Customers in our geography have a fairly limited choice of Pocket PC Phone Edition devices. The phone-enabled PDA market has been dominated by HTC, which sells its products under the brands of our two largest mobile operators: HTC Blue Angel (as T-Mobile MDA III and Eurotel DataPhone III, respectively) and HTC Magician (as T-Mobile MDA Compact). These are followed by HP iPAQ h6340 which has a significantly smaller market share, and we should mention also Yakumo Omikron, which I think has been already retired.
I have had several chances to meet devices from E-TEN Information Systems. It has been quite a long time, though, and as far as I can remember, they failed to impress me. The more surprised I was to unpack a box with an inscription ETEN M500 and see a device which had nothing to do with the pathetic PDA attempts of the past. This article summarizes my several-hour experience and impressions. I would like to thank Sunnysoft for lending me the device for this purpose.
The ETEN M500 appears to be a standard device commonly available on foreign markets (I believe). Apart from the device itself, the package contains a few accessories, such as a synchronisation cradle that could successfully feature in any sci-fi film. This silver dish offers an extra slot for charging a spare battery as well as a USB connector. The synchronisation cable can be plugged directly to the device, which is an ideal solution for travelling. Another accessory worth attention is a protective case. However, its qualities appeared questionable to me. The box contains also an AC adapter, earplug-type headset with microphone and remote volume control, a strap, two CD-ROMs, and a slim manual with basic information for beginners.
The device does look interesting. It has a more “classic” look than MDA Compact, undoubtedly its closest and most important competitor. However, the ETEN is a little larger and heavier than the HTC product. The difference is not very big, though, and some may prefer a bulkier piece of hardware. For me, it held quite comfortably. The GSM module antenna is fully integrated, so it does not stick out. Take a look at the images around, I shall keep a detailed description for a big review:) Apart from two system buttons for answering a call and hanging up, there are four user-definable buttons, a volume slider, and a round joypad with a separate button in middle. Unusual (yet not unique) is the location of a telescopic stylus at the bottom. One can get used to it, still I find rather inconvenient.
As for performance, the ETEN is doing quite well even though the parameters are not the very best. Unlike the Compact, this device runs a Samsung S3C2440A processor at 400 MHz, which provides good computing power for everyday tasks. Memory is plentiful, combining a 64-MB SDRAM and 128-MB NAND type FlashROM. This calls for an upgrade to Windows Mobile 5 (according to unofficial information, it is really in the pipeline) but the default WM2003 SE is quite good, too. After a HW reset, the user can access 39 MB of RAM and 84 MB of FlashROM in the form of a safe storage, which can be easily formatted if necessary using a utility present in the ROM.
The device sports a colour TFT display with a common resolution of 240×320 pixels and supporting 65 thousand colours. As in the MDA Compact, the display is unusually small, with a 2.8″ diagonal (some 71 millimetres). However, it is significantly brighter and whiter and offers two handy features: it is possible to have the device seamlessly dim the backlight depending on remaining battery power (the less power left, the darker the display) and to have the backlight dim automatically over a certain period of time. On the other hand, it is not possible to adjust backlight separately for battery operation and charging… The display is sufficiently readable in full sunlight; sensitivity to the stylus is fine, too.
I have not tested the device’s audio features extensively. It has two loudspeakers (one for phone calls, the other as a standard audio output), a microphone (whose sensitivity can be set separately for GSM, audio recording and BT Headset!) and a four-pin 2.5-mm connector for the headset. Talking about audio, I should note that the ROM contains a special utility for voice control of the mobile phone and dialling.
Communication options are plentiful. The device’s GSM/GPRS module is more or less the same as that implemented in the MDA Compact. The GSM module is quad-band (you can switch between 850/1900 and 900/1800 MHz), supporting GPRS Class B, Multi-slot Class 10, but there is no EDGE. The user can choose between 4+1 slot and 3+2 slots for GPRS transmissions. I made a few phone calls and found no problems whatsoever. I was surprised by good quality of the loudspeaker – even though my Compact does not suffer from the notorious chattering sound, the sound produced by the ETEN seemed substantially better and clearer.
Another important communication module is Bluetooth. It is controlled neither by a Widcomm utility nor Microsoft driver but ETEN opted for its own solution and it was not a bad decision at all, I must admit. At first sight, the Bluetooth control may appear unsophisticated, resembling the one from Microsoft (ETEN may have extended the Microsoft driver) but after a few minutes, you will find that it is well organised with everything accessible from one place. I could easily connect the device to my BT-enabled GPS, a Jabra BT Headset as well as the MDA Compact. You can even choose between COM and BTS when creating a serial port. In addition, the ETEN has an IrDA port and can communicate over a USB cable. The documentation suggests that it supports USB Host via the cradle but whatever USB device I plugged in, nothing worked…
The device integrates a comfortably controlled digital camera that can capture still images (BMP, JPEG) as well as short videos (BT1, 3GP). The maximum resolution of still images is 1280×960 pixels and 320×240 pixels for video. The camera responds surprisingly quickly, reacting immediately to a press of the shutter release button (when I write, immediately, I mean immediately:), it only takes a little while for a photo to be taken and saved, depending on how large it is and where you are saving it.
It offers all the usual features; take a look at the images below to get a picture about its quality. You can use a flash in dark places but you know, you cannot expect miracles of a miniature LED diode:) The publishing system here automatically downsizes and sharpens images, if you are interested in the originals, you can download a ZIP archive, as usual :: .
I am not going to speculate about time on battery. The fact is that a Li-Ion battery with a capacity of 1440 mAh looks promising. Charging over USB has almost become a standard, so I won’t elaborate.
Finally, I should mention software. As I wrote above, the default operating system is Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, planned is an upgrade to Windows Mobile 5, according to unofficial reports. Besides the system and a suite of basic applications, the ROM contains an unbelievable number of bonus applications. I’ll leave detailed information for a big review, now just a brief account. Let’s start with applets. The main applet called Scenarios offers functionality common to various devices – switching between profiles, which are complete sets of phone settings. System Information applet provides basic information about the system and the applet CSD Type sets parameters of data transmission over GSM.
Let’s move onto applications. Camera (who would guess that) controls the digital camera and seems a little more sophisticated that its equivalent in the MDA Compact. All parameters display in the “finder”, which eliminates the lengthy initiation and closing of the camera subsystem in the Compact. ImageMaker is a simple yet handy drawing and image manipulation utility. Image Wizard is an image editing aid of some sort but I did not work out what exactly it does. Multimedia Manager is a simple image manager. There are many utilities that have to do with the phone. Perhaps the most interesting one is Call Filter – it works with two lists of contacts and makes it possible to choose which people will be able to get through to you or, on the other hand, block e.g. one annoying person. The other applications are more or less common – MMS Composer for creating MMS messages, SIM Manager for managing contacts on the SIM card, SIM Tool Kit e.g. for GSM banking, Speed Dial for dialling the most frequent numbers quickly, and Wireless Modem for connecting another computer to the internet (supports only IrDA and Bluetooth, not the USB). It is also interesting that an incoming SMS message will not appear in the usual balloon but will display in a special window with highlighted font. Finally, there are some practical utilities, such a backup application, which is a must. Beginners may appreciate a wizard that helps to quickly adapt the device to the user’s preference (ring tone, theme etc.). Format FlashDisk will help solve trouble with the memory – it does exactly what you would expect to do, i.e. to format damaged safe storage. M-Desk is a central panel for easy launching of applications and device configuration. SelfTest is a first aid in the case of hardware trouble. Every screen displays battery status below the time. Plus there is a plug-in on the Today screen for launching applications.
That’s all. A brief summary of bonus applications is longer than a detailed description of the same in some other devices. I should note that most of the bonus applications sport the same graphical user interface, which makes it appear as a compact package.
To sum up, I was very positively surprised by the ETEN M500. However, it lacks a few things for me to declare it a suitable replacement of MDA Compact after a few hours of testing. In general, it appears that its designers took its features a step further than in the Compact. However, this impressions may stem from the fact that it is just a different device (devices in the MDA series resemble each other to a great degree). I am keeping major conclusions for a big review, after I will have used the device for a substantial period of time. Nevertheless, except for the design (Compact is a Compact) and rather lower quality of materials used, I cannot be dissatisfied. The device has a very good display, sufficiently large memory to contain an upgrade to WM5, good sound, sophisticated Bluetooth, strong battery, great camera, and tons of useful bonus applications. Some may miss EDGE; an official promise to release an upgrade to WM5 would make it yet more attractive. All in all, if you are planning to buy MDA Compact, give ETEN M500 a thought – it is definitely worth it.