HP’s latest Pocket PC Phone, the iPAQ hw6900 series, is available in several different models. The most important of these are the hw6920 and hw6925. Although these are Cingular branded models and locked to this operator’s network, the difference between them is that the hw6925 has a camera, while the hw6920 does not.

Associated models include the hw6945 and hw6940, which are unlocked units usable with any transporter, again with and without the camera. The device loaned to us for review was the hw6925, including the 1.3 megapixel camera.

Design and construction

Physically almost identical to its older brother, the iPAQ hw6500, the hw6900 features a widebody design in the style of the BlackBerries and the Nokia E62.

While thinner than one of Palm’s Treos, it’s also considerably wider, making it less than optimal for phone use without a headset.

The device is mostly designed around the thumb keyboard. For all the space that HP had to work with, the keys are actually relatively small.

The back of the camera shows the battery cover, the camera lens, and the camera “flash”, a tiny LED light that does absolutely nothing to improve the quality of low-grade photos. light. The silver spot to the right of the lens (center) is a mirrored area for self-portraits.

On the left, iPAQ hw6925. Right, Dell Axim X51v.

The iPAQ is far from what I would call a small smartphone – although it doesn’t have big keyboard buttons, it manages to be one of the bigger Pocket PC phones, and much bigger than almost all devices based on Windows Mobile Smartphone. It doesn’t even save much space compared to my full-size Dell Axim.

The iPAQ’s 2.5mm headphone / headphone combo jack is located on the bottom of the device, next to the dock connector and reset button.

The device’s miniSD expansion slot is located in the lower right corner of the case, next to the keyboard.

On the opposite side, top left, is the phone volume slider and the voice recorder button.

Equipment

Processor: 416 MHz Intel XScale PXA270
Operating system: Windows Mobile 5.1 (Pocket PC) with AKU 2.3.1
Display: 3.0 inch, 240 x 240 pixel transmissive / reflective LCD display
Memory: 64 MB of RAM; 128MB flash memory (46MB available)
Size weight 4.65 inches long x 2.80 inches wide x 0.71 inches thick; 6.33 ounces
Expansion: One miniSD slot
Mooring: IPAQ standard connector
Communication: Quad band GSM / GPRS / EDGE; Bluetooth 1.2; 802.11g Wi-Fi
The audio: 2.5mm headphone / headphone jack; loud speaker; loudspeaker and mouthpiece for telephone
Drums: Rechargeable / replaceable 3.7 V, 1200 milliampere-hour lithium-ion battery
Grab: 40-key keyboard; touchscreen; 5-way navigator
Other: Java / J2ME compatibility; SiRFstar III GPS receiver; 1.3 megapixel camera

Software and performance

(Correction: In the original text of this review, I accidentally stated that the iPaq h6925 has a 312 MHz processor. While the older iPaq hw6500 series uses this processor, the newer hw6900 models have a 416 MHz processor. . I regret the error.)

This iPAQ’s 416 MHz XScale processor might be boring, but it’s pretty reliable. Of course, it’s a double-edged sword in and of itself, reliable for being neither too fast nor too slow. Since it’s just fast enough to support VoIP applications like Skype, I’m a little dismayed that HP hasn’t at least allowed a bit more performance. While a fast processor can automatically reduce its speed to save battery power, a slow processor cannot increase its performance when needed.

The hw6925 has a fairly run-of-the-mill software lineup, with all the standard Windows Mobile apps, plus a few preloaded “teasers” designed to try and get you to buy additional services from Cingular, such as their Telenav GPS navigation system.

This iPAQ comes preloaded with a Java runtime application, which is supposed to allow the use of small Java applications like the popular Opera Mini. However, in my testing the program invariably crashed when I tried to run Opera Mini. A surprise, given that all other Windows based JREs don’t seem to have a problem with this.

Use

Despite being relatively large at 3.0 inches, the hw6925’s screen has a marginal resolution of 240 by 240 pixels. Surprisingly, it offers acceptable visibility on average, but if you’re used to smaller or higher resolution screens, you’ll definitely want more pixels.

The storage space and memory expansion available to the user is comparable to that of most Pocket PC phones, with 46MB of free space on the 128MB of flash and a miniSD slot supporting up to to 2 GB of cards. Can’t say I’m crazy for having less than half the storage that’s actually free, but at least it’s on par with its competition.

The hw6925 retains the “classic” iPAQ docking connector that has been the hallmark of the range for over four years. While it won’t fit into existing iPAQ cradles, all of your cables and connectors are still useful.

I can’t say I like the keyboard on this device. The buttons are small and hard to press if you have big fingers. For this reason, I have found that entering text is slower than on other devices, like the HTC Wizard or even the Palm’s Treos. It’s possible, sure, but I’d charge the keyboard more as a convenience than a serious option for die-hard emailers, who would be better off with something with more roomy controls.

Communication and connectivity

Throughout my testing, the iPAQ hw6925 averaged slightly lower signal strength than I expected from other Pocket PC phones. It was still more than enough to maintain the signal in most of the outlying areas, although it lost the signal in a few places where the competition had not.

Bluetooth connectivity is adequate for most functions, although frustrating – and unlike some listings in the device’s specifications – the iPAQ does not support Bluetooth stereo headphones.

The lack of 3G wireless data is to some extent compensated by the fact that the hw6915 has built-in Wi-Fi, providing high speed data connectivity. Plus, Wi-Fi lets you supplement standard cellular service even if you’re in an area where cellular signals don’t reach, thanks to wireless internet and VoIP. It’s a big plus if you’re one of those unlucky people whose service provider doesn’t reach inside your home or office.

Camera

Like most dash cams, the hw6900s deliver marginal picture quality and appalling performance in less than partial light to full sunlight.

Now, what really puzzles me about this iPAQ’s camera app is this: it works in landscape mode. It might make sense on other devices, but the 6915 has a square screen. The preview displayed is just as great no matter how you turn it. So why force users to hold the device in an unusual orientation?

I will however give credit to HP for a very interesting feature; The camera app is able to access the device’s built-in GPS receiver and record the coordinates of where you took a particular photo. This information is then stored in the image metadata and can be viewed using the iPAQ Image Viewer. Want to find this pretty brick house in the countryside? Take a photo, get the coordinates. Forgot in which park is this incredible waterfall? No problem, the photo will tell you. The GPS coordinates cannot be read by any desktop image viewer that I use regularly; however, whoever supports more custom metadata might be able to find it.

GPS

The iPAQ GPS receiver has become a source of frustration for me. While its performance has been solid in the apps it works with, it’s almost impossible to get unsupported apps to use it. The device automatically turns off the GPS receiver when not in use, which is good as it saves battery. The downside is that the system doesn’t seem inclined to let any app access GPS, and there’s no option to turn it on manually. For example, during my attempts to run an alternative navigation program like Mapopolis on the iPAQ, I failed to connect it to the GPS module because the iPAQ did not turn it on. GPS certainly works, as it got a fix in both the camera app and HP’s own navigation program, but it doesn’t want to work anywhere else.

A suspicious mind would suggest this was done on purpose to force people to use HP’s and / or Cingular’s paid browsing apps, but I’m not prepared to make that statement. Either way, it does that, preventing even technically inclined users from using their own browsing programs.

That said, the SiRFstar III receiver is a good piece of equipment, capable of picking up and holding a signal like no other. Even while tracking the satellites through large obstacles, he maintained a solid lockdown and found up to seven satellites, even from within.

Conclusion

The 6925 is a decent device, but since the time it was delayed there have been a lot of very competitive devices released. The iPAQ manages to carve out a kind of niche for itself, as it’s the only device available in the United States that has a fixed keyboard, Wi-Fi connection, and an all-in-one touchscreen, without talk about the convenience of the built-in GPS. But some of the implementation decisions, including the difficulty of getting the GPS to work with anything other than Cingular or HP’s paid navigation apps, and the wrong thumb keyboard, drain the device’s usefulness.

Advantages:

  • Sufficient connectivity
  • Integrated gps

The inconvenients:

  • Small buttons
  • Relatively large size
  • Unfriendly GPS implementation
  • Trivial specifications

Conclusion:

A fairly useful niche product, but with flaws that prevent it from having wider success.


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