Two new iPaqs

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The iPaqs from Compaq are usually the bleeding edge devices of the Pocket PC world, the ones which define the field of play. And now, since Hewlett-Packard has taken over, they’ve doubled the stakes: In addition to a new full-sized full-blown model, a new small design gives other compact PDAs a run for their money.

InsertArt(1773865)FIRST, LET’S TALK about H-P’s killer device, the iPaq h5450. You name it, it’s got it.

This device comes with both Bluetooth and 802.11b/WiFi wireless networking built-in. That’s in addition to an SD card slot and the IR port, the usual iPaq connectivity methods. There’s 64 MB of SDRAM memory and 48 MB of Flash ROM, a 400 MHz X-Scale processor, a removable 1250 mAH lithium-ion battery and, my favorite, a built-in biometric fingerprint reader just below the screen for maximum security.

The amazing thing is that H-P fit all this in the same package, with the same great color screen that iPaq owners know and love. The only outward difference is the little bump on the upper left-hand side of the device. That’s the antenna for the WiFi system inside. Overall, the h5450 is 5.23 by 3.3 by 0.63 inches, with the antenna adding another 0.2 inches. It weighs 7.26 ounces.

Inside, there’s nearly everything you could want from a PDA and more: Software for reading, writing, browsing, listening, viewing, watching, recording. Multi-colored lights and LEDs to let you know the status of everything from incoming messages to Bluetooth (a bright blue LED, of course) and WiFi connectivity.

If you’re familiar with Pocket PCs you know they’re really full-blown computers in a handheld format. Add to that the two types of built-in wireless access and you have a device that comes pretty close to being perfect. Notice I said close.

It would be a lot closer to perfect if Microsoft fixed their Pocket Internet Explorer software for all handhelds — not just iPaqs. For some reason, the latest version doesn’t fit text to the screen. Previous versions did just fine. The competition’s PDA browsers can do it, too. I get annoyed when I want to see my column and despite choosing “Fit Text to Screen” I’m forced to keep moving the screen back and forth sideways to read each line of text. It’s very annoying, to say the least.

The h5450 is not a toy. It has so many features that H-P thought it was necessary to add biometric fingerprint recognition for added security. The security system is actually very well done. You roll your finger over a tiny, innocuous metal bar near the bottom of the front panel and the iPaq Fingerprint Reader software does the rest. It worked very well in my tests but thankfully, you can turn off the feature if you like. I know that if I turn it on there’s bound to be some time when I really need to use my iPaq that it wouldn’t recognize my fingerprint — and then I’d have to wipe out the memory and start all over again.

All these features come at a price: $699 to be exact. But that price is actually lower than the previous top-of-the-line’s asking price and now there are many more features built inside. Plus, older iPaqs needed an expansion sleeve and a wireless networking card ($100-$200) to do what the h5450 can do. Overall, this new iPaq is a pretty amazing device.

SHRINKING DOWN TO SIZE As good as the 5400 series is, you still need a very big pocket to carry it around.

Enter H-P’s second new PDA, the h1910.

H-P wanted a device to rival Palms and Handspring size-wise while retaining their Pocket PCs’ screen and all the features they could fit inside. They’ve done it with the h1910.

For those obsessed with numbers, the h1910 is 4.46 by 2.75 by 0.50 inches and weighs 4.23 ounces. That’s about equal in size to Handspring’s Treo 90 and to Palm’s Tungsten T (in the open position). It should comfortably fit in anyone’s pocket or purse.

Inside, there’s 48 MB of SDRAM and 16 MB of NAND Flash memory, a 250 MHz X-scale processor, a 900 mAH Lithium-ion battery and an amazingly-large, beautiful color screen (3.5 inches) for such a small PDA. It comes with all the Pocket PC software that users are familiar with and its small size is a welcome addition to the Pocket PC family.

That’s the good news.

Bad news is: It’s not expandable.

Without an expansion pack you can slide or clip on Bluetooth or 802.11b WiFi is out of the question. The SD card slot is for memory only. That’s too bad.

I realize H-P designed this device to compete with others that also have limited expansion, but Pocket PCs scream out for the ability to add a modem, Ethernet, USB, Bluetooth or WiFi card. This shortcoming was made worse earlier this month when SanDisk announced a WiFi card built-in to an SD card at CES earlier this month. I expect H-P’s next small PDA to have a SD I/O card slot.

The h1910 is priced at $299, with a case optional. While the nearest competition on price, Dell’s Axim Pocket PC, has connectivity built into a Compact Flash slot, it is larger, heavier and bulkier. If you’re in the market for the smallest of full-featured PDAs and don’t necessarily need wireless connectivity, this is a great device. Do yourself a favor and see how small and light the h1910 is before you buy anything else.