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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Fast-Broadband-Internet on a Pocket PC!

Fast-Broadband-Internet on a Pocket PC!

Verizon's new XV6600 Phone Edition device sports a slide-down thumb keyboard and supports Verizon's high-speed EVDO network.

By Rich Hall and David Ciccone
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Verizon XV6600

I recently read a news announcement on that got me excited. It said that Cingular, Sprint, and Verizon were going to carry branded version of the "Blue Angel," the hot new Windows Mobile Phone Edition device from the Taiwanese manufacturer HTC.

The relationship between HTC and the Windows Mobile end user is a little complicated. HTC designs and manufacturers devices for Siemens, Audiovox, HP, and other companies. These companies may market the device directly to the end user, but in the case of Pocket PCs with phone capability, they usually work out a deal with a wireless carrier and have the carrier market and support the device. In the case of this device, Sprint and Cingular will market the Siemens version of the Blue Angel-the SX66. Verizon will market the Audiovox version-the XV6600. Other than the branding, these are nearly identical devices. However, there is one important difference. Verizon's XV6600 supports Verizon's new EVDO data network. That was a deciding factor for me so I took the plunge and joined Verizon.

Verizon BroadbandAccess based on EVDO

Verizon Wireless BroadbandAccess is one of the fastest, fully mobile wireless Internet data solutions available. Based on the EVDO (Evolution-Data Optimized) standard for CDMA phone networks, it will increase data rates for CDMA phones to as high as 2 megabits per second. Typical speeds are more on the order of 400-700 kbps-still plenty fast. Currently Verizon is offering BroadbandAccess service in the US to more than 75 million people in 35 cities, plus 24 major airports. Verizon plans to expand service in the US to 150 million people by the end of 2005. For more information on BroadbandAccess, visit Verizon's Web site (http://www.verizonwireless.c...).

The Verizon XV6600 is capable of accessing Verizon's BroadbandAccess data network as well as the slower but more widely available NationalAccess network. The XV6600 is priced at $549 with a two year contract and $599 with a one year contract. The plans are decent but not as cheap as some of Verizon's competitors. As I mentioned, however, the big deciding factor for me was the BroadbandAccess service bundled with the XV6600 for only $44.95 per month. If you want data speeds similar to Wi-Fi, (and even home broadband Internet connections like DSL and cable), the XV6600's BroadbandAccess is definitely for you!

Tip: Using XV660 as an EVDO modem for a laptop PC

The $44.95 BroadbandAccess plan is available for the XV6600 but not for laptop PCs. If you want BroadbandAccess for your laptop, you'll have to purchase an EVDO card and pay $79.95 a month for the service. Verizon does not support using the XV6600 as a wireless modem for another device. However, instructions on how to do it and the necessary software are available online from independent sources such as

What's in the box?

The Verizon XV6600 is powered by a 400MHZ Intel PXA263 processor and is equipped with 128MB of RAM and 64 MB of flash ROM. It incorporates digital 800/1900 MHz CDMA phone technology, as well as IrDA and Bluetooth wireless capability. It has a clear 3.5" diagonal QVGA 64K color transflective touch screen and an SDIO-compatible expansion slot that allows you to add storage memory and peripheral devices. Sorry, no Wi-Fi. But with BroadbandAccess speeds up to 750kps and beyond, you don't need it in the coverage areas, and if you want to add it, you've got the expansion slot. Versions of the XV6600 with or without an integrated digital camera are available. I tested the one without a camera.

The unit ships with a charging/synchronization cradle: it has an extra slot for charging a spare battery. Also included is a wall power adapter, a nice stereo phone headset, an extra stylus, and a Companion CD with a more detailed manual in PDF format and additional software. It ships with a leather pouch case similar to the one that came with the older 36/3700series iPAQ's. It also comes with Verizon's Manual for Wireless Sync, which also shows you how to check your voicemail and minutes used, and lists emergency numbers. One great feature: Verizon placed a removable plastic adhesive on the screen that directs the new user to dial *228 to program their phone. Dialing this number downloads the latest roaming database and any software upgrades needed. What an easy and great feature!

Stylish and functional design

The XV6600 has a stylish and functional slip-down QWERTY thumb keyboard (Fig. 1). The keyboard is responsive and the keys are easy to press. It even comes with a special Pocket Internet Explorer key to launch the browser. All the keys on the keyboard are backlit with blue light, which is bright enough to allow use in very dark places (Fig. 2). In addition, the XV6600 has a full set of four application launch buttons above the navigation pad, as well as the Call and End flanking the pad. By default, the application buttons launch Calendar, Contacts, Internet Explorer, and Internet e-mail. As with other Pocket PCs, these can be reassigned to launch other applications. The thumb keyboard is very easy to use, but I have not had the device for very long, and therefore can't comment on how durable it is over the long haul. You might consider purchasing the insurance Verizon offers for $4.99 per month.

Unlike Windows Mobile Smartphones, which are designed for single hand operations, Pocket PC devices rely mostly on the touch screen for data entry and device control. However, given the fact that the XV6600 has Call and End keys, a thumb keyboard, and application launch buttons that can be reassigned, you'll probably be able to use this without the stylus in some cases.

Better get a spare battery

The battery life on this unit definitely needs some improvement. I used this device hard each day and noticed I was at 50% power in no time. Verizon says the unit should have an estimated battery life of 3.6 hours talk and 6 days of standby, but manufacturer estimates tend to be based on best-case scenarios. If you intend on using the device a lot, you should invest in a spare battery ($59.94) and car charger kit ($24.95).

Built-in software from Microsoft and Verizon

The device is based on Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition software for the Pocket PC Phone Edition. This suite includes the Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition OS and "Pocket" versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, and Windows Media Player. In addition, it includes a Phone Dialer to interface with the phone technology, a variety of configuration utilities, and a few other apps. A user-installable version of Microsoft's desktop PC synchronization program ActiveSync is found on the Companion CD.

In addition to the standard software from Microsoft, Verizon included a sparse set of add-ons with the device, including a digital photo album and a backup/restore utility. In addition, the XV6600 comes with Wireless Sync, a "push" e-mail technology that lets you receive e-mails and real time calendar updates automatically. Wireless sync checks for new e-mail (and retrieves any new ones) every 15 minutes. The user also has the option of checking e-mail manually if they aren't sure they received all their e-mail. Wireless Sync is built into the unit, but to use it you have to register your phone on the Verizon Web site (http://www.wirelesssync.vzw....).

Fig. 3: Verizon's Wireless Sync service gives you 164 MB of online storage.

The service will also work with Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes-a huge plus for corporate users. Each user has almost 164 MB of storage space on Verizon's server (Fig. 3). Compare that to the 10 MB I had available for my Blackberry on the T-Mobile or Nextel servers-another plus for the corporate user!

Broadband access in a sexy package

Verizon could have included Microsoft Voice Command with the device for hands-free operation, and I'd love to see Pocket Informant ( bundled with the device to provide an alternative to the Outlook interface. In addition, I had some problems pairing my Bluetooth headset with the XV6600 (which I hear will be addressed in the next software update). However, these are relatively minor complaints.

Overall, I love this device: it's fast, it's sexy, and it gets the job done. It's also a bit of an attention getter. I continue to hear comments and questions about the device from people walking by. If you want fast Internet access from a phone and have Verizon's BroadbandAccess available in your area, you may want to take a closer look at the Verizon XV6600. It's available directly from Verizon Wireless (http://www.verizonwireless.c...).


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