In this article, I will be reviewing the AudioVox XV6700 from Verizon Wireless. 95% of this (Aside from the facts) is going to be based solely on my experience as a user.

I know that when I am reading review articles about devices, I would want to know about the person reviewing it. This way I can determine how to interpret this review, and to what extent to trust it.

So here’s a little bit about my background, I am currently a Systems Engineer, and have been in the IT field for about 6 years now. I love gadgets, and I buy a lot of them. I have always been a fan of PDAs, and always had an issue with having to carry both a cell phone and a PDA. Up until now, I had own a Palm m505, m515, Tungsten C, Toshiba Zaurus, and one of the older iPaqs.

In general, when I purchase an electronic gadget I go pretty deep into it, and try to stretch it to its limits. so, please keep in mind, that the shortcomings that I am seeing with the device I’m about to review might actually be caused by the high level of customization that I did on the device, and might not necessarily mean that you will experience the same exact problems.

If I remember correctly, since I got the device (about 2 weeks ago), I think I HARD reset it about 6 times, mostly to explore different options. you don’t have to do that, and hopefully in this review, I will provide information that will allow you to avoid hard resetting too often.

Part 1: Physical Design

I went to my local Verizon Wireless store to check out the different Smartphones. the 2 other ones that I was looking at are the Treo 700w, and the Samsung i730. at first glance, or pick up.. you can immediately feel that the XV6700 is lighter than the other two, in general, I thought it was less bulky than the other ones. By phone standard, I think it’s slightly thicker tha the rest of them, but for good reason. the XV6700 has a sleek pull out full Qwerty keyboard. (almost full.. i’ll tell you why later).

Comparison with a credit card  Comparison with a palm m515

The device itself looked pretty sweet to. it has a black front and back, with the middle part, and the keyboard being silver. The device is mostly plastic, but surprisingly doesn’t feel flimsy. Putting the headset on my ear was a little bit awkward, but that was mostly because I’ve always used a flip phone (the LG VX4500). I think any PDA phone that you will acquire will feel a little awkward on the ear… (honestly, it kinda felt like I was holding a plate on my head! 🙂 ). I quickly got over that though… also, there are a lot of ways to avoid actually having to hold the device to your ear. so no worries there… you can either use the speaker phone in it, or get a headset, or better yet, a bluetooth headset.

The keys on the device were pretty easily accessible. one thing I thought was a little bit odd was the volume control switch on the side of the device. in general, I’m used to 2 up/down buttons, or a wheel that controls the volume. the XV6700 has a slide/toggle switch for the volume. I guess If you dig a little more into it, you can possibly find a good custom use for this switch. (i haven’t yet, but you can let me know if you do)

Top view  Other Side - Top  Side -  at an angle  Side - Top view  Front - turned on

The slide out keyboard is very sweet. it feels pretty sturdy, and I don’t think it’s going to break anytime soon. I really loved the way the keyboard feels. the downside of it would probably be that you can’t really do too much one handed typing, as the keyboard will require both hands to use the shift key or the special function (special chars) key. that’s no big deal though, because in most cases, since you bought a PDA phone you’re going to have your full attention on the thing when you’re writing a document or whatnot. In addition, there are 4 other options for the keyboard. I will get into that later as well.

Open - Top  Open - Portrait - turned on.  Open - at an angle

Moving on from the keyboard. the USB port is pretty cool for us mobile users who use a lot of the PDA features on the phone. Obviously, this is going to drain your battery more than if you just had your phone on standby. here’s the good news.. you ready?…  you can charge the phone both through the cradle as well as through the USB cable connected to your laptop … yup .. you don’t need an external charger… while you’re syncing, you’re charging… and if you have both the cradle and the USB cable at the same time, you can always plug the USB cable in the cradle, and put your device in the cradle, now you’re also charging and syncing. I thought that was very convenient.

Cradle - Top  Cradle - Back

The screen brightness on the phone is pretty good overall, despite what you read in other reviews, in some ways it has some truth to it, but it’s not completely useless. I’m talking about the point where everybody mentions that the screen brightness really sucks in direct sunlight. well, yeah, it does.. but that’s only if you’re literally in direct sunlight. In mid day, in the car, I can see the screen perfectly without any problems. The color on the screen, by the way, is very nice, bright and crisp. the brightness adjustment has about 10 levels, so you can go from dim to pretty bright. Even with that though, the full brightness still does not remedy the problem with lack of visibility in direct sunlight.

The speaker on the phone is mediocre, you will read in other reviews that it’s useless. I personally don’t think it’s useless, it’s not like some of the Motorola (Nextel) speakerphones… but I think it’s pretty decent. After all, it is a phone and PDA, not a stereo system. if you want great sound, go buy a BOSE sound system or something 😛 . I thought the speaker was very acceptable, if you’re in a loud environment, or on the freeway with your windows open, the speaker, even at its highest volume will be a a little bit hard to hear, but when you’re driving, you should be wearing your Bluetooth headset anyway, and at the club, you shouldn’t be talking on the phone  😛

The Camera is a 1.3MegaPixel cam with Video cam (with sound). Honestly, I don’t think it’s the best cam (by phone standards). I’ve definitely seen better, the 1.3MP is a little bit deceiving, BUT it does the job. a couple of quirks with it, but once you figure it out it’s pretty cool. read below for some of the camera features.

Back - Camera

Part 2: Software Windows Mobile 5.0 Functionality

Moving on, as you already probably know, the phone is smart… uh. umm.. a smartphone.. yeah that’s it. so it has a phone module, sitting inside the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system. Ok, so it’s Microsoft, and if you’ve ever worked with Microsoft products, you will know that it’s not always the most stable of OS’s. (i’d beg to differ with XP SP2 I guess), but in general that’s the reputation.

Reviews in general seem to be ok about the Operating Systems. here are the top reasons that you will find complaints about in the OS:

     1- The OS lags a lot, and the device turns off.
     2- The brightness changes by itself, or turns off the screen
     3- The OS crashes, or freezes.

Obviously, some of those are also a combination of the limitation and/or bug in the phone firmware, nonetheless, they are still annoying things to have in a phone. Unfortunately, I can agree with all of those, and they will happen at one point or another… (I personally haven’t experienced #1 yet, #2 happened a couple of times, and #3, several times).  This really largly depends on how you setup/treat/customize your device. Obviously, like any Windos OS, the Operating System stability largely depends on how much software you have installed on your device. this also holds true on the XV6700. The architecture of windows is the same, and therefore follows almost all the same rules, you have explorer, registry, and the works.

If anything, I would say the OS instability would probably be the most annoying point in this phone.  I know, it’s major, but fear not, there are ways around a bunch of things, they require some registry hacks and whatnot, but all is fixable, with the right tools, and right information, you’d be there in no time.

Having said all that, I think that the OS is well made in the sense that one application crashing, doesn’t crash your whole device (most of the time). whenever an application is thinking (you get the “Mac” wheel of death), but unlike Macs, this one doesn’t lock up every other process on the device. so while the application is thinking (or crashing), you can still go to the start menu, open the “Task Manager” (really, it’s Memory -> Running Programs). and terminate that application. Voila, you just forced the application to exit. In most cases that works. in rare instances, you’re forced to soft reset your device.

   A. Built In Software:

   I want to mention some of the software that comes on the device, and how I personally rated it. so here we go:

  • Phone: Duh, that’s the phone. I thought the interface was pretty good, it features, a direct link to the Address book, it auto-completes names, address, phone numbers, has a full call history, the ability to take notes (or draw a note) while on a call. In fact, I’m pretty sure you can even go to any application during a phone call to look up any information. Over all, I’d give a phone a 9/10
    Phone - Main keypad
  • Calendar: This is a simple calendar solution that seamlessly integrates with Outlook when you’re syncing. I thought it worked very well, although, as I said, it’s simple, and does not have a ton of features, however, it’s fast and efficient. There is an alternative I use, that is a little more memory intensive, but I thought it works very well. (See Below for more details on that). I’d give the calendar a 8/10
  • Contacts, Notes and Tasks: Same as the calendar, they’re part of the same package, they are simple, but also efficient. the same solution I use for calendar, I also use for Task, Notes and Contacts, I’d give those a 8/10
  • Messaging (Email Client): The email client that comes preinstalled on this device is pretty decent I thought. It’s pretty intuities as far as syncing your mail with Outlook. here’s how: plug it in ! 🙂 yup , it’s that simple. on the downside, this client lacks some feature essential to setting up some of the most common mail (pop, imap, smtp) requirements : i.e ssl ports. there is a way around it, but there isn’t really a field in there that says: port… so if you’re sort of a beginner you’ll be at a loss… “Gmail says incoming port 995, but I don’t see a place where I can punch that in”.. yup you’re right… that’s why you can get other mail clients that would do that. Overall, I’d give the mail client an 7/10
  • Sync software: BUMMER: with Windows Mobile 5.0, you can no longer sync over Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. Yup, it’s a bummer, but apparently, Microsoft got a lot of complaints from corporate customers with security concerns about devices enabled for wireless sync on company premises, go figure, now we have to pay for that… Argh!! the Sync software, aside from that, is ok. I think it could use a lot of work still, but it does its basic job, it syncs your stuff. I’d give the Sync a 4/10
    WARNING: From my personal experience, if you have a whole bunch of software loaded on your device, Sync will tend to become sluggish, and does not connect every single time. but then again, that also depends on how much software you have on your host computer that you syncing TO. and I have A LOT. so again, please don’t blame the software, it’s how you set it up.
  • Word/Excel/PowerPoint: These are included in the main software suite. they’re great, they open all the documents flawlessly, so far I haven’t had a problem with them. of course they don’t have all the features of the full MS Office suite, but they do the job for a PocketPC. I’d give the Office suite a 6/10
  • Camera: the Camera software is pretty decent, although the camera itself does not take the greatest pictures in general. The software has a bunch of settings that you can change: Photo, Contact Pictures, Burst, Sports, Panorama, Full Video, and Video MMS. it also features Theme Pictures, which allows you to take pictures within templates. it’s kinda of a cool little feature  that’s fun to play with. I thought it was pretty customizable overall with the photoresolution, and turning off the shutter sound, specifying the location of the stored photos, the format of the pictures, and/or Videos. I’d give the cam a 7/10.
    Camera - main interface  Camera - Options
  • Internet Explorer: IE actually works surprisingly well on the PPC. aside from not actually being able to use the joystick as a mouse, I was able to navigate any websites pretty easily. it has 3 different modes of browsing (One Column, Default and Desktop), which at any time you can switch between them, and will make any website viewable in an acceptable way. IE is setup to Windows CE, IE 4.01 , which renders a lot of sites not equipped for PDA viewing almost useless. Fortunately, there’s a registry hack that tricks websites into thinking that you’re using Windows NT4.51, IE 6.0, which would allow you to browse websites like you normally do on desktop. DOWNSIDE: This will mean that now that you have the hack, all websites that are meant to be viewed on a PDA will not actually detect that you’re using a PDA and will show you the desktop version which might be harder to navigate. this is really up to your preference. There is a software package that does a bunch of registry hacks for you, to help you avoid blowing your OS by doing the hacks manually, it’s called Tweaks2k2, and that would allow you to switch between IE 6.0 and 4.01 (of course that would required restarting your IE instance to take effect. Overall, I give IE an 8/10
    Internet Explorer  IE - Internet Explorer in Full Screen  IE - MSN Mobile site
  • Search: I have to say, so far, I was never able to find anything with the built in search function. I think it sucks, when you do find someting, you can really click on it, and manipulate the file, also, the search results don’t bother to give you the Path of the file, so now you’re stuck with knowing that the 5 Mb file hogging your memory IS on your device, but you have NO IDEA whether it’s on your main memory, your memory card.. and as far as I know, there’s no way you can find that out UNLESS you use another software that has a more robust search function. for that, I’d give the search function a 1/10!
  • File Explorer: The built-in file explorer is semi decent. it does the basic functions of explorer. it does not support drag and drop and similar functionality (which, I guess what makes it basic). It works. I personally prefer to use an altnernate piece of software that replaces File Explorer, called Resco File Explorer. it much more full featured, and it includes Registry, and FTP Plugins… which are pretty convenient.  I’d give File Explorer a 5/10
  • Pocket MSN: that comes preinstalled on your device, and if and ONLY if you have the unlimited data plan, I recommend that you get an MSN account, and use that. it has a bunch of useful links to the MSN services, including maps, directions, directory and what not. you can also sign in to the MSN messenger with that, which seems to work ok. In my case, I wanted to be able to login to multiple services, and wasn’t about to download AIM, MSN, and Yahoo Messengers on my PDA (due to my reluctancy of using my memory for those items). so I went ahead and downloaded Agile Messenger, which is like Trillian, FREE, for pocket PC. I’ll tell you a little more about this later.

So after reading this, you might discouraged because of the low ratings of some of the software that is on the device. well 2 things to note:
1- This is only my opinion, and I am a power user, so for you, some of the downsides that I saw in this software might not even be an issue for you
2- The fact that there is a piece of software that can replace almost every built in component makes it all worthwhile. of course, these will have to be considered carefully, as, for one, they cost $$$, and if using the wrong version, or too many of them, might render your OS unstable at times.

so my advice is, if you’re a safe person, need the PocketPC for basic day to day use, the built in software is more than adequate. if you’re slightly more than a regular user, you might want to look into some tweaks, and additional software.

Speaking  of additional software:

   B. Optional (Recommended Software):

   Alright, so now we’re getting to the fun stuff. In this section, I’ll be listing some of, what I think is pretty good software    to install on your XV6700 to get it all souped up.

   There’s some essential stuff that I think you need to install, and some, not so essential stuff, that is good to have. I will try to put the version number of the software I’m using, because a lot of stuff is still not cerified for Windows Mobile 5, and can literally crash your system. so, I can tell you that the version that is listed here has been working for me without any problems.

      a. Essential Software:

  • Voice Command: (v:1.5)
    This is one of the most essential software on the smartphone, it’ll make you look at it in a completely different way. If you don’t get anything else, make sure you get voice command. I know that voice recognition software is pretty standard in a lot of the newer phones. but this MS Voice Command, in my opinion, is better than most, in some cases it even recognizes some slang words, and is pretty “perceptive” 🙂 … Try it out.
  • Resco File Explorer: (2003, v5.11): I think this piece of software is  must-have. it makes your user interface, very similar to your windows XP Windows Explorer, and has Drag’n’Drop functionality and tons of features. it also sports a nice registry editor for all the tweaks you’re about to make. There is an FTP client plugin to it, although I haven’t succeeded to make it work just yet… if anyone has any ideas, please let me know  🙂
    Also, there’s a zip utility plug in to it which handles zip files very well. make sure you use that!
    Here’s a snapshot of the regular File explorer, next to Resco File Explorer:
    Built in File Explorer
    Built-in File Explorer     
    Resco File Explorer
    Resco - Folder View  Two Pane view  Resco - File context menu  Resco - Edit menu  Two Pane view  Resco - File context menu  Resco - Edit menu  Resco - File menu  Resco - The view menu
  • Spb Pocket Plus: (v 3.0.4, Build 4195): After you work with your device for a little while, you’ll find that some quirky things in it will become annoying. for example, the default, X on the top right corner, that usually actually closes a program when you click on it, does not do that… in fact, it’s almost equivalent to the “Minimize” button on your windows XP computer. that might not be so bad in the beginning,  but once you have 4 or 5 applications open at the same time, you’re going to be in for some pretty laggy OS, or even crashy OS 🙂 … short of going to the Running Programs tab in system settings, and manually closing the programs, you’re stuck with them open until your next soft reset. among other things, Spb Pocket Plus, takes care of that problem for you. it has an option that allows you to assign that X button to close the program, or even assign a gesture that will allow you to minimize, and/or close the app. It also has a whole bunch of other features, like adding icons on your today screen with shortcuts to your most used stuff, and has some system information readily available on your Today screen. These are all ok, but I have to warn you, they bog down your system, the less you have on your today screen, the faster your device will be (at least in my experience, that’s the case.) . Here’s a couple of screen shots of Spb Pocket Plus:
    Spb - Options Screen  Spb - Close options  Spb - Close Options in contxt menu  Spb - Assign Custom Button
  • MortSaver: (v.2.0)
    That’s definitely a good program to have to avoid bumping hardware keys all the time and dialing people by mistake, or running programs… ok , you get my drift, also, it’s a great battery saver. It takes some getting used to,  you need to accustom yourself to certain procedures when turning your phone on and off, but I thought it’s totally worth it. Check out some screenshots: 
    Mort - Main Options Screen  Mort - Deactivation  MortSaver - Display  Mort - Power off and Emergency Exit  Mort - Screen and PopUps  Mort - Phone Features

      b. Cool stuff to have

  • Pocket Informant: (2005 Rev 4, Build 486)
    This is a great replacement for the calendar, contacts, tasks and notes. it’s not completely necessary to have. but it’s definitely a nice addition. Once you install it, it’ll ask you if you want to see it as the default replacement for calendar, contacts, tasks, and notes. This software is pretty full featured. it takes a little getting used to, however, it is almost infinitely customizable, I don’t think I’ve seen a software on a PPC before with so many settings. Note that if you use any version before the one mentioned here, I don’t know if it’ll work. I used an older version first, and it seemed to work, but all my appointments and contacts were just not showing up, even though they were there, just not visible. once I upgraded to this version, everything worked fine. here are some screenshots of Pocket Informant.       

    PI - One day view  PI - 7 Day view  PI - Utilities  PI - Filters  PI - Settings 

  • Agile Messenger: (AMST – WMPPC-5)
    This messenger is the one I mentioned earlier that replaces MSN, AIM and Yahoo, in fact, it also replaces, ICQ, Jabber and Google Talk. AND, it’s Free. I gotta say, I think I almost like this messenger more than Trillian. it’s very versatile, super reliable, even keeps chat history if you want, and you can sign on to all your services all at once… If you do any messaging, make sure you get Agile messenger
    WARNING: Installing this and using it without having an unlimited dataplan is a major no no, ok, or a major yes yes, if you have lots of money and you don’t know what to do with it, cuz I can promise you, it’ll be going to your cell phone bill.
    Oh, one other feature with Agile is that you can send voice IMs to anyone, (meaning anyone using any transport), you assign a record key, and when you press it, it’ll start recording a voice IM (just like a walky talky), once you’re done, the IM is sent to the other party in the form of a link. When they click on it, the voice message opens for them in a browser. I tested it, and it works awesome!
    Here’s a few screenshots of Agile Messenger:     

    Agile - Contact List  Agile - Preferences  Agile - Transports -- these are in addition to msn, yahoo and aim

  • FlexMail 2006: (v.2.2 Build 547)
    Flexmail was my application of choice to replace the one that comes with the PPC. there anything super special about it, except that it’s a little more versatile, has some more options. you can try it if you like, but I thought that the messaging software that comes with the XV6700 is pretty adequate.

Part 3: Hacks and Fixes

I’m still working on this part. It’s coming soon though. Meanwhile, you can check the forums at http://www.phonescoop.com, or http://pdaphonehome.com . they are both pretty good resources for getting some more information about this device. in this section. I’ll be listing most of the hacks and registry edits that I did to my device for it to work like I want it.

THE VERDICT:

Well, if you’re reading this, I would guess that you took the time to actually read the stuff before. and what good is this whole article if there’s really no decision on how this puppy does in the rating world 🙂

so, here’s how I rate it:

Hardware, sleekness:    9/10
Durability:                    8/10
Functionality, button placement, reachability, comfort:  8/10
Phone Reception:          7/10 (I’ve seen better, but it’s not bad nonetheless)
Bluetooth:                   Unrated, haven’t tried it yet.
WiFi:                            9/10
Speakerphone:             6/10 (in noisy environments it can be a little bit too quiet)
Screen brightness:        8/10 (a little hard to see in direct sunlight)
Screen resolution:         9/10 (very sharp!)
Camera:                       7/10 (quality a little deceiving for a 1.3MP, but acceptable nonetheless, it’s a phone after all!)
Keyboard:                    8/10 (It’s very comfortable to type on, although it lacks an escape key!! no VI editing 🙁 )      
PDA Performance:         8/10 (after tweaks, it seems like it’s one of the slower PPC devices I’ve used … out of the box)

Here’s a list of pros and cons that I can think of:
PROS:

  • Pretty light for a PDA Smartphone, lighter than the 700w, and the Samsung i730. Slightly thicker though.
  • Has Bluetooth, Wifi 54Mbps (supports, WEP and TKIP)
  • Has a very sharp screen, games look great on it!!
  • Even though it’s a paid software, Voice Command doubles the potential of your phone. it’s a MUST HAVE.
  • Slide out keyboard is very sweet, very easy to type on.
  • Bragging rights!! 🙂

CONS:

  • It’s slightly on the thicker side, but nothing unbearable.
  • Brightness is somewhat inadequate in direct sunlight
  • Speakerphone is somewhat inadequate in noisy environments

 Overall, I think that the XV6700 is an awesome device. I haven’t tried other devices to compare them with (other than in the Verizon store). but from my experience, I think that the XV6700 is worth every penny. It’s by no means perfect. I think that some firemware updates, and a faster OS will make it pretty close to perfect.

I hope that this guide will help you get over your last fears of making the decision of buying a smartphone. this is not meant to convince you to buy it, in fact, a lot of the information in this, is related to software, and not that specific device, so it might be useful, even if you own another WM5 smartphone.

Please feel free to post comments, or if you have any questions / comments.
I will post another article with some of the tweaks that I did on my device that I thought were pretty essential.

 

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