O2 – XDA Orbit review

elegant Pocket PC hand-held with built-in GPS
Photo of O2 – XDA Orbit
£free to £199.99 , depending on tariff

Not so long ago we ran a review of T-Mobile’s MDA Compact III (you can read it here). It was the first connected Pocket PC from any UK network operator to carry a built-in GPS antenna, and is optionally available with the CoPilot navigation software from ALK.

Well, T-Mobile has been trumped by O2, whose latest addition to the XDA range, the Orbit, also has a built in GPS antenna and comes with CoPilot. The trumping doesn’t come from being second, but from the fact that O2 has seen fit to include Wi-Fi where T-Mobile does not.

This is the major specifications difference between the two devices, which are made by newly established source of Windows Mobile Pocket PCs and Smartphones, HTC, the company that has been building hand-helds for other companies for some years.

While their physical designs are different, both the MDA and XDA are small and pocket-friendly, with the XDA Orbit weighing 129g and measuring 108mm tall, 58mm wide and 16.8mm thick.

As a Windows Mobile Pocket PC with SIM support, the XDA Orbit is a quad-band handset with GPRS. Unusually for a Pocket PC it has an FM radio, which is well implemented in and of itself, though poorly supported headphones-wise. You have to use the provided headphones as the antenna, and these connect via the same mini USB port that is used to charge the battery and provide a wired link to a PC for synchronising calendar, contacts and tasks and exchanging files.

There are two negative consequences: you can’t listen to the radio while charging the XDA Orbit (two leads won’t fit into a single mini USB port), and you can’t easily substitute a different headset.

Another negative point is that the microSD cards you can use to expand on the built-in memory are not easy to swap as they are housed under the SIM card, which itself lives under the battery. Anyone who regularly powers a Pocket PC up and down will know how tedious the wait is while it gears up to become fully usable: any kind of swapping of microSD cards is simply impractical.

There are some great things about the XDA Orbit, though. For one, its battery life is astonishingly good. We fully charged the battery and asked it to play MP3 files stored on a microSD card and it did so for one minute short of ten hours, which is exceptional.

And then there is the excellent miniature trackball which we liked so much on the T-Mobile MDA Compact III. You roll it around under a finger or thumb and press to make selections. Yes, you could tap the touch-screen, but the trackball is so much more comfortable than the navigation buttons more usually found on Pocket PCs. And it glows blue when in use. Surrounding it, a wheel allows for vertical scrolling, such as through menu options.

Company: O2

The XDA Orbit is a small Pocket PC and the fact that it hides GSM, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, FM radio and a GSM antenna inside its casing is a marvel. Superb battery life and the CoPilot software make it a good all-round device.