Latest Update: Added a little update at the bottom, after living with it for around five months, and added a link to Gary’s update on his M2000.
We recently upgraded our mobile phones with Orange UK – I got an SPV M1500 this time, a Windows Mobile PDA/Phone. When I was looking around at what to get, I didn’t find much information about this model, but I can do something about that now I have one…
What Is It?
It’s a SmartPhone, running Windows Mobile. Like the other SPV phones, it’s an Orange (UK mobile TelCo) branded version of an HTC device – the HTC Alpine. In the UK, it’s available from Orange as the Orange SPV M1500.
What Sort of SmartPhone?
There’s a few different types of phones that are referred to as ‘SmartPhones’…
Nokia’s SmartPhones run their own OS based on Symbian, which originally came from the old Psion organisers. These commonly run Series 60. I’ve never actually used one of these, but they’re pretty capable devices, with a fair bit of software becoming available for them. The Opera web browser is available, and is included as standard with quite a few devices, and my favourite book reading software, eReader is available too.
Windows Mobile SmartPhones are the smaller type of ‘Windows’ devices, like the SPV 500, 550, and 600, or for US readers, the AudioVox SMT 5600. These run a cut-down version of Windows Mobile, and can’t run software designed for ‘full’ Windows Mobile.
Palm-based Treo 650 (and the older 600) – running the full version of PalmOS. I’ve used Palm devices before, and liked them a lot, but the Treo seems expensive for what it is.
The M1500 is really a combination of the Windows Mobile SmartPhones and a full Windows Mobile PDA. It runs a version of Windows Mobile, with various phone features, but it’s not the cut-down ‘SmartPhone Edition’. That means you get the full Calendar, Tasks, and Contacts programs, and can run any Windows Mobile software.
- 128Mb RAM – more than my iPaq hx4700 had, and gives a lot more space to work.
- 240×320 screen – standard on a Pocket PC device, but it’s a quarter of the VGA hx4700 that I used before.
- WiFi – not mentioned anywhere on Orange’s consumer site, but it does have WiFi.
- SD Card slot – so you can carry plenty of extra files around – useful if you use other devices that use SD cards.
- Outlook 2002. Yes. 2002, not 2003. You get an outdated version of Outlook. Still, since you need outlook to sync the phone with your PC, it’s better than not getting any version, and the phone does cost less than a copy of Outlook on its own would cost, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
- ActiveSync 3.7. ActiveSync 3.8 has been out for a long time now – over a year, at least – and it’s faster and more reliable. Don’t even bother with the CD for this, just download version 3.8 from Microsoft’s web site and install it that way.
- Some fairly decent-looking utilities for managing Bluetooth and WiFi, though I’ve not actually tried WiFi at all yet.
- According to the manual, there’s a copy of SPB’s GPRS Monitor, which would be useful, but doesn’t seem to actually be included.
- There’s also supposed to be some software in there to let you send and receive faxes directly from the device, but that’s not actually on there or on the CD.
- Also missing is the software that’s supposed to let you do voice dialling, so using this with a bluetooth headset is a bit problematic. You can use a headset, but you still have to prod the screen to dial.
- Handsfree Kit – that’s what they call the little wired headset you get supplied. I’ve not even opened this to try.
- Cradle – they actually include a cradle rather than just a cable – nice. It’s a bit more upright than I’d really prefer, but it works just fine, and it was a surprise to find one included at all.
- Case – a surprisingly decent faux-leather case is supplied. The only downside is that the phone in the case is roughly as thick as a small car. Really. You’ll need big pockets. Keep the phone out of the case, though, and the big touch-screen is very vulnerable. I kept mine in my pocket with the screen facing inwards, but the screen started developing odd patterns – didn’t seem to be doing any damage, but I’d rather not risk it. Just get a bigger car to tow it around. At least there is a case supplied – I didn’t expect to get one at all, so grumbling about it is not allowed.
As a PDA
I like this device a lot as a PDA – it does very nicely. The spec is plenty high enough that it runs quickly and smoothly, and never seems to run short of memory. The fact that it has an Internet connection right there inside it is pretty handy too.
The 128Mb of RAM is fairly generous – the only other Windows Mobile PDA I’ve used was an HP iPaq hx4700 with only 64Mb, and that could get really tight – you couldn’t sync too many files, and opening programs often closed other programs in the background to make room. With 128Mb, I’ve yet to run into any such problems, though it may help that I’m used to working with much less.
Although there’s 128Mb or ROM too, which should be plenty for an upgrade, Orange have stated that this device will not be upgradable to Windows Mobile 5.0. From what I’ve heard about it, though, this might not be too much of a hardship from a PDA point of view. Most of the changes have been making it better for use on phones, though, so on this device, it could have been a good thing. Maybe someday we’ll upgrade our iPaq and see what it’s like, but until then, I can’t compare.
The GPRS is not always connected, which is what I’d expected. It just brings the connection up automatically whenever it’s needed. This means that although you don’t need to do anything, there’s a short delay whilst it establishes a GPRS connection before you can start browsing or checking your mail. It’s not bad, it’s just that I didn’t expect it to be there at all, and it’s not really much quicker than using a separate bluetooth-connected phone.
There’s WiFi, too, and that works well.
It wasn’t obvious to me for a while how to get this thing to use the ActiveSync connection it had by default, rather than trying to bring up the GPRS connection all the time. At first, I’d assumed that this was because it was hardly in Orange’s best interests to make it easy on you to use anything but GPRS. It seemed like it was all set up to make it difficult to switch connections, so you’d end up using GPRS more, which Orange then make money on.
What really should have been included, I thought, was a nice simple utility to switch connections between GPRS, WiFi, and Bluetooth. Unfortunately, this would cost Orange money to either develop or buy in, and would lose them money on the GPRS usage for everyone who bought this device.
However, Orange seem to have done the decent thing on this, and just such a utility is included – it just took me a while to find it. In the bottom right corner of the Today screen, there’s a little ‘Wireless’ icon, that looks a bit like a piece from some board game I vaguely remember (Cluedo, perhaps? (Update: Sam says it’s “Sorry!”, but we think Cluedo might have used the same design too)) – a cone with a ball for a ‘head’. You tap that to bring up the WiFi monitor. At the bottom of that screen, there’s a little green icon with a ‘W’ – tap that, and you get a nice simple utility with three buttons, which will let you switch wireless connections around.
When switching to Bluetooth, it actually offers to create a new connection, because it doesn’t see the ActiveSync connection as being a Bluetooth connection, but I just declined to create a connection, and the ActiveSync connection started working – free Internet connection from anywhere in the house 🙂
It actually turns out that after doing this once, I’ve then not needed to switch again – presumably, once Bluetooth is turned off, it knows to use the GPRS connection instead. So now, I have the device working exactly as I wanted it all along – if I open the ActiveSync connection, it uses that. If I don’t, it just uses GPRS. Free connection when I’m at home, GPRS anywhere else.
Switching to WiFi works just the same way – tap the WiFi button, and it will connect to whatever it finds. Certainly worked fine connecting to my parents’ network whilst visiting.
As a Phone
So – the big question – do I feel a complete idiot walking around talking into a PDA that I’m holding to the side of my head?
Well, do I?
Sorry, but this device is a bit odd to use as a phone. It just feels too big and too wide, and you know it’s the same device you were just using as a PDA.
To be honest, it doesn’t actually bother me much. I use a PDA a lot, and only use a mobile phone a little, so I can deal with it being this way, but if you use a mobile phone quite a bit, and are wondering if it’s worth getting one with a bit more PDA about it, there’s probably better choices. The Treo might be worth the extra, or make do with a Windows Mobile SmartPhone – or just go with a high-end Nokia. If you mainly use your mobile phone as a way of connecting your PDA to the Internet, this could be ideal. Except in that case you’d already have a PDA, but this might be a decent upgrade 😉
The Phone Application
The phone functionality is actually just a little Windows Mobile application that runs when you press the green ‘handset up’ button. There’s no actual buttons, so the screen becomes a touchpad with big buttons. You can also go to a contact in the standard Contacts application (or in Pocket Informant if you have that) and dial from there.
It does feel like a bit of a taped-on afterthought, but it works ok. You can set speed-dials for your most used numbers, and you can get to them (along with recently-dialled numbers) using the ‘joystick’ controller, so most of the time you won’t need to use the keypad anyway, but if you mainly want a phone, get a phone.
I’m pretty happy with this device – it does just what I want. I like having and using a PDA, and don’t get a lot of use out of my mobile phone, other than connecting the PDA to the Internet. With the M1500, I get exactly what I want – a very cheap way of getting a fairly well-spec’d PDA, and no need to carry a phone around too. If that sounds like you, then go for it. It’s not perfect, but at Â£50 it’s a bargain for a good PDA and a somewhat odd phone.
If you want a few more features in your phone, but you still mainly want a good phone, then I don’t think this is it. I’d suggest either the Treo, which looks like it integrates the phone a bit better, or getting a phone and a decent PDA. Either of these options will cost you more, but at least you won’t be seen walking around with a PDA stuck to the side of your head.
Update, After Almost Five Months
My opinion hasn’t changed much. I still think it’s a reasonable PDA for not much money, but not a very good phone.
The screen is very vulnerable, so you need to take a lot more care with it than you would with most phones.
I’ve actually stopped using Outlook recently, and without Outlook on the desktop, the syncing isn’t all that useful. I can still send it Word docs and such, but none of my contacts, tasks, etc are synced any more.
Occasionally it locks up, especially when hanging up a call, but not quite enough to be much of a problem to me. If I made more than one or two calls a day, it might get annoying.
The M2000 is similar to the M1500, but has a neat slide-out keyboard…