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HP iPAQ 612c Business Navigator

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HP's latest iPAQ, the 612c Business Navigator, is a solid offering with lots of features and good battery life. It's a bland-looking and giant handset, but good performance and crisp touchscreen somewhat make up for the poor keypad.

Design
You wouldn't be out of place at an accountants' convention with the iPAQ 612c, from first glance this is clearly a business phone. It's boxy, black and grey with the HP logo stamped clearly in the top centre above the screen.

It's also big. At close to 12cm high, 6cm wide and 2cm thick, you wouldn't get it into small pockets. Picture an iPhone and imagine something slightly bigger and heavier — that's the 612c. If you like small, sleek phones, look elsewhere.

Charging and syncing with your PC is done via a single mini-USB port on the base of the device. We really like this feature as it both cuts down on cables and allows you to escape getting stuck without a proprietary charger. You shouldn't have too much trouble finding a mini-USB cable if you leave your charger behind on a trip.

One disadvantage of this all-in-one mini-USB port is that it also serves as the port for the headphones, which came with our 612c. If you want to use a headphone with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, you will need to get an adapter.

One advantage of a big phone is a big display, and the 612c comes with a 2.8-inch, 320x240 QVGA screen that looks crisp. It's also a touchscreen, which is comfortably sensitive, and we enjoyed using it. Common on PDA phones, hidden on the bottom right corner of the phone is a stylus. This is a necessity when using the Windows Mobile 6 interface, which contains lots of tiny buttons and would be next to impossible otherwise.

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One interesting feature of the 612c is the inclusion of a touch-sensitive, circular wheel on the front of the 612c's keypad. Running your fingers lightly over this wheel allows you to scroll up and down menus.

Unfortunately, underneath this rather nifty feature sits a poor keypad. In the size normally given to just a numerical keypad, HP has managed to cram 20 keys. In addition to this, they're flat and flush, making it difficult to tell them apart by feel.

If you produce a lot of text on your smartphone and like mechanical input, we can't recommend the 612c. However, it somewhat manages to make up for its limited keypad with its touchscreen, which we used almost exclusively for entering text.

External key shortcuts on the 612c include a camera shortcut on the lower right-hand side, and another scroll wheel on the top left. This wheel sits nestled between two shortcuts, one for voice commands and one to disable the front touch scroll wheel.

A handy shortcut button is located on top of the phone that allows you to switch between ring and vibrate modes with a single touch.

Features
Even for an enterprise-level PDA phone, the 612c has a lot of features. Data speeds will be fast on this phone with a 3G HSDPA connection. There is also Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) and Bluetooth 2.0. The 612c also includes assisted GPS — which will give you a better signal than regular GPS — coupled with pre-installed Google maps.

Under the hood on the 612c you will find a Marvell 520MHz processor with 128MB of RAM. This makes for excellent performance and we noticed very little lag while using the device. However, be aware it does take some time to boot from power off, which may slow you down when swapping microSD cards.

The 612c also comes with 256MB of flash ROM, which left our 612c with 120MB of free memory after pre-installed programs. There is also a microSD card slot, which is unfortunately hidden behind the battery, making it a pain to swap cards on the go.

The 612c runs on Windows Mobile 6, despite 6.1 appearing on more recent phones such as the HTC Touch Diamond. Mostly users won't even notice the difference, as the changes in the new version of the OS are largely cosmetic, with perhaps the exception of threaded SMS messaging.

One small change HP has built on top of the Windows Mobile interface is the inclusion of "HP shortcuts", accessible from the home screen. These are quite handy including quick access to the alarm, contacts, IE and more.

The "getting started" CD provided a link to an apps store for business applications that can be purchased for the 612c. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the iPAQ 612c was not available as a listed device, so we couldn't assess any of the available apps.

The iPAQ comes with a 1590mAh lithium-polymer battery, a very large battery leading us to expect strong battery life. To put that into perspective, the Nokia E71 has a 1500mAh battery while the i-mate Ultimate 8502 had a 1530mAh — we commended both phones for their excellent battery life.

The 612c didn't disappoint, we managed to get just over three days battery life out of this phone with light use. HP supplied its official numbers as four hours of talk time and 250 hours of standby time.

The "c" in the iPAQ 612c stands for "camera", as the 612c includes a nice 3-megapixel shooter. HP also offers a version without the camera, the HP iPAQ 612, for enterprises that don't allow cameras for security reasons, but unfortunately this model won't be available in Australia.

We took a couple of happy snaps and found the camera to be decent, and it includes both auto-focus and a flash. Just watch out for the slow shutter speed, which can result in blurry photos.

Verdict
Considering its feature, the iPAQ 612c is great value for money. Short of the Nokia E71, our current choice as the best smartphone, you won't find much on offer with these features at this price.

If it were not for its poor keypad, the feature-rich 612c would be an excellent phone overall. Unfortunately, its poor keypad, drab appearance and bland Windows Mobile interface means there isn't a lot which is exciting about the 612c.

However, enterprises looking for a feature rich PDA with good battery life won't be disappointed by HP's latest iPAQ.

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