Sagem – WA3050 PDA phone review

combined mobile phone and palmtop computer
Photo of Sagem – WA3050 PDA phone
£619.99 without contract, approx. £400 with contract

If you’ve ever dreamed of a pocket computer that doubles as a mobile phone, then read on. Sagem’s WA3050 combines a dual-band GSM mobile phone with a powerful hand-held computer. It’s also ready for higher-speed GPRS wireless data services.

Last year’s re-launch of Windows CE in version 3.0 guise finally delivered many of the improvements critics had demanded of Microsoft. Products like Hewlett-Packard’s Jornada 545 and Compaq’s iPaq, combined with the Pocket PC version of CE for these keyboard-less hand-helds, have proved to be strong sellers. Two France-based mobile phone companies, Mitsubishi Trium and Sagem, have worked closely with Microsoft to develop hybrid Pocket PC devices with integrated mobile phone functionality. Here we look at Sagem’s WA3050 example.

Ignoring the aerial that protrudes from the top, you’d be forgiven for thinking the WA3050 was a straightforward Pocket PC. It’s roughly the same size as a Compaq iPaq and at 198g it’s only 28g heavier. However, you will have to make do with a passive mono touch screen instead of the iPaq H3660′s TFT colour screen.

Both, however, share the same 206MHz Intel StrongARM processor, which is currently the fastest Windows CE hardware platform, and we have no complaints about performance. On most PocketPC devices you’d expect 32MB minimum system memory, but the current WA3050 only has 16MB. A 32MB version is expected from Sagem later in the year. Fortunately there is a £45 Type I Compact Flash adapter for additional storage space, like MP3 audio tracks, for example. Stereo headphones are supplied for the twin purpose of being able to listen to digital audio, including MP3, as well as using the WA3050 in hands-free phone mode.

The PocketPC bundle will look familiar to anyone who has used other examples of this family of products. Pocket PC versions of Microsoft Outlook for e-mail / calendar / contacts, Word, Excel and Internet Explorer are included. You also get the full Windows PC version of Outlook 2000 for synchronising your personal information and e-mail with your WA3050 using Microsoft ActiveSync 3.1. If you were put off by having to learn Palm’s Graffiti, you get a choice of Microsoft Transcriber, which can work with cursive writing, or a character recogniser with the WA3050. Transcriber works reasonably well once you get used to it. A universal voltage mains powered USB sync / recharger cradle is also supplied, as is a serial lead.

On the phone side, an application called WinPhone, from the French communications software company BVRP, mimics a mobile phone keypad, display and functions. You can use the screen to dial numbers and select functions using your finger tips as well as the supplied stylus. Conventional phone-style red and green on-hook/disconnect buttons are also accessible below the screen. The WA3050 also has a speakerphone mode, plus a voice memo function. Ring tones are WAV files and there is a vibrating alert too.

WinPhone links to both your mobile SIM card phone book and Outlook Contacts. You can also use the WA3050 for sending and receiving faxes and making data calls, to the Internet, for example. You also get an impressive WAP 1.2-compliant micro-browser alongside Pocket Internet Explorer. A free software upgrade has been promised by Sagem that will enable the phone’s higher-speed data GPRS-capable (3 +1 slots) hardware. It’s early days for GPRS in the UK, but it’s expected to become increasingly popular in time and realistically promises a two- to three-fold improvement in wireless data performance. This will be further enhanced by the expected inclusion of BlueKite Internet acceleration software with the WA3050 later this year, although HSCSD 28.8Kbps data mode is not supported.

Despite some audio distortion when the incoming caller is too loud, using the WA3050 as a phone is surprisingly acceptable. We’d advise some care in choosing some of the security options, like the power-on password and key guard functions, as these sometimes caused WinPhone to crash and calls to be missed. Battery life from the 3.6V 920mAH Lithium Polymer battery is acceptable at one working day for heavy use or two days of light use. Spare batteries are good value at under £50.

Company: Sagem

Contact: 020 7536 5416

We found the back-lit mono screen easy enough to live with and the Pocket PC side of the product is not overly compromised by the phone side, or vice-versa. Although we've not seen the rival Trium Mondo yet, that product's lack of a USB sync option as standard, nor any memory expansion path, seems to make the WA3050 a winner by default. At around £400 with a mobile phone contract, the price isn't too extortionate either, as long as you're in the 'must-have' category.