Review: HP iPAQ 500 Series

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The propaganda

Normally, when I think smartphone, I think QWERTY keyboards. I think bulky touchscreen displays and 3G (or better yet, HSDPA) connectivity. So the HP iPAQ 500 Series candybar handset is a bit of a break from the norm. It runs Windows Mobile 6.0 and as such comes with the full range of push email and mobile office applications, media player and Windows Live Messenger, yet it is still barely bigger than any ordinary camera phone.

Speaking of which, the iPAQ 500 series comes with a 1.3 megapixel camera, as well as a microSD card slot and 2.5mm headphone slot. Connectivity is limited to GPRS/EDGE, but the absence of 3G support is made up for by the inclusion of 802.11b/g Wi-Fi.

The most intriguing feature, however, is the Voice Valet – a voice recognition system that allows you to navigate to pretty much any of your handsets functions, dial any contact, read/compose SMSs and emails and control the mediaplayer just by gabbling commands at it. Nice in theory, but does it really work? Find out on the turn.

The good

Okay, so the voice command system does sound some futuristic vision from the 80s. And to be honest it has been tried many times before and failed pretty miserably. This time, however, HP might just have got it right. Once the Voice Valet is active, you can just issue various logical commands (for example: ‘Read SMS’ or ‘Start Camera’) to get you just about anywhere on the phone.

Best of all, you don’t need to spend ages training the phone to recognise your voice. It just does it and with a surprising amount of accuracy too. It isn’t completely infallible, probably because it is designed for American accents, but this mostly affects the recognition of names in the address book. Fortunately you can improve this if you affect a really nasal accent have your contacts properly organised with all the surnames stored as well, which seems to make it easier for the phone to narrow things down correctly.

If however, you find the voice recognition idea to be just a bit too gimmicky (and the badly synthesised confirmation tones are pretty depressing), there’s no need to rely on it – everything can still be done in the exact same way as normal. General operation is also pretty well thought out, mostly thanks to improvements in the Windows Mobile 6.0 OS. This includes an excellent push email system that will give you immediate email delivery, as well as synchronisation with your Outlook calendar, tasks and contacts via the Exchange Server.

The Windows Live Messenger and Live Search services are also fairly impressive and after they’ve been setup, they can be used directly from the home screen which makes accessing common tasks a lot faster.

Talk and standby time is also a respectable 6.5 hours/6.7 days. During our tests the call quality seemed to be up scratch as well with decent clarity and no background nasties. A further appealing feature is the ability to use the Wi-Fi connection for VoIP calls. Unfortunately, you do need a PBX phone system with VoIP services to use this, so I can’t vouch for the quality of VoIP calls.

The bad

The small-scale candybar design is appealing as it does cut down on pocket bulk – something that you can’t achieve with a full QWERTY key set on board. However, this still leaves the buttons feeling just a little bit cramped on the iPAQ 500 series.

The aesthetics suffer from a pretty bland design. Small and functional the handset may be, but it really isn’t going to be wining any style awards.

Although the voice recognition system is downright impressive, it comes with a noticeable lack of any voice to text recognition. That means no composing SMS messages or emails by voice alone, which is a shame. However, there is some small consolation in that you can compose an audio email, which basically sends a recording of your voice to a contact via email.

The Windows Mobile 6 operating system is impressive in its design and proves fairly intuitive, easy to use and generally fast in operation. Unfortunately though, the stability issues that affected, well, every other version of Windows ever, are still present. For me this was mostly limited to the phone hanging on certain actions – particularly annoying when I was trying to answer a call and it wouldn’t respond. Oh and then there was the time when the phone decided, incorrectly, that my SIM was locked and wouldn’t make any calls. Magic.

Geek Sheet

Dimensions: 4.86 x 1.63 x 10.7 cm

Weight: 102g

Operating System: Windows Mobile 6.0

Connectivity: Bluetooth 2.0, WLAN (802.11b/g),

1.3 megapixel camera

Quad band

Microsoft Outlook Push email

MicroSD card slot

2.5mm headphone slot

Overview

The HP iPAQ 500 series handset is appealing if you want to sample the full benefits of push email and mobile office solutions, but without being forced to take a bulkier QWERTY smartphone. It isn’t the most glamorous phone to look at, but the candybar design and understated aesthetics won’t leave you cringing with embarrassment either. The rich feature set has all the smartphone essentials like Wi-Fi, push email and Mobile Office, and the speedy operation means that at a pinch you really could manage your office life from the phone.

To be honest though, if you’re that desperate to be in constant communication with your work life, you’ll need something bigger – like a laptop. But if you simply want a device that lets you keep on top of things, with out it taking over your life, then HP might have just found the right balance.

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