Connectivity – GSM, GPRS, 3G, WiFi, HSPDA. Quad-band, SMS, MMS, Video calling
Talk time – Up to 5 hours
Stand by – up to 10 days
Weight – 176g
Dimensions – 21.95(w) x 112.5(h) x 58(d)
Screen – 2.8 inches, 240 x 320 pixels, 65k colours
Cam – 2 Megapixel with macro lens and assorted shooting modes
The T-Mobile MDA Vario II is the successor to
the original T-Mobile
Vario we reviewed earlier. This puppy comes with a faster 400Mhz CPU, 2
megapixel camera and macro lens plus WiFi and a 240×320 touch screen. There’s
also 3G connectivity which brings video calling courtesy of the face-pointing
camera and quicker data connections whilst on the move. There’s also push email,
a microSD slot, Bluetooth and that very useful slide-out keyboard.
The Vario II is all set for HSPDA – the “3G on steroids” protocol that’s coming soon to T-Mobile and other networks. There is, of course regular
3G capability, then EDGE if you need it and even GPRS too. Even if that’s not enough for you then you can always use
the WiFi (802.11b/g) for hooking up to a local
hotspot or browsing the internet at home for nothing. Quad-band capability also means that the
Vario II can not only keep you entertained on flights abroad but also keep you in touch
when you land. The usual IR port is also present, as is the mini USB plug for hooking into your PC. Bluetooth 2.0 also comes as part of the deal and will
allow your funky bluetooth headsets and car-kits to function as they did with your previous device.
In the box is your stylus, power adaptor, mini USB “sync” cable (for connection to your PC), carry case, lithium ion polymer battery (1300mAh), manuals, CD’s
(containing ActiveSync software etc) and a stereo wired headset with microphone.
This headphone has caused a few raised eyebrows. Gone is the standard 3.5mm
or the fairly familiar 2.5mm separate audio port and instead you’ve got a mini USB plug on the end. Want to listen to your tunes while charging ? Ermm. No,
you can’t. Want to sync your Vario II while listening to Madonna ? Errm.. No, you can’t. The theory is that most people will use stereo bluetooth headphones,
but at present the reality is that most people want a 3.5mm standard plug for their headphones. However it does operate well and works as a hands free kit
Above you can see the optional "muffs". These can get plonked onto your
headphones if you’re into your fluffy comforting headgear.
The handsfree / headphone kit has a volume slider and button on a control box mid-way down the cable which lets you control the volume etc.
There’s also a clippy thing for hooking onto your shirt or coat so your
headphones don’t slide down your legs.
Let’s have a look at the unit itself. As far a looks go the Vario II has a slightly more rugged appearance compared to other mini Pocket PC’s. The
top part of the unit is a dark bushed silver colour whilst the keyboard,
surround and camera lens surround is a deep maroon. There’s a pebble-like finish
to most of the device with a more polished silver surround on the screen and on the “action” button.
The rear of the device and the joypad itself is a made of a tactile grooved
There’s a stylish layout for the Windows, OK, softkeys and call
/ end call buttons. It’s not a light device, however it’s not overly heavy either –
I’d call it a “reassuring weight”. Considering the power, features and connectivity this thing has it’s a nice
package and you’ll not need to worry about putting it to your head for a phone call.
The joypad works very well indeed, as do the "Start" and "OK" buttons. There’s actually another
"OK" button on the side too – there’s more too. Some Pocket PC upgraders may at first find
these extra buttons a little difficult to master but believe me they’re worth it in the long run and
you’ll soon be clicking away getting through menus and tasks quicker than ever before.
As you may notice there’s no dedicated "Video call" button on this device – that
small hump on the lower left (above the green "call answer" key). There is on
the Orange M3100 version, but not here for some reason.
At the top of the handset you’ll find yet more handy buttons – one for messaging and one for Internet Explorer.
T-Mobile have rebranded the "IE" button to read "WnW" for their "Web ‘n Walk"
service. T-Mobile have some excellent data plans and there’s a helpful "You are
about to go online" message if you decide to use the browser. There’s also the status LED’s such as
power / charge, bluetooth and network etc. The earpiece is tucked away in here too and the audio quality is fine. On the right is the face-pointing camera
for 3G calls – don’t forget you can switch between the rear-mounted camera and this one during your 3G video call.
The Internet Explorer button ("WnW") is especially handy when you want to quickly browse the internet – just tap the power button, hit the
slide the keyboard open and you’re ready to enter any web address you fancy. It’s obviously got
power-saving – the screen goes off after a lack of use to stop you accidentally calling Aunt Maud in Australia while you’re walking around. However, I’m a
little surprised that there’s no option to allow things like “turn screen on when keyboard extended”. This simple feature would let me open the keyboard and
get onto the internet quicker.
While we’re on the subject let’s have a look at the keyboard. It takes up around 80% of the width which gives you enough space to rest your thumbs. The keys
themselves have a fantastic feel about them and show a definite quality. I will admit being worried when I first saw this keyboard – it looked a little
condensed and the lack of space between keys looked like a typing nightmare. The reality? It’s not bad at all. Each key is slightly domed and for easy
location and I ended up typing a bit of this review with it. It’s really easy to
get used to.
The keyboard also has a number of shortcuts which you can see in
red below. I found that I used the “WiFi on/off” button quite a bit – it’s the “OK” button next to
the Windows key. The new WiFi hardware in the MDA Vario II will handle both 802.11b and 802.11g, plus there’s a new “Change Networks” option in the WiFi
You may also notice on the top right there’s a light sensor (that small white
dot) which does a great job of sensing when to turn the backlight on for the
keyboard. The numeric keypad is located on the right-side of the keyboard and can be accessed by holding the “.” key down on the lower left whilst keying in numbers.
It will also automatically activate when you’re in certain programs or
applications. I found the keyboard very easy to use, although I still have a bit of trouble typing in a capital “A” as you have to press the shift key and the “a” key directly above it at the same time.
On the right side of the unit is the power button. You’ll be pressing it a helluva lot, believe me. Why? Well, with the power saving switching the
screen off after 2 minutes you have to tap the power button to wake it up again. Sure you can change this, but I’m going to concentrate on the “out of the
box” experience. Hitting this button can be a little tricky at times. There’s no “nipple” on it for quick location and it’s actually recessed into the
device. Even stranger is the fact that the comm manager button next to it DOES have a “nipple” and ISN’T recessed into the unit.
Thankfully there is a way of changing this – just go into Settings->System->Key lock. Within this screen there’s an option to make all buttons “pressable”
even when the device is off. Of course, the trouble with this is that you could accidentally launch Internet Explorer, make a phone call or do something else
that’ll cost you money. Though after two weeks, I almost prefer the latter option rather than having to find that recessed power button each time I want to
use the unit.
Also on the right of the unit is the camera button – you can probably just see
it at the top of the photo above. The stylus lives right next to it – it will
extend and makes use of the space nicely.
To be honest with the plethora of buttons and shortcuts on this device you can get away with doing the
majority of daily tasks without ever getting this stylus out.
We touched upon that camera button just now. Pressing it
activates the funky-looking 2 megapixel camera on the back. The design of the
lens surround is much better than previous designs. There’s definitely more “whoomp” with a flash, macro switch (for taking shots of stuff up-close), an
integrated mirror and a red metal surround.
Ahh – I’ve left the best until last. On the left we’ve got something new – a scroll wheel. This gives rapid access to contacts and menu items. Previous
Pocket PC owners may find this a little hard to get used to but trust me, it’s a fantastic time-saving gadget.
You can make a call to someone simply by
rotating slightly and then pushing in a couple of times. No stylus – no messing. Simple, quick access into things you need simply and quickly. You can still use the joypad to navigate up and down the IE pages though.
Below this wheel you’ve got another “OK” button. Yep, there’s two “OK” buttons on here …. actually there’s three if you count the one on the slide-out
keyboard, however the guys at T-Mobile / HTC have done a great job in realising
that it’s the most used button. I’ve no doubt I’ll still see people using their
thumb-nail to try and hit the "OK" or "X" button in the top-right corner,
however it’s great to see more than one on a device. Below the "OK" button is a
shortcut button to the Voice Speed Dial.
At the bottom of the left hand side is a MicroSD / Transflash slot. DOAH! You guys out there upgrading will be punching the desk right now. Gone are the SD
cards, gone are those movies and pictures you took on your previous card (unless you faff about moving them across of course). It’s another memory card type
and you’ll need to fork out some cash to get one. Have a look on MobyMemory for some good deals
on these cards because there isn’t a free one in the box unfortunately. Oh, and no – I don’t know why some people call them “Transflash” and some people call
them “MicroSD” when in fact they’re the same thing. One of life’s mysteries that. At the time of writing the biggest micro SD you’re able to buy is 2Gb.
Compare this to the 4Gb SD’s that are available and then consider in the money you’ve probably already spent on previous SD / MiniSD cards for your previous
Let’s have another look at the bottom of the device – the reset switch is tucked
in here should you need to reset it.
We’ve also got the IR port, a little flappy switch for opening the battery cover and a standard miniUSB port. Although this miniUSB
port may look a little different I can confirm it’s the same one that a
lot of Smartphone / Pocket PC users are used to, which is good news for your
cable and charger collection. You can also see the flat opening for the
Here’s the inside of the unit with the battery removed. The
battery lasts quite a bit if you leave the power-saving features alone, however
if you dare to set the screen to "always on" you’ll soon find a fairly flat
phone in your pocket.
When you first power-up the MDA Vario II it’ll apply all the T-Mobile
tweaks and homescreen additions that turn the device from a regular HTC Hermes
into a proper T-Mobile device. This takes a few seconds and only happens
Once done you’ve presented with the T-Mobile homescreen. This will be familiar for
T-Mobile customers by now and works extremely well with the new scroll-wheel.
The T-Mobile MDA Vario II, running on Windows Mobile 5.0, comes with
push-email for Exchange users plus the connectivity is excellent. WiFI? Got it.
3G? Got it. Bluetooth, GPRS, EDGE, even HSPDA – it’s all here so there’s very
little chance of you being out of coverage.
If I didn’t have this connected up to my PC whilst grabbing
these shots you’d see a "3G" symbol which, I have to say, rarely goes off –
there’s pretty decent T-Mobile coverage from what I’ve seen. During the setup phase (above)
when you the T-Mobile modification will alter the "U" which is normally displayed
to indicate "UMTS". The "3G" logo is more widely recognized here in the UK and
it’s good to see this attention to detail.
Notice something? Yes, the left soft key says, "Running Programs".. well,
actually it says "Running Pr…" or "Running Progra…" depending on the screen
orientation. I’m not entirely sure why T-Mobile set the left softkey to activate
the Running Programs list, but they did. It’ll let you see what’s running and
quickly switch between the programs, however if you don’t want the Running
Programs app on your left softkey then you can easily change it in the Settings
option like so…
The standard homescreen / "Today" screen comes with the
T-Mobile "squares". You can, if you wish, alter this through
Settings->(Personal)->Today however the T-Mobile theme works rather well and is
easy enough to pick up. You can, if you wish, move your joystick up or down to
switch between the various options but it’s definitely better to use that wheel
we mentioned on the top left of the device. Let’s not forget that wheel too – to
dial a contact for example it’s just a matter of pushing the wheel in and
it’ll call the person you’ve chosen, or text them, or email them, whatever. The
wheel really is incredibly useful and I doubt we’ll see many Pocket PC phones
being released in future without this feature or something like it..
Initiating a call is easy and there’s several ways of doing it.
You can either use the wheel or tap the green button on the front of the device
and type the number into the dialpad on the screen. The predictive dial guesses
which number you’re trying to dial based on the digits you entered. The same
thing happens if you slide out the keyboard at this point too. 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
3G Video calling is included on the MDA Vario II and the device
keeps hold of the 3G signal very well. You
can choose from several different views – making both your screen or the other
person larger or smaller. Plus you can switch from the front camera to the rear
camera mid-way through your call, or put people on hold etc. All very flash.
Video calling can be used to keep in touch with loved ones. Unfortunately I
couldn’t get a shot of me making this video call – both boxes showed blank when
I took a screenshot…..
..so I decided to do a quick and dirty YouTube video to show Video Calling in
action. I’ve also included a look at the speed of the screen-switching. Some of
you may remember that earlier devices had a definite "lag" when opening the
keyboard which would switch the screen orientation. I’m happy to report that
there’s no lag on this device, although if the screen is heavily "loaded" or
you’re running lots of programs at once you still may get a short delay. It’s
nothing major though.
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 in the Accessories
folder plus there’s a SIM manager to import your contacts.
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. (Note to the boss, I don’t do this ….honest)
Here’s the main Programs list. I’ve got to apologize here
because I’ve actually installed some extra programs myself. I guess you could
take that as an indication of how much I like it though ? :) ,
aren’t included but please do download it cus it’s ace. (Note to self, saying "cus
it’s ace" in a product review will
not get you noticed by the large magazines or newspapers).
You’ve got Games which of course contains Bubble Breaker and
Solitaire, then ActiveSync for connecting and synchronizing your contacts,
calendar appointments, tasks and more. This’ll synchronize your life –
everything on your PC that you want to carry around with you can be synchronized
with the T-Mobile MDA Vario II. Here’s what I’ve got on my Options list –
Contacts, Calendar appointments and Favourites. You can choose as many or as few
as you wish.
Adding a new contact, for example, is just a matter of using
your PC to enter the necessary details in Outlook. All the details – and I do
mean all – will be fired across to your Vario II. Email address, postal address,
picture, fax number, the works. Here’s a quick look at me adding a contact in
the other way – via the Vario II itself. It’s pretty damned easy. Here I’m using the
on-screen keyboard however it’s extremely easy to use the slide-out one to do
the same thing.
Next up is the camera app – we’ll talk about that shortly. ClearVue PDF
is next – a fantastic addition which will let you
open up Adobe PDF files. It’s great not to have to wait until you’re at the
office to see that all-important PDF attachment and this should be standard in
every Windows Mobile device.
As part of the Mobile Office suite we’ve got Excel. It’s a
cut-down version of the PC version however it’s excellent for editing and
creating spreadsheets on the move. You’ve also got Microsoft PowerPoint and Word
too. Again don’t forget that using both of these apps with the slide-out
keyboard is a dream. I’ve written entire blogs and part of this review with
Microsoft Word on the Vario II keyboard and it’s a fantastic to have it in your
pocket when you feel the urge to jot something down.
There’s also File Explorer, something which I use in conjunction
with WinZip, both of which come on-board and both of which should be part of
every Windows Mobile device. Top stuff.
I can do all the stuff you’d expect with the usual "Windows Explorer" on your
PC, plus I can beam files of any type across the Infrared or Bluetooth – below
you should be able to see me doing that.
Windows Media Player is also in the Vario II. It’s got everything
you’ll need for playing both audio and video files. You can switch to full
screen and enjoy videos the way they were intended and there’s stacks more
options besides. Playlists, full screen video, volume control, pause are
featured within Windows Media Player and it’ll let you watch WMV video files
aswell as MP3’s etc.
A proper non-Java version of Pocket Internet Explorer comes next
with a stack of options for resizing the text, changing the way websites are
viewed and the ability to zoom in on stuff too. You can do almost everything you
can do on your regular Internet Explorer – add favourites (by the way, it’s
still spelt wrongly as "Favorites"), view history etc.
OK in the settings we’ve got pretty much everything you’ll need
for changing your out-of-the-box Vario II into your own individualized device.
We’ve got "Buttons" which changes those button settings we mentioned earlier.
Here’s the options in the "Buttons" setting. To be honest I’ve
tried changing this to make my "power button pressing" life easier however it’s
probably best to leave these settings as default.
On the next tab you’ve got settings allowing you to set the
backlight, alarm, device info, clear the on-board storage, key lock and memory
usage – this option is always useful if you’re trying to "kill" a running
program. There’s also Power settings, regional settings, screen orientation /
text size / cleartype settings and you can remove your installed programs here
The Connections tab is pretty self-explanatory. It’s got
everything you’ll need to connecting your device to something else. The Comm
Manager on the top right is accessed here or you could just press that
shortcut-key we mentioned earlier which is located next to the power button..
This is the Comm Manager. You can quickly turn various aspects
of the handset on or off. Bluetooth, WiFi, Push Email, Activesync, the Ringer or
the phone itself.
The 2 megapixel camera has a whole new interface. It’s something I’ve
never seen before and it includes some photographer-tricks to help you get a
better shot. Here’s a shot of the preview screen – see how many options you have
here ? Stacks. The -/+ control at the bottom sets your brightness, the arrow
thing on the top-left switches between camera, video, MMS video, contact
picture, picture themes, panorama, sports mode and much more.
You can also change where the pictures are stores (internal memory or that
MicroSD card) and the size of each image – you’ll know how many you’ve got by
the number on the top left. Then, on the bottom left there’s access into
settings and the Pictures & Videos.
Oh, and see that little box next to the "Auto"? Well this is
quite a clever tool. If you’re taking a snap of something with lots of light in
the centre of the image it can make the outside of the image dark. I’ve taken a
couple of shots (below) of our stairs at home. You can see on 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 (shown above right) it’ll use the
light from the whole image and balance it out like so..
The camera is much better and the 2 megapixel quality really
shows through. The flash works well if you’re around half-a-metre from the
person you’re snapping and the macro-lens will turn you into a close-up genius!
Check out these two close-up shots – click them to get the bigger versions….
I also took a number of shots on the maximum setting (2 megapixels) in various
See that last shot? As I was getting dragged through the car-wash I figured it’d
be a good idea to test out the video-camera facility on the device. The result
11Mb MP4 file however I’ve uploaded it to YouTube here for easy viewing –
don’t forget that there might be a slight loss in quality over YouTube…
The T-Mobile MDA Vario II is an extremely powerful device. Sure, without
the power-saving turned on you’ll be needing to recharge it a couple of times a
day. Sure, whenever I call someone and the line is busy it goes “BEEP BEEP BEEP” at full volume from the rear speaker for no apparent reason. There’s other little tweaks I’d like to see such as – when you get a text message and the whole thing easily displays on the “Today” screen I should have a “Mark as read” option straight away to say that I’ve read it. I shouldn’t need to press “Menu”->(down,down,down,down)->”Mark as read”. I should also be able to tap the pop-up preview message and have it open the SMS inbox automatically, but it doesn’t. :( Little tweaks here and there is all that’s needed and I’m sure they’ll be on the way – let’s not forget it can be patched and upgraded on the fly.
However – even with the minor things I’ve found I still feel that this is
one hell of a punch for your pound. The sheer capability and connectivity
available in this device is astounding and the shortcut keys, keyboard and
scroll-wheel make tasks quicker and easier to do – it’s like the Pocket PC has
reached another level. This is also a device which won’t look "geeky" and
maintains its’ cool appearance – although a little thicker than other devices in
this form it’s slide-out keyboard is a definite bonus, as is the 3G / WiFi
connectivity and the HSPDA connections when available.
If you’ve recently read our
Orange SPV M3100 review you’ll notice a lot of similarities with this
device. Essentially they’re both the same apart from the colour changes, button
layout and operator tweaks. However, where the T-Mobile Vario II really wins it
for me is the data plans. A quick look at T-Mobile UK data plans and you’ll find
unlimited data tariffs for a very, very reasonable monthly charge. Having the
ability to go online and NOT worry about how much money you’ll be charged for
data use is a definite plus, so for me it gives the Vario II a definite edge.
All in all, if you’re looking for one of the most powerful, useful, flexible,
stylish Pocket PC’s around then this is the device for you.