HP spruces up its entry-level handheld line with the HP iPaq rx1950 model, a slim and light PDA that doesn't cut corners on performance or battery life, with class-leading results. Armed with the latest Windows Mobile 5 operating system, the rx1950 can be a pocket office on the road but skimps on a few features here and there, most notably Bluetooth.
At £210, however, the rx1950 is one of the cheaper Windows Mobile handhelds on the market, so if you're on a budget and you don't mind the lack of Bluetooth, then the HP iPaq rx1950 is a perfectly capable handheld.
One of the HP iPaq rx1950's greatest assets is its sleek design. Unlike the company's other entry-level PDA, the iPaq rz710, the rx1950 does away with the squarish, utilitarian form factor and returns to the more classic-looking and aesthetically pleasing rounded edges of HP's older models, such as the iPaq H1940 and the iPaq H4150. As with the entry-level Dell Axim X51, the rx1950's curved bottom makes it easy to slip into a pocket or a bag in a hurry. The PDA's petite proportions stand out with a weight of 125g and dimensions of 71 by 114 by 14mm, making it a few millimetres smaller and a few dozen grams lighter than the Axim X51, the HP iPaq hx2790, or the Palm TX. With its small AC charger and cables, the rx1950 is truly a travel-friendly device.
Like other entry-level PDAs, the HP iPaq rx1950 has a 89mm (3.5-inch) QVGA screen that shows a 240x320 resolution -- which is the price you pay for its modest dimensions -- rather than the more detailed 94mm VGA display used on the Dell Axim X51v or the latest 102mm screens. Still, it shows 65k colours, and it's rich and bright enough for most uses. One thing we did notice is that you need to press the stylus firmly on to the screen for it to work.
Although we miss having a plastic screen cover to protect the display, we like that all it takes to go between portrait and landscape views is holding down the Calendar button for a couple of seconds. You'll find this button, as well as three other customisable shortcut keys -- Contacts, Inbox and Wireless, by default -- and the navigation toggle just below the screen. Above the display, there is a power switch, which is flanked by two small LEDs that indicate alerts, battery status and wireless status.
The HP iPaq rx1950 has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and a stylus slot at the top, as well as an SD expansion slot. The remainder of the design is standard PDA fare, with a voice-record button and a recessed reset button on the left side. Its infrared window is on the bottom near the synchronisation port, but to our dismay, the system cuts a major corner by including only charging and synchronisation cables and not a full docking cradle. HP sells a £38 desktop cradle, but it lacks the ability to charge a second battery, as is the case with Dell's Axim X51 series. Also included in the box is a soft protective case, a start-up CD and a user guide.
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