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T-Mobile MDA Vario II review

A hybrid PDA-mobile phone

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Our Verdict

With many competitors lurking around the edges this doesn't step into the ring as well as it should

For

  • Slide out QWERTY keyboard

    Windows Mobile 5.0

    802.11g support

    USB battery recharge

Against

  • 240x320 TFT screen

Text input needs to be a pleasure, not a chore. Unless you're 13-years old and have been mashing texts into your phone for the majority of your life, actually inputting data into a keyboard-free phone probably seems like the most pointless thing in the world. Attempting to type into a minute on-screen keyboard is even worse.

But is this phone-PDA hybrid really the answer? You start off well equipped, at least. Pocket versions of Word and Excel actually suit the format quite well, although Excel's limited field of vision is probably the first indicator that the MDA's resolution is - like many of its PDA compatriots - not quite of the density that would make it useful.

This is certainly one of the more well constructed PDAs we've seen. The two megapixel camera is superb with the unusual inclusion of a switchable focal length, and the front-mounted camera is adequate when making video calls.

There's a scroll wheel, which is often quicker and more accurate to use than removing the stylus and tapping the screen, but this suffers from a slight lack of responsive feel, much like the rest of the buttons surrounding the edge of the unit.

The slide-out keyboard, while more tactile, isn't the sort of thing you would want to use to write a novel. If you consider that the Psion 5 - a device nearly 10 years old - still possesses the best thumboard out there, it's a good indicator of the state of the current market.

You would also be forgiven for thinking that this would be the ideal communications device. The inclusion of a keyboard, the large, bright screen and 3G/Wi-Fi connectivity should all add up to something rather special. But somehow they don't. It's partly down to Internet Explorer's apparent intention to completely neuter your browsing experience at every turn, whether it's rendering all but the most mobile of websites utterly unreadable or simply refusing to display them at all.

Add the MDA's generally poor 3G reception - especially compared to a trusty-yet- awkward Nokia N70 - and the appeal melts away. There is a pervading positive overtone to the MDA - it's a powerful device packed with useful software - but it's a hard sell with the likes of the Blackberry and Nokia's E61 soon to arrive. Alex Cox