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Reviews

Dell Axim X51v Pocket PC

By Adam Z. Lein September 20, 2005, 12:02 am

Many users have axed, I mean "asked", Dell for an upgrade to the Axim X50v. Well, now it's here! While the most popular Pocket PCs these days include phone functionality, Dell has decided to aim their PDAs more at business and media/gaming markets with their powerful Axim line. You can't blame them though, who would want to do business with a mobile phone service provider anyway? At first glance, you might think this is just an Axim x50v with Windows Mobile 5 installed. Well, for the most part it is, but read on for some interesting improvements to this award-winning Pocket PC.

The Axim X51v is Dell's top-of-the-line Pocket PC. It includes a 624MHz processor, an Intel 16MB graphics accelerator with OpenGL ES and JSR-184 support, and a 3.7 inch VGA screen. It's also got integrated WiFi and Bluetooth along with an SD card slot and a Compact Flash card slot. The only thing missing is a GSM/GPRS phone module. Oh, I almost forgot… the X51v includes an 256MB of ROM! Since this uses Windows Mobile 5, all of the applications and data are stored in ROM along with the operating system. The 64MB of RAM is only needed for running applications.

POCKETNOW VIDEO OF THE DAY

The size of the Axim X51v remains the same as the X50 which means it's still quite a nice form factor for something that packs in so much power.

Dell Axim X51v

4.70" x 2.90" x 0.70"

175 | 6.20

Dell Axim X50v

4.70" x 2.90" x 0.70"

175 | 6.20

Dell Axim X50 4.70" x 2.90" x 0.70" 167 | 5.90
Dell Axim X3i / X30 4.60" x 3.21" x 0.58"

138 | 4.80

i-mate JAM 4.18" x 2.31" x 0.68"

150 | 5.30

HP iPAQ hx4700 5.17" x 3.03" x 0.59" 187 | 6.60
HP iPAQ rx3715 4.50" x 2.80" x 0.64" 158 | 5.57
HP iPAQ rz1715 4.48" x 2.75" x 0.53" 120 | 4.23
HP iPAQ h6315 4.68" x 2.95" x 0.73" 190 | 6.70
HP iPAQ h2215 4.57" x 2.95" x 0.63" 142 | 5.01
HP iPAQ hx2755 4.71" x 3.01 " x 0.65" 164 | 5.80
HP iPAQ h5450 5.43" x 3.30" x 0.63" 206 | 7.26

Click on any of the above links to view our review of a handheld listed. The Axim X51v is FIPS-140-2-certified, which means it meets U.S. government security requirements for IT products. It's also the first lead-free product from Dell meaning it meets the EU Restriction on certain Hazardous Substances directive.

BOX CONTENTS

The Axim X51v box comes with the same components as the Axim x50v. In addition to the normal software CDs, documentation, and packaging materials (not shown), here's what you get:

The only way to tell the Axim X51v from the X50v, is the label printed just above the directional pad.

plug on the end that allows you to sync with a desktop computer. There's also an area for recharging a second battery just behind the docking area for the Axim x51v. In order for both to charge, you have to plug in the power cords though. It won't charge through the USB port. On the plus side the cradle has some significant heft to it, but you still can't remove the x51v without having to hold the cradle down with another hand.

You get an AC adapter that plugs into the cradle, plus an outlet plug that goes into the AC adapter. There's also a big proprietary power adapter that lets you charge the x51v without the cradle. You still have to carry around this huge amount of wires though if you're traveling.

The Axim x51v also comes with a nice little vinyl slip case.

Let's take a closer look at the Dell Axim X51v…

The Axim x51v still looks great in it clean design. You can see a new Device locking Today screen item along with the big-icons in the new Pocket MSN Today screen item.

The Axim x51v maintains the traditional 4 buttons and directional pad hardware interface on the front of the device. There are no new hardware buttons assigned to the softkeys in Windows Mobile 5. I promptly reassigned these buttons to function as the Left and Right softkeys, Start menu, and Ok/Close items.

At the bottom, you'll see the proprietary sync/charging port for the Axim x51v.

There's also a sliding locking switch for removing the battery cover on the back.

While the right side is flush and smooth rubber, on the left side, you see a lanyard loop hole, a device locking switch, a wireless radio enable/disable toggling button, and a voice record button. The wireless and voice recorder button are re-assignable, however, it's nice to have a button to press in order to quickly turn on or shut off both the Bluetooth and WiFi radios. The locking switch is turned on by default, which means after you charge up and turn on your device, it won't respond to anything until you unlock it via this switch.

At the top of the device, you'll see an infrared port, SD card slot, and CF slot along with a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. On the other side is the stylus slot.

STACKING UP In traditional pocketnow.com fashion, we like to stack PDAs on top of each other so you can see how their sizes compare. Here we go…

From bottom to top: Compaq iPAQ H3970, i-mate Pocket PC Phone (HTC Himalaya), Dell X51v, and i-mate JAM. The i-mate JAM is obviously still the smallest Pocket PC, but the Dell Axim X51v is still significantly smaller than the HTC Himalaya form factor.

THE DISPLAY

The 640×480 pixel VGA screen is the same as the Axim X50v. Since the X51v seems to be aimed at the gaming and media market, I decided to compare it to a PSP.

The Axim's screen seems to have a little less contrast than the excellent PSP screen. However it kept up with the video playback quality very nicely. The Axim is much much more pocketable than the PSP though. The real test will be when Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 is released for the Axim.

INTEGRATED SOFTWARE

First of all, the Axim X51v includes all of the software improvements of Windows Mobile 5. Some of the best features of Windows Mobile 5 are the increased one-handed usability, persistent storage support, and better low-power performance.

ActiveSync is also much improved and you can easily sync with multiple desktop computers in addition to one Exchange Server. You can still only sync email with one thing, but Contacts, Calendar, and Tasks can sync with both desktops and an Exchange Server. I don't have Exchange 2003 SP2 installed with the new features for Windows Mobile 5, so I wasn't able to test the automatic updating features.

Windows Mobile 5 also comes with a new (free) version of Pocket MSN. MSN Messenger has been engulfed here along with links to the Hotmail inbox account and MSN Mobile website.

A simple Data Backup utility is included in ROM. This is less likely to be necessary now that Windows Mobile 5 uses persistent storage and none of your data will disappear if your battery dies.

There's a Modem Link program that looks like this. I have no idea what it's supposed to do. I thought it might be similar to the "Wireless Modem" application on most HTC devices that allow you to connect a laptop to the PDA Phone for internet access, but the Axim X51v isn't a PDA Phone.

A "Mirror Mode" Control panel is added.

An alternate program manager application called "Home" is also included. This is just another way to organize and access your programs and settings.

You also get a "Switcher Bar" application which is launched (oddly) from the System Settings tab. It functions as a basic task switcher.

The Power Control panel has some interesting new options including a method for changing the processor speed performance automatically.

The "Power Button" tab gives you options for re-assigning the function of the Axim's power button. I'm not sure if anyone would use this, but it's nice to have options.

Here's the System Information Settings dialog just in case you didn't believe me when I said it has 256MB of ROM (we don't lie!).

Dell's WiFi utility is pretty simple to use with enough options for the demanding IT professional.

Windows Media Player 10.1 is a minor update that adds Windows Mobile 5 support along with a ratings capability. One thing they forgot to add was one-handed user-interface support. There's no way to access the on-screen GUI buttons, and there's no way to go "back" when trying to navigate the library (without tapping the screen). Anyway, it's still PlaysForSure compatible, meaning you can use DRM protected content from all of the online music and video stores except for iTunes. It can also sync your storage and memory cards with Media Center 2005 and Windows Media Player 10.

Along with Outlook and Activesync, the CD ROM that comes with the Axim X51v also includes a bunch of other 3rd party programs that you can install at your leisure. It's hard to tell, but some of them are full versions while others are only trial versions. I'll tell you right now though, there are two full version 3D games included that will really show off the graphics capabilities on the Axim X51v. So make sure you install "Toy Golf" and "Geo Rally 3D." The other full version programs you can install are: Dell Axim Self Diagnostic Utility, Resco Picture Viewer, and Battery Pack Lite.

THE GAMES

Now let's take a look at "Toy Golf" and "GeoRally"; the full games included on the X51v's CD.

Toy Golf is a very amusing game that simulates playing miniature golf on desktops or kitchen sinks. The graphics are great, and the 3 dimensional movement is very smooth. To view the video of Toy Golf, click the link below.

Toy Golf video (WMV 2MB)

GeoRally 3D is your average racing game. As you win more races you unlock other tracks and cars. The graphics are quite smooth, but not as fast or as detailed as PSP games. On the other hand, these are probably the best graphics you'll see on a Pocket PC. Click the link below to see the game in action.

GeoRally video (WMV 2.69MB)

OTHER SOFTWAREwith moving to a Pocket PC with Windows Mobile 5, especially in the early stages, many of your older software programs may not work properly with the new operating system. There are so many changes in Windows Mobile 5 that many applications will have to be updated to support it fully.

The Beta version of Skype 1.5 works okay, sometimes. Other times it won't launch at all. Also notice the lack of soft-key support at the bottom.

If software has issues on Windows Mobile 5, you could send an error report to Microsoft, as with Windows XP.

AOL Instant Messenger launches, but there's no way to log in. No menus, no pop-up login window… nothing!

Most GPS Navigation programs have not yet been updated to support Windows Mobile 5 and the new user interface. Most don't support Windows Mobile 5's new automatic GPS Management features either. You'll probably have to shut that off just to get a GPS Navigation program to work. As you can see here iGuidance has some interface issues, but will still function okay. If you have the Dell GPS Navigation system, you will be able to upgrade to their latest version of the Netropa software when it's available.

Dell Axim X51v Pocket PC September 20, 2005 Review by: Adam Z Lein, Senior Editor

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BENCHMARKS

chart of benchmark numbers comparing the X51v with a variety of other Pocket PCs using Spb Benchmark from Spb Software House. However, Spb Benchmark has not been updated for use with Windows Mobile 5, which includes many changes for increased performance and battery life. These changes make comparing Windows Mobile 5 benchmarks to Windows Mobile 2003SE benchmarks much less accurate. For that reason, we'll have to wait until there's a benchmarking program that can support Windows Mobile 5 and compare devices only to others with the same operating system. However, the ActiveSync data transfer test still works…

The Axim X51v has a huge advantage in the ActiveSync benchmarks.

BATTERY The battery life on the Axim X50v was one of the things that took some criticism. Luckily, the new Windows Mobile 5has done a lot for improving battery life, such as caching support for hard disks. We tested the battery on maximum backlight during video playback and it lasted for a full 3 hours and 16 minutes, an improvement of 39 minutes over the X50v, and just about enough for a cross-country (USA) flight.

documentation with this engineering sample, but the Axim X51v is so easy to use it's hardly necessary. Should you have any issues with the Dell Pocket PC, they offer 24×7 Service and Support with next business day Advanced Exchange Service and a CompleteCare Service is also available. So if you need some help from Dell, all you have to do is axe 'em, I mean "ask them."

One thing you really have to watch out for with these new Windows Mobile 5 devices is software incompatibilities. This isn't like before where if you installed something that didn't jive, you could just soft reset and remove it. Applications are installed into ROM nowadays, and if they're trying to run on start up when they cause the system to crash, you'll probably have to do a "reset to factory defaults" in order to get you device back into working order. By the way, with the Axim X51v, you can hold the power button and reset button down for a few seconds in order to start the "reset to factory defaults" process.

The Dell Axim X51v now uses the Microsoft Bluetooth stack instead of the Widcomm one. There's a lot of contrasting opinions about which is better, and the Microsoft one is improving quite quickly. However, in this version you still lack the Bluetooth networking profile. It's worth mentioning however that a Windows Mobile 5 update is planned for later in the year which will add support for the A2DP bluetooth profile. That means you'll be able to use wireless Bluetooth stereo headphones for audio.

I'd like to see more contrast and a wider viewing angle on the screen. If two people are trying to watch a movie in landscape orientation mode, they have to be sitting VERY close together in order to see it properly (in some situations that might be a good thing.) Also, the device does not come with any headphones. If it's going to be a more media-centric device, I should think it would come with some nice headphones like all the other portable media players do.

You've still got some old Windows Mobile related bugs, such as the inability to sync Draft email messages with IMAP or Exchange servers (or anything). Sent items in the inbox listing still show the sender (me) instead of the recipient. Sent items don't even get synced properly with Exchange 2003. Only certain messages show up there. Windows Media Player 10.1's Library is very difficult to navigate with only the directional pad. Everything else was updated to support one-handed usage, I would think Media Player would be one of the most important applications to get this feature.

It would also be nice if this type of device would include a built-in hard drive or multi-gigabyte storage area. Yes, 256Mb is more ROM storage than any other PDA before, but when are we going to see some Windows Mobile devices that can hold a media library collection that rivals the storage capacities of any iPod, or even the LifeDrive?

The Dell Axim X51v is available directly from the Dell website. The device comes in three models and three prices. Notice that the entry-level model gets a boost in ROM over the X50 entry-level (which had 64MB ROM). Here's the run down:

CategoryAxim X51vAxim X51 WiFiAxim X51 entry-level
Intel PXA270 processor 624MHz 520MHz 416MHz
Graphics solution Intel 2700G multimedia accelerator (16MB) Intel PXA270 processor with WMMX extensions Intel PXA270 processor with WMMX extensions
Display 3.7-inch VGA 3.5-inch QVGA 3.5-inch QVGA
Memory 256MB ROM / 64MB SDRAM 128MB ROM / 64MB SDRAM 128MB ROM / 64MB SDRAM
Wireless 802.11b WiFi & Bluetooth 1.2802.11b WiFi & Bluetooth 1.2Bluetooth 1.2
Prices$499$399$299

Pros

  • Beautiful VGA Screen {#beautiful-vga-screen}
  • 256MB Flash ROM {#mbflash-rom}
  • Fast processor speed
  • Dual expansion slots
  • Excellent graphics
  • Windows Mobile 5
  • Bluetooth & WiFi
  • Increased battery life vs. X50v

Cons

  • Be careful when installing older 3rd party programs
  • No phone built in
  • No Bluetooth Networking Profile
  • Still no hard drive or large increase in storage
  • Narrow viewing angle (landscape orientation)

The Dell Axim X51v is certainly targeting the type of users looking for a Pocket PC for playing games, watching movies, and listening to music, while still having premiere business and connectivity features. The Axim X51v has a huge amount of ROM area for installing games, music, even some GPS maps. Then you can put in another 2GB SD card for some more music, and maybe a 6GB Microdrive for some movies.

If you're still the kind of person that prefers a separate mobile phone and PDA, then the Dell X51v is top-of-the-line for you. Although only a modest improvement over the X50v, the X51 series extends on what makes its predecessor so popular: value, performance, and quality, and the X51/v delivers on all three fronts.

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