Hot on the heels of the T-Mobile MDA Vario (reviewed here) comes the MDA Compact II. This time it comes in graphite or this “WoAh!!!!” baby pink colour. We had the pink one in for testing, and to be honest as a man about town I doubt I’d appreciate the colour – it’d look more at home on Paris Hilton instead of that dog.
Sticking with the outside there’s obvious similarities with the MDA Compact (I) in both shape and size, however I found myself comparing it instead with our fave T-Mobile device, the MDA Vario. The Vario has a slide-out keyboard and WiFi – it’s everything you could want in a big PDA, but it’s the size of a phone. The MDA Compact II however doesn’t come quite so close. The keyboard isn’t there, the WiFi isn’t there and there’s no 3G. I seriously miss the keyboard. We’ve reviewed the larger o2 XDA Exec, the Orange SPV M5000 and the Orange SPV M2000 plus the T-Mobile MDA Vario so it feels like there’s a limb missing on this Compact II. A keyboard shouldn’t be a massive problem if you’re browsing heavily, but this is where the lack of speedy internet access hits you too.
The MDA Compact II has a 240×320 screen, bluetooth and the familiar key arrangement on the front allowing access to your calendar, contacts list, making and terminating calls and navigating.
The earpiece houses the flashing LED informing you of network and bluetooth activity.
At the rear there’s the 1.3 Megapixel camera and a mirror so that you can take a snap of yourself or someone next to you. There’s also some small feet to stop you scratching your camera lens or mirror.
Here’s a shot with the battery and cover removed.
On the top of the device is the the SD/MMC card slot and a strap-loop for those trendy ladies who want to wear the MDA Compact II like a pendant. :)
To the right is the on / off / wake-up button and stylus – this is a regular stylus that you’d find on pretty much any Pocket PC.
On the left side of the device we have the camera button for quick access when taking snaps. Below that is the volume control and the voice dial button – which is very handy.
At the bottom is the microphone “hole”, the excellent miniUSB port and the 2.5mm headphone / headset / microphone port.
I’ve taken a few shots of the MDA Compact II alongside the Orange SPV M5000 (o2 XDA Exec etc) and the Orange SPV C600 for reference. First up the C600. You can see it’s not much bigger.
I took a few shots against the HTC Universal, in this case the Orange SPV M5000 model…
The MDA Compact II runs on Windows Mobile 5.0 and has an OMAP850 195Mhz CPU. It’s just enough for what it does, although I’d like a tad more power under the hood myself. The new OS brings added benefits such as persistant storage, which means no more lost data. This is great for those ladies who buy the pink version of this device and reach into Gucci handbags only to find that their keys to the BMW X5 have prised open the cover and the battery has dropped out. No fear! Your data is still there.
After the T-Mobile “pingy-pingy-ping” sound and the boot screen we’re presented with the familiar T-Mobile homescreen…
..you can change this should you wish, there’s “Guava Bubble” and the Windows Default available plus you can pick which items always appear on the Today screen. Notice those buttons at the bottom? You can change those in the settings like this – plus you can specify what appears in the menu list on the Today screen too.
Making a call
People always say “yeah, great review mate, you showed us everything it could do but.. what was it like to make a bloomin phone call?”. Well, the audio quality is fine, I had no complaints on that score and the person on the other end of the line could hear me fine. Adjusting to volume mid-call is easy enough thanks to the audio buttons on the side too. Making a call is slightly weird for those of you coming from a “regular” phone background as you need to press the screen and not a nice familiar keyboard, however once you get the hang of how it “learns” your contacts and numbers it becomes easy.
Above on the left you can see that I’ve entered “017” on the keypad. The MDA Compact II automatically searches through your history of calls (in and out) plus your contacts to cleverly pick out the numbers it thinks you’re after. This can mean that just after three, two or even one key-press you can easily dial the person you need. Don’t forget that you can set up speed dial plus voice-dial too (more on that in a minute). Above on the right you can see me mid-call. If I’m chatting to someone and want to make a note of the conversation I simply press “note” and do a quick summary…
Let’s take a quick look at the programs that are available on the MDA Compact II…
We start off with Games, which of course contains those old favourites. Don’t forget you can install a whole range of games and applications – just check out our software shop too.
Then we have ActiveSync, which runs to connect your MDA Compact II with your PC. This’ll synchronise all of your Outlook Contacts (which means you can add in new contacts really easily on the PC in the knowledge that they’ll synchronise with your MDA Compact II). It’ll also sync your email, favourites and much more.
Yet again the Voice functionality of this device is promoted. Press the button on the side and Voice Speed Dial loads up. All you’ll need to do is speak the name of the person you want to dial or the application you want to dial up. First you’ll need to recorded word or phrase. Under “Settings->Personal” you’ll find “Voice Speed Dial”. You then choose a contact to dial or a program to open and press “Record”. Once that’s done it’s just a matter of saying your word or phrase after pressing the appropriate button on your hands-free headset (usually the “answer” button) or use the voice-dial button at the side of the MDA Compact II.
As with the Vario the MDA Compact comes with the very useful ClearVue PDF viewer for viewing Adobe documents on the go.
There’s also a slimmed-down version of Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint Mobile. It’s handy to be able to write something when you’re out and about and then transfer it via email / ActiveSync to your PC later. Oh, that one at the bottom is Powerpoint… it’s the only Powerpoint presentation I could find ;)
You’ll also find the Zip, which is very useful and essential for unpacking a file from the internet. I like this. If you get an email with an attachment you know it’ll probably be Zipped. The fact that this is pre-installed is an excellent bit of forward thinking.
MSN Messenger, which was found in Windows Mobile 2003 and SE has now been replaced by Pocket MSN, which now includes it along with some other Hotmail and MSN functions..
Internet Explorer – or “PIE” as it’s known is shown below. It’s had a bit of an overhaul and there are more viewing options – I like to zoom out as far as possible so that the text is as small as can be. Here you can see me browsing in landscape mode. Like the Vario I found that the joypad was in exactly the right spot for moving around the page. It can all be done from your right thumb – just move up and down, then tap the “action” key to follow a link. Notice that the “Windows Flag” has vanished from the top-right corner of the page. This always got in the way slightly before, and it’s now down at the bottom along with a progress bar that only pops up when the page is loading. After it’s loaded it vanishes along with the progress bar..
There’s also a new full-screen mode which you can use to view pages better. I liked using the “Smallest” font size as it crammed more into the screen, plus there’s viewing modes like “one column” and “desktop” to choose from. The full screen mode shown below just needs a quick tap of any soft-key to get back to the normal viewing so that you can enter another address.
As I’ve already mentioned the smaller font is my prefered choice, so I can change that with the “Zoom” option like so..
Call register has an excellently simple layout with tool-tips showing you how long a call lasted for and when the call was made. There’s also some nice chunky icons to show you whether the call was inbound or outbound.
You’ve also got a Terminal Services Client – this will let you connect to PC’s through RDP, Remote Desktop Protocol. Whilst this is excellent, it’s unfortunate that you’ve got no WiFi capability, so in this case I did it with the USB cable plugged in.
Should you wish to there’s also the ability to search your device for stuff. This is always good if – like me – you’ve forgotten where you stored that all-important document and you need to find it pretty sharpish. As ever I’m using the “virtual” keyboard here, which pops up from the bottom letting you type with the stylus. There’s also various other data-entry methods such as Block Recognizer, Letter Recognizer and Transcriber to name just three.
Windows Media Player 10 is on-board allowing you to take your music and video with you wherever you are. Simply synchronise or copy it across and then play it where-ever you are. The SD slot in the top allows you to put quite hefty and quite cheap data cards in, so there’s almost no limit to the amount of stuff you can listen to or watch.
There’s a plethora of settings in all Windows Mobile 5.0 settings, and it’s this simple fact that sets it apart – you can tailor the device to suit your needs. Pretty much everything can be adjusted. It’s the whole reason CoolSmartPhone was created and the MDA Compact II has lots to tweak..
The settings screens above give you a taste of what can be adjusted. The screen, power settings, backlight, input methods, passwords and more. There’s also the MDA Compact II’s only wireless connectivity method – Bluetooth. Going into here shows us the surrounding bluetooth devices and lets us add headsets and car-kits easily. Here I’ve found quite a few mobile phones..
The camera application allows many types of shots. There’s tonnes of modes to choose from, including Photo, Video, MMS Video, Contacts Picture and Picture Theme which are all pretty self explanatory.
The mega-pixel camera produces some good shots, although it’s a bit of a shame that there’s no flash – especially if you’re a posh socialite who wants to take some shots in the local bar or club. The camera allows images up to 1600×1280, although the standard 1.3 Megapixel image is 1280×1024. The camera application is launched from either the Today screen or the camera button on the side of the device. You can then control the zoom by clicking up/down on the joypad, then left/right to select between camera modes.
Going into “Tools” will get you even more options..
(NOTE – These shots are from the T-Mobile Vario which we’ve reviewed, however the details are the same)
Above you can see that I can turn off the “shutter” sound and whether you like the date / time stamp on each photo or not amongst other options. I’ve adjusted the JPEG quality to “Superfine” already, although if you’re a real camera buff there’s even more settings such as “Hue” and “Gamma”. Here’s some examples….
Supermarket shot 1 – “Superfine” setting on 1.3 Megapixel (1280 x 1024)
Supermarket shot 2 – “Superfine” setting on 1.3 Megapixel (1280 x 1024)
Outside shot – “Superfine” setting on 1.3 Megapixel (1280 x 1024)
Video mode lets you take fairly acceptable video records. I did find that sometimes this struggled to show the preview of the video whilst recording, however the resulting video came out perfectly.
The MDA Compact II comes with an OMAP 850 CPU running at 195Mhz. To be honest with Windows Mobile 5.0 this is just enough – the same CPU was used in the Vario, which we love – don’t get me wrong – but it could do with just a little more “umph”.
Another down point to the MDA Compact II is the lack of WiFi. The “girl about town” with her pink MDA Compact II (let’s not forget the “man about town” with his grey version too) will be pretty disappointed to be sitting in Starbucks or somewhere else with WiFi and not get the ability to browse at fast speeds. You can look at the settings all you want, but there’s no wireless card to be found…
The MDA Compact II is a great device if you want a diary, contacts book, phone, calendar and Pocket PC in your pocket. If you want to go from a Smartphone to a Pocket PC then there’s not much reason to look elsewhere. However, if you want to be able to browse quickly or grab email with any speed you’re going to find yourself grabbing the USB cable as the lack of any kind of speedy wireless connectivity is pretty upsetting.
That said, T-Mobile have ensured that – even with their tweaks to the interface – the handset operates smoothly. The phone supports the well-known Web‘n’Walk feature and you can surf the web anywhere over GPRS. We still prefer the T-Mobile MDA Vario – however if you don’t need a slide out keyboard then you should find this a handy tool with funky cool looks.