Dell is living through tough times in its history. Since last year

capitalization had dropped by more than 40%, because of relatively low

sales growth of PC (the basis of Dellís business). In this conditions

Dellís management has to undertake unusual steps. Well, recently Dell

has announced the cooperation with AMD, the fact encouraged Dell shares

at once. This was just the first step. The company sees the traditional

PDA market as an optional direction, not a priority. Handheld computers

by Dell can be developed under several scenarios. The first scenario Ė

the company sees no prospects on the PDA market and leaves it to spare

costs. As a matter of fact, in April there were heated discussions and

rumors in the Internet about Dell leaving the PDA market (discussions

were activated by the message from pdalive.com). The second scenario Ė

the company switches to communicators and smartphones from traditional

PDAs. We think this is more realistic scenario in conditions when the

management undertakes great steps to restore capitalization. The third

scenario Ė the company keeps on releasing traditional PDAs. This is the

least possible way, we think. Remember, the model line hasnít been

updated more than 1.5 years (Dell Axim X50 was released in October

2004). Today we tell you about the device, which is an update of the

old handheld, but not a complete substitute.

Before we pass to the review, weíd mark distinctive features of the new

model. Design and appearance havenít been changed, except for new ď1Ē

on the shell. As for the hardware, Dell X51v is equipped with a new

flash-memory module with twice as much capacity. Main changes concern

software: new Windows Mobile version, replaced Bluetooth drivers.

Thatís all for the changes. As Dell X50v and Dell X51v are almost the

twins, we resume many parts of the Dell X50v review.

Dell started its history on the PDA market with the model Dell Axim X5,

which became the bestseller due to the low price and acceptable

functionality, even despite of the large size of the device. In many

respects this very model made many PDA makers to lower prices. Then

there appear a single-slot wireless solution Dell Axim X3, later on -

Dell Axim X30. They also played the role in the pricing, however a less

significant one compared with Dell Axim X5.




When Pocket PC with VGA-screens came to the market, the prices for Hi-

End Pocket PC soared by $150-200. It seemed that the prices of the past

came back. With the appearance of the X50 Dell hit prices on Pocket PC

making other manufacturers adjust their offer. As the price dumping was

limited by the US market, vendors lowered prices though, but slightly

and very slowly. In Europe main competitive devices were offered at

comparable prices.

Before the market entrance Dell had been looking long for a contractor,

which could make large amount of PDA at ultra low costs. Eventually

they found the Taiwanese company Wistron. Later Dell refused Wistron

services, Dell X50/X1 are produced by the other company, the Taiwanese

HTC.




Currently the situation is the same, almost all ďtopĒ Pocket PC models

are made by HTC (except for Acer n300).

The Dell Axim X51 series consists of three handhelds. The X51v; Dell

X51 520 MHz Ėwith a QVGA-LCD, lower clock rate, lower price, less

internal memory size; Dell X51 416 MHz Ė more lower price, lower clock

rate, the lack of the Wi-Fi module. The mid and junior modifications

belong to mid-range class, they rival with HP iPaq hx2000 series, this

is the only direct competitor. These models will be interesting for

those who need PDA functionality and do not care much about screen

resolution and Wi-Fi module.

The design of the handheld is good looking, the shell is streamline and

smooth, with rounded edges and corners, it resembles HP iPaq 4150. The

shell combines many colors and materials. The back panel smoothly

spilling over into the side ends is made of uneven black plastic, which

is pleasant to touch. Due to the material involved and rounded edges

the devices fits the hand, it doesnít slide, the assembly quality is

high, there is no backlash. The panels above and below the screen are

made of glossy black plastic, they become stained with fingerprints,

but not very much. The canting of the front panel is smooth silver

plastic. In all, the ergonomics is at high level, itís pleasant to work

with the device. Taking into account ergonomics and design we consider

Dell X51v the best model by Dell and one of the best Pocket PCs, it has

dimensions comparable with Acer n311 (among VGA Pocket PCs only):

Toshiba e800/e830: 134.6x76.2x15.2 mm, 192 g
HP iPaq 4700: 131x77x14.9 mm, 186.7 g
FS Pocket LOOX 720: 122x72x15.2 mm, 170 g
Asus A730: 117.5x72.8x16.9 mm, 170 g
Dell X50v: 119x73x16.9 mm, 175 g
HP iPaq 4150: 113.6x70.6x13.5 mm, 133 g
Acer n311: 110x70x13.7 mm, 135 g





We started our tests and noticed at once the first shortcoming - with

the joystick and application buttons. They have no delay when pressed

like in FS Pocket LOOX 720 (this problem in the LOOX was solved by an

exterior utility), but they are too small, so they arenít good while

playing arcade games, which involve application buttons. If you place

your thumb at the joystick and the other thumb at the button nearby,

they will catch each other and interfere, besides you can accidentally

push the action button located in the middle of the joystick. However

you can get accustomed to it. Naturally I had no problems with the

control buttons in ordinary applications.




On the left there are a hole for the wrist strap, a hold slider to

block buttons, a voice recorder button and a Wi-Fi button. You can

reassign all the buttons, however just for a single action or

application, strange, with standard means itís impossible to program

several functions for a button (only with exterior utilities).

On the top you find two expansion slots, IrDA port, standard audio jack

(with a wire or wireless headset itís possible to use the PDA as the

IP-phone). The sound in the headphones turned to be not that loud as in

HP iPaq hx4700, subjectively itís a little bit worse, more flat,

however you can level it out with some equalizer settings.

Above the screen a power button is located, it also serves as a battery

indicator (constantly glowing orange when the battery is almost drained

out). To the top right is a wireless networking indicator. To the left

Ė a microphone (a hole with the microphone icon). The recording quality

of the microphone is average, worse than in FS Pocket LOOX 720, but

comparable with Asus A730.




At the bottom there is only a synchronization connector, so you can

plug a docking station or a synchronization cable. There are two ways

to charge the device: directly or via the docking station, thatís

become standard. The back panel hides the battery compartment and the

reset button.

Some words about the cradle, itís an ordinary one, black color, nothing

special. However it has a slot to charge a spare battery.

Like almost all new handhelds this PDA lacks the camera. We can assert

the built-in camera proved to be unviable in PDA.

Screen
New ďtopĒ Pocket PC models stand out with 640x480 pixel screens. As it

was forecasted handheld computers with such screens become gradually

common feature. In quality the screen of Dell X50v is comparable with

that of Acer n311, Asus A730. The diagonal is 3.7Ē long (56x75 mm).

There is no wonder, both of them are produced by Sharp under CG-Silicon

technology. As for viewing angles, color rendering the Dell screen

loses to FS Pocket LOOX C550/N560, HP iPaq hx4700. The lowest backlight

level is sufficient to work with the handheld in the dark, however it

lags behind HP iPaq hx4700 greatly. The screen displays 65K colors. In

all, the quality of the screen is at a good average level.

Battery life
The PDA carries a Li-Ion 1100 mAh battery onboard. This is the minimal

figure compared to the rivals. Remember that Dell X50v suffered from

short battery life. Due to new memory organization in Windows Mobile

5.0 battery life has increased and doesnít seem a serious flaw against

its competitors.




Under the maximum load (the highest backlight level and clock rate,

video playback) the PDA worked for 1 hour 55 minutes. In the read mode

(the second backlight level, the lowest clock rate) Dell X51v lasted

for 10 hours 10 minutes. In the MP3-player mode (the screen off, the

lowest clock rate, playback from the storage card) the device was good

for 9 hours 25 minutes, much longer compared to Dell X50v. Itís

possible to double battery life, if you buy an extra battery capacious

of 2200 mAh. Iíd note there are batteries with even higher capacity.

Iíd also mark a good optimization for Wi-Fi work Ė after 3 hours of

listening to the Internet-radio connected via a hot spot (the screen

off, the lowest clock rate) the battery drained to 50%.

Interface
Top Pocket PC models feature the following: a dual extension slot Ė

Compact Flash Type II and SD/MMC (SDIO), two wireless adapters Ė Wi-Fi

and Bluetooth, a VGA-screen. Gradually the above-mentioned wireless

adapters have become typical not only for top models, but also for mid

-range and low-end handhelds. Step by step we pay less attention to

them, as they become the integral part like the infrared port (though

there appear models without an infrared port). You might have noticed

we havenít mentioned GPS- and 3G/GSM-modules, with them a PDA belongs

to another category.

The situation with extension slots is more difficult. All handheld

computers can be divided into single slot (respectively small

dimensions, a single SD/MMC slot) and dual slot (larger dimensions,

SD/MMC and CF slots) devices. Before the appearance of Acer n311 high-

end Pocket PCs have belonged to the dual slot category.

What kind of peculiarities we can face with dealing with interfaces,

and should we focus on them? Weíll try to find out it in brief.

Compact Flash Type II. Customary it is marked CF. Frankly speaking CF

slot has two options Ė either there is one or there is none. Dell Axim

X5 had the problem Ė its slot was too deep inside, so some CF

peripherals simply didnít reach the contacts. Dell X50v/ X51v donít

suffer from it. Officially Dell X50v/X51v donít support Microdrive

cards (with the voltage Ė 3.3v, instead of 5v required by the hard disk

drive), but they still do work. However there are some problems (they

work slowly and not always). Usually CF slot is the criterion to buy in

the following cases: cheap memory of large size, a digital camera with

CF slot, the need to copy large-size info from one card to another,

rarely Ė the need of the simultaneous use of CF slot for peripherals

and SD for memory (for example, for GPS).

Secure Digital/ MultiMedia Card (SD/MMC). For a long time there have

been 4GB cards of this format on the market, and soon weíll see 8GB

cards. The slot supports SDIO (SD Input/Out), i.e. you can plug

peripheral devices. Dell X50v comes with SDIO support, but I think the

slot is located too deep inside. This means there might be problems

like in Dell X5 with CF slot Ė some peripherals wonít access the

contacts, however we didnít face with this problem. In all, following

the appearance of larger-size SD cards, price cuts and emergence of

non-expensive SDIO-equipment, CF slot will be less popular. Many Pocket

PC users postpone the purchase of a new VGA PDA expecting a single-slot

handheld with smaller dimensions.

USB, Serial. Theoretically all new PDA support USB-host (the

opportunity to plug other devices, for example, a keyboard or a HDD-USB

drive) at the plate level (processor, graphical accelerator), but not

all models have a host led to the connector contacts. In this aspect

Dell X51v doesnít support USB-host, but it can be charged via USB (when

the PDA is off) like other VGA Pocket PC (Asus A730, HP iPaq hx4700).

New Dell model supports TTL Serial (not complete RS232). With Card

Export II program you can use the handheld as a card-reader, copy files

without installing Active Sync.

IrDA. An infrared port can differ in speed: Slow Infrared (SIR, 115

kbps), Fast Infrared (FIR, 4 mbps). There is also Consumer Infrared

(CIR) that features long distance effect, it can control remotely home

appliances. We won't go into details, just tell you that there is no

PDA with full CIR support, only SIR or FIR with different signal power.

That's why you can use them as a remote control, the maximum active

distance varies from 20-30 cm to 10 m depending on the chip. The Dell

handheld works at some 4-5 m distance as a remote control. The IrDA

window is conveniently located to operate home appliances.

Bluetooth. The devices supporting Bluetooth 2.0 standard are already

available, however we still have to be satisfied with Bluetooth 1.1 and

Bluetooth 1.2 in the PDA. As for the software for Bluetooth, the

manufacturer has two ways. It can license Broadcom software or use

Bluetooth support integrated into WM 5.0. Alas, manufacturers gradually

switch from Broadcom drivers to built-in stack, which affects

functionality. Unlike Dell X50v Dell X51v has built-in drivers. Iíd

note that some skilled specialists adjusted Broadcom stack to Dell

X51v, which works not bad, however such modifications arenít official

or legal.

Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b). Dell X51v supports 802.11b standard. At the

moment PDAs supporting g version are already available. Donít treat it

as a shortcoming. Is there the need for such speed? Ė The matter is

being discussed, but manufacturers gradually cut production of b

chipsets shifting to g ones (this relates first of to the hot spots,

different adapters for PC and notebooks). Thus, sooner or later PDAs

will be switched to g, as it is dually compatible with b. Dell X51v has

good sensitivity of a Wi-Fi signal, and it supports Wi-Fi Protected

Access (WPA) security standard, which is considered to be safe compared

to vulnerable WEP standard. You can use the handheld as the IP-phone

talking on it by wire (the standard 2.5 mm headset with the 2.5-3.5 mm

adapter, not included in the standard kit) or wireless means.

With additional adapter (it costs about $50) itís possible to display

the picture on an external LCD and a 1024x768 pixels projector. The

Presentation Bundle also contains ClearVue package ??? view PDF

documents and MS Office files. Itís a great advantage, if you want to

make mobile presentations.

Well, weíve done with the story about interfaces.

Specs, productivity
There is 49.47 MB RAM available to the user (against 61.78 MB in Dell

X50v). Thatís enough to cope with almost any task for PDA. You should

install programs to the storage card or to flash-memory, 195 MB of

which is available to the user. Larger built-in flash memory size is

one of the main distinctions in the new PDA.

The CPU is Intel XScale PXA270 624 MHz processor, the same as in HP

iPaq hx4700 (FS and Asus have other modification - PXA272 with the

highest standard clock rate - 520 MHz). The PXA270 processor differs

from the PXA272 in higher clock rate and it lacks Intel StrataFlash.

Weíll talk in details about productivity in our comparative review of

Hi-End Pocket PC. Here letís speak about built-in accelerator 2700G.

Dell X50v was the first handheld with the integrated accelerator 2700G,

it seemed to become the mass one. However that didnít happen. Till now

this accelerator is built in only in the X50v/X51v among PDAs.

Since the beginning this graphical accelerator had a difficult destiny

Ė the Dell model showed minimum performance in synthetic tests. In non

-optimized video players too (till the release of the handheld) the

situation wasnít better. Naturally everybody was surprised and

disappointed.

Well, to the scene comes Intel, which explains results by synthetic

test packages (see the full test here). The essence is that, currently

applications (including graphical test packages) and games do not use

high-level API (Application programming interface) such as GDI , OpenGL

ES and Direct3D Mobile, so you have to optimize applications to a

certain hardware (ATI Imageon, Intel 2700G). That means, soon before

the switch to high-level API applications and games will be divided

into two camps: one will support graphical accelerators and the other

won't. This process is familiar to the computer industry, remember

first graphical accelerators for PC, when games were specially adapted

to 3Dfx. The same way will follow handheld computers, probably the

process will take less time, but not an instant. Alas, though the

process went on, the general situation hasnít changed much.

Three games optimized to Intel 2700G, optionally supplied with Dell

X51v. The impression was like the first meeting with 3Dfx many years

ago: quick, beautiful, uncustomary. Even the graphics level is almost

the same, as long ago with 3D acceleration on home PC.



Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. Itís the port of the popular 3D game about

skateboarding.



Stuntcar Extreme. Itís an extreme 3D race. Along with graphics the

game stands out for the multi-player support via Wi-Fi. You can operate

your car with the joystick and the touch-screen.





Enigmo. This is a pseudo 3D nice quiz in the style if the old The

Incredible Machine. Using different tools you have to deliver jumping

balls from one vessel to another. Itís possible to build custom levels.

The game is nice and fascinating.

Beside these 3 games there arenít many games optimized to 2700G:

optimized PocketSNES emulator (the way to plenty of SNES games), 3D

Chopper Fight, GeoRally EX, Quake Mobile 1.2, Quake 3, space shooter

Solterra. Thatís all, I hope I havenít missed anything. We can add Cube

too, but this is a 3D engine, not a full featured game.

Hardware acceleration is supported by 2 program video players.

TCPMP. The best media player has got the support of Intel 2700G almost

right after the release of Dell X50v. It revealed its potential at

once, outpacing in speed ATI accelerator integrated to HP iPaq hx4700,

which used to be the leader with video playback speed. To say the

truth, the speed higher than 120% at the heaviest clip is excessive.

The major advantage isnít related to video processing speed (CPU

without the graphical accelerator can ensure the normal video

playback), but to the fact that itís possible to lower CPU speed by

shifting video decoding to the graphical accelerator and thus increase

battery life of the device.

Hardware video decoding also supports Windows Media Player 10.

2700G accelerator wonít become the standard and soon be replaced by the

new generation of accelerators. It turns out that we have the minimal

set of adjusted games, they are good to demonstrate opportunities. The

users oriented at video and games will choose better Sony PSP than the

Dell handheld.

Software
The PDA is powered by Windows Mobile 5.0. You can read about it in the

respective review on our site. Remember, the main changes in the new OS

are focused on better work of Windows Mobile communicators, there are

little improvements for an ordinary PDA Ė new organization of memory

(the data wonít be lost at the strong discharge), improved Mobile

Office. The set of preinstalled programs remained the same, the poor

one.

Impression
Dell X51v is an update of the previous model. Main changes are double

flash-memory capacity, new Windows Mobile version, replaced Bluetooth

drivers. Positively, battery life got longer due to new memory

organization in WM 5.0. In other aspects we have the familiar Dell

X50v.




This time Dell hasnít initiated a price revolution, the device costs

$500 without discount in the US. The situation is witness in Europe,

the current price in Moscow varies from $470 to $500. Taking into

account the price/quality ratio Acer n311 looks more attractive, youíd

better choose the Dell model, if you need high productivity in video

and games and work with Wi-Fi much.

Earlier we highlighted short battery life as the main shortcoming, and

now it is the high price ($500 greatly exceeds the price of Acer n311

and the new HP iPaq hx4700).


Description:
Class: Hi-End;
Position in the line: above Dell Axim X50v;
Rival modes: Acer n311, FS Pocket LOOX C550;
Operating system: Windows Mobile 5.0 for Pocket PC;
Processor: Intel XScale PXA270 624 MHz;
Graphical accelerator: Intel 2700G;
RAM: 64 MB (49.47 MB available to the user);
ROM (to store files and settings): 195.01 MB;
Connectivity: SD/MMC-slot (SDIO), Compact Flash Type II, IrDA (Consumer

infrared? SIR), Bluetooth 1.2, IEEE802.11b (Wi-Fi, chip maker Ė Texas

Instruments), USB for synchronization;
LCD: 3.7Ē (active zone: 56x75 mm), 640x480 pixels, 65K colors;
Battery: removable Li-Ion, 1100 mAh;
Dimensions: 119x73x16.9 mm;
Weight: 175 g.