T-Mobile MDA Mail review

A BlackBerry-style Qwerty-keyboard packing messenger

TechRadar Verdict

A decent enough mid-range handset, but connection speed is foremost of a number of grumbles


  • +

    Push email and web browser

    Qwerty typewriter keyboard

    MP3 player with stereo Bluetooth


  • -

    No 3G

    No Wi-fi

    No Office editing software

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Despite the fact that its shape and form make comparisons with the BlackBerry inevitable, the T-Mobile MDA Mail is not actually aimed so squarely at the businessman.

Unlike many smartphones aimed at the online executive, the T-Mobile handset - built by Windows Mobile specialist HTC - is also designed to appeal to a wider audience. And it does this by including a spread of must-have consumer features; in particular it includes a 1.3-megapixel camera, and a multi-format digital music and video player.

Although it is aimed at mass market mobile emailing, the MDA Mail is still a serious Windows Mobile-equipped smartphone. It is being stocked by T-Mobile in the UK as part of the operator's web'n'walk range of handsets, geared up for easy web and email access plus priced on a competitive flat-rate tariff.

The all black finish gives the phone a touch of class - and the rubbery coating to the rear gives it a similar tactile feel as the Motorola PEBL. Best still this is a remarkably thin and light handset for a phone of this type, weighing in at just 130g, and with a depth of just 13mm.

Unlike the BlackBerry, this smartphone runs on Windows Mobile 5.0 for Smartphone - the Microsoft platform designed for mobiles without touch-sensitive screens. But although there is no stylus controller, you do of course have all those letter keys to help speed up your communication.

Unlike with a Pocket PC, however, you are not provided with Word document editors and Excel spreadsheet compilers. Instead, you get simplified software for simply reading word processing and accountancy files - as well as for accessing other digital file types, including PowerPoint and PDF attachments. But, of course, the beauty of this type of phone is that software can be added to customise the functionality to your particular needs.

The phone is also less expensive than many of its would-be rivals. T-Mobile is offering it for free with practically any tariff that you would seriously consider with this sort of handset.

Wi-Fi connectivity

Interestingly, a very similar handset is also available in SIM-free form as the HTC S620 Excalibur; this adds Wi-Fi connectivity to the mix. The lack of Wi-Fi access on the T-Mobile version is a particular shame, as this is yet another non-3G internet phone that can't take advantage of the broadband access speeds of 3G or higher speed HSDPA.

Although the handset keyboard doesn't have separate number keys, digits can be dialled in relatively easily using a set of silver-coloured buttons in a standard numberpad arrangement. The keys are not particularly large, so typing numbers or letters has to be done using a single thumb - it's not designed for touch typists.

There is no trackball or thumbwheel interface on this model, but in addition to a standard joypad and softkey arrangement there is a touch-sensitive control on the side of the phone. The positioning of this "Joggr" interface is less than perfect, and it is not a particularly quick or intuitive way of getting yourself around.

The 65K-colour, 320 x 240-pixel screen is perfectly proportioned for viewing videos or web pages. There is no need to turn the device around; screen images can use the full area without any need for scrolling. It is the download speed that lets the device down, however, as a multimedia tool. Video downloads take an age from the T-Mobile site. The waiting game would be fine, were it not for the fact that there are plenty of 3G handsets that offer a faster service.

We were impressed with the musical performance however. The unit's 201MHz OMAP processor is backed up with 128MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM, but storage for clips and files can be increased by buying an optional MicroSD card.

This is hidden away in a slot under the battery cover, but can sensibly be removed without having to remove the power pack itself. Sound quality from the built-in speakerphone is more passable than with most units, and plugging in the supplied headset its USB style connector provides a pleasing acoustic experience.

Tone controls are thin on the ground with the supplied Windows Media Player Mobile software. However, it scores extra points w by the fact that you can use this device with a stereo Bluetooth headset.

The camera is also seemingly simple, with a resolution of just 1.3-megapixels (now practically the minimum standard for a new cameraphone), and without the luxury of flash or fancy effects.

However, it turns in a good set of pictures with accurate coloration, and with much less noise and artefacts than is customary for other 1.3-megapixel cameras. Pictures provide the sort of detail that is normally only associated with models offering twice the resolution, proving that it's not just the pixels that count.

There is no autofocus or close-focus ability but this device is more than capable of taking useful record shots whilst on the move. It can also shoot video - albeit with miniscule 176x144-pixel dimensions.

A key selling point of the Microsoft operating system is that it allows you to synchronise your emails and personal detail with Outlook - giving you a truly joined up way of running your life. The device will also provide you with push email over the internet or from your corporate server, should your office have the right type of server configuration. There is wide support for different email standards and provider, which helps you get the most out of the keyboard.

The T-Mobile MDA Mail is further proof the BlackBerry is not the only option. This is a neat package that combines sensible communication facilities without making you forego the features and fun that you would expect from a more usual middle-of-the-range handset.

As such it is the perfect handset for those that want a sensible emailer handset, without ending up with something that is too geared up for serious business users.

Its Achilles heel, however, is its connection speed. Using 2.5G technology, it can never offer the web surfing or video download experience of more state-of-the-art rivals and has to miss out on some useful services, such as Mobile TV and high-speed multimedia downloading.

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