By Justin Ried, Tue May 14 00:00:00 GMT 2002

Classy design and smart software merge.

The XDA wraps super-smart software inside a super-sexy body. The result is stunning.

British Telecom's young spin-off, mmO2, is the first to release its own branded version of aptly named Taiwanese manufacturer High-Tech Computer's XDA (that's extended digital assistant). Do incumbents like Nokia and SonyEricsson have anything to fear from a no-name manufacturer selling directly to operators?

Oh yes. Very much so.

Ease of Use: 5/6

Microsoft's first attempt at slapping a phone on top of the Pocket PC 2002 platform is admirable. Not only does it work, it works well. They lose a point here and there for missing a few fundamentals - there's no battery indicator on the Today Screen, for example. But that's okay; it's their first try. And since it runs Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition (PPC2KPE), there's plenty of third-party software (like Battery Pack, for said battery issue) to make up for it.

Pocket PC's Start menu/File Explorer navigation system works well on a phone, and comes in pretty handy for managing applications when you have many open at the same time. The Start menu allows you to place up to nine applications in its list, so your most important apps are only two pen-assisted taps away no matter where you are in the system.

Probably the most trying part of this input method comes when you're typing out text messages - it's touchy and you'd better be sitting in a bump-free environment (i.e. not in the car). The PPC2KPE includes four standard input methods: Keyboard, Block Recognizer, Letter Recognizer, and Transcriber. Of these four, Keyboard is probably the most useful, though it depends on which app your using it for. The Notes application works well with Transcriber for quickly jotting an idea down, for example, while Keyboard is more accurate and well suited for text messaging.

Battery life is acceptable, and actually quite good given the Pocket PC's reputation for chewing through batteries in no time. I've managed to squeeze four hours of talk time out of the device, using its built-in conference calling feature the whole time. That's certainly on par with other devices in its class. Standby time, however, is another issue. If you have the phone on, count on four days being your maximum stretch away from a power outlet.

Design/Style: 6/6

Note to HTC: Whoever your industrial designers are, send 'em on vacation and give 'em a raise. The XDA is the most beautiful device we've yet used - period, full stop, and end of story.

The only major problem with the XDA's industrial design is that it's just a little too sexy. The case is so silvery sleek and smooth that it easily slips out of hand. There's no real solid way to grip the device. Unless you're one of those people with moist, clammy hands, that is.

Vital Statistics: 6/6

Now, we could nitpick a little bit and talk about how the XDA should have Bluetooth built-in, or how... well... that's about it. Bluetooth is pretty much all the XDA lacks. Okay, maybe a little more RAM could be thrown in, too. And an X-Scale processor while we're at it. But now we're crossing the line from "lacks" into "would be nice" and from reality into pipe dream.

What HTC's managed to pack into that sleek case is pretty impressive:

Processor: 206Mhz ARM SA1110
Flash ROM: 32MB
Display: 12-bit (4,096 color) 240x320 TFT
Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition
File Explorer
ActiveSync 3.5
Pocket Internet Explorer
Pocket Outlook (Inbox/Calendar/Contacts)
Pocket Word
Pocket Excel
MSN Messenger
Microsoft Reader
Windows Media Player 8
Image Viewer
SD Backup
SIM Manager
Terminal Services Client
Infrared Receive

Mobile Internet Browsing: 6/6

Pocket Internet Explorer combined with a nice, big color screen and a speedy GPRS connection makes this an ideal device for browsing on the go. There's a bit of room for improvement - Pocket IE's functionality is limited (there's no JavaScript) and the pixel density of the screen (it's only 240 wide) is a bit low, for example. So it's not a perfect experience, just darn close.

Pocket IE can handle HTML and WML, kick Windows Media links over to the Media Player, slice and dice and do 90% of what your desktop browser can do, so no points off here. It's far more capable than what's available on 99% of the world's phones, and with the exception of the Nokia 9210i's Opera implementation, puts them all to shame.

If Microsoft can squeeze proper JavaScript support into Pocket IE, and convince more third-party developers like Macromedia (for Flash) and Apple (for QuickTime) to support the platform, they'll have the complete package.

Mobile Internet-related Features: 6/6

The XDA's backlit TFT display is impressive, far better than the TFT found on the Nokia 9200 series (which is virtually invisible under bright sunlight). The Communicator one-ups the XDA on resolution, though, at 640x200, making full-size websites like rumor rag/content partner The Register completely palatable on the go.

Other mobile Internet apps like MSN Messenger and Windows Media Player are a blast to use, especially over the speedy GPRS connection. And if you're one of the lucky few to have Mobile Information Server installed on your corporate network, email can be pushed to the device over GPRS as it arrives.

Overall: 6/6

HTC and Microsoft have something to be proud of in the XDA. It's definitely a device for the connected elite, with its thousand-dollar range price tag. But those who can afford the silvery beauty won't be disappointed.

Full Outlook compatibility, Pocket IE, MSN Messenger, and Windows Media Player all combined with GPRS speed in an outstanding design move the XDA to the head of its class.