I want a mobile phone that thinks it's a tiny PC - so I was intrigued by the Sprint PCS Vision Smart Device PPC-6700. The phone, the latest in a series from HTC, is equipped with Windows Mobile 5.0.

In the UK, T-Mobile sells the HTC phones under the MDA brand, and O2 sells them as XDAs. This model is known generically as Apache in the US, and Wizard in the UK. T-Mobile has launched it as the MDA vario, and Orange has launched it as the M3000.

The phone includes a landscape-oriented keyboard that's far wider and more notebook-like than BlackBerry-style microkeyboards. When you slide the keyboard out, the screen automatically flips to landscape mode, and the bundled mobile editions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint gracefully accommodate documents of desktop origin.

The bricklike design looks bulky, but it's about the same pocketable size as a Palm Treo 650. And my shipping unit packed lots of features, including a 1.3-megapixel camera that takes passable photos, a MiniSD slot for extra memory, Bluetooth, and support for Sprint's higher data-rate EvDO service.

The keyboard supported quick and accurate typing some of the time - but backlighting was a problem. In theory, light shining through the characters makes typing easier in dim light. In reality, the see-through characters were usually hard to read, and almost illegible in some cases.

OUR VERDICT

The HTC phone with the sliding keyboard gets a guarded recommendation, but a successor model that fixed the keyboard flaw would be a winner.