December 2003 - Dell gave existing Pocket
PC manufacturers a scare - and Pocket PC users
hope for truly lower Pocket PC prices - when the
Axim X5 Pocket PCs were announced at Comdex 2002.
A 300MHz XScale Pocket PC with a transreflective
TFT screen, CompactFlash and Secure Digital slots,
all for under $200?
Competing Pocket PC manufacturers
were wishing (and hoping) the quality of the
Axim would be as low as its price; they were wrong.
And, while other Pocket PC manufacturers have released
lower-priced models to compete with Dell, none
quite have the Axim's vast usability.
The Axim X5, which comes in two varieties, an "Entry"
300MHz and an "Advanced" 400MHz version,
is an excellent Pocket PC all around. We tested
the Axim Entry, the 300MHz version. The general
features of the Axim Entry include a 300MHz Intel
XScale processor, 32MB of RAM (used for storing
settings and additional programs/files), a 32MB
ROM, a 16-bit color transreflective TFT screen,
a Secure Digital (SD) memory slot, a CompactFlash
II slot, a removable Lithium-Ion battery, a replaceable
backup battery, an infrared port, and a headset
jack. The Axim Entry ships with a USB sync cable
and a small black carrying case.
The Axim Advanced differs from the Axim Entry in
that it has a 400MHz XScale processor, 64MB of RAM,
a 48MB ROM, and comes with a USB Cradle.
the box is the Axim Pocket PC, a Lithium-Ion battery,
a small CR3032 backup battery, a USB Sync cable,
a black case, an AC adapter, an installation CD-ROM,
and literature on the unit (the Axim Advanced ships
with a USB Cradle with an additional battery charging
bay, but Dell has elected to ship the Axim Entry
with a USB cable only). Setup is painless. You just
pop in the primary battery, install the backup battery,
and power on the unit. You are taken through the
customary setup procedure and - boom - done. Of
course, before using your Axim - or any other Pocket
PC - you should let it charge for a few hours; the
Dell literature recommends four hours for the Axim
prior to use.
The first thing about the Axim that strikes you
when you use it is how good it feels in your hand.
It's well designed to form to your hand and to be
used with only one hand. The unit also feels sturdy,
quite a difference from some Pocket PCs which feel
somewhat loose in their construction. The Axim is
solid. Some have opined that the Axim is too thick,
but side-to-side comparisons with other popular
Pocket PCs, like the iPAQ 3900, the T-Mobile Pocket
PC Phone, and others, show the difference in thickness
to be negligible. The Axim is noticeably thicker
than the Toshiba e330 and the iPAQ 1910, but other
than that, it's par for the course, and in any case,
it feels great in the hand.
On the sides of the unit are black rubber grips,
into which slots, buttons, and jogs are set. Even
the reset button lies hidden beneath the grips.
One feature of the Axim that is sometimes complained
about is possibly its most convenient feature; this
is its unusual jog-wheel. The jog-wheel, or "scroll
dial" as Dell calls it, allows you to move
up and down on a page or within a menu, and select
menu items, all while holding the unit with one
hand - there's nothing new there - but, the Axim's
jog-wheel is in more of a toggle-form, with a small
nib sticking out to give your thumb or index finger
better traction when scrolling. This is in contrast
to other Pocket PCs' jog-wheels which are more like
a volume dial on a walkman. It's a very nice feature.
On the front of the unit are four "hardware
buttons" that activate linked software on the
unit. The customary contacts, calendar, and e-mail
buttons appear, but the Axim also features a button
that is preprogrammed to activate Dell's Home utility,
which will be discussed later. The function of each
of these buttons can be changed if the user wishes.
The speaker is also situated on the lower part of
the Axim's face. This speaker, as with most other
Pocket PCs, leaves much to be desired; but the shortcomings
of the speaker are more than made up for by the
onboard sound quality when you have headphones or
earbuds plugged into the unit. If you want to listen
to MP3 or WMA audio files, the Axim's sound is excellent
- as good as any currently available on a PDA. The
"Navigator Button" is large and very easy
to use. Whether used for gameplay or scrolling,
it's easy to move, comfortable, and large enough
to make navigation and selection effortless.
The Axim's screen is beautiful. The screen is of
the new transreflective variety, sometimes called
transflective, which takes the best aspects of reflective
and transmissive LCDs, respectively, and merges
them for a truly new standard in handheld display.
Blacks look black, not washed-out gray, and pictures
appear crisp and clear. The Axim's transreflective
screen isn't nearly as bright as those of a few
other Pocket PCs, namely the iPAQ 3900 and 5400
series units, but it's useable and clear. Even at
low backlight levels, it's quite readable in any
light. And, of course, the screen's reflective properties
make it perfectly viewable in sunlight.
The expansion capabilities of the Axim are among
the best available today. Both Axim models have
a CompactFlash Type II slot and an SD/MMC slot onboard
- no expansion packs, no extra bulk. And while the
SD slot is not compatible with SDIO peripherals,
one can always use CompactFlash peripherals (which
are more abundant and less expensive - at least
for now) while saving the SD slot for memory expansion.
Though Dell made up for the lack of SDIO with its
inclusion of a CompactFlash slot, SDIO would have
taken the unit that next step to total expansion
can set the Axim's speed to two levels of performance.
This can be done manually, or you can select "Auto"
within the XScale utility, allowing the XScale's
speed to be stepped up for more demanding tasks
or stepped down to save power when speed and performance
are not key. In "Power Save" mode (which
steps the processor down to 200MHz) the unit is
still quite responsive to commands for most tasks:
menus and applications open quickly. In "Normal"
mode (which steps the processor up to 300MHz) there
is a slight increase in menu and application speed,
and multiple programs run better than at "Power
Because the Axim Entry only has 32MB of RAM, an
expansion card is needed if you plan to install
many programs or add video or music (The Axim Advanced
as 64MB of RAM). Expansion card folders are added
in File Explorer as "SD Card" and "CF
Card" which is great if you're using both at
the same time. Data transfer times were standard,
with large files moving from RAM to storage card
and from storage card to RAM about as quickly as
would be expected.
Battery life is a definite plus with the Axim. Using
the iPAQ 5450 and Axim for the same period of time,
the Axim drops to 78% power while the iPAQ drops
to 64%. With WMAs playing and the backlight off,
the Axim played for over six hours. Of course, keeping
the backlight down and the processor set to "Power
Save" can increase the battery life of the
Axim. And, since the Axim's battery is removable,
if the included battery begins to hold less of a
charge a year or two down the road, you can easily
The IR port on the Axim is not powerful enough to
be used as a remote control, even though many remote
control software titles will run on the Axim. The
effective distance for the IR port is about three
to four feet, so don't plan on any across-the-room
"remotecontrolling," but if the Axim is
otherwise for you, there are alternatives that will
work with any Pocket PC.
Axim ships with Microsoft's EUU3 updated Pocket
PC 2002 Operating System featuring all of the standard
applications, but Dell has added a few software
selections and tweaks to give you a more unique
experience. The Home utility provides you with an
icon-based launchpad for all of the applications
on the unit. You can create and name customized
launch menus, add new application shortcuts, and
more. The Home utility can also be launched from
its own button on the front of the Axim.
A sub-tab of the Power control utility lets you
set the XScale's speed, the details of which were
mentioned previously. This is a useful feature left
off of some competitors' XScale Pocket PCs.
Perhaps the best software add-on from Dell is the
Switcher Bar. Much like the task switcher tools
from older Windows CE 2.0 Palm-size PCs, the Switcher
Bar resides on the top toolbar to the right of the
Start icon. With it, you can quickly switch between
running applications, terminate selected programs,
or terminate all running programs with a single
click. It also gives you one-click access to the
screen's brightness settings, and gives you a link
to power settings.