The iPAQ: A truly powerful PocketPC... Here's why
Powerful, modern metallic-style, excellent screen, Pocket PC 2002 operating system.
Pricey, battery life, no CompactFlash slot
The Bottom Line:
The iPAQ is still the king of the most powerful PDAs, but its is getting tough competition from the Toshiba and newer Pocket PC based PDAs.
I've just bought my new iPAQ H3850 a few days ago, and I can tell that this is the PDA that I was looking for.
These are some of the specs for the H3850 model:
- 206MHz Intel StrongArm SA-1110 processor
- 64MB RAM / 32 MB FLASH ROM (upgradeable!)
- 240x320 64K color, front lit touch sensitive screen
- Automatic, light sensitive brightness sensor
- 6 hours actual battery life (Compaq claims 10-12 hours)
- Gray smoked, removeable protective screen and edges cover.
- Shiny, gray metallic housing
- Microsoft Pocket PC 2002 Operating System
- Secure Digital (SD) expansion slot.
- USB connection and synchronization to your PC.
- 5-way touch pad control.
- Programmable function buttons for launching Calendar, Inbox, Tasks, Voice recorder and e-mail.
- Built in software allows voice recognized commands to be executed without touching the iPAQ
- Built in Microphone and stereo speaker sound.
Being a Casio Cassiopeia owner (E-105 model, read my review on it) it is a big jump in both processor speed and the operating system. Microsoft has done such a great job in making a tiny, compact, speedy version of Windows on Pocket PCs and handheld devices. As a Windows user for such a long time (since Windows 3.0!), you cannot simply match the power and features of Windows to that of Palm OS.
Why? Palm OS is simply flat and plain boring, comparing to that of Pocket PC 2002. You will get easily tired of how dull Palm devices can be, even in the colored version Palms! Anyway, it's just a matter of tastes...
Enough of comparing old stuff with the 3850, here are the following benefits I see from the iPAQ:
- Powerful, lightning fast processor (9 out of 10): Intel's StrongArm processor is truly FAST on the iPAQ. Smooth scrolls through screens and menus will let you know this one fast PDA. Applications closing and launching are smooth, and responsive.
I even tested my H3850 against its more powerful brother, the H3955 (boasting the new 400MHz Intel XScale PXA250) and I could hardly tell the difference in speed between them. It only felt slightly fast (5% faster approx.) using the regular built in applications in Pocket PC 2002, that is opening, closing, using, and scrolling into Pocket Outlook/Word/Excel/Powerpoint.
As hard as I try to convince myself that the iPAQ H3955 was faster, I couldn't....I didn't not test MPEG or video playback, so the difference may actually be there. So that left me with the impression that either you have to have software or applications specially designed for the XScale processor, or the 206MHz proc in the H3850 is really fast. You will have to try these two PDAs side by side and play with them to see what I mean. Thumbs up on the H3850 on a fast processor!
>> Size and form factor (8 out of 10): Is it just me, or this new H3850 feels so much lighter than my bulky, brick-sized Cassiopeia? 6.7oz of weight, vs. 10.2 oz. That's a lot of difference. Especially when carrying your PDA on your pant's pocket. You can also easily carry the unit (without its protective sleeve) in your shirt pocket. Even though the Palm is thinner, smaller and lighter, the iPAQ's size is just right so that you can consider it portable. By the way, it is slim enough to carry it even with the built in protective cover (you may not want to use it without it).
>> Ergonomics (8 out of 10): Size is great, even with its protective cover, you can stuff it in your pocket and drive, walk, run... you won't notice this slim PDA in your pocket. The iTask button, in the right (clicking on it displays the task manager, to switch and close programs) is somehow bad positioned, your thumb will have some trouble clicking it when the protective case is on (and it will be most of the time, even in its sync cradle). The unit's cover also makes the iPAQ uneasy to hold, with the cover opened. You will have to tuck it, and fold it over and hold it there with your left hand (invert if left handed).
The 5-way directional keypad is somewhat "funny" to use; the up and down clicks are light to the touch to perform, however the left and right clicks require you to put more pressure in it, making it somewhat goofy to use in games that use the cursor pad for movement. It should make you use the same pressure on all directions.
>> Screen (9 out of 10): The screen is excellent. Its brightness is powerful enough, and the screen's technology lets you see colors with direct light applied to the screen. This is because the screen is front lit. Such a great improvement over my previous sidelit screen on the Casio E-105 (it is practically useless outdoors). Now I can say that my iPAQ will be useful outdoors.
I compared the H3850's screen with that of the newer H3955 (which has a new transflective screen). I did like the one on the H3850, though. The H3955 screen appeared blueish, and white colors were not white! The 3955's screen had a much more powerful brightness setting, though. I also disliked the color of the 3955's screen with its backlight turned off, it appeared brownish with black fonts (appeared colorless), like the one on older Palm PCs. This was a major decision that make me turn to the 3850 instead of the 3955.
Screen colors are vibrant, crisp and clear. Color filled gradients transition smoothly, thanks to its 64,000 color screen.
The automatic brightness sometimes behaves strangely when moving from shadows and to direct sunlight, but reacts fairly quickly to ambient light changes. For example, if you are in a dark room and move to a lighted room under a fluorescent lamp, the brightness will dim accordingly, if you go back to the dark again, it will take about 2-3 seconds for it to gradually adjust. The automatic brightness setting selects brightness level on a conservative mode, it will make you sometimes turn off its automatic setting and it to max brightness, for example, when using the unit on a room lit by a fluorescent lamp.
The screen on the 3850 is so much crispier, brighter, and readable than the one on the new Toshiba as well.
>> Battery life (6 out of 10): Compaq claims a 10-12 hour battery life, but that should be by using the unit with the brightness turned off, or at the lowest level. Anyway, I mostly have my iPAQ docked in its cradle at the office, so 5-6 hours are acceptable times for me. Take into account, by the way, that the battery is not removable or replaceable. It is internally built in. So thumbs down on this one.
>> Expandability (7 out of 10): I gave it a lower score, due to the fact that it hasn't got an internal CompactFlash (CF) slot, it only allows SD (Secure Digital) cards to fit in. The newer Cassiopeia models (E-200) do have DUAL slots, both SD and CF. I got a 32Meg CF card that I won't be able to use on my new iPAQ (but use it on my camera instead). It really depends, if you plan to expand the iPAQ for more storage space and you need CF slots, then you wouldn't be able to use them here. Shame on the iPAQ.
The only way you can use CF card in the iPAQ, is by using a CompactFlash Sleeve (retails at $99) which in turn makes the unit less portable, bulkier and larger. Forget about carrying the iPAQ in your pocket with the sleeve! However, you do get a battery expansion pack and a built in protective cover. The slim built in battery (920mAh) makes you use your iPAQ for at least twice the battery life when using the regular battery.
>> Applications (9 out of 10). I know that there is plenty more software for the Palms than that for the Pocket PCs. But I don't think you will be able to get a fully fledged working version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, or Pocket Streets running in your Palm PC. Applications in the Pocket PC world are much more complex, windows-like applications that you would hardly see on the Palm.
The bottom line (8.5 out of 10). This PDA is excellent, but it would be just great if it had more battery life. Palm PCs run much longer battery life, but what can you expect for a color screen? I need to try the color Palm VIII and compare battery rundown times. Anyway, you can't go wrong with this excellent Pocket PC. Try it out, and you will see what I mean.