T-Mobile MDA Pro review
20 Oct 2005
An incredibly flexible device, the MDA Pro will help you keep in touch no matter where you are: the inclusion of 3G, Wi-Fi and a keyboard lift it to a new level
It's a sign of the times that the first device to use Microsoft's new Windows Mobile 5 isn't a plain PDA, but a fully fledged mobile comms device. It brings new meaning to the word connected, with Wi-Fi and 3G the undisputed highlights, and GPRS, tri-band GSM and Bluetooth in support. But the MDA Pro's real party trick is that it can be used as both a standard palmtop and a clamshell device: just like a convertible tablet PC, you swivel the screen round 180 degrees and fold it back upon itself.
This immediately lends the MDA Pro a 'wow' factor, and you should be similarly impressed when you start typing on the keyboard. Although not suitable for touchtyping, it's ideal for two-thumb typists and a major step beyond the 'thumb-boards' included with BlackBerrys or HP's Mobile Messenger. We wouldn't want to bash out a 2,000-word report on it, but managed several detailed emails without getting frustrated. What's more, the keyboard becomes backlit once you start typing, making it usable even in the dark.
The keyboard brings it head-to-head with Nokia's Communicator series, but anyone switching over will miss the wider screen of Nokia's device. The MDA Pro's 640 x 480 resolution is fantastic for viewing photographs and fine detail in web pages, but when typing away in Word Mobile and Excel Mobile we longed for a wider screen. Don't get too excited about the prospect of these new Windows Mobile 5 apps either; there's still no support for password protection or formulae (in Excel) for example. We do like Excel Mobile's charting ability, though, and the inclusion of PowerPoint Mobile for viewing presentations is welcome.
T-Mobile includes a couple of extra apps too. GPRS Monitor can keep track of exactly how much data you've been transferring, and if you enter your tariff details it will calculate your monthly bill. The Email Wizard is also useful, filling in most - although not always all - of the details you'll need to set up your POP3 or IMAP mail.
But don't expect a BlackBerry-like experience. Unless you buy a third-party package such as GoodLink, you'll have to manually hit Send/Receive to check for new mail. Microsoft will be delivering push support via a Service Pack for Windows Mobile (due Q4 2005), but this will still depend on Exchange Server 2003 being in place. And it's still a long way from the out-of-box experience you get with a BlackBerry.
Where the MDA Pro wins over the BlackBerry is its flexibility. Quite apart from the huge number of applications available for Windows Mobile devices, web browsing is far more pleasant. Your favourite sites may not look exactly like they do on your PC, but most of the information - the exception being multimedia - will be available to view. It gets even better if you're in a 3G area, with the browsing experience resembling broadband rather than the narrowband of GPRS. You can even use the MDA Pro as a wireless modem for your notebook, linking over infrared, USB or Bluetooth. Setting this up is frustratingly difficult, though, and we had to resort to web forums for advice.
The MDA Pro has more skills too. The 1.3-megapixel camera takes impressive photos if the lighting conditions are right, and can take videos at 320 x 240 resolution. Being a 3G phone, it naturally supports video calls too. We also found it an excellent voice recorder - especially using the hands-free set - with clear results.
As an MP3 player, it does show some weaknesses: the volume wasn't loud enough in noisy environments and browsing tracks is far too fiddly. At least you'll be able to listen to DRM-protected tracks such as Napster's if you synchronise your music via Media Player 10.