HP is pitching its new iPaq rx3715 not as an organisational tool but as an entertainment device (hence the Mobile Media Companion name instead of Pocket PC). In addition to the basic digital audio and video features found on most Pocket PCs, this model sports a built-in 1.2-megapixel digital camera and apps for managing digital music, photos, and video on PCs throughout your home via a Wi-Fi wireless network. It's a great idea, but this software is strictly for early adopters. Nevertheless, the iPaq rx3715 is an impressive PDA with a long list of features and excellent performance.
The rx3715 fills the void left by the recent departure of the Sony CLIE from the market -- it's an advanced PDA with innovative entertainment features. If you don't need the camera or the more esoteric entertainment programs, however, the Dell Axim X30 offers similar features and performance for significantly less.
The HP iPaq rx3715 looks distinctly different from previous iPaq devices. The trademark silver is gone, replaced by a dark-grey case with black highlights. Despite the new colours, this boxy, rectangular PDA is no breakthrough in industrial design. It does feel well built, as if it could easily withstand the rigours of mobile use. Measuring 114 by 71 by 15mm and weighing 159g, it isn't particularly small or light, but since it's loaded with two different forms of wireless communication and a camera, that's to be expected.
Below the display are four programmable buttons preset to load the universal remote-control application, the photo software, the digital media server, and the HP iTask launcher. In the centre is a very small directional pad inscribed with tiny icons for controlling functions such as play/pause on A/V gear. These are intended for use with the two remote-control and media server applications. Because of the pad's small size, we found it difficult to master.
The left side has a button for launching the camera. The lens is located on the back, above the replaceable lithium-ion battery, with a small mirror for taking self-portraits. On top of the rx3715, you'll find the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, the power button, the infrared port, and an SDIO/MMC slot.
Just above the screen on the front are two LEDs. One indicates battery power status when blinking amber and other alerts when blinking green. The blue light indicates that Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or both connections are active.
To protect the rx3715, HP includes a cover. The supplied cradle looks sharp and holds the handheld securely -- so much so, in fact, that it took both hands to separate them. The power adaptor will work well for travellers, but you'll need to purchase a separate USB sync cable or take the whole cradle with you on trips.
HP endowed the iPaq rx3715 with plenty of muscle to meet its multimedia mission. It's equipped with a 400MHz Samsung S3C2440 processor, 64MB of RAM, and 128MB of flash memory (for a total of 152MB of user-accessible memory). It comes with all the Pocket PC staples: Pocket versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, and Internet Explorer. You'll also find a few new features in Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, such as the ability to rotate the screen from Portrait to Landscape display. Additionally, you get a handful of useful HP and third-party utilities, such as iTask, iPaq Backup, and Pocket TV Pro for playing MPEG movie files.
The iPaq Wireless utility made it easy to create and access Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections at home, at work, and in public hot spots. As with most new Pocket PCs, the rx3715 lets you use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi simultaneously.
The digital camera, now labelled with the HP Photosmart brand, is fine for casual outdoor shots with plenty of sunlight. The 1.2-megapixel camera can take pictures of up to 1,280x960 pixels, but with inconsistent colours, awful auto white balance, and too many artefacts, it's still no substitute for a digital camera. You can also record motion JPEG or H.263 video with sound. HP Image Zone allows you to edit images on the handheld and easily e-mail your shots directly from the device.
To drive home the fact that the rx3715 is a media machine, HP replaced the traditional Today screen with four big icons that launch the camera and the media applications. We were most intrigued by the iPaq Mobile Media software, which allows you to control music, photos, and video stored on PCs in your home via a Wi-Fi network. In addition to the software on the handheld, you must install the supplied player and server software on your PCs.
Once up and running, we selected the server PC where we kept our music and photos and the player PC that we wanted to use to listen to and view the content (one computer can be both server and player). Unfortunately, the system is very slow, taking several seconds to load a song or a photo, and there's no support for playlists or slide shows. We also encountered a number of small glitches with the software that forced us to reset the iPaq -- especially annoying because the PC player doesn't have any controls of its own.
The Mobile Media software lets you copy MP3 files and photos from the server to the rx3715 using wireless technology, but you can do that with any Pocket PC using the cradle. Alternatively, it can stream photos and non-copy-protected WMA files (but not MP3s) from the PC to the handheld. If you're an early adopter, you may be intrigued by all this, but most users will want to steer clear of Mobile Media until HP and Nevo smooth out some of the kinks.
In addition to Mobile Media, you get Nevo's universal remote-control software that comes with existing models such as the iPaq H4150 and H2210. This application is more successful, and it works well with the Mobile Media product. Of course, if you make the rx3715 your primary remote control, you may never want to take it out of the living room.
Given the HP iPaq rx3715's 400MHz Samsung S3C2440 processor and 64MB of RAM, we fully expected it to do well in our tests, but it nevertheless exceeded our expectations. Its performance was second to only the high-end Dell Axim X30, which is powered by Intel's 624MHz chip.
In everyday use, we found the rx3715 to be very responsive. Even with the camera, the photo-editing software, Mobile Media, and a few other applications running, this handheld was quick. The rx3715 also did well in our video performance tests. Games, movie clips, and Web pages looked sharp on the bright screen, and the screen was easily legible in sunlight.
However, the rx3715's strongest suit is its extremely long battery life. In our drain tests, where we let the device play a movie clip repeatedly with the sound on, set the backlight at High, and turned off the wireless radio, the rx3715 managed to sustain up to 8.5 hours of use, almost twice as long as the former leader, the 312MHz Dell Axim X30. Since our test is designed to drain the battery in the fastest manner, you can expect far longer between charges in real-world general usage. In our more informal testing, we were absolutely astounded at how long this Pocket PC lasted with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios on and the backlight set at High.
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs project leader Dong Van Ngo.
Edited by Bonnie Cha
Additional editing by Tom Espiner