Pros: CF and SD slot, 64 Ram/48 Rom, interchangeable main battery
Cons: Bulkier/heavier than other pdas, Dell accessories expensive, no usb host capabilities.
First of all let me note that epinions has their graphic reversed for the basic and advanced axim models. The basic axim doesn't come with a cradle unless it's ordered separately.
Basic vs. Advanced:
The axim basic has a slower cpu, less memory main memory, and less built-in flash memory. The basic model also doesn't come with a cradle, that is an extra expense. For all the extras you get with the advanced I really can't fathom why anyone would buy the basic unless cost was the driving factor. From past experience with a 32/32 pda it simply isn't enough memory if you plan to run something like a mapping gps package on your handheld. I don't know if the basic is upgradeable to the advanced or not, I can't really see how it could be.
What's in the box:
The Axim machine
A really nice but basic slip case with velcro closure (and small pocket inside for items such as a second battery)
The cradle that has a second slot for charging a second battery (wow, this was a huge selling point for me no more down time while the battery charges if you buy a second battery).
Button cell backup battery
Software CDROM with latest version of microsoft activesync and outlook 2002 on it (activesync loads the drivers for the axim onto your system).
Two manuals, foldout illustrated quick setup guide, miscellaneous paperwork
Controls and layout:
The top of the machine is taken up mostly by the type II compact flash slot. Note that the slot is not centered, if you are using a pda mount with your device be sure that it holds from the side or it may block this slot. (Type II means it will take the thicker IBM micro drive, CF wireless(wifi)cards, CF gps devices, or plain old flash memory cards in here, it has full I/O capabilities). The only other item found here is the plug for head phones, speakers, etc.
On the front top is the on/off button, neato, it lights up.
The axim has the usual five buttons across the bottom seen on most incarnations of pocket pc based devices; these buttons are fully programmable (i.e. you can reassign their functions).
The bottom of the machine has the sync plug and the ac adapter plug.
On the top left side of the machine is the SD slot for secure digital memory cards (I really like it here instead of on top with the CF slot like my old machine had). I thought that like the CF slot that this was also SDIO but now I'm reading that may not be so. So if you want to add devices to your axim you're apparently limited to the CF slot or connection via the sync connector on the bottom.
Also on the left is the recording button (somewhat flat against the side, you really have to hit it with the stylus or something to activate it).
Also here is the indentation that is the soft reset button.
Also here is a kind of strange looking button??? that has two functions, when pushed up or down it scrolls the screen up and down and if you press inward on this "lever," while pushing the large center round (bottom front) button up or down simultaneously, it will lower or increase the screen brightness (there may be more dual functions like this but this is the first one I've found for it).
There are no controls on the right side of the axim.
On the back is the compartment for the backup button-cell battery (that preserves your ram memory while the main battery is off), and the slide on/off for the main battery. You need the stylus or other pointed blunt object to open the backup battery compartment or release the lock on the main battery (nice touch). This is a very common hearing aid battery that is available at any walgreens or Eckerds.
Pull the cradle out of the box first, find the ac adapter for the cradle and plug it into the cradle, don't plug the cradle in to your usb port yet.
Take out the machine, pull the plastic off the screen, use the stylus to open the backup battery door on the back and put the button cell in with the "plus" side up.
Slide the main battery onto the back of the machine.
Plug in the cradle and put the unit in the charger for at least four hours before you try to start it up for the first time.
After the battery has charged, turn the axim on and follow the setup prompts.
Depending upon whether or not you've had a pocket pc pda setup to sync with your windows system before the procedure will be a bit different.
If you already have a functioning copy of outlook 2002 you don't need to remove that and install the one on the Axim cdrom. However, if you have a functioning copy of activesync on your system that is setup for your old PDA that WILL NEED TO BE REMOVED before you load the new version on the axim cd that includes the drivers for the axim. I firmly believe in rebooting after removing software to avoid problems from leftover .dll files or other system files. After rebooting, install activesync from the axim cd.
More hardware setup:
Now and only now, you can plug your usb cradle into the desktop/laptop. DON'T put the axim in the cradle yet.
Start up microsoft activesync on your desktop/laptop, it should almost immediately start to hunt for your pda.
The usb drivers won't load until you put the axim in the cradle, put the axim on the cradle now. The axim takes a bit of a press downward to seat properly on the connector; this is a good thing. (On my old pda the cradle was really quirky and I often had to play around with it to make it sync and charge on the cradle, this connector seems much more dependable.)
You might have to hit the back button and let activesync search for the device again if windows takes too long to load up the drivers before activesync gives up. This is not precisely the procedure they recommend in the book but after fighting with this quirky software for over a year it's the best procedure I've found for getting the machines to "talk" to each other via activesync.
Next you should be presented with a checklist of what items you want to sync between your desktop and your pda. I personally never bother with emails (they just eat up all your memory), I sync only notes, calendars and contacts.
Activesync is not a perfect product but right now it's what we've got.
Now you've got a machine that will sync with your desktop or laptop computer running windows os. With your pda in the cradle (or attached via an optional sync cable) you can now load up all your software designed to run with this processor and/or pocket pc 2002/2003. Apparently there are enough differences in pocket pc 2003 that some pocket pc 2002 software may not run properly on it; research carefully before loading any third party stuff on your new toy.
Other toys you can get for your Axim:
Dell offers an extended battery that supposedly offers nearly 12 hours of continuous usage. (Independent tests verify very nearly this claim, they got something like 11:45 of run time.)
DC adapter for use in a vehicle to charge and power your axim.
sync cable. Instead of the cradle you can carry this cable along that connects your axim to a usb port for sync and file transfers, software loads, etc. Dell's sync cable doesn't also charge, on ebay you can get a cable that syncs and powers the unit from a usb port.
Leather case. I didn't realize how nice the case they give you was going to be, haven't gotten my leather case yet to see if it's worth the exhorbitant amount they charge for it.
Travel charger. When away from home you need a way to charge your pda's battery, the cradle is too much to carry. I haven't tested it out yet but I think you can use the ac adapter off the cradle and just plug that straight into the machine but it's awfully bulky, a travel charger tends to be smaller and lighter.
Compact flash and/or SD memory cards for extra storage. I use my pda as a mapping gps with additional software and a cf gps, I need someplace to store maps because the cf slot is taken up by the gps unit so I have a 128 or larger SD card just to hold maps and a few games and other junk I don't want littering up my main memory. Dell has some really excellent prices on their memory cards, at least twenty bucks cheaper than compusa unless they have a good sale.
Wifi wireless networking card, aka 802.11b. Wifi hotspots are becoming available in airports, Starbucks coffee shops, malls, and other busy public places. With wifi on your pda you can log onto the internet and check your email, etc. These hotspots are sometimes free and sometimes charge. There are even plans to put wireless networks on airliners and broadcast it off shore for boats. With the right setup at home you can sync over wifi.
GPS devices. With a mapping gps the pda runs the map package and takes data from the gps (global positioning system=satellites in orbit above the earth are triangulated to give your position within a few feet (neato!)) and it can give you turn by turn directions, with voice commands or text only, to your destination and back. I went all over New Mexico with mine and found everything that I wanted to see and never got lost once! This is a very handy tool for someone that travels a lot in unfamiliar cities.
If you plan to use your axim in a vehicle you will need some type of mounting system. I'm a big fan of RAM mount products because the parts are fully interchangeable. The old pda mount for my old pda doesn't quite fit the axim, instead of having to purchase an entire new mount for the axim I was able to buy only the mount section that will plug into the extension arme and suction cup mount that I bought previously. RAM mounts are pricey but well worth the money, they are excellent products.
Every day use and what I think of it:
So far, I haven't found any software that doesn't work right with the new 2003 operating system. The newest version of my map package for my pda wasn't working but going back a version seems to have fixed that problem. Of course all the software companies are holding out their hands for more money, for a new version, rather than releasing a patch so the old version of the software will work on 2003 os.
The cradle is big bulky and well made(heavy), it has a cute little light up DELL sign on the front when it is powered. It has an additional indicator lamp on the side for the charge slot that shows if the battery in the charge slot is fully charged or charging. I have no room for the cradle on my computer desk so the cradle is in my room over my bed so I can get up and grab my pda every morning. I don't add a lot to my machine on a daily basis so when I want to sync I just hook up the sync cable, it takes less space on my computer desk.
I wish I'd looked on ebay before I layed out Dells high prices for their leather case and sync cable. The sync cable is well made but the on ebay is probably just as good. I refused to pay Dell's prices for their travel charger and DC adapter. On ebay I got a DC adapter for about 5.00 bucks and a travel charger for about 8.00 bucks. Dell will probably give you a song about using non oem stuff with your axim but that is a bunch of hooey. Ninety percent of these travel chargers, dc adapters, sync cables, etc., are all made by the same assembly line with the same components.
Most pda's these days come with only an SD slot for memory or toys. For a mapping gps application you need both slots (because the CF slot is taken up by the GPS and you need the SD for map storage), this was a huge selling point for me. On some pda's you can add a CF slot by paying for an extra piece but that also makes the unit physically larger. You can also often purchase a GPS unit that plugs into the sync port on the bottom of the unit, however doing that means you must buy a new GPS if you buy a different machine where a CF GPS should work on any machine with a compact flash slot under the pocket pc os.
The standard battery easily gives several hours of use. I love to play the game "falling tiles" for hours on end. Even after an hour of straight use the battery has barely dropped a few percent. I often put my pda in my purse and carry it around with me and sometimes forget to put it on the charger for days on end.
My old pda would die if left off the charger for more than two days, even if it wasn't used. I've left the axim in my purse for several days straight and the battery was only down a tiny bit. I purchased the extended battery right off so I can always have one on the charger cradle. The axim uses transreflective screen technology which is considered one of the advances that has really improved battery life on these machines. The axim can also throttle back the cpu if the full 400 mhz speed isn't needed which also serves to save power.
Even though all this sounds impressive, the pocket pc based machines still can't hold a candle to the very impressive battery life of palm os based machines. Palm machines are ok but there is more software, and more toys too, for pocket pc because it's a Microsoft product. My old palm pilot professional would last about three months on a set of AAA batteries, now that was impressive but it didn't have near the power of this machine.
Most reviews the first thing they say about the axim is it's too big. I say baloney, it's easy to hold, the screen is a bit larger and fatter than something like a compaq 2215/5500. The axim has a substantial "feel" to it and I like that. For the price they're selling these things at, I'll put up with something that's not as "sexy" as a machine with fewer features that costs twice as much!
I think the screen is gorgeous, easy to read, sharp, fast updating, evenly lit, colors are bright and have good contrast. I haven't tried playing movie clips on it yet.
You can't touch a pda with these features for this price anywhere else, at least I haven't seen one.
to wrap this up:
I love my machine so far, waiting on my new car mount to arrive so I can take the mapping gps out and give it an good run. Recently Dell admitted that there was some kind of firmware (ROM) programming problem that made pocket pc 2003 run more slowly than it should on the Axim. I "think" that they have found the problem and it is fixed on the one I just bought. I know that a few months ago they stopped shipping the Axim till they found and fixed the problem. I have seen varying feedback on the quality of tech support you get from Dell. Being particularly savvy with this stuff I enjoy fixing my own problems so I haven't had a need to call tech support yet. Dell computers in general have a really good reputation, much better than a company like Gateway. I know several people who have old Dell desktop computers that are still chugging along after years of hard use, I hope I can expect the same kind of life from my axim!!!!!
update: If buying a Dell Axim from any source other than Dell, be sure to find out which ROM version the machine has. The latest is the 05 rom which has been updated for 2003 and fixed the slow down issue. Dell is apparently going through some big problems with upgrading older AXIM machines to pc2003.
Dell at one time briefly had a ROM update to pc2003 download on their web page which was apparently hacked; so they took that down. Then they promised to distribute the update on CDROM and I take it there are a lot of people still either waiting for it to arrive or have trashed their machine's ROM trying to update to the new OS.
Before I bought the AXIM I wasn't aware that so much old software wasn't working right in 2003 but apparently there is a lot that doesn't work right. Other than my mapping package, all my games and such seem to work ok. Be aware, for some reason with this type of software you don't get the same kind of "update/patch" policy that many software companies should rightly give you if they want to keep you as a customer. With this stuff you are expected to pay again every time there is an OS update; which I have a problem with.
My new RAM mount for the AXIM arrived and I tested out my gps package (mapopolis navigator 3 with NB map set), the latest version 3 software doesn't work under pc2003 at all, however, I was able to find an earlier version that works fairly well with only an occasional glitch. I've been having some heated debates on two gps newsgroups about this. Several people think I'm nuts that I feel that since I've got just over 5 months left on my subscription that they should be supporting the old mapset on the new OS.
If you are planning to run a compact flash GPS or any other CFIO device on your AXIM be sure to do a little research, I lucked out in that my pre-existing Holux GM270 gps works on the AXIM but there are a lot of complaints about compact flash devices that don't work on the AXIM. There are some theories that the power delivered to the compact flash slot might be a little bit out of specification on some axim units. People are having more luck with devices that connect via the sync connector, at least in the case of GPS units.
Clarification on SDIO: No, the axim doesn't support anything but memory cards in this slot at this time. The hardware and the cpu support SDIO but it is not implemented in the Dell firmware, at this time, it's unknown if they could choose to support it at some later time with a bios upgrade. The newest handheld the X3, is due out soon, that unit has SD slot only and no CF slot so that one will support SDIO. There are far fewer SD devices available (mostly due to size factors I'm sure) so why anyone would choose a handheld without a CF slot is beyond me unless it was just the sexy tiny size that was the main attraction. It's not known yet whether Dell will follow compaq's lead and offer any kind of sleeve system that adds functionality to the device. Aximsite is a great place for information on the axim handhelds, www.aximsite.com.
FYI: Dell's implementation of pc2003 is reportedly not the very best it could be. If you need a lot of portable storage for your handheld the IBM microdrives are about the most portable (1 gig the size of a compact flash card and cheaper than the solid state memory card of the same size). One of the best bargains out there for the microdrive right now is the magicstor 2.2 gig drive and a 4 gig version is coming soon. Only problem with this item is that they don't currently work on the axim with pc2003 due to dell's implementation of the operating system (and the company is not predicting when the problem will be fixed if ever).
Currently the largest amount of external storage that will work correctly on the axim is available in the form of the Toshiba or Kingston 5 gig pcmcia hard drive cards--to use this gadget you also need a compact flash to pcmcia adapter (available on ebay and other places).