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Symbol's Clunky, Clever MC70

It's not much to look at, but this multifunction handheld is strong enough to take a licking and keep the mobile professional on-task

Symbol Technology's (SBL) MC70 won't win any awards for looks. It's essentially designed like a big block, with large numeric buttons for making calls. And on the unit I reviewed, those same buttons also share space with the keyboard, which packs several letters onto each key and makes typing awkward at best.

But what it lacks in form, the MC70 more than makes up for in function. In fact, it's hard to imagine a feature the MC70 doesn't offer for the worker on the go, from medical professional to delivery-truck driver. There's an integrated bar code scanner, imager, and quad-band world phone for making calls to and from just about anywhere—all built-in. Other configurations let you choose a digital camera, full keypad, side slot for memory cards, and Bluetooth for wireless connection to other electronic gadgets.

The MC70, like its predecessors, is all about ruggedness (see, 2/24/06, "Symbol's Stylish Handheld"). It's designed to be dropped—hard and often—and to keep on ticking in very tough environments, both indoors and outdoors, from warehouses to along FedEx (FDX) drivers' routes to hospitals as nurses make their rounds.


The unit is clearly designed for work. Anyone who chooses to hold the MC70 up to their face to make a call should expect to look ridiculous standing next to one of the majority of cell-phone users opting for super-slim phones like Motorola's (MOT) still-popular RAZR. A socket for the SIM card sits under the battery pack, and I dialed numbers on the unit I reviewed using on-screen soft keys.

Say what you will about its size, you're unlikely to overlook the MC70 as you're stepping out of a taxi or exiting an airplane. That makes it ideal for keeping tasks and calendars. And it syncs seamlessly with your PC.

If, like me, you find the main keypad jumbled, the MC70 boasts a roomy, 3.5-inch color touch screen with a "soft" keypad. It's also transreflective, making the screen easy to read in whatever lighting. The device comes with a powerful 624 MHz XScale processor, Microsoft (MSFT) Windows Mobile Premium operating system, 64 MB RAM memory, and 128 MB of ROM memory. For wireless connections, the MC70 includes all flavors of 802.11 wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi.

Navigation Challenges

Like most Windows Mobile or Pocket PC devices, though, navigating through the system is not as easy as it could be with a Palm (PALM) or Linux-based operating system. But because the MC70 uses Windows, it lets anyone who has Windows Server 2003 get behind the firewall to access most desktop applications, be it e-mail, messaging, calendaring, or business software from companies such as Oracle (ORCL) or IBM (IBM).

While it's style-challenged and pricey at about $2,000, Symbol's MC70 should be a welcome addition to companies whose employees experience the rough-and-tumble workday for which the device was designed.

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