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02 Xda Zest review


02's Xda Zest is a zippy smartphone but does it measure up against the competition?

Rating:

Verdict: A chance to try Windows Mobile on Pay & Go, but don’t expect perfection

Price: £195 on O2 Pay & Go, free on O2 contract

Pros: Available on Pay& Go, competitively priced, WiFi, GPS, front and back cameras; slider hold button

Cons: Poorly located microSD card slot; slightly squat design; QWERTY keyboard is not finger-friendly

Design: Not as sleek as some Windows Mobile smartphones

Operating System: Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional

More Info: http://www.my-xda.com/devices/xda_zest.jsp

O2’s Xda line of Windows Mobile-based smartphones has a huge pedigree going back many years. But the Zest is the first Xda O2 has come up with that you can get on a Pay As You Go tariff. Of course, it isn’t a pocket money price on Pay & Go. In fact it will set you back £195. You can also get it on a contract from O2, where the handset comes, as is the usual practice, for free.

There’s something else worth noting about the Zest at the outset. O2 tends to source its Xda line from that leader of the Windows Mobile smartphone world, HTC. But in this case it has decided to go for an Asus designed model instead. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but the Zest doesn’t quite have the slick looks of some Windows Mobile devices. 
In particular, the Zest is a bit wider and thicker than we are used to seeing, so it feels a little squat in the hand. The glossy outer finish looks quite appealing but it is, as is so often the case with shiny handsets, a bit of a magnet for fingerprints.

Specifications

On the other hand, the specifications are pretty healthy. Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional sits at the core. O2 has added its own simplified user interface on top of Windows Mobile (a tweaked version Spb Mobile Shell) to make Windows Mobile more user friendly. It is basically an overlay that sits on top of Windows Mobile and offers a simplified home screen and a 3D-style menu system with large touch-buttons that are easy to find with your finger.

The Zest performs well due to its nippy Marvell TavorP 624MHz processor. Screen updates are near instantaneous and the 2.8-inch screen, which delivers 640 x 480 pixels, is sharp and bright. It does a good job of displaying the three main screens on offer, between which you move with a finger-sweep. One of these main screens takes you to photo contacts, another to a grid-like applications and settings menu, and one offers a standard-type home screen displaying things like the time, date, shortcuts to messages and missed calls - you know the drill. It is nothing particularly innovative, but it is all tidily designed.

You also get HSDPA and WiFi, handy for saving on those Pay & Go minutes, and it almost goes without saying that the Xda Zest is 3G. The Zest has GPS built in and comes with a time-limited trial of the super CoPilot navigation software. There is also Google Maps and the Opera web browser, which is much more usable than Internet Explorer. You could always have downloaded these yourself, but it is a nice touch. The phone also comes pre-loaded with Cyberon Voice Commander software which includes comprehensive voice dialling and voice control capabilities. For example, once activated, you can ask it to find one of your contacts and call their mobile and it will. Similarly, you can also ask it to find a specific music track in your library and play it for you.

A two-way video calling camera sits above the screen and the main camera, whose lens is on the back of the casing, shoots stills at resolutions up to three megapixels. It is a mid-range performer and lacks a flash, so forget low-light indoor photography.

Fiddly on-screen keyboard

If you’re looking for a smartphone with a finger-friendly QWERTY keyboard layout for fast text creation (for SMS or mobile email, for example), then the Xda Zest probably isn’t what you need. The screen is responsive enough, but the on-screen keyboard is quite small and probably too fiddly to be used accurately without resorting to the stylus which lives in a slot on one corner of the Zest.

There is a neat feature you don’t see very often in Windows Mobile smartphones in the shape of a sliding button on the right edge of the casing. It is a hold button that disables the touchscreen. If you’ve ever accidentally pressed something on a touchscreen when your smartphone is in your pocket, you may immediately see the utility of a button like this. Windows Mobile does include a lock feature, but this hardware-based option is far easier and more convenient to use, we think.

There is a fair amount of memory on board - 256MB ROM, 128MB SDRAM. You can boost the storage memory with microSD cards. However, the card slot is rather inconveniently located under the SIM card holder, so it can't be reached without taking the battery out. It is a real design fault that the card slot is under the battery. We know that some people like to hotswap cards and get data on and off of them via a cardreader, and for those people this design will be a real pain. Even if you aren’t in that group, imagine the odd occasion when you want to pop the card into a notebook to show a friend some piccies on a larger screen. Powering the Xda Zest down and then back up will likely be a pain.

The Zest is not going to win any design awards, but despite the annoying keyboard and location of the MicroSD slot, it’s a good performer, has loads of features for the price and, if you don’t want to be tied to a contract, then it’s worth checking out.

 

 

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The Xda Zest is O2’s first Xda smartphone on Pay & Go