Hewlett-Packardunveils new PDAs

Hewlett-Packard's new iPAQ h6315 offers three-way integrated wireless with blinking lights just above the screen indicating connection status.
Hewlett-Packard's new iPAQ h6315 offers three-way integrated wireless with blinking lights just above the screen indicating connection status.

It’s that time of year again. The hardware companies are beginning to unveil their new products aimed at everything from hooking the back-to-schoolers to planting thoughts of much desired Christmas gifts. In that vein, Hewlett-Packard unleashed a whole new line of its iPAQ Pocket PC PDAs onto the marketplace today.

These iPAQs fall into distinct categories. At the lower-end of the range is the rz1700 series. The rz1710 starts at $279 with a 3.5 inch color screen, a 203 MHz Samsung 2410 processor, an SD card slot, a rechargeable 95 mAh Lithium-ion battery and microphone and speaker. For the same price, the rz1715 "Mobile Media Companion" comes with extra software for easier photo, music and video handling.

Next up is the rx3000 series, which ups the processor to a Samsung SC3 2440, adds a 1.2 megapixel camera, plus 802.11b and Bluetooth wireless services, a bigger battery and more memory. Retail price for the 3715: $499. 

The big hx4700 series has all of the above (except a camera) plus a 4-inch color display, a 624 MHz Intel Bulverde technology-based processor, bigger battery, SD and Compact Flash expansion slots. Expect the price to be big, too: $650.

3-way wireless
The big news today, though, is H-P's new top-of-the-line iPAQ, the h6315, with everything mentioned above plus a built-in cellular phone. It's the first handheld to offer three-way integrated wireless voice and data capabilities over GSM/GPRS, WiFi and Bluetooth.  I’ve been playing with the 6315 for the past few days and can report that it’s a very powerful tool – and it’s very easy to use. 

It’s 4.7 by 3 by 0.7 inches and weighs 6.7 ounces. The screen is H-P's 3.5 inch color model.  Inside is a Texas Instruments OMAP 1510 processor. There’s 64 MB of ROM and 64 MB of RAM.  Some models come with a VGA camera built-in. (My sample did not.) There’s also a mini-keyboard that snaps on the bottom of the 6315, but adding it makes the phone too large to fit into the provided leather belt holster.

The best part about this device is the 3-way wireless capability. I didn’t have much Bluetooth to try but I immediately connected the h6315 to my 802.11g wireless router and to the T-Mobile network. (T-Mobile will be the ones actually selling the device; expect to pay $499 for the phone in addition to the cost of activating a phone-data service plan with the mobile provider.)

Blinking lights above the screen indicate whether you're connected and it’s fun to turn them all on at the same time. When connected, the GPRS and WiFi indicators blink green; Bluetooth blinks blue.

It’s also fun to seamlessly connect to one of my two WiFi networks in my home while being able to make and receive phone calls at the same time. This device is really quite a sophisticated road warrior when it comes to connectivity.

The one feature I couldn’t test as I have done in the past is the h6315’s wireless e-mail receiving capabilities. Because of strict new policies at MSNBC, receiving e-mail on handheld devices here is currently difficult. (As always, before buying any new device you intend to connect to your work computers, consult with your IT manager first. For his or her benefit, I'll add that all the new iPAQs are running Microsoft Windows 2003 Second Edition operating system for Pocket PCs.)

Setting up the h6315 was a cinch, as was synching it to my computer via the supplied USB cradle. Battery life seemed to be way above normal: more than two days in between charges, even with WiFi and GPRS going most of the time.

My biggest problem with the h6315 is its size. It’s nice for a PDA. Fits perfectly in your hand and is easy to work with. It’s the phone part that’s annoying. I still can’t get used to talking into a device with a large color screen pressed up to my face.

On the other hand, I’m beginning to question the overall need for a standalone PDA. I think there’s a place for cellular phones, pagers, digital cameras, and wireless PDAs and they should all be in one device. If you agree and you're looking for an all-in-one, the h6315 should be on your short list.