The T-Mobile MDA Vario is built by HTC under the name “Wizard”. This is the model that Orange decided NOT to launch in the UK after announcing their variant – “SPV M3000”. T-Mobile are launching this in the UK. In fact, so are o2 as the XDA Mini also. So, who’s made the right decision? T-Mobile or Orange ? Read on!
In the box you get the charger, a hands-free / stereo headset,
an extra stylus, a sync cable, a manual, some T-Mobile info, software and a
leatherette pouch aswell as the Vario itself and the battery. No MiniSD card in
this one, however they are fairly cheap – check out our partners on the left
The T-Mobile Vario is a Pocket PC – at least that’s what it say on the box. In reality it’s the same height as my Orange SPV C550 and slightly wider when closed. The Vario instantly puts the “it
must be big to be a Pocket PC” myth to bed. I’ve had a “regular sized” Pocket-PC phone for quite a while in the form of the Orange SPV M2000, so I thought I’d do a comparison shot of both handsets in use. First, I took a
quick shot of them alongside each other, then in use….
As you can see – the Vario is considerably smaller and instantly puts those “I’m going to look like an idiot talking into this thing” worries to rest.
I’ve also taken some shots of the Vario next to my Orange SPV C550 so that you can see just how “phone sized” it really is. As you might expect it’s slightly lighter than a regular Pocket PC and
slighter heavier than a regular Smartphone, however – who gives a stuff about weight ?
The design of the handset is pretty damn nice and although slightly thicker than a regular Pocket PC, it does give the device a nice “rounded” effect. Using the Vario with the stylus can cause it
to rock slightly when on a flat surface, so holding it with one hand with the stylus in the other is probably preferred. But wait – we haven’t mentioned that keyboard yet have we ?
With the Vario held “upright” (i.e. with the call answer / call drop buttons at the bottom), the keyboard slides out of the side. The keyboard, I must admit, is one of the best I’ve used on
anything this size. The keys are backlit with a blue-light when needed – however
this backlight does go off quite quickly and I couldn’t find a way to change it.
The Vario is a tiny device and to have something that isn’t “just a thumb-board” is quite a leap forward. The keyboard itself is extremely tactile and easy to use.
Getting the wrong key happens very rarely but again, if you attempt to use this on a flat surface and type “normally” (i.e. with your fingers), you find that the device rocks back under the weight
of the screen. Not a major thing, but you do find that you’re either holding it down with your thumbs at the edge of the keyboard to stop it rocking or picking it up and using your thumbs to type.
Perhaps some clever sod out there will come up with a little “peg” that flaps out of the back of the screen when using the keyboard – this is all it would need to stay stable. Some sort of
kick-stand. Picking it up and using your thumbs is probably the best bet 😉
The design of the handset is excellent. I must mention again
that this handset – codenamed the WIZA200 by HTC – is such a colossal leap
forward from the first Microsoft Smartphone that I ever picked up. That was the
Orange SPV – the
HTC Canary. The Vario is such a powerful little device – and is packaged
without any sniff of "geekiness". This is a solid product which is finished well
and has a lot of thought put into it. The combination of a brushed metal on the
top (as shown in the picture below) and the two-tone silver colours on the
device itself make it aesthetically pleasing and impressive to onlookers.
On the right side of the device above you can see the camera
button. This is in just the right spot as all shots are taken in "landscape"
mode and at that point this camera button is just on the top next to your
trigger-finger. I did find however that it was a little too easy to press when
in a call. Point, click to start the camera app, click again to snap. Done.
Nicely thought-out. You can also see the Infrared port which still has it’s
protective sticker on. There’s also a secondary speaker and the Voice Command
button, which is heavily promoted in this device..
On the left side is yet another speaker (hey, stereo sound
baby!) and a natty volume adjustment slider. On the top left is the WiFi button.
Ahhh – I lie. I call it that but it’s actually a shortcut to the "Comm Manager",
which is a new Windows Mobile 5.0. The reason I call it "the WiFi button" is
because I only ever press it when I need to get on a WiFi Access Point. Press
this button, turn on the WiFi, then wait – find your AP – and your done. Spot
On the top is the power button which you’ll be tapping to wake
the device up and a MiniSD card slot. In the shot above I’ve got the CoPilot
MiniSD card inserted, which is a hefty 256Mb.
On the bottom – here with the keyboard slid open – you can see
the regular MiniUSB plug at the centre, with a 2.5 mm audio / mic plug to your
left (yes, it’s still a 2.5mm one, but you get some free headphones with
built-in microphone) and – just past the black battery release catch – you can also just
see the stylus. This is sculpted into the edge of the device. Now – a quick
mention about that battery catch. Pushing this will pop open the back like a car
bonnet. Here’s a shot of the battery, rear panel and … the stylus again. The
stylus has been shrunk just like the Vario itself. The Vario is a small device,
so the chaps at HTC have sat down and had a think about the stylus…
The stylus above is fully extended, but you can just see how it
pushes down into itself like a bike pump. In fact, when pushed into it’s "home"
at the base of the device it takes only around half of the height of the device.
Little touches like this really make the device shine, and when
fully extended the pen doesn’t slide back down of it’s own accord either.
The back has a raised dimple effect, which may be difficult to
see on the shot above, however on closer inspection you can see the extra grip
given by this bit of design as we look at the camera. The camera itself is a 1.3
Mega Pixel device with a flashlight. Although this flash isn’t as powerful as
"regular" cameras, it will help greatly in low-light situations, say when you’re
taking shots of yourself in the pub. 🙂 Again, look at the design and the
thought put into this. Gone are the days of the "there’s the camera, there’s the
mirror thing, we’ll just plonk that on the back of the phone", this is another
good design which really emphasizes the camera itself. There’s also a little
"foot" which protects the camera, the flash and the mirror from being scratched
when on a hard surface. The other small round thing on the upper right is the
antenna connection for car-kits etc.
The front of the device has the standard two soft-keys that
we’re familiar with on Windows Smartphones along with the call answer and call
drop buttons. There’s also a rather understated but usable joypad for
navigation. Pressing up and down (with it in "portrait mode" as below) can be a
tad tricky, however there’s some extra curves sculpted into the top and bottom
edges of the joypad to ensure that this doesn’t happen. After a few minutes of
playing, this becomes very familiar and comfortable. At the top there’s a direct
hot-key into the T-Mobile "T-Zones" portal and an email / messaging button. HTC
have also followed their new design idea of having the status LED’s around the
ear-piece at the top, which show power, status and bluetooth.
This is pretty much it for the "portrait mode" operation of the
device. Using it in this way is classic Pocket PC usage, however the addition of
softkeys and the reduced size of the unit means that it feels just like a
regular Smartphone. Don’t forget – if you want too make a phone-call there’s no
need to slide out the keyboard – just tap the power, tap the green "phone" key,
type the number into the screen with your finger and tap green again.
Sliding the screen out reveals the keyboard – it locks into place when fully
open to avoid sliding down as you type. The screen will instantly switch to
landscape mode and the joypad re-maps itself so that "down" becomes "down" and
not "left" (if you get my drift!)
The keys are bevelled and set apart well. This reduces the chance of mis-typing
– even with your thumbs – and to be honest I prefer this keyboard over the HTC
Universal (o2 XDA Exec / Orange SPV M5000). I found that I could type fairly
long documents in Mobile Word without errors and fairly speedily too. You’ll
find yourself wrapping your fingers around the top and using your thumbs to
type, however it’s still easy to do things like pressing "shift" keys (the blue
dot acts as a shift key). With the unit in "landscape" mode you’ll also get two
new softkeys at the top of the slide-out keyboard. When browsing sites on this
device you’ll find yourself using the joypad (which as previously mentioned has
already re-mapped itself) to move up and down the web page you’re looking at.
I’ve chucked a couple of coins next to the device so that you can gauge the size
of the T-Mobile Vario below. Although the device is small the screen is still
clear enough to use and the quality of the display allows you to use the device
The main "Today" screen comes with the T-Mobile theme
added. Here’s how it looks in both Portait and Landcape mode. At the top you can
see that I’m currently using WiFi. All of these shots were taken using
Pocket Controller Professional,
which also means I can control the device over WiFi. Don’t forget to install the
NEW version of ActiveSync which comes on the CD with this device before you
attempt to connect !
Turning the T-Mobile Vario on reveals its new heart – Windows Mobile 5.0. This
has many improvements over Windows Mobile 2003SE however these improvements may
not be immediately apparent. You may pick up the device and say, "Hmm… looks
pretty much the same as Windows Mobile 2003 to me". Sure, the functionality is
pretty similar however under the hood you’ll find many plus-points. The first
that’s really worth mentioning is that you’ll no longer lose data. One thing I
my review of the SPV M2000 Pocket PC was that it – and other Windows
Mobile 2003 Pocket PCs – would lose all the data on the internal memory if the
backup battery ran flat. This was an absolute killer – especially if you’d taken
a long flight and stepped out at your destination, only to find that your work
and programs were wiped from existance. Windows Mobile 5.0 on the Vario means
"persistent storage", so no more lost data! Hurraaa!!! If you forget to charge
your device, it won’t matter.
Secondly there’s now more integrated voice control, and it works. Under
"Settings->Personal" you’ll find "Voice Speed Dial"….
Here you can set a voice prompt to call people, run a program or
perform an action. For example, if I wanted to send a text message I could
scroll down to "Messaging" and then tap "Record". I could then say, "Send a
message". It’s then just a matter of tapping the appropriate button on the side
of the device, which brings this screen up.. (oh, ignore the warning message,
that was my fault) !
There’s also improvements in Word Mobile. It’s so easy to write a note out on
this, or even a full document – the keyboard is a dream to use, even if it is
just thumbs! 🙂
Here’s a document I’ve written in Word, as you can see it’s in
Landscape mode, plus I’m on WiFi at the moment so I can send this directly off
to someone. If you want to fit more text in the screen then you can always zoom
out, or zoom in if you want the text a bit bigger.You can also change the font
(there’s only two available though in the standard build), change the colour,
style etc. All the basic stuff you can do in a standard PC version of Word.
Heck, I’ll even do a spell-check before I send it off…
Excel Mobile is also included, as is Powerpoint – a welcome
addition for those who travel around and want to check their presentations ahead
of a meeting. Excel again allows you to do most of the regular stuff you’d want
to do on the PC version of Excel…
The contacts option has received a significant overhaul and will
be quite a bit different for ex-Windows Mobile 2003 users. After adding a
contact and allocating the person a picture and special ringtone I get the
screen below next to their name. The addition of prompts plus icons helps to
divide the various functions up and makes regular tasks nice and easy to
complete. Call them on their mobile, call them at work, send a text, send an
email – or just check which ringtone you gave them, it’s all here and easy to
see what you need. The screen to the right shows the functions you can perform
when scrolling down the contact list.
Text messaging is pretty much the same as Windows Mobile 2003SE, however let’s
not forget that keyboard. It’s a joy to text on the Vario, so text-addicts will
love sending messages!
Internet Explorer – or "PIE" as it’s known (nothing to do with
food that, it stands for "Pocket Internet Explorer") is shown below. It’s had a
bit of an overhaul, however when you run it you get a warning message telling
you that you’re about to go online. To be honest I think T-Mobile themselves
have added this prompt in as I haven’t seen elsewhere, however it is useful and
serves as a warning to people who call T-Mobile complaining of high data
charges. Tap OK and off you go. Yes, this does also pop up when you’re
accessing WiFi hotspots, however let’s not forget that hotspots can be
I’m browsing in landscape mode. I found that the joypad was in
exactly the right spot for browsing and 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
Once the page has loaded this will vanish and you’ll see more of
If you’ve got pretty good eye-sight then the font size can be
reduced from "Smaller" (the default) to "Smallest" to ensure that you get closer
to what you’d see on your regular PC without any special "Views" or page
Here you can CoolSmartPhone being browsed in "Landscape" mode
with "Default" view and the "Smallest" zoom. It’s a fairly good representation
of the CoolSmartPhone site on a standard laptop / PC.
However, if you’re an "old school" Pocket PC user, you could
switch to Portrait mode by sliding the keyboard closed, but I prefer landscape
However, should you want a special "View" (my favourite on the
Smartphone was "One Column"), you can select it if you wish..
At the bottom of the "View" menu shown above you’ll notice the
"Full Screen" option. This allows you to view pages in complete "full size" by
removing the title bars and softkeys…and the address bar.
There’s also some extra functionality, such as being able to add
to favourites – this is mainly because the "Favourites" button has gone from the
bar at the bottom (where it was on 2003)
Call register is now on the main menu and 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.
Now we get to the nitty-gritty. I was at first amazed that
"Calculator" wasn’t on the "Programs" list. I’ve grown so used to selecting
"Programs" on Pocket PC’s, then sifting through the endless programs to get to
stuff. However, T-Mobile and Microsoft appear to have made it a little easier.
For example, let’s have a look at that main screen again….
See the list of stuff ? If I click on "Contacts" then, well…
you’d expect to see all your contacts wouldn’t you ? Well no, you get this
instead. It’s not what you see if you choose Contacts from the menu option.
Pressing it from the right-hand soft-key on the "Today" screen takes you
directly into the "Contacts" option still though.
Here’s what happens in "Messages", when chosen from the
Look! Here’s what you find in "Organsiser" – it’s the Calculator
I was looking for! All this "grouping" means that there’s less stuff in the
standard "Programs" screen, which makes finding things a lot easier. It must be
stressed though that heavily used options like "Calendar" and "Messaging" are
still available via one click on the homescreen – without using the "Start"
However, I’d like to mention one feature of Windows Mobile 5.0
that may not be mentioned elsewhere.
Check out this little experiment I did. First I downloaded the excellent SmartExplorer from Binarys.com. I got the Microsoft Smartphone version, the one meant for Windows Mobile 2003 Smartphones. Then I tried to
install it on my Orange SPV M2000, which runs Windows Mobile 2003. When I tried it, I got this…
But when I do it on the T-Mobile Vario, which has Windows Mobile 5.0 on board, I get this..
Yes, it’s happening. The Smartphone and Pocket PC world is merging. I’ve just gone ahead and blatantly installed a Smartphone application on the Vario. Windows Mobile is no longer split into two
camps – this is a sign of the future. One app, on any Windows Mobile device. For you doubters, I can even prove that this worked – check out the screenshots below..
I even went one stage further and installed our free game, Gringos. This is a game that has a Smartphone 2002
installer. Surely this wouldn’t work if I tried it on here ?
Yes, that works too. Now, of course not everything is going to work perfectly. Some screen-sizes will be scaled and some games may not work because they’re after specific Smartphone keyboard
layouts or something, but I found it great to know that applications I’d paid for would still work on this new Vario.
Brilliant. Plus, to make things even better Zip is built-in, so if you’re
browsing around on the Vario you can easily download a zip file and view / run
the contents without having to mess about getting more software.
While I’m talking about "browsing around" it’s probably a good idea to see what else can we do. I can hit the "WiFi button" that I mention earlier
(it’s a shortcut to the "Comm Manager" application) and hook up to a local
Access Point. This is quick and painless, however I couldn’t get it to work on
"802.11g" networks. It would see them, but not connect to them. For
this reason I presume that it’s not 802.11G compatible, only 802.11a/b.
Then I might just want to Remote Desktop (RDP) into a server at
work and do some remote administration….
Then I could check my email (or do it over GPRS with T-Mobiles’
Web ‘n’ Walk packages) and grab that important PDF I need for a meeting…
Heck, I could even watch a video or listen to some music.
Windows Media Player 10 is on board and allows you to build up your media
library. It’ll go full-screen too and turn your Vario into a miniture TV.
However, there appears to be a bug. See, Windows Media Player has a helpful
function which prompts this when you put a new MiniSD card in…
"Well yes", you think, "isn’t that jolly helpful". Yes it is,
however, for some strange reason this kept popping up on mine when I tapped the
power button. This seems to occur after running Windows Media Player, then
letting the device go into it’s "standby" mode – i.e. the screen goes off, it
stops reading the MiniSD card and preserves battery power. However, when you tap
the "power" button on the top to fire it back up it seems to trigger a false
"Storage Card has been inserted" message into Windows Media Player – I presume
because the card-slot has just been repowered. This results in Windows Media,
which was running in the background (even though you closed it, because you
never, ever really close things with that "close" button), to display the
message above. It seems to do it again, and again, and again. Every time I tap
the power button. It won’t go away. AGH!
Fix? Well, to fix it you have to go into "Settings->System->Memory->Running
Programs->Stop". Bagh! Terrible. I hope a fix will come out for this, because it
stops me wanting to use Windows Media Player.
Another major thing that people will play with on any new device
is the camera. The Vario comes with a 1.3 Megapixel camera and is capable of
taking 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. The button is put there because,
once the Vario is rotated into "landscape" mode, it’s in the ideal spot for your
trigger finger. The camera app also runs in landscape mode.
Here’s what you get in "photo" mode. Don’t worry about the
blurry picture here – it’s a screenshot as I was holding the device. On the
bottom-left you can see some information showing you how many shots are left,
what the resolution and zoom is etc. You can control the zoom by clicking
up/down on the joypad, then left/right to select between camera modes.
Note also the flash symbol on the lower right – this turns on
the flashlight at the rear of the Vario. When you click to take a photo this
gets even brighter. To compare, I took two shots of a TV remote control and my
phone in a fairly dark room. There was just one desk-lamp on in the corner of
the room. You can see the results below – the first shot is without the flash,
while the second is with the flash turned on. They’re not bad – the picture of
the phone is taken from about a metre away, so you can see how useful it’d be
when you’re in a dark pub or club.
Next to the flash on / off button is the settings option.
This’ll open various useful tweaks that will allow you to change the way your
pictures or videos appear.
This is all pretty self explanatory on the first screen, however
if you hit "Tools" you get even more options..
So, we can turn off the shutter sound (should you want to take a
secret picture of someone and then post it on a website saying, "Wehay! Look at
this girl in the pub!!!" without having the "KER-LICK!" noise going off) and –
more importantly for me – alter where the picture should be saved to. Also above
you can see the JPEG quality which I’ve set to "Superfine". There’s also an even
more detailed camera adjustment screen which lets you alter huge amounts of
stuff, like "Gamma" and "Hue" in order to get that picture just right.
However, as previously mentioned you can select left / right to
choose what type of camera mode you’d like. We’ve already seen "Photo", however
if you flick to the right you’ll get …
Video mode (above left) obviously allows you to take a quick
video recording. I did find that sometimes this struggled to show the preview of
the video whilst recording, however the resulting video came out perfectly.
There’s also burst (above right) which lets you take a very quick snapshot
on a lower resolution, which means you can fire lots of shots off quickly.
Following that we have…
Sport mode takes several pictures by itself, which is intended
for taking snaps of fast-moving objects. Then you’ve got your picture themes,
contact picture shots and finally MMS Video. It’s all here, easily accessible.
All well and good, however I’ve no doubt that there’s large numbers of people
shouting, "Yeah, but what do the pictures look like?!" Well, here’s some
totally un-resized examples for you to have a look at.
I also took the following photos, however I’ve squished these down to fit on
this page. The first one was directly into the sun. I was impressed by the
screen refresh on the T-Mobile Vario, it was very quick.
The T-Mobile Vario that I tested also came with CoPilot software
and a GPS unit. I won’t go into this too much as I think it deserves its’ own
review, however I did try it and it worked well. The only problem I had with it
was that it seemed slightly less accurate than TomTom and the voice sounded a
tad robotic and sharp.
Setting a destination was relatively easy, and the included
Bluetooth GPS unit was picked up quickly by the software.
I wasn’t really using the unit for long enough to find how this
program affected battery life. The T-Mobile Vario is fairly good on battery life
– at least as good as the Smartphones I’ve owned previously – however heavy WiFi
usage did tend to blatter the battery pretty heavily. Bluetooth usage, at least
on long journeys, would mean that a charger would be necessary. Luckily there is
one with CoPilot that plugs into your cigarette lighter and charges both the GPS
unit AND your Vario at the same time whilst your driving. Now that is
The T-Mobile Vario I tested ran a test build of the Operating System.
Performance wise I was very impressed, even after installing old Smartphone 2002
apps or Smartphone 2003 applications that I shouldn’t have done. Sure, there’s a
bit of "think" time when the screen switches orientation, but that is to be
expected and it isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. The screen is very
bright, clear and surprisingly useful considering I’ve used larger Pocket PC’s
in the past.
It feels absolutely excellent in the hand and has been given a very
camera-looking style to it. The grip supplied by the "dimples" on the back stop
you worrying about it sliding out of your hand too. Design, style, elegance –
these are words that were previously only mentioned around Motorola or Nokia
handsets – however HTC have done a splendid job tailoring this handset. The
addition of the keyboard, which is sooooo usable means that I don’t need to get
that stylus out much at all.
The MDA Vario has smashed through the preconceptions. This is a powerful Pocket
PC in a regular phone form-factor. It’s small but by gawd it’s powerful. This is
solid proof to all the women out there that size isn’t everything! It’s a bit
thicker, but a lot smaller. More girth, less size!
I love the T-Mobile Vario. In fact, I even hassled T-Mobile to let me keep this
a bit longer – not for the review – just because I like using it. The only problem I found was its speed. It’s let down by a slightly-slower-than-average CPU.