Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Towards the end of last year, HP announced a new range of iPAQ handhelds, including a standalone sat-nav device, a 'classic' (phone-free) handheld and a high-end phone with a QWERTY keyboard. Reviewed here is the more phone-like iPAQ 614c Business Navigator.
The iPAQ 614c Business Navigator is large for a candybar-format handheld. With the iPAQ 514 Voice Messenger, HP proved for the first time that it could produce a very good, compact, non-touch-screen Windows Mobile device. This time around, the company has chosen Windows Mobile 6 Professional, which caters for touch-screens.
At 117mm tall and 60mm wide, the iPAQ 614c is closer in size and shape to the kind of Windows Mobile handheld that's all screen on the front. At 17.5mm, it's a little on the thick side for a handheld. The weight, 145g, is also closer to that of a traditional handheld than a candybar-style phone.
These oversized dimensions are put to good use, with very little wasted space on the front of the device. The screen measures 2.8in. across the diagonal and its 240-by-320-pixel resolution is readable enough, although VGA (640 by 480 pixels) would provide greater clarity.
The number pad consumes almost all of the remaining space on the front. the number keys are a good size, so that hitting them at speed is not a problem.
Most Windows Mobile devices provide a bank of shortcut buttons between the screen and the keypad, but there are just two softmenu buttons occupying this space. The Windows Mobile Start menu, Call, End and OK buttons are ranged in two columns on either side of the number pad, along with Cancel and Enter keys, a key that switches the screen orientation and the on/off button.
The notable absentee is a navigation pad. HP has taken a novel approach and integrated its navigation system within the number pad. Called the Smart Touch Wheel, this consists of a circular ridge that encompasses all but the 5 and 8 keys. The idea is that you run a finger round it clockwise or anti-clockwise to scroll up or down.
The iPAQ 614c Business Navigator looks like a (chunky) smartphone, but uses the handheld-oriented Windows Mobile 6 Professional, which supports touch-screens. It also features an innovative embedded navigation pad.
The scrolling system works, although we found it difficult to be as precise as with a standard navigation pad. The biggest irritation, however, is that there is no central select key: to select a highlighted item, you must either hit the enter key next to the 9 button, tap the screen or resort to the thumbwheel on the left-hand side. The thumbwheel gave us problems of its own: scrolling up and down was fine, but it needed to be pushed in rather a long way to make a selection.
We applaud HP's attempt to accommodate a large screen and number pad on the front of the device, but suggest you try the Smart Touch Wheel system before buying to see if it works for you.
Other side-mounted buttons include an OK button beneath the thumbwheel and a button that, with a long press, lets you make a voice recording and, on a shorter press, activates the voice-control software.
The iPAQ 614c ships with a mains power adapter, a stereo headset with mini-USB adapter, a PC connector cable, printed Getting Started manual and a software CD.
There are two versions of this handheld. Our review sample, the 614c, has a 3-megapixel camera on the back, complete with flash and self-portrait mirror. The other version, the 614, lacks the camera but is otherwise identical.
The iPAQ 614c runs Windows Mobile 6 Professional. Its processor, Marvell's PXA270, runs at 520MHz. There is 128MB of SDRAM and 256MB of ROM. After a hard reset, our review sample reported 118MB of free storage memory. In addition, a further 25MB was designated as iPAQ File Store memory. The internal storage can be boosted with microSD cards but, unfortunately, HP has located the slot under the battery, which means you need to power the device down in order to swap cards.
Both Bluetooth (2.0) and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) are built in, and there's a shortcut to the Wireless Manager utility where you can control these and the phone module. The phone is quad-band GSM with GPRS/EDGE, and 3G/HSDPA support with download speeds of up to 7.2Mbps. As we have noted before, you're going to struggle to find 7.2Mbps connections in the UK right now, with only Vodafone offering this speed and even then only at a few locations in London and some airports. There's no front-facing camera, so two-way video calling is impossible.
As the iPAQ 614c Business Navigator's name suggests, there's a GPS receiver built in. This has an Assisted GPS module, which uses information from the phone's cell location to help get a quick initial satellite fix. Google Maps is preinstalled, but although this will help you find locations, it's no substitute for a solid point-to-point navigation solution. There are several third-party options.
As well as Google Maps, the iPAQ 614c software bundle includes the ClearVue PDF reader, Remote Desktop, a utility for optimising recordings via the device's microphone and a utility that maps one of the Today Screen softkeys to a set of nine shortcuts, which can be accessed by tapping the number-pad keys.
The iPAQ 614c also includes HP Voice Reply, a system introduced in the iPAQ 514 Voice Messenger that allows you to attach a snippet of recorded voice to an outgoing email. This could prove ueful when you need to communicate something complex that would be too time-consuming to enter via the device's keypad.
Performance & battery life
We have already noted that the Smart Touch Wheel lacks a central select button. Another irritation is that, when typing text, you can accidentally run a finger around the Smart Touch Wheel and move away from the place you are typing. Once we became aware of this problem, text entry became slower than it should have been, because we were constantly checking the screen to make sure that text was going where it was supposed to.
Battery life was on a par with other Windows Mobile devices. We made the iPAQ 614c play music continuously from a microSD card, after fully charging the battery. With the screen to stay on, music played for 6 hours and 51 minutes.
Those who find standard candybar-style Windows Mobile devices appealing in concept but would like a larger, chunkier device with a touch-screen could be drawn to the iPAQ 614c. It has an impressive range of built-in features and makes a good all-rounder.
The Smart Touch Wheel may prove troublesome in everyday use, however. It's a clever idea and certainly frees up space for a good-sized screen, but its ergonomics are not ideal.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel