Geeks.com sent us a special edition of the Toshiba e800 Pocket PC PDA. What’s special about this new revision we review today is that it comes by default with a very high capacity battery and the ability to use USB devices through its “presentation pack” accessory, making it a product best suited for professionals, but also for geeks. The e800 comes with a PXA263 400 MHz processor (which is much faster than the PXA250/255 running at the same speed, like the Axim X5s). It has 128 MB SDRAM and 64 MB Flash ROM (32 MBs available for the user), a huge 4.0-inch 65k TFT transreflective LCD capable of the VGA resolution, a built-in microphone and speaker, IrDA, a 3.5mm audio jack and two slots: SD/SDIO and Compact Flash Type I/II with support up to 8 GB. This version of the PDA is the “international” revision which comes with built-in Bluetooth v1.1 instead of WiFi (the US revision only comes with WiFi).
There is a lot of RAM in this device, but I would have preferred more storage ROM instead, because ROM doesn’t lose its contents if you hard reset the PDA. So instead of offering 128 MBs of RAM and 64 MBs of ROM, it would have been better to include 64 MBs of RAM (which is plenty for Windows Mobile) and 128 MBs of storage flash ROM. Many pro/office users are getting confused about these concepts when installing new apps and they only install applications in RAM instead of flash, quickly filling up the RAM’s available space and then getting unhappy at their PDA. So, from the point of view of trying to please non-tech users, Toshiba did the right thing, but from the geek’s point of view who understand the difference between RAM and flash and know where to install apps or drivers each time, they did the wrong thing. However, this is a professional PDA for office users primarily rather than geeks and scientists, so maybe Toshiba ultimately has taken the right decision about this matter.
This edition does not come with a cradle or a case but pays back by including a Li-Ion rechargeable battery (2640 mAh, 3.7V). This battery addition used to sell for $150 alone as an accessory. The big battery adds to the already big size of the PDA (4″ screen is not very common in the PPC world), but it pays back with its performance. We measured the battery life and when continuously using the PDA with its included applications with the screen brightness at 20% and we got 11 straight hours out of it! This is quite an achievement when most PDAs these days only do between 4 and 6 hours depending on the model! We also used a compact flash WiFi adapter (Linksys WCF12) and we were able to surf and use the net for 5 hours straight. Users who own low-power WiFi cards should be able to go as high up as 6-7 hours of web surfing (other PDAs do between 2 and 3.5 hours). And browsing in VGA mode is really nice and almost as great as with the Nokia 770 internet tablet as the screen size is comfortable.
The second non-standard included accessory is the “presentation pack”, which features one USB port, one mini-usb port and a power port. The mini-usb port is used for ActiveSync but the full USB port is a USB-host one, meaning that you can hook up usb keys and external hard drives in it. However, the PDA does not provide enough power through that port, and so you will need to use your mass storage device either with its AC power (if it’s a hard drive) or use a powered usb hub for USB keys. I was able to mount a USB key successfully after installing the mass-storage driver included in this .cab file (only install the mass storage .cab, not the other two). The USB host port is also supposed to work with some printers out of the box.
I was also successful hooking up common USB keyboards and mice without the need of any additional drivers! They worked out of the box. I am not sure if this version of the “presentation accessory” supports displaying PowerPoint presentations on a projector because the VGA connector is not present on it, and there is no manual discussing the accessory!
The PDA has a very nice feel on the hand; it is obvious that the people who worked on the project at Toshiba put lots of thought into its design. The device allows to physically turn off the Bluetooth hardware, or hard reset with a press of a slider under the battery. There is also a “hold” button, an extra button that loads either the voice recognition software or the voice recorder application, and a jog dial/scrolling wheel on the side. The VGA screen is stunning and less reflective than the x50v’s, making video-watching easier to the eyes. As for the stylus, for my small hands it feels fine. What doesn’t feel fine is the jog dial/wheel which I can’t use with a single hand. The PDA is so big for my hands that it’s impossible to use the wheel on the side to scroll up and down. However, on a guy’s hands, it should be just fine.
The e800 comes with Windows 2003, but a completely free firmware upgrade is available that upgrades it to Windows 2003 Second Edition. The included Win2k3 boots in 8 seconds while Win2k3SE boots in about 40 seconds, although, I still highly recommend buyers of the Toshiba e800 to upgrade to Win2k3SE version. Their eyes will thank them. You see, Windows 2003 First Edition doesn’t support VGA screens and so it uses a non-native resolution of QVGA (without double-pixeling). And this has the effect of worse rendering quality. After upgrading to Win2k3SE, the resolution still remains QVGA for most applications, but through double-pixeling the quality is stunning. Additionally, some applications support the VGA resolution directly (e.g. Opera and ClearVue) allowing for more information displaying on the screen. For those who want “true” VGA support, they can try either the freeware SE_VGA or OzVGA utilities. If you decide to stay with Win2k3 firmware though, there is a way to go to true VGA using 3 utilities from different sources and it’s not as click-n-go as with SE_VGA or OzVGA (which require Win2k3SE).
One interesting point about this device is that it uses a special graphics accelerator instead of integrated XScale ones found on most cheaper PDAs. The device uses a 2 MB ATi 2D accelerator which provides good (but not great) performance. This is why Win2k3SE users are advised to download this .cab file, extract its contents using the CabInstl utility to a temp folder (do not install, only extract), rename the extracted 0ace_ddi.xxx file to ace_ddi.dll, copy it to the /Windows folder and soft-reboot. Graphics speed should see a major increase now.
The PDA is a solid performer and very stable, but one thing I found peculiar is that it would come to life from standby every 15-20 minutes and connect to ActiveSync all by itself! I don’t know if this is a bug that always existed on the PDA or only appears with my version of ActiveSync, version 4.1 (the PDA was tested by Toshiba with ActiveSync 3.x only), or it’s simply a bug of one of the 4 additional drivers I installed (drivers for any operating system should be written in a sleep-friendly fashion, otherwise sleep mode misbehaves). The third party drivers I installed are the Linksys WCF12, Windcom CF bluetooth stack, Raptoc mass storage and the ATi graphics one.
This Toshiba PDA comes with a lot of interesting software not found on other PDA products. There is ClearVue, which allows the reading of .doc, .xls, and .ppt files without the need to convert them to the mobile versions of these formats (meaning, that you can read real documents from your workplace). There is also a text-to-speech application, a sophisticated voice recorder, and a voice commander. There are more than 50 commands that you can give to the PDA vocally and about 10 of them are configurable. I found this feature to work so-so. Half of the time, instead of carrying out my command it would just put the PDA into standby. On the CD you will also find the ATI Presentation Pack software, a Wireless Projector Utility (although I am not sure if it works through USB as I don’t have a projector to try it) and the JetCet Print utility which allows printing via USB.
The only part that I didn’t quite like on the PDA is the Bluetooth stack. Instead of licensing Windcom/Broadcom’s stack, Toshiba wrote their own from scratch. While this shows that Toshiba was very serious about this product, it results in poor support for Bluetooth profiles and compatibility with third party Bluetooth-enabled drivers (e.g. a non-HID Bluetooth keyboard that would require a special driver). Toshiba’s Bluetooth stack only supports FTP, Obex and dial-up. That’s when I disabled the internal Bluetooth module and used a compact flash Bluetooth card using Windcom’s stack, and it worked without any conflicts. I was even able to ActiveSync wirelessly.
In conclusion, this is a great PDA for office and serious usage. It’s fast, it’s powerful, it’s stable, it has lots of features and most importantly, it goes on and on for ages. If you are a mobile user for whom battery life is very important, this might be the PDA for you as it’s available at a reasonable price.
* Outstanding battery life
* Amazing, bright VGA screen
* USB-host support
* Unique applications
* Big and heavy
* More RAM than ROM
* Weak Bluetooth stack
* No WiFi