has the usual full range of Microsoft Windows Mobile software. The ability to write and edit Word and Excel files - as well as read them - is a key attraction of a phone of this type, and the stylus and touchscreen make this relatively painless.

Microsoft's own Direct Push email solution is provided, and you can browse a good proportion of internet sites with no problems using the Internet Explorer Mobile browser. You can access these standard online service using an O2 GPRS connections, but it is worth sniffing out and switching to Wi-Fi whenever you can find a suitable wireless local area network to hook up to.

Fiddly card

The phone comes with a 256MB MicroSD card supplied, which must be one of the most fiddly to install or change we have ever come across. Not only is it inserted below the battery - but underneath the SIM card as well. Getting both chips lined up and locked in position was no easy task.

The supplied card contains the mapping, and some space for your own stuff. However, those wanting to take lots of pictures or carry around lots of music will need a more ample storage card.

MP3 playback is good through the supplied headset, which uses the mini-USB socket to hook up to the phone. Speakerphone playback is less impressive. But if you don't have enough music of your own, there is (unusually for a Pocket PC) a built-in FM radio to listen to. Video playback is good, especially when the phone is held sideways and the footage is set to blow up across the whole image area.

The camera is a 2-megapixel affair but is pretty basic in its specification. There is no secondary viewfinder for self portrait, just a mirror. And there is no manual or automatic focus control - so there is a limit as to how close you can get to your subjects.

In our test pictures we found the colour balance to be excellent, which when combined with good detail meant that images looked rather pleasing on-screen. With closer analysis on a PC, however, exposure and contrast could be handled better with bright tones appearing slightly overexposed, despite shadows areas being handled well.

Despite the lack of 3G, this is still an impressive piece of kit. The combination of GPS and full-feature touchscreen smartphone make it a tantalising gadget for everyday living and working.

The provision of Wi-Fi operation will, in many users eyes, more than make up for the lack of third-generation mobile facilities - particularly if you can use it to gain free browsing and email downloads when on the move.