Sunday 7 August 2011

Dell XCD35 (Froyo) Smartphone review

As we go further down the price bracket of Android phones, we notice that user experience takes a major back seat. This is because, Android wasn’t designed to run on slower phones so anything with a processor slower than 800MHz feels quite clunky and sluggish. Manufacturers don’t really have a choice in the matter since faster components drive up the cost of the phone so in order to cater to the budget segment certain compromises have to be made. Dell’s XCD35 is one such example. This is not a new phone by any means. It has been parading around as the ZTE Blade in the West for a long time now. The XCD35 joins the likes of the LG Optimus One P500, Samsung Galaxy Fit and Pro and HTC Wildfire since all these phones have very similar features and fall in the same price bracket. So let’s see what the XCD35 can do to impress us.

Design and Build Quality

The first impression of the phone is not great primarily due to the choice of colours. It looks plastiky and a bit cheap with the dull grey coating for the entire body. The actual build is not bad once you hold it in your hand and it's light too at just 120g. There are no signs of creaking parts and the plastic used seems quite durable. Adorning the front is a 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen capable of displaying 256K colours.

The XCD35 also happens to be the only Android phone in that price range to port a 480x800 pixel resolution. This ensures the icons, images and video appear crisp and clear without pixellation. There are three physical buttons at the bottom for ‘Home’, ‘Menu’, and ‘Back’. The size of the buttons are quite small and the backlighting could have been better. During charging, the ‘Back’ button glows red, but it’s very dim and can barely be seen.

We have chrome accents on either side of the phone, which breaks the monotonous grey shade. The micro-USB port is placed on the left while the volume rocker and speaker grill is placed on the right. The button has a little spongy feedback that I didn't quite like. Finally, the power and 3.5mm headphone jack is placed on the top. The 3.2MP auto-focus camera is tucked away at the back. There is no flash or front facing camera even though the XCD35 does support 3G data speeds.

Overall, the build and finish is quite decent but I still feel the Optimus P500 and the Wildfire were built better.

Features and Features

The Dell XCD35 ships with Android 2.2, a.k.a Froyo. What you get is the stock version of Android as Dell hasn’t made any customizations whatsoever. This is quite odd since the Venue and Venue Pro had a custom skin. The only reason I can think of is the lack of horse power in the XCD35. Even with stock Froyo running, the UI is quite sloppy.

The animations are not smooth and it just feels slow. Go Launcher helps quite a bit and the XCD35 is a lot more user friendly but there's a lingering sense of lag still present. The lock screen and icons are from stock Android so nothing new here. The phone has an accelerometer and ambient light sensor built-in as well.

Dell gives you two options for keyboards, the stock Android one and TouchPal which offers more settings. I couldn’t find a way to switch keyboards directly though without going to Settings. The TouchPal keyboard offers you options for Predict next word, Correct mistyping and Relevant words. You can’t type very fast on the portrait keyboard as it’s a bit cramped and the CPU struggles at times to keep up. The landscape view is better to type on but the time it takes to switch to this view can get on your nerves especially if you’re in a hurry.


The stock video player can read MP4/H.264/H.263/AVI but playing back even SD files are a bit of a challenge, especially full length movies. Moboplayer adds more functionality and thankfully SD videos are relatively smooth but it will intermitently drop a frame or two. SD files at DVD resolution tend to stutter at first but after a few seconds will play normally. This worked for most SD clips but it struggles with full length movies.

The stock audio player is not great as it doesn't offer any sort of sound enhancement options. The bundled earphones are laughable, not something I expected from Dell. EP630s make music sound better but then, anything sounds better with them. There’s also FM Radio built-in. The Dell XCD35 only has 200MB of in-built storage but you can extend it upto 16GB with a micro-SD card.


The Dell XCD35 supports HSDPA (7.2 Mbps) but no HSUPA. Along with EDGE support we also have Wi-Fi b/g support and Bluetooth v2.1 with A2DP. For Google Maps, we have A-GPS support, which works noticeably slower compared to higher end Android handsets. Other apps include, Gmail, Gtalk, Email, Google Search, Latitude, News and Weather and YouTube.

The browser is the same stock one we’ve seen countless times on Froyo devices. The rendering is done well but once again the phone is plagued by the slower processor which does not like the high resolution. Web pages look good as the screen can reproduce a decent color palette. Pinch-to-zoom works well too although at times when the screen gets too greasy it doesn’t. I noticed a slight glitch with the phone. Whenever I connected it to the PC to tranfer data or charge it, the touch panel simply stopped responding. You can't use the phone at all when it's connected which is really strange.


The camera interface is surprisingly slick and packs in lots of options. There’s a little vertical strip of icons which give you quick access to Focus Mode, Toggle GeoTagging, White balance and zoom.

All the icons automatically switch orientation depending on how you hold the phone. Indoor pictures are average due to the lack of flash. Outdoor pics are somewhat better and the auto-focus helps in capturing a decent amount of detail.

The video recorder records up to VGA resolution and the best bit is you can manually select what video encoder you wish to use (MP4, H.264, H.263) and the audio codec as well (MRNB,QCELP,EVRC,AAC). The maximum video duration is capped at 30 minutes. The video output is a little jerky but passable. The sensor is able to capture a decent amount of colour even indoors with moderate levels of ambient light.

Misc. Features

Although Dell hasn’t provided any custom interface for the XCD35, they have bundled some useful apps. Filer is a file manager that gives you access to the phone's internal memory and the memory card. Documents to Go lets you view and create DOC, PPT and XLS files. You can also use this to view PDFs.

RemoSync helps you connect to Microsoft Exchange Server using ActiveSync protocols. Finally we have Dell’s U-Connect which is an app for Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo Messenger.

Battery Life

The Dell XCD35 packs in a 1250mAh Li-Ion battery which under regular use gave me about a day and half of battery life. This is with EDGE connection, Gmail and Gtalk constantly running, an hour of phone calls, music and little web surfing. In our video drain test, we played back MP4 files in a loop till the phone died. Here, the XCD35 managed 8 hours and 30 minutes, which is not bad at all.


For a street price of Rs.10,990, the Dell XCD35 makes a very tempting buy when compared to the competition but I still wouldn’t recommend it and here’s why. Let's start with the positives, the biggest ace up Dell’s sleeve is the high resolution screen. No phone in this price bracket can match it and due to that, the picture quality is a lot better compared to the Samsung Galaxy Pro or the LG Optimus One P500. The build is quite good as well and although it may look a bit dull and boring, it’s lightweight and feels really good in your hand. Battery life is also up there along with a decent camera

My main problem with the XCD35 is the slow processor. The high resolution screen is all good but you need to couple it with a powerful processor as well and I’m sorry but 600Mhz just doesn't cut it. The phone is sluggish even when browsing through the menus and the stock player cannot handle SD videos properly which is unacceptable. There’s also no customization done from Dell’s side, which means functionality is a bit limited right out of the box. And finally, you can only upgrade the memory to 16GB which is less considering everyone else has 32GB support. If I have to recommend a phone in this price bracket, then I’d say go with the LG P500 or the Galaxy Fit. The screen may be little smaller and lower resolution but it’s snappy, which is what counts. Alternately, Samsung’s Galaxy Pro is also a very good buy as it's cheaper and faster than all the above phones.

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