For the past week, I’ve been using two phones. Both Asus, both new devices. The first of these is the Asus M530w – a Windows Mobile Standard (Smartphone) OS device, with a full QWERTY keyboard. The other is the Asus P526 which will feature in a later review.
It’s a retail device, with the full retail packaging, and looks rather like a scientific calculator. As you might expect from a (Fat) candybar QWERTY device, it’s not exactly the best looking thing in town, but there are plenty worse as well.
The Asus M530w on test was supplied by our friends at Devicewire, who stock all manor of smartphones and accessories.
What’s in the Box?
Asus M530w Specification:
The Asus M530w has a full qwerty keyboard and but it’s not a slider. That means it’s fairly big, pocket calculator size, and certainly looks rather geeky. However, for the form factor chosen, it’s making the best of things really. It looks and feels expensive, and the black/silver colour scheme look good, if a little unoriginal. At 65 x 117 x 13.8mm, it’s a pocket filler, but because it’s so thin – it really isn’t as bad as you might expect.
The front of the phone is roughly split half and half with the 320×240 screen, and the QWERTY keyboard. Between these areas, we have the common smartphone button configuration, including a direction pad, with OK button, home and back, and the softkeys. We can also see the standard phone controls. The buttons are slightly concave, and feel very nice and tactile.
The screen is good, and very usable, but doesn’t seem quite as vibrant as other latest devices. I’m not sure why – and it’s not really a criticism because it’s not a problem and doesn’t affect the phone.
The keyboard itself seems very good. The keys are nicely spread out and I must admit – it’s easier to type on than my current favourite device – the Samsung i620. Obviously the extra room on the M530w has been put to good use.
At the top of the screen, we have an LED indicator, which works the same as any other Windows Mobile Standard device. It is quite bright though – I know this is something that annoys a lot of Smartphone users! To the right of this, is the forward facing camera.
At the bottom of the device, we have a standard mini-USB plug (yay!) and a 2.5 earphone jack plug (Even more yay!). It’s been a while since we’ve seen a device using such open standards.
The right hand side is empty except for a single Camera button. This is held down to start the app, and pressed to take a picture. More on that later.
On the left hand side, there’s a neat rocker, which includes an OK push button within it, and just below that, theres an up/down combo button. Although all this is useful for is volume, the ‘up’ button does also double as a start command for the built in voice command software.
The reverse side again resembles a scientific calculator. Ok, maybe apart from the camera! The lens is visible, but protected with a non-removable plastic cover. Next to that we have the flash/light. Then oddly a fairly large speaker grille. Although unusual – it’s not actually as bad as it sounds.
Moving finally to the top of the device – we find only a solitary silver power button.
Sadly ASUS haven’t really been very daring when it comes to their ROMs. The M530w have a rather vanilla version of Windows Mobile 6. Asus have modified the menus, and they’ve done that well.
There’s just not much in the way of extra software. The usual suspects are all present – Worldcard Mobile, Voice Command, and Clearvue. It’s all good, and useful to a lot of people I’m sure.
Asus have included a few titbits though. SPB Zip makes a random appearance (though is a very nice addition), and a Remote Presenter tool is also found both on the device, and as PC Software on the included CD. This IS actually quite nice – and works in the same way as similar software available for Nokia phones.
JAVA is also included (bit of a given these days I admit), and a streaming player. This appears to support only Real Audio. I’ll try and get some clarification on that though.
Pocket Internet Explorer is obviously included in the Internet menu, along with Internet Sharing since this is a WM6 device. The auto-configuration app is also hidden away next to it, but does start on a hard reset as well. VERY VERY Annoyingly, it appears to be a bit broken – as there is no way to select your operator. The list is empty. As stated above – this is slightly worrying if this is a retail ROM device.
Asus have grouped and updated the menu well, with most apps where you would expect to find them. It’s a shame though that they couldn’t have included a few more bits and pieces in the ROM.
The Asus homescreens are functional, if nothing special. You may well end up looking for something a bit more usable though.
Keyboard: The large QWERTY keyboard do much for looks of any device – but at least it works well. I type quickly, but couldn’t beat it. The CPU helps here – the device seems rapid in general, and this extends to the keyboard input speed.
Battery life: Seems good. Two batteries are included, which always annoys me, because manufacturers need to realise this is NOT a suitable solution to poor battery life. Anyway moving on… I haven’t used WiFi much, but have used data connections, Bluetooth and lots of calls – and it’s handled it all well. Down to about 50% at the end of the day.
Speed: The clean ROM will probably suit a lot of people, and coupled with the fast CPU, the M530w is very very quick.
Wifi: This device is so slim, it’s impressive that they have managed to not only fit wifi in, but get it working well. I’ve had no problems with signal quality, and I’m pretty impressed with it really.
No HSDPA: In a rather odd move, ASUS have given the M530w a 3G radio, but not the newer HSDPA standard.
Size: It’s pretty big! It looks like a calculator. It goes with the territory with this form form factor, but its definitely a business phone rather than a ‘cool’ device
Having finally worked out how to install the sim card and battery, I was greeted with a flashy spinning ASUS logo, followed by the more relaxed Windows Mobile boot screen.
The first boot seemed to take a long while, and having got to the start screen, a ASUS branded program popped up and installed some custom programs. At the end of this, the software proudly claimed “Installation COMPLETE!” and rebooted. The second time through was much quicker, and this time I was asked if I wanted to auto-configure my data connections. Unfortunately the software doesn’t seem to have any data settings with it and basically did nothing!
Not a good start.
I’ve seen the same software in action on our other Asus review device – and it does work well there. I’m hoping this is not a retail ROM, because it’s a bit poor these days to have a device that won’t configure itself.
I did consider trying HTC PC application to configure it – but instead I acted like a random customer might – and searched the web for the settings.
Having finally got up and running, syncing contacts and generally getting the device shipshape, I tried the internet. It’s a shame an additional browser isn’t included – but pocket IE does look OK on the landscape screen. It’s about time Microsoft but a bit more effort into improving their default browser. Its limited, but I guess it works OK for a bit of surfing on the train etc.
Typing in web addresses – and in fact texts or emails, is, as you might expect, an absolute breeze with the QWERTY keyboard. The keys are well spaced, and raised away from the casing. It’s easy to type using either two hands, or one. The less common symbols/punctuation appear as a secondary function – and the really commons ones have their own key entirely.
The size is a bit of an issue for me though – you can’t have it totally your own way. The keyboard by its nature makes the device large. However slim it is, it’s still big. I also can’t get away from the fact it looks like a calculator!
I love the Standard version of Windows Mobile. Far more than Professional, so for me at least, this device is far more usable than any of the touch screen units about. Touch screens are NOT good on phones in my opinion. This is a phone over a PDA, so its a good choice to go with Standard in my opinion.
The sound profiles are all pretty much standard – and MP3 ringtones work as well as any other WM device. As stated earlier, it’s a mostly vanilla ROM anyway. ASUS haven’t overly modified it which is a good thing overall.
The camera application is pretty sweet though. Very easy to flick between still and video mode, and options are all within easy access menus. The obligatory link to the standard ‘Photos and Videos’ app is also there.
In terms of reliability, the M530w is doing well. The auto-configuration app was a let down, but that aside, I’ve not found much to complain about. Certainly the phone is very stable (not crashed yet), even when running multiple applications at once.
Asus have started well. Its a decent first strike in the Windows Mobile world, and the import stuff like reliability is all there.
The software included is a little disappointing, but hardware wise, there isn’t much to criticise.
I guess the major problem I have is the lack of HSDPA. It wouldn’t be a problem with most devices, but the M530w is (or at least should) be aimed at business, who will probably demand HSDPA. I say that purely because of its size. Unlike the i620 from Samsung – this is not a fashion phone.
The ASUS support forums are very good for my laptop – and I’d hope the same can be said for the M530w and other ASUS phones once the user base is there.
If you are after a phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, then this is a good example of one, from a top brand.
The Asus M530w is available now and costs just £195.74 (Ex. VAT) at Devicewire.
Review by: Matt