Running the latest Windows Mobile 5 operating system, the HP iPaq rx1950 has many of the features of bigger and more expensive PDAs, including updates to Microsoft's mobile versions of Word, Outlook, Excel, Internet Explorer and PowerPoint. This means that the rx1950 can work with Word docs that have tables and images, and you can preview a presentation before the big show, although forget about editing it or playing PowerPoint's embedded audio and video clips.
With ActiveSync 4 and Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, the rx1950 is easier to synchronise with a PC and can play all the major audio and video file formats, including MP3, WMA and WMV. On the downside, this handheld doesn't come with the extra games that Dell loads on its PDAs, but we love HP's Image Zone software, which not only displays images and sets up slide shows but also has a colour histogram. HP includes a couple of extra utilities, such as a self-diagnostic test and Pocket Panel Lite, which allows you to check your handheld's battery life, available memory and backlighting settings right from the Today screen.
Built around Samsung's new ARM-based SC32442 processor, the HP iPaq rx1950 may be slower on paper than just about any recent handheld, but its 300MHz clock speed is deceptive. The system is a strong performer that can compete with faster Intel-based handhelds, but we'll have more on that in the Performance section. Barely the size of a thumbnail, the CPU has hidden extras such as a flash-memory controller and has been designed to reduce lag time by packaging all essential equipment in one unit. There is 96MB of user-accessible memory onboard -- 64MB of ROM and 32MB of SDRAM -- and 33MB of key data can be stashed in the persistent storage area that is immune to a dead battery. Overall, the internal memory is pretty small for such a device, so you'll definitely want to stock up on SD expansion cards.
For wireless connectivity, the HP iPaq rx1950 comes with integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b) for getting online at home, the office, or at a hot spot. The good news is that the rx1950's connection software is simpler and easier to use than the setup for the iPaq hx2790, but we sometimes had trouble establishing an online connection, requiring a restart. After connecting at home, the office and a hot spot, we found that the handheld had a Wi-Fi range of just 25m, about half that of some competitors. Yet more disappointing than the short Wi-Fi range is the lack of Bluetooth. Similarly priced models, such as the Palm TX and the Dell Axim X51, come with both wireless options, and we would have liked to see the same in the iPaq rx1950.
Despite having one of the slowest clock speeds of a PDA on the market, Samsung's 300MHz processor powers the HP iPaq rx1950 to the head of the class, making it one of the fastest devices of its kind. It may run at 300MHz, as opposed to 624MHz for Intel's XScale PXA270, but raw speed isn't everything, because the rx1950 was faster at synchronising with a host computer than the bigger and much more expensive HP iPaq hx2790. It can churn through data about as quickly as other Windows Mobile 5 handhelds costing twice as much, regardless of whether it's editing an Excel spreadsheet, reading email or viewing a presentation.
Over the course of a week of daily work, the handheld did extremely well, and unlike many of its competitors, the device never got warm. It played music, video files and images without delay, but the unit's rudimentary sound system is easily overwhelmed and delivers distorted audio at medium volumes.
Battery life was outstanding. In our tests, where we looped a video clip with all wireless radios off and backlight set to midlevel, the HP iPaq rx1950's 1,100mAh lithium-ion battery lasted for an amazing 9 hours, 40 minutes of constant use. That's nearly double the battery life of either the Dell Axim X51 or the HP iPaq hx4700. If that's not enough, the heavier extended power pack should go for about 15 hours of typical use.
CNET Labs project leader Dong Van Ngo contributed to the performance analysis.
Edited by Bonnie Cha
Additional editing by Nick Hide