Mike Langberg Knight Ridder Newspapers
December 31, 2002
Dell Computer has made a brilliant debut in the crowded field of
personal digital assistants with its fully featured and very
affordable Axim X5 running Microsoft's PocketPC software.
The Axim is such a good deal that it changes my world view: I'm
now prepared, for the first time, to recommend first-time PDA buyers
consider PocketPC as a reasonable alternative to the well-
established Palm software.
Introduced in late November, the Axim is sold only through Dell's
Web site (www.dell.com/axim) and toll-free phone line at (800) 999-
3355. There are two models - a basic configuration at $199 ($249 up
front with a $50 mail-in rebate) and an enhanced configuration at
$299 ($349 up front with a $50 mail-in rebate).
What makes me so excited about Axim is the wide array of features
delivered at half the price rival PocketPC makers were charging just
a few months ago.
The color-screen Axim does the familiar PDA chores of storing
phone numbers, appointments and to-do lists, but it can also play
MP3 music files and even short videos as well as running scaled-
down versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook.
And there's a Compact Flash memory-card slot for networking.
Connect a CF modem card, wireless card or Ethernet card and Axim
will fetch electronic mail, display Web pages and play Internet
The makers of Palm-compatible PDAs - including Palm, Handspring
and Sony - charge at least twice as much for models with a similar
breadth of features.
Nor is Axim ahead of its time, a complaint I've had with previous
PocketPC PDAs. Fast Intel processors perform commands in a snap, so
there's no waiting as you move through applications on the Axim.
Earlier PocketPCs had much slower processors that bogged down under
the weight of Microsoft's complex software.
Dell shook up the PDA market even before Axim was officially
unveiled on Nov. 18; details, including the low price, leaked out
several months in advance. The predictable result was price-cutting
by competitors ahead of Dell's arrival.
The color-screen Palm m130 (www.palm.com), introduced in March at
$279, is now down to $199 after rebate. Sony is offering the color-
screen Clie PEG-SJ30 (www.sony.com/ clie) at $249 and Handspring has
the Treo 90 (www.handspring.com) at $299.
Rival PocketPC makers have also rolled out their first $299 color-
screen models, including the Hewlett-Packard iPaq h1910 (www .hp.com/
jornada), the Toshiba PocketPC e330 (www.csd. toshiba.com) and the
Viewsonic V35 (www. viewsonic.com).
This shift to affordable color screens is more than a cosmetic
improvement. After years of using monochrome Palm PDAs, I switched
to a color Sony Clie earlier this year and I never want to go back.
Back-lit color screens are much easier on the eyes, with heightened
contrast that greatly improves the visibility of tiny text.
I remain a big fan of Palm's software. For ease of use and fast
response, PDAs running the Palm operating system continue to
outperform PocketPC, especially at basic tasks such as calendar and
The Palm side of the PDA divide also continues to offer the
lowest entry price for buyers on a budget, with the monochrome Palm
Zire at $99 and the monochrome Sony Clie PEG-SL10 at $149.
I never recommended PocketPC before because PDAs running the
software were so expensive and slow.
Now that Dell has removed those objections, I regard PocketPC as
a worthy contender - especially for those who want to work with Word
or Excel documents, or who run their lives entirely through
All PocketPCs are designed to synchronize with Outlook, so any
data you enter in Outlook on your computer automatically flows to
your PDA, and vice versa.
I borrowed the $199 Axim and found just about every facet shined.
The color screen, 21/8 inches wide by 3 inches high, is among the
brightest and sharpest I've seen in a PDA. There is a built-in
microphone for voice recording. Music playback through headphones
sounds almost as good as from a full computer. The Axim weighs 7
ounces, a middle-weight ranking for a PDA and very reasonable given
the unit has a removable rechargeable battery and Secure Digital
memory-card slot as well as the CF slot.
Differences between the two configurations are minor.
The $199 model offers a 300-megahertz Intel X-Scale processor, 32
megabytes of read-only memory for storing programs and files, 32
megabytes of random-access memory for running applications and a USB
The $299 model bumps up to a 400-megahertz X-Scale processor, 48
megabytes of ROM, 64 megabytes of RAM and a cradle for connecting
These features smoke the competition; competing $299 PocketPC
models have slower processors and no CF slot.
I also borrowed a wireless networking CF card from Socket
Communications (www.socketcom.com) that sells for about $150 and got
a fast Internet connection on the Axim through Wi-Fi, or 802.11b,
wireless networks in both my home and office.
I could browse the Web with the PocketPC version of Internet
Explorer, although some pages wouldn't load because the PocketPC
doesn't support all Web formats, and used the PocketPC version of
Windows Media Player to view short videos and listen to Internet
The total cost for the Axim and Socket card would be $350, at
least $200 less than competing wireless PDA packages.
That's a great deal, another reason why I see the Axim as a
breakthrough product for both Dell and the PocketPC platform.
(C) 2002 Sunday Gazette-Mail. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved
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