Getting the right balance between form and function is a real dilemma for vendors of connected handhelds, and nowhere is that more apparent than in devices that include a keyboard.
Probably the most usable example we've seen is HTC's TyTN, whose slide-out keyboard is large, making it easy to use at speed. HTC has reprised the sliding keyboard idea in its P4350, which is available network-free from sellers such as Expansys.
The HTC P4350's design won't set your heart racing. Its mostly black livery is offset by a bank of silver buttons sitting beneath the screen. These comprise Call and End keys, a button that calls up the Windows Mobile Start menu, an OK button, two softmenu buttons and a navigation key with a central select button. All of these buttons are large and shouldn't trouble even the stubbiest of finger.
At 59mm by 109mm by 17mm, it's slightly shorter than the TyTN, one millimetre wider and a fraction thinner. Overall it does offer a sliding keyboard in a slightly smaller package than the TyTN.
The bulk of the front of the HTC P4350 is occupied by a 240x320-pixel screen measuring 71mm from corner to corner. When you slide the two halves of the device apart to reveal the keyboard, the screen automatically reorients from portrait to landscape mode, giving the P4350 the appearance of a miniature laptop.
The keyboard is not large -- just 90mm wide and 26mm tall. The individual keys measure 9mm by 6mm and there's a double-width space key.
A pair of softmenu keys sits above the Qwerty row, while the number keys are embedded and very clearly marked out in blue against the black background. The numbers, and a range of symbols that also double up on most of the keys, are accessed via a key combination. The keys have little travel, but there's enough movement for confident typing.
HTC has found room for two tiny lights, one to indicate when the Fn key is active, the other showing that Caps Lock is on. Overall, HTC has made the keyboard as usable as possible, and therefore extremely effective. It is, of course, too small for touch-typing, but for mobile email and some document editing on the fly it's certainly better than many other keyboards on handheld devices.
Several connectors and buttons sit around the edges of the device. On the bottom is the mini-USB connector that's shared by mains power, PC connection cable and headphones, as well as a lock button for the battery cover. On the top edge is the on/off switch. The right edge houses a shortcut button for the Comm Manager (for controlling wireless communications features), and one that on a short press starts the voice control application, while a longer press allows you to record a voice note. On the left edge is a button for using the built-in camera and a volume rocker. This edge also houses a microSD card slot.
The HTC P4350 runs Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC Phone Edition and is powered by a Texas Instruments OMAP 850 processor running at 200MHz. It comes with 64MB of RAM and 128MB of ROM -- after a hard reset, our review unit reported 37MB of free storage memory. Internal memory can be augmented with a microSD card in the covered slot on the device's left edge.
The most disappointing feature of the P4350 is its lack of 3G support. This is a surprising omission, given that its TyTN stablemate is a 3G device. Instead, the P4350 provides quad-band GSM, GPRS and EDGE support. Bluetooth (2.0) and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) are both built in, too.
The 2-megapixel camera, whose lens is on the back of the device, has a self-portrait mirror but no flash. HTC augments the Windows Mobile 5.0 suite of applications with a PDF reader, audio file manager, voice recorder and Zip file manager.
Our battery life test reported 6 hours and 39 minutes of non-stop music from a full charge. We have seen better from Windows Mobile handhelds, but this is a respectable result nonetheless.
The HTC P4350's feature set is, for the most part, strong. Certainly if you're looking for a connected handheld with a keyboard and you don't need 3G data speeds, then it's worth considering.
We find it difficult to recommend the P4350 unreservedly, though. Windows Mobile 6 will soon be appearing in devices, and this offers several enhancements -- particularly for office networks running Microsoft Exchange Server at the back end. Also, the HTC TyTN shares the P4350's key characteristics but adds 3G, which will be a clincher for many buyers.
Edited by Charles McLellan
Additional editing by Kate Macefield