Review: Dell Axim X5-Advanced

The Dell Axim X5-Advanced has been in production since November 2002, but it was so powerful when it came out, that even today it's one of the most powerful PDAs out there. It uses a 400 Mhz Intel XScale PXA255 CPU and 64 MB of RAM. It comes with 48 MB internal ROM storage, of which about 22 MBs are available to the user (which is a bit limited).

The PDA also features a CF and an SD slot (not SDIO-compatible), a microphone, a QVGA TFT 3.5" screen, a headphone jack, a loud speaker, a jog dial button (scrolls up and down on web pages - handy), IrDA and about 5 hours of battery (extended to more than 6 hours with reduced LCD brightness). Depending on the load, the CPU can be run at 200, 300 or 400 Mhz, saving your 1440 mAh battery's life.

Software

The clearance unit we received from Geeks.com came with the latest PocketPC 2002 ROM pre-installed, the Dell A04 ROM. However, Dell was once selling an upgrade to PPC 2003 for this PDA, and this is now available through several places. To upgrade to it, you need to write the P25_NK_H_07170300EN.IMG to the root of a compact flash card, insert it on the PDA, press Power+ reset+ Scroll-in-button-on-the-side+ Contacts-button at the same time, after 2 seconds release the Power and Reset buttons (before the actual hard reset takes place), and after that a white screen will appear reading from the CF card the .img file and installing Pocket PC 2003. It might take a few tries to get it right, but it is possible, I managed it after fighting with the combo keys for 20 minutes.

PPC 2002 and 2003 for the X5 come with MS Office Mobile, but they require an MSN Messenger and MS Reader update in order these to function (download them from MS' web site for free). Some people might decide to not be adventurous and stay with the 2002 ROM (many claim that the 2003 is buggier - I already had a lockup with IE), however, the 2003 ROM comes with an updated IE (vesion 4.01 instead of the very old 3.01), updated Office and most importantly for me, an updated Windows Media Player that is able to play more .asx content and it launches automatically when IE invokes such a file/object on the web! Also, don't forget to download the PPC2003 updates for the X5 from the Dell web site. There are about 4-5 driver updates for that ROM (audio, CF reader driver etc). One other significant usability improvement over PPC2002, was that after installing 2003 the tapping on the screen was flawless: before, I had to literally tap hard on the screen with the stylus to get something going, now, it just works as I expect it to.

The X5 is also a great multimedia device. Running at 400 Mhz can handle DivX just fine, so using freely available ripping software you can rip whole DVDs in about 400-500 MBs of SD or CF storage space and then use the BetaPlayer to play them back (BetaPlayer can rotate the screen to 320x240 and view widescreen movies in great quality). Also, the headphone jack makes it a good mp3 player (and ogg/aac player with BetaPlayer) as the PDA has good battery life!

Hardware

Included in the box were the craddle and the power cords (able to feed power to the PDA via the craddle or directly). The craddle has a space to place a second battery (Dell sells those) but I found the craddle ugly. It's big and it's cheezy with Dell's logo being backlit. Thankfully, Dell did better with Axim x50's craddles design-wise. There is also a belt clip and a basic case to protect your PDA, along with some quite thick manuals. Regarding the build of the PDA, it's actually a pretty big PDA overall. It is a bit longer that I would wish it to be, but it's not too bad, the older iPaqs and Zauruses are even bigger than the X5. One thing that I really dislike in the X5 is the Reset and Microphone buttons that are built on the smooth plastic surface on the side. They are next to each other and look very similar (in fact they are really hard to spot) and twice I pressed hard with my stylus on the microphone button instead of the reset button, by mistake. Result: I crapped up the microphone button (it still works, but you now need to press even harder to activate the microphone - awww). The placement of these buttons were really poor, I don't know what Dell was thinking! Also, the stylus itself is ugly, fat and weird (but hey, it's just a stylus). Other reviewers found the actual pad arrow buttons to be "mushy", but that didn't really bother me, I found it easy to use with IE, scrolling up and down web pages. Regarding the QVGA screen, it's a good screen (with ClearType enabled looks good), but it's definitely not as bright as other PDAs, e.g. the Axim x50v or the Sony Clie TH-55. In fact, the low brightness setting on the x50v is the highest capable on the X5.

Problems

So far, so good. The problems started when we wanted to add a WiFi card (the X5 has only IrDA, no Bluetooth or WiFi built-in). The Axim X5 supports most WiFi CF cards, except the one I picked (I felt really unlucky): the SanDisk WiFi+128 MB combo CF card. This CF card is able to do both WiFi and offer 128 MBs of flash storage at the same time -- and it's generally very compatible. But not with the X5. SanDisk worked with Dell to resolve the issues, but they did nothing at the end, even after all these years, and after 5 ROM versions on the X5 (note: the Sandisk equivelant SD card also has the same problems, apparently the physical slots were incompatible according to SanDisk). So, basically the problem is that the X5 does not recognize the 128 MB of card completely and after a while it screws up the file system, while WiFi makes the system really slow if it can't connect to the network for some reason. After upgrading to PPC2003, the storage part can't be accessed at all (it keeps asking you if you want to format the card or not and then fails to format it), but at least the WiFi works much better. These issues are known among X5 users at the aximsite.com forums, I should have researched before purchase. My only problem with the WiFi part is that it doesn't turn ON automatically after you turn on your PDA, you have to remove the CF card and replace it back in, and that can potentially destroy your CF slot after a few hundrend in-outs. So, stay away from the SanDisk WiFi+128MB SD/CF combo if you have an X5.

Conclusion

This is a good PDA. It's a good office companion and a great multimedia device too. It's an older model, but it's better/faster than some new lower-end models still shipping today. The X5 still sells as new in some clearance places on the web, usually below $180. So if you want a first PDA, or a powerful PDA on the cheap, this is your best choice. Just make sure you don't pair it with the SanDisk combo cards (get this one instead and use the SD slot as extra storage).

Overall rating: 8/10

 

Comments

Sounds like a good model, wish it had wifi built-in though.

I have an X5-Advanced. It is an excellent, if not too elegant, device. I have never had a bit of trouble with it.

Or is posting to this website just a coincidence ;)

Linux does not support correctly the X5, it would be stupid to re-flash a perfectly working PDA with a half-working version of an OS (for this specific hardware model that is).

I posted the review on this web site, because the owners of this site were so kind to buy the hardware so I can review it.

as far as I understood posts from community forums, hacking has stopped or frozeb as Dell was not cooperative at all and main developer switched to iPAQ. but last thing he posted is that it is possible to reinstall Microsoft OSs (both 2002 and 2003 versions) after experimenting with Linux.

Though I think Eugenia is fantastic reviewer and new owners are lucky to have these texts now, I still dont understand why website called Tux:Tops would support this unless there is agenda to reinitaite Linux porting effort by support such articles.

Tux:Tops is NOT just about Linux, EVEN if the main theme of the site IS Linux. At least 50% of the news items are non-Linux, and the rest Linux-related.

We tried to get a Zaurus off eBay for a review too, but it proved more expensive of what it should have been, while Palm/PPCs proved cheaper to acquire (for reviews). We don't have a cash cow over here you know.

Can anyone out there confirm or report if there are issues with the SD version of card that doesn't have memory?

No, with PPC2003 it should be just fine, because Wifi does work on PPC2003 even with the combo card. However, you still should have the problem that the card does not automatically "wake up" after you turn on your PDA and you should take it out and replace it back in. This can potential destroy your CF slot overtime.

...I am still running PPC2002 as I dont own a CF card (just SD one - unfortunatly). Do you know if it works with PPC2002 also?

I think you were refering to demage of SD slot and not CF one (since WiFi card is SD)...

The wifi card is CF, not SD.

I have same problem: Sandisk WiFi + 128 MB, Dell Axim X5, PPC2003. 128MB doesnt work, wifi ok if u reinsert it after Dell starts. If anybody know, what to do, write me please to [email protected]

There is nothing you can do. None of the Axims (and a few other PocketPCs) support this card properly. It's a hardware issue, not something you can fix with software. I suggest you sell the card, and buy the Linksys Wifi card, as I did.

Eugenia

hello,
what linksys card exactly are you using? i just tried two different cf cards and did not get it to work. i tried with ambicom and gemtek so far.

thanks
stefan

The Linksys WCF12 works. Just make sure you install its CD drivers for the OS you have installed on your X5.

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