Orange SPV C500 review

Can Orange's smartphone and winner of Girl's Best Friend wireless category award at CES 2005 take on the more established models from Palm and HP and more to the point will the small form factored device be able to replace both your phone and your PDA? We take a look and find out.

The Orange SPV 500 is a smart phone, which means it has an operating system - in this case Microsoft's Windows Mobile - as well as firmware like all mobile phones. Having an operating system on your phone brings some benefits, and some pitfalls.

Firstly the benefits. The SPV C500 is more than a phone. As well as calls, you can manage you email and PIM data on the go, courtesy of the operating system. Since it runs Windows Mobile, you can use your phone like a PDA and download all sorts of third party applications. It works brilliantly as an MP3 or multimedia device too.

The phone is loaded with Windows Media Player 10.0 and 128MB of onboard storage. This can be upgraded to 256MB. The phone's designer - HTC - deserves tons of credit because it has managed to keep the handset small enough to qualify as a phone but has found enough screen size to make it work as an email reader and PDA style device. HTC (High Tech Computer corporation) claims this is the world's smallest smart phone and on the back of its success, the Taiwanese company is already the biggest manufacturer of Microsoft-powered mobile phones.

In design terms, the only compromise seems to be the overly slim, 5-way navigation key that sits above the keypad and is difficult to use. Luckily, Orange uses a lot of numbered menus so whenever possible we found ourselves selecting by the key pad, not the navigation key. Keeping it small also means a keypad that really does not work for typing anything but the shortest of email.

The downside is that all this software slows the phone down. We like switching a phone off when not in use but because is took over 30 seconds for the SPV C500 to switch on, this was impractical.

When you only have 30 seconds to make a quick call, waiting 30 seconds for the phone to switch on is a no go. Because the phone was slow, it was doubly annoying to have Window's logo animated on screen and it made the screen a mess, especially when Orange and Microsoft were fighting over whose logo appeared in the top right hand corner of the screen.

It would be unimaginable for design conscious Orange to run press ads with its logo half blotted out, but this sort of mess was common on the SPV C500. A much bigger problem was that much of the added functionality of a smart phone did not actually work for us because of the email server we use.

For all Microsoft's talk of compatibility, its mobile operating system simply does not talk to AOL's email server. We thought of setting up a Hotmail or Yahoo email account and forwarding on our AOL email as a way round but this failed because AOL does not support forwarding of email.

The benefits of PIM data were reduced too because remote access from your phone depends on your company running Microsoft Exchange Server with Exchange ActiveSynch or Microsoft Mobile Information Server. Without this back up, synchronising your phone remotely with the latest updates to your calendar that have been made back at the office, does not work. You will have to do it manually once you are back in the office by synching your phone with your PC via the USB cable.

Verdict

Unfortunately for Orange, we are married to our spam-free AOL email account and nothing is going to persuade us to swap it for something like Hotmail. This meant email on the go did not work for us. The answer would be for Orange to ditch the code that displays Microsoft's logo across everything in favour of Blackberry's brilliant redirector software, which is compatible with AOL. We reviewed the Orange SPV C500, but the exact same handset is available on any network from Expansys as the i-mate SP3. In the US, the same handset sells as the Audiovox SMT 5600. For UK users, we can see benefits from going with Orange because you may need technical support.

At CES this year, the handset won the Girl's Best Friend wireless category award. We agree, it is an award-winning smart phone handset, but whether it works for you depends more on your email server and the corporate back up you have for remote devices.