Wednesday, February 20, 2013

O2 Xda Guide

This Xda mobile phone from O2 comes with CoPilot Live sat nav.
Review By Dave Oliver

O2 is making a strong attempt to be all things to all people with its increasingly diverse range of Xda smart phones. The latest is the O2 Xda Guide and it places the emphasis firmly on sat nav and location-based services, thanks not just to it's built-in A-GPS transmitter, but also the CoPilot Live 7 sat nav software which comes with it.  As with the rest of the Xda series, the Xda Guide is actually made by Taiwanese manufacturer HTC, which produces very similar devices under its own Touch brand, the nearest match to this handset being the HTC Touch Cruise. They are in fact more or less identical, but you'll only get CoPilot Live 7 with the O2 model. Also on board are a 3.2 megapixel camera, Wi-Fi, stereo Bluetooth, Opera web browser and HTC's attractive TouchFLO interface, which brightens up the versatile but awkward Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system that lies beneath it.

CASING: At first glance the O2 Xda Guide looks and feels pretty much the same as HTC's Touch Cruise with its large circular D-pad set in a metallic panel and flanked by call start and stop buttons, plus dedicated buttons for sat nav and HTC Footprints (later, later). It's classy in an understated business style, with sturdy dark grey plastic, rimmed with a chrome metallic band around the sides. The sides are pretty Spartan, with just an elongated volume rocker, USB 2.0 power/headphone slot, reset hole, stylus slot and a power button to break them up. Around the back is a lens for the 3.2 megapixel camera and a loudspeaker. 

The D-pad deserves special mention because it not only has the usual five-point push button action, but also a circle around it which spins, allowing you to zoom in on pictures or web pages, fast forward video and scroll through menus.It's slim and lightweight too at 101x53x14mm and 103g which puts it firmly in the pocket-friendly category.

SCREEN:  The 2.8in touch screen is on the smallish side, though it looks clear and sharp enough with 320x240-pixel resolution and 65,000 colours. Sensitivity is about right – not so sensitive that you're pushing buttons unnecessarily, but not so tough that they're awkward to push. Our only problem with it was when using the virtual keyboard – it takes up the whole width of the screen and we found it a bit awkward to accurately push the buttons at the extreme edge. It came good with a bit of practise though. 

INTERFACE: The Xda Guide uses the latest version of HTC's TouchFLO interface, which sits on top of the Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system. It not only looks good, it also makes virtually all the functions accessible with your thumb, so you'll have little need to resort to the stylus.

SAT NAV: Sat nav is what the Xda Guide is all about. It comes with the latest version of CoPilot Live 7 with UK maps as standard on a supplied 1GB microSD card. The sat nav software offers big-button, thumb-friendly menus and a choice of map views – you can toggle between 2D and 3D versions while you follow voice directions to your destination, and you can also search for points of interest and traffic updates. It indicates speed cameras too. It all works fine, as far as it goes, but we found ourselves a bit frustrated with the size of the screen, which is a bit cramped for easy reference while driving, and we'd have liked a bit more spoken information, such as the name of the street you're meant to turn into

CHARGER: The O2 Xda Guide also comes with a quick-fit cradle and charger for the car. The cradle sticks to your windscreen using a sucker, which has a little lever to suck out the air underneath and affix it to the glass. The charger meanwhile plugs into your cigarette lighter, though we'd have liked the stretchy lead to have been a bit longer. It's not as elegant a solution as a professionally fitted sat nav, but it proved to be reasonably robust while we had it. HTC Footprints is essentially a geotagging app which allows you to add more info to your snaps. Pressing the footprint logo on the front of the handset opens the camera, and it will automatically geotag any picture or video you take, identifying its exact location (if you're indoors, it can provide a less accurate location via cell ID). It also gives you options to add a written or voice note or a relevant phone number.

CAMERA: The 3.2 megpixel camera can be accessed speedily via one of the programmable virtual soft keys at the bottom of the screen. It only takes two seconds to launch, and the delay when you press the shutter is about the same, which makes it fine for quick snaps. There's no flash, and little in the way of fancy settings like face detection. There is however a 2x digital zoom, panorama setting and a timer (up to ten seconds), as well as brightness and white balance settings, quality (four settings, up to 'super fine'), plus you can set contrast, saturation and sharpness as well as add colour effects and frames. 

Picture quality was surprisingly good, considering some of the horrors HTC has visited on us in the past, with a fair degree of detail and sharpness, even if colours appeared to be habitually less vibrant than they really should have been.
Panorama: the Xda Guide fixes photos together with relative competence.

Indoor shots: the camera struggles to focus in indoor low-light situations.
Video drops the quality a notch, as usual, and though it will film in 320x240-pixel resolution, it's very prone to blurring with movement.

Shutter speed: the Xda was able to capture moving objects fairly well.
Geo-tagging: Using the Xda's built-in GPS, you can geo-tag your shots.

CONNECTIVITY: The O2 Xda Guide is a quad-band GSM handset with HSDPA 3G (with up to 7.2Mbps downloads) for fast on-the-go internet connection and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi for connecting to a broadband network. There's also Bluetooth with stereo A2DP.

MEDIA: Viewing photos on the Xda Guide is a pleasure thanks to HTC's gallery system. This allows you to zoom in on pictures by tracing a circle with your finger on the screen. The centre of the circle becomes the centre of the zoom, so it's easy to get straight into the corner of a pic. You can also view a slideshow by brushing your finger across the screen to bring up the next pic. The music player is a decent one with cover art displayed where available and you can adjust the sound with a ten-band graphic equaliser. We were pleasantly surprised that the below-par supplied headphones come with an adaptor for the USB plug, so you can easily upgrade to your own 3.5mm plug-packing pair

INTERNET: The Xda Guide's default browser is Opera, which we're always glad to see, though you can also use Internet Explorer if you wish. It's quick and intuitive, with the ring around the D-pad allowing you to zoom, or you can double tap on the screen at the point you want to focus on.
But it's such a shame that there's no accelerometer on board to flip the screen's resolution to landscape mode – always a better way to view web pages. It would have helped a lot with the cramped keyboard too. 

MEMORY: There's 512MB of ROM on board, which you can increase to 32GB via microSDHD card. With 256MB of RAM on board the Qualcomm MSM 7225 528MHz processor is decently fast, even with several apps running at once. 

BATTERY:  Battery life isn't the worst we've seen, but it's certainly not the best either. Despite claiming six hours of talk time and up to 400 hours standby we were only able to coax about a day of moderate use out of it, although admittedly battery-draining Wi-Fi was switched on the whole time. This being a Windows Mobile device, there are a few tricks you can try to stretch the battery life, such as dimming the screen, reducing the screen save time and being scrupulous about the amount of apps you have running at any given time.

THE GOOD: It has all the versatility of Windows Mobile 6.1 (and all the worst aspects of the OS hidden behind HTC's rather lovely TouchFLO interface), plus a decent, though certainly not spectacular, camera and a perfectly fine media player, including a USB adaptor so you can easily upgrade the supplied headphones (a luxury you won't find on most other smart phones from O2 or HTC). It also has HTC Footprints, a hifalutin version of geotagging which makes the whole process easy by giving you a shortcut that opens the camera, automatically geotags any pictures you take (using cell ID if GPS isn't available), and prompts you to record written or voice notes plus a phone number to remind you where you've been. It's not ground-breaking, but the fact that it makes the whole process intuitive means you're much more likely to take advantage of it. 

THE BAD: The screen is on the small side and we couldn't help comparing it to more generously endowed sat nav devices when using it in the car. We found the cramped onscreen keyboard a bit tricky too, especially when trying to reach the keys at the extreme edges of the screen. We'd have really liked to have seen an accelerometer on there to automatically flip the screen into landscape mode for these occasions. 

OVERALL: You would only really consider buying the Xda Guide if sat nav is really important to you as part of your smart phone, but not so important that you really need a dedicated sat nav device. But if you're a regular, rather than a habitual user, and want all the other goodies that come with a top-notch Windows smart phone, then look no further.



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