Symbol's Stylish Handheld

The MC50 packs lots of computing power into an attractive PDA that won't embarrass you in the boardroom

By Cliff Edwards

Think about those handheld computers you see the local FedEx delivery driver using. They're an invaluable tool for the busy professional on the go. But let's face it: They're clunky, unattractive things that lack the handsome styling of the toys you see carried by the corporate elite. Symbol's MC50 and its souped-up companion, the MC70, nicely combine the best of both worlds. So it's fitting that the MC50 becomes the latest in our series of reviews of high-end handheld mobile devices (see BW Online, 2/15/06, "A Phone That Just Lacks Popcorn").

Like all Pocket PCs, the MC50 uses Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Mobile operating system to deliver many of the same applications you'd get on another handheld. But it packs so much more. The $1,200 unit comes wrapped in a matte black casing of hardened plastic to withstand the drops that frequently lead to a shattered screen. It sports an über-fast Intel (INTC) XScale 520 MHz processor and 64 MB of built-in memory.


The MC50 includes a 3.5-inch QVGA color touchscreen, your choice of a model with a keyboard or a unit optimized for making phone calls, built-in 801.11b wireless fidelity, and the ability to make voice over IP (VoIP) calls. There are options for push-to-talk, a 1.1-megapixel digital camera, and a bar-code reader.

Weighing in at 6.8 ounces, it's a relatively svelte 5 to 5.5 inches in height (depending on whether you opt for the keyboard), 2.95 inches wide, and about 1 inch deep. That makes it an easy-to-carry addition to your wardrobe, whether you occupy the corner office or roam the ranch.

The MC50 is clearly designed for mobile workers in key fields, such as retail sales and health care. Because it uses Windows, it lets anyone who has Windows Server 2003 get behind the restricted firewall access to most desktop applications -- from Oracle (ORCL) or IBM (IBM) database and customer relationship management software to e-mail, messaging, and calendaring.


Like most Pocket PC devices, though, navigating through the system is not as easy as it could be with a Linux-based operating system or even a Palm. And the Qwerty keyboard seems way too cramped for comfortable use by most people. Chalk it up to making room for the larger screen. The keyboard is the MC50's biggest drawback, because most of those keys are shared with other commands or functions, hampering the very productivity the device is supposed to enable.

Even though the Symbol is pricey and its features may be over the top for many users, it's a handy product to have if you're the sort who has a rough-and-tumble travel schedule and needs to be in frequent touch with the home office.

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