T-Mobile MDA Compact
By Sandra Vogel
23 May, 2005
Very tidy hardware design
good features added to the Windows Mobile basics
Bluetooth built in
No integrated Wi-Fi
short on internal memory
T-Mobile’s MDA Compact is a connected Pocket PC that's very similar to the popular i-mate JAM [ http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/handhelds/0,39023880,39175023,00.htm ], which we reviewed towards the end of 2004. Both the MDA Compact and the SDA, a Windows-based smartphone, are available either on their own or as a bundle with ALK's CoPilot [ http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/mobilephones/0,39023925,39165887,00.htm ] navigation software.
There is now a variety of connected Pocket PCs available through UK-based operators. O2, for example, has a range including the xda II [ http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/handhelds/0,39023880,39117437,00.htm ], xda IIi [ http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/handhelds/0,39023880,39193995,00.htm ] and xda IIs. What makes the MDA Compact stand out is that only its near-twin the i-mate JAM shares is its very small size. At just 5.8cm wide by 10.6cm deep by 1.8cm high, the MDA Compact is about two thirds the size of the average Pocket PC, and although at 170g it's a bit on the heavy side, it fits almost as neatly in the pocket as a mobile phone does. Indeed, seated next to the T-Mobile SDA and the latter is actually slightly taller. The ergonomics of the MDA Compact are very similar to those of any other Pocket PC. Navigation and shortcut buttons sit beneath the screen. The left edge provides a slider for controlling both call and system volume, a button for the built-in voice notes software and another for the built-in camera. The upper edge houses an SD card slot. On the bottom edge there's a 2.5mm headphone jack and the charge/synchronisation connector, which is a mini-USB type. The back is home to the camera lens and a comparatively large self-portrait mirror. The stylus, which is rather too lightweight for our liking, lives in a slot on the right edge of the device, adjacent to the power switch, and there's an infrared port on the bottom right edge.
The phone is tri-band GSM with GPRS support. Its processor is Intel's XScale PXA 272 at 416MHz. It is unfortunate that, just like the i-mate JAM, the MDA Compact is short on internal memory: just 64MB is installed, and only 57.41MB of that is available to the user. A small area of the ROM is also available -- 7.60MB on our test device. T-Mobile is pushing the MDA Compact as one of its ‘Office in Your Pocket’ devices, and this relatively light storage availability is one of two areas where we feel it comes up short on this count. If you buy it as a standalone device, you will almost certainly need to boost its memory with SD cards. We should, note, though, that if you buy the CoPilot bundle this may not be necessary, as the CoPilot software is supplied on a 256MB SD card, which has 141MB free. The other feature we feel is missing for a truly ‘Office in Your Pocket’ experience is Wi-Fi. At the launch of the i-mate JAM we were told that there simply wasn't room for Wi-Fi in the case, and presumably the same holds true for the MDA Compact. However, it would be nice if both devices could add Wi-Fi to the integrated Bluetooth in future versions. The MDA Compact runs Windows Mobile 2003 Phone Edition Second Edition, and comes with all the software bundled with that OS. Like the i-mate JAM, the MDA Compact has a small icon on the Today screen for switching between landscape and portrait screen orientations. Both HTC, the original manufacturer, and T-Mobile have added their own applications to the Windows Mobile bundle. HTC adds two useful applications for data input. With IntelliDialler, as you start tapping out a phone number it searches your SIM, the Contacts database and Call History for matches. IntelliPad is a text entry system for applications such as Pocket Word, and is selectable from the bottom right screen menu -- the one that offers the Keyboard, Transcriber and Recogniser options native to this version of Windows Mobile. Intellipad offers three input modes: T9, Numeric and Multi-Tap. T9 provides a phone-like tappable pad with predictions for the word you're trying to make for faster data entry. Numeric provides a simple number pad. Multi-Tap requires you to tap out entire words, but -- like T9 -- uses a phone-style pad with numbers and letters sharing the same boxes. These additions to the built-in text entry systems may appeal to those switching to the MDA Compact from a mobile phone or a smartphone. T-Mobile adds its own look to the Today screen, including incorporating a shortcut to its t-zones service. There is also a wizard for setting up email accounts, a GPRS usage monitor, Java support and a Zip file manager. The integrated camera captures stills at 960 by 1,280, 480 by 640, 240 by 320, and 120 by 160 pixels. Video is captured at 240 x 320, 144 x 176 and 96 x 128. You can also capture images to drop straight into the Photo Contacts application and to use as MMS messages. A range of settings allows you to cope with different light conditions, and to configure image as greyscale, sepia, cool and negative.
The small size of the MDA Compact gives it an immediate appeal, as it packs connected Pocket PC functionality into a handy device, making it more inviting to carry around. It also feels less of a brick when held to the ear making voice calls. However, the trade-off is a relatively small screen, which measures just 2.9in. across the diagonal. Because the 320 by 240 pixels are physically smaller than the Pocket PC standard, the definition is greater, and the screen is easier to read than those of standard-sized Pocket PCs with the same screen resolution. We did not find the smaller size particularly annoying, although if you want to use the MDA Compact with an external keyboard for typing text, or to read a lot of Web or spreadsheet data, its size could be challenging. T-Mobile says the MDA Compact’s removable battery should provide 3 to 5 hours of talk time and 190 hours of standby. The battery is removable. Our test involves forcing the screen to stay on and turning off Bluetooth and GSM/GPRS while playing a continuous MP3 loop. We got 6 hours 18 minutes of total battery life, which is pretty impressive. A real plus point was that we got the request to recharge the main battery a full 54 minutes before power actually died. In the real world this should give you a relatively long window in which to find a power source or locate a spare charged cell.