T-Mobile MDA Compact III Review

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

The Compact III isn’t your average Pocket PC phone. If you buy one people may
still "think" it’s a normal PDA but wait – it’s far more than that. First up
there’s the control mechanism. When I first heard that it came with a trackball
I thought back to an old arcade game in the local pub – it was called the
"Crystal Maze" and involved a huge amount of trackball spinning. It would be
fair to say that I didn’t like the idea of a trackball much. Secondly was the
scroll-wheel that surrounds the trackball. Surely that wouldn’t work ? Would it?


T Mobile MDA Compact III Review


There’s something else the MDA Compact III has – GPS. It’s built in. No seperate
box, no extra bluetooth thingy to charge up – it’s inside. Think about it. In
space there’s millions of pounds worth of satellites floating around, beaming
location information right back down to this tiny box of tricks.

What else do we have ? Well, we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s look at
something it doesn’t have – most noteably there’s no 3G and no WiFi. Bummer,
perhaps I’m asking too much ? Is it just me that wants a device with GPS, WiFi,
3G, a QWERTY keyboard, hi-res camera and a numeric keyboard? Perhaps.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review


As a quick comparison I put the MDA Compact III next to an Orange SPV M3100 /
T-Mobile MDA Vario II. As you can see it’s a lot slimmer and more lightweight.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

For the review we were loaned the MDA Compact III and CoPilot
Live. Inside the CoPilot box is a very decent windscreen holder for your MDA
Compact III and a car charger.. plus the data card too. It’s just a matter of
putting the data card into the MDA Compact III and you’re done. CoPilot installs
and you’re ready to go. As a package it’s an excellent deal.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

 

Specs

Dimensions – 58 x 108 x 16.3 millimetres
Weight – 127 grams (battery included)
Operating System – Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 for Pocket PC Phone Edition
CPU – Texas Instruments OMAP 850 @ 201MHz
Memory – 128Mb ROM/ 64Mb RAM – microSD
Resolution – 240 x 320
Networks – GSM 850MHz, GSM 900MHz, GSM 1800MHz, GSM 1900MHz
Connections – Mini USB / Bluetooth 2.0 / GPRS
Extras – SiRF Star III GPS, 2 Megapixel camera and built-in FM radio

Outside

Let’s start at the back of the MDA Compact III. There’s a 2 Megapixel camera and
vanity mirror but no macro lens and no flash. The images below do, however,
show some very good results from the camera and I’m quite impressed with it so
far. At the top of the rear panel is a rubber strip which, I presume, is
either for grip or a GPS antenna.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review


Taking the battery cover off reveals a Samsung battery with a pull-strip for
easy removal. Once the battery is out there’s a SIM card and, beneath it, a
MicroSD card with another pull-strip which shouldn’t be pulled too hard as it
breaks the cradle holding the card (I found this out to my cost!) Ensure you’ve
got a MicroSD card with a lot of storage, because you’re not going to want to
open this up to change it too often.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

On the base of the handset is the now-familiar miniUSB port for syncing the
device with your computer, for listening to music and for using your handsfree
kit. You can also see the microphone here and a loop hole for – I presume –
attaching a wrist-strap or similar. To the right is your stylus, it’s a standard
sized stylus with a groove for easy removal.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

On the right side you’re presented with a rather polished strip. At the top is
the power button and at the bottom you’ve got a camera button which, when the
device is rotated, takes up a very comfortable "firing position" for taking
photos. Nice.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
 


On the left side is your voice speed dial button. Tap this and you’ll access the
Voice Speed Dial application. Press and hold it down and you’ll be taken
into the Notes recording application. Below this is the volume control for both
in-call and device volume. At the bottom of the strip is the reset button.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

Here’s where things get interesting. During my time reviewing this handset I’ve
used the supplied windscreen attachment (this comes with CoPilot) to fix the
MDA Compact III into the car. Having the phone fairly close to your hand or
steering wheel whilst driving does mean that you can tap a button or two whilst
sat at the traffic lights etc. The speed that you can achieve using these new
controls is quite incredible – the scroll wheel allows speedy access into menu
options and it’ll let you scroll up and down emails really quickly. HTC (the
makers of this device) have done really well as the trackball alone would
probably drive you mad if you were to rely on it alone. As you rotate the wheel
you’ll get a soft "clicking" noise… it feels almost as if you’re trying to
crack a safe :)

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

I have to give full
credit for the layout of these buttons though – the GPS button on the lower left
allows quick access into your sat-nav so it’s just a matter of hopping into the
car, slotting the MDA Compact III into the excellent holder and then tapping
the GPS button. The trackball glows a nice blue colour when you activate it.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

Most things are easily done with the MDA Compact III navigation system. Getting
text messages or emails on the go is a breeze – it’s just a matter of
spinning the wheel and tapping the trackball in. Sure, part of me wants a
slide-out keyboard still, but maybe HTC can implement this navigation system on
a
future QWERTY slider.

T-Mobile have also added their WnW button (this goes into Internet Explorer) and
we’ve got the usual softkeys and answer / drop call buttons. What is quite
interesting is the "Mouse Mode" that you can activate in the settings – I’ve
shown this in the video below..

At the very top and rear part of the MDA Compact III is a sloped back with
grooves. Within these grooves is the main speaker ..

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

 


Inside

Inside the MDA Compact III there’s your standard Windows Mobile 5.0 (for Pocket
PC) OS with a few rather interesting tweaks. There is, of course, some
settings for the inbuilt GPS, there’s also a "Close Button" setting so – when
you click the close button it actually closes programs instead of using the
memory management to keep them running. There’s also the mouse mode I’ve just
mentioned which puts a cursor on the screen which you can control fully with
the trackball. There’s also an FM radio – yup, an FM radio. Not only can you
find your way out of a forest without getting lost, but you can also listen to
some music while you do it. Nice.

Here’s the home screen, it’s a rather nice T-Mobile Today screen which,
thankfully, hasn’t been "played around with" too much. Some networks can have a
nasty
habit of sticking a million and one plug-ins into the Today screen and totally
slowing everything down, however it’s not happened here.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review 
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review


I’m going to hop into the contacts list first. Sure, you can do all the usual
stuff here – you can sync with your Exchange server thanks to ActiveSync, sure
you can leave it syncing this way over GPRS thanks to the excellent T-Mobile
tariffs and sure, you can sync it with your normal desktop PC and add more
contacts in easily (I’ll show that in a minute).. but, with the addition of the
polished wheel we can easily fly through contacts quickly. This makes finding
the right person even speedier, and that’s a good thing alright.

With sat-nav and Microsoft Push Email on board you’d expect some fairly
decent connectivity to keep you in touch with traffic details, weather updates
and a good, quick connection with your Exchange server or other email server.
WiFi? Nope. 3G? Nope. Unfortunately the MDA Compact III has just standard GPRS
to keep you connected to the world. Whilst this isn’t a major problem it does
mean that your internet connection will be slower than other Windows Mobile
alternatives on T-Mobile like the
MDA Vario II
etc

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

The guys at Microsoft now have an ethos –  every device they make must be a
phone first. Making a call from the main screen can be done in many
different ways. My favourite way was to either press the left soft-key to take
you into your Contacts. I then use the wheel to quickly slide down my contacts.
There’s many other ways too, you can press the green "answer" key and plonk a
number in manually or allow the predictive dial feature to guess which number
you’re trying to dial based on the digits you entered. Both the call history and
contacts list is searched and suggested numbers appear on screen. You can see
here I’ve found the one I need, so I’ve just moved down and it’s dialed it.


T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

As usual adding a new contact is easy and you can include a
whole heap of data with your contact. Everything from the mobile number to their
birthday, childrens name or manager gets stored. A picture can be addded, plus
notes and all the address details you could ever need. This will all get sync’d
with your Outlook on your PC or vice-versa, which means that you can quickly add
in contacts onto your PC and then, in seconds, they’re duplicated onto your
device.

If you’re out and about and don’t have the ability to tap your new contact into
the "normal" Outlook on your PC then you can always use the "other" way – via
the Contacts system on the phone. Here, as usual, is a quick look at me adding a
contact this way..


T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

As this is Windows Mobile 5.0 for Pocket PC you get a huge slab of programs
included when you purchase the device. For new owners or upgraders not familiar
with the device you’ll find a "Help" function to get assistance without having
to grab a manual. The device we reviewed came with CoPilot. The CoPilot software
comes with a car charger and a windsreen holder specifically designed for the
MDA Compact III. The amount of "kit" you get for your money really is quite
something, but we’ll keep CoPilot for a seperate review.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

As we nip through the programs on the list above you’ll notice a
folder containing Games – you’ll find your usual Bubble Breaker and Solitaire.
Following that you’ve got ActiveSync for connecting and synchronizing your
contacts, calendar appointments, tasks and more. This’ll synchronize your life –
and, if you’ve got it all set up with your Exchange Server at work – work based
email, calendar
appointments and more .. instantly. Again, thanks to the excellent T-Mobile data
tariffs you don’t need to worry too much about leaving the data connection open.

Bluetooth Explorer is a relatively new idea. It’s almost like a shared folder on
a "normal" PC – here I’m accessing another Windows Mobile device via the
Bluetooth Explorer program. It’s pretty cool to be able to share files this way.
You only need to drag the files into your folder once and it will instantly be
available to others on a secure Bluetooth "pair".

 T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

Next up is the Camera, we’ll get to that in a moment because it
deserves it’s own section. ClearVue is included though, which is always welcome
and an essential part of any Windows Mobile device in my opinion. To be able to
open the much-used PDF documents sent via email attachments etc is always a
bonus.


T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

The Comm Manager, which we showed at the top of this review when
we discussed the connectivity options on the MDA Compact III, lets you turn
connectivity options on or off. It’s here that you can turn flight mode on, stop
Bluetooth, turn off the sound or, if you’re anything like me, you can stop the
Microsoft Push Email system from getting emails whilst you sleep.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

The Mobile Office suite is, of course, present on this device
and allows editing and viewing of documents on the go. It’s always been a
winning formula on the Windows Mobile handsets.


T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

You’ve also got the excellent File Explorer which lets you move,
edit and delete files plus much more. But wait, we’ve also got an FM radio in
the MDA Compact III too. Unfortunately it needs the headset plugging in to
operate (that becomes your aerial), so I’ve had to take some pictures of the
screen to show it in action. It’s really quite good. Sure, I didn’t get perhaps
as many stations as I would with a normal desktop FM radio combined with a
standard aerial, however it’s got plenty of features including saved presets, a
sleep mode and – thankfully – you can output the sound to the speaker too. I’m
glad they left this feature in, although the sound that came out of the standard
speaker did seem a little quiet in my opinion.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

Internet Explorer comes on board and has the usual wide range of
display and zoom options so that you can view pages as you’d like to see them.
Again the only draw-back I had here was the speed at which pages arrived over
the GPRS connection.


T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review 
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

There’s also an option to let you tweak you internet sharing
options.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

With this being a GPS device we also get something called "QuickGPS".
It’s supposedly designed to speed up the length of time taken to locate you.
It’ll hop onto the net and grab the latest satellite data. I’m not exactly sure
how it knows where you are, but it seems to work.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

Amongst the other goodies you’ll find "Search" for.. err..
searching your device, plus there’s Streaming Media settings and something
called "SAPSettings" which allows remote SIM access via Bluetooth. You’ll also find a Terminal Services Client, more commonly known as RDP
or Remote Desktop. I like using this for remote working – I can remotely connect
to the PC at work and do all the work-related stuff whilst sitting in the pub.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

The MDA Compact III will also let you perform Voice Dial
commands which can be configured via "Settings". You’ve also got Zip, which (as
I keep mentioning) should be part of every Windows Mobile device no matter what
– it’s exactly what you need when Joe from Accounts sends you the latest
spreadsheet on sales.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

Windows Media Player is also included. It comes with bucket loads of options
plus you can watch videos in the screen below or in widescreen. If you’ve got a
nice big memory card then you can comfortably watch videos, TV shows or even
DVDs if you shrink them down. Playlists, shuffle, time settings, volume control, pause
and other features are available here. It’s not just video of course, you can
get MP3’s playing too.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review


Settings

If you’ve seen a TV show called "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"
you’ll know that Chris Tarrant (the presenter) always says, "..here’s a cheque
for (whatever amount)… but we don’t want to give you that do we?!". It’s the
same here. If you don’t like what you see, change it – the backdrop? Change it.
The sounds? Change them. The length of time to leave the backlight on if the
device isn’t used for a certain length of time? Heck, change that too.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

The above screenshots of the Settings screens show you just how
much there is to play with. I’m going to jump right in and look at the new
settings. In the video I mentioned the mouse mode – this can be seen in the
settings screen below. It’s a really useful tool which, although it may not suit
all users so it’s great to have the ability to turn it on or off.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

I wanted to give you a look at the mouse in action once again, however YouTube
appears to have squished my video into a strange stretchy format. However, you
can still see the mouse pointer in action below…

The next thing I wanted to try out was the X-Button. You can
always spot an avid Pocket PC user because they’re usually sat in the corner
crying "Why does the X button just minimise stuff? Why doesn’t it CLOSE things?"
Well, it’s all to do with memory management and speed. As an example, when you
turn on the device for the first time and access Internet Explorer it may take a
couple of seconds to load. However, when you close Internet Explorer it doesn’t
actually close – it sits in the background. This is so it’ll start up quicker
next time. Although there’s obvious advantages to doing this it can, at times,
eat up your CPU time – especially if you’re viewing a complex webpage or an
application is in the background doing something hefty. With the "X Button"
setting you can change all this and, luckily, it’s set to close stuff if you tap
and hold the X-Button. Nice.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

Being a GPS device the MDA Compact III also has plenty of GPS settings to play
with too. As default the GPS data comes in on COM4 from the internal GPS module,
but this can be changed along with the baud rate.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

CoPilot takes up the "GPS" button on the front panel, however if you choose to
install another satnav product then you can re-map the button to your preferred
GPS software. You can also change how the other buttons behave.

  
 
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

As we mentioned earlier you can also setup voice dial – this can
not only call your contacts but also launch applications too.

 
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

There’s many other options too – far too many to go through if
I’m honest. You can alter your Input method, change the device Lock, Menus,
Owner Information, Today screen, alarm setting, Bluetooth, IR, GPRS settings and
much more. There’s also
power settings, regional settings, screen orientation / text size / cleartype
settings and you can remove your installed programs too.


Camera

The 2 megapixel camera has the newer interface we also saw on the
T-Mobile MDA Vario II
. It
comes with lots of options including light balance, zoom and camera, video, MMS video, contact picture, picture
themes and other modes. There’s no flash on this device though, which is a bit
of a shame.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

Again we have that magic little box next to the light adjustment
meter. This will adjust the brightness based on either the whole image or just
what’s at the centre. I’ve included some shots I’ve taken previously – the first
shot the stairs appear to be dark because the centre of the image has sunlight
bouncing off the wall. The camera has used the light in the centre to judge the
light balance. However, if we change the setting it’ll use the light from the
whole image and balance it out like so..



T Mobile MDA Compact III Review
 

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

There’s other toys too – you can change where the pictures or
videos are stored, plus you can set a timer or play look at pictures you’ve
taken previously with the "Pictures and Videos" button (on the lower left – it
looks a bitlike a chess board). On the images below you can see the various
modes available – first up is a contact picture, then we’ve got a picture theme
and lastly there’s the video mode which records in a maximum of 176×144.
Usually, as you can see by the direction of the arrows, switching modes is done
by moving left or right on your navigation pad. Here it’s done with the
trackball so I must confess it’s slightly trickier.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

 T Mobile MDA Compact III Review 
 
T Mobile MDA Compact III Review 
  


The 2 megapixel camera is a marked improvement on the standard 1.3 megapixel
jobbies. You may still have to fiddle with the brightness setting and stand
quite still (this being especially true for the night shots) though. There’s
also no macro lens, so you can’t do close up shots. I took a couple of photos
(below). Get the bigger versions by clicking these images…


T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

CoPilot

I’m going to cover CoPilot in a bit more detail in a separate
review, however here’s a look at CoPilot in action. My thoughts on this software
are fairly mixed. On the plus side it does come with speed camera locations and
out-of-the-box tracking capability which lets you send your location to a
CoPilot server – excellent for businesses. I tried this out myself and set up an
account within minutes and it worked really well

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

CoPilot also comes with maps of Europe – not just the UK.
There’s also a comprehensive list of "POI’s" – Points Of Interest. Here’s the
main screen. I must confess that it was a little tricky to press these buttons
with my finger. Although every sat-nav system will always say, "Don’t use when
driving" I wanted set a journey to my destination quickly and was a tad
disappointed that the sytlus had to come out to press these buttons
successfully. TomTom users will be fairly comfortable with the "bash the screen
with your finger" method, which seems to work rather better.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

The tracking system I mentioned above can be accessed with the
"Live Setup" button above. It’s relatively easy to do – you enter your logon
details and whether you want to connect – job done. Again, with the T-Mobile
data plans you can’t really go wrong and – although you might feel like you’re
being "watched" by your boss – it does mean that you can work more effectively.

One thing though that did annoy me was the simple process of
entering your destination. Full postcodes don’t appear to be supported – CoPilot
only uses the first few digits. Take the example below – I’m entering the
postcode of the
CoPilot / ALK UK office in London
.. It’s WC1A 2RP, however even though
I’ve fully entered it CoPilot gives me two options..

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

Umm.. well I’m not sure? Which one shall we go for? I guess, and choose the
latter option. Following this though you’re prompted for a street address – this
wouldn’t be shown if the postcode was interpreted correctly, however I have to
supply extra information. In this case I’ve also had to type almost the entire
road name just to find the road.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

CoPilot, then, needed the country, the postcode, then the street name and the
number to get a destination to travel to. Let’s do a quick comparison with
TomTom…

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

Bang – I’ve just entered the postcode and look at the top – I’ve got
"Bloom….", which is the correct Bloomsbury Square that I need. Because it’s
used the entire postcode it hasn’t matched dozens of other roads starting
with "Bloom…" in London like CoPilot did.

T Mobile MDA Compact III Review T Mobile MDA Compact III Review T Mobile MDA Compact III Review

The navigation within CoPilot also drive me slightly insane – it seemed to take
a stylus and a lot of patience to create a new journey to a favourite, or to
switch the display mode to "3D". Even when I did get it to switch to "3D" it
decided to switch back again when I restarted the program later. Sure, there’s
some cool stuff like "auto night mode" which I WISH TomTom would use, but
in CoPilot all it seems to do is turn the clouds at the top of the picture into
stars. :(

 

Overall

Having GPS inside your phone is pretty damned cool. For a start you don’t have
any oiks breaking into your car because you left your precious SatNav stuck to
the windscreen. The phone is always with you and – even if your mates don’t
answer a call to tell you how to get to the pub – CoPilot will. In short I
love
having GPS in-built. For me I don’t really use GPS daily, so I don’t
see any reason in going and spending several hundred pounds on a sat-nav. To be
able to buy a GPS-enabled Windows Mobile with a cool control mechanism and then
get CoPilot, with European maps and windscreen holder and car
charger – that’s a damned good deal and you’ll be paying far less than a
stand-alone GPS / SatNav system.

That control system is a definite winner for me. The wheel itself may feel
slightly wobbly at times but it does allow remarkably quick navigation. The
trackball is also a nice touch – I thought it would fail miserably if I’m honest
but no, I’m pleasantly surprised.

As for the negative points they’re fairly obvious – no WiFi, no 3G and there’s
no flash on that camera. You have to stop and consder the o2 version of this device – the o2 XDA Orbit. It’s comes with WiFi and (apparently) 3G too, so why have T-Mobile left it all out? T-Mobile have WiFi hotspots, so it should make perfect sense to leave WiFi running. Why take it out? Who knows.

This is an ultra-mobile navigation tool
which is also a phone, a contact book, a diary, an MP3 and video player, a web
browser, document editor, picture viewer, camera and radio. It’s small,
lightweight and has good looks but overall if you buy this you’ll be the only
person in the office who can fire up CoPilot or TomTom without the aid of a
separate Bluetooth "whoops, I forgot to charge that, it’s gone flat"-style unit.