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HP iPAQ H5550

  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • 128MB of RAM
  • USB charging
  • biometric security
  • some storage space in non-volatile flash memory
  • strong software bundle.

Cons

  • Hefty
  • pricey.

Hewlett Packard's former top-of-the-line iPAQ, the H5450 showed promise as a useful wireless handheld, but some performance issues kept it from living up to its full potential. Now the company is serving up a tuned-up, improved version of that earlier high-end model: the H5550 (£499 inc. VAT, list price), which includes a healthy 128MB of RAM and the latest Pocket PC operating system. Although it may be a bit much for the average consumer, corporate buyers will find it to be a powerful jack-of-all-trades. It's the Pocket PC equivalent of Palm's Tungsten C, minus the integrated keyboard.

Design
Like the H5450 before it, the H5550 is a fully loaded but heavy handheld. This model weighs 207g and measures 8.4cm by 13.8cm by 1.59cm. These are roughly the same dimensions as those of earlier iPAQs, so this model is compatible with many of the line's accessory jackets. The device also carries the same sharp, 65,536-colour, transflective TFT display that has appeared in all iPAQs since the H3900 series. The H5550 is a dead ringer for the H5400-series iPAQs, with the same radio-antenna nub at the top and a biometric fingerprint scanner below the joystick-like directional pad. To either side of the navigation button is the familiar quartet of iPAQ buttons, which let you access Calendar, Contacts, Inbox and HP's home-spun iTask application. Atop the device is an SDIO-compatible SD/MMC slot and a power button, as well as a record button that doubles as volume control -- a smart move, seeing as the record function on Pocket PCs is infrequently used. The headphone jack is found at the bottom of the device. This may seem like a somewhat strange location, but it's a sensible choice when you consider that HP has to keep the iPAQ's sides clear so that you can slide on the aforementioned accessory jackets. The headphone jack is the standard 3.5mm size. The H5550 ships with an AC charger, a synchronisation cradle, and a dongle to charge the removable battery while travelling. You can connect via USB, but if you need to plug in to an older system, you can use the serial port. There's no separate USB cord to sync without the cradle, but the integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth give you two more avenues to sync with similarly equipped systems. Another plus: the H5550 can charge via USB as long as it's in its cradle and connected to a PC.

Features
The most interesting features of the iPAQ H5550 lie within it. The 400MHz XScale processor is the fastest available from Intel, although some may argue that Samsung's new 266MHz processor is its equal. HP has also boosted the RAM to an impressive 128MB and the ROM to 48MB. This leaves plenty of room for the new Windows Mobile 2003 operating system, and even a bit left over for safe storage of important data in the non-volatile flash memory (up to 20MB, depending on the model). But the integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are the stars of the show; they allow users new ways of communicating with other Bluetooth devices or to log onto any of the 802.11b networks that seem to be popping up everywhere. A few other hardware improvements are also impressive -- and even add a bit of mystery to the H5550. First, we liked that the headphone jack is not only standard-size (so that you can plug in your favourite 'phones) but also that it has a microphone element for using a headset. HP has switched to a removable battery, allowing you to swap in a new one when necessary (if you purchase one). Better yet, beneath the battery is what looks like a SIM card slot, suggesting that an iPAQ/mobile phone combo may be in the works. HP avoids the question of whether there'll be such an iPAQ smartphone, but we think the SIM slot speaks volumes. As we mentioned earlier, the operating system is new. Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2003 has better wireless functions with a simple setup and more powerful security. Email and PIM functions have also been tweaked, and Microsoft provides a number of new programs, such as Windows Media Player 9, ActiveSync 3.7, an image viewer/editor and a game. For more OS details, see our Windows Mobile 2003 feature. HP does include a number of tailor-made iPAQ applications, including Fingerprint Reader, Backup, File Store (which stores important info in non-volatile ROM), iTask Manager and Image Viewer. However, most of them are either more akin to control-panel applets than full-blown programs, or they are duplicated in the Windows Mobile 2003 embedded programs. The software CD, however, does include a wide range of third-party software to address almost every need under the sun. Some of the more interesting titles include Westek ClearVue Suite, which lets you view email attachments and Office documents in their native formats, and a couple of Voice-over-IP (VoIP) Solutions such as Avaya IP Softphone and IP Blue VTGO.

Performance
The H5550's 400MHz processor gives the device a lot of power for work or play. And with its 128MB of RAM, there's plenty of room for expansion before you have to add extra media. Movies and games played equally well on the device; with Hexacto's Bounty Hunter 2099, gameplay was smooth, without the blips and timing problems we've seen in earlier iPAQs. Wi-Fi networking went well. Thanks to Microsoft's tweaks, setting up a connection has been greatly simplified, and the H5550 detected the network immediately. Two taps later and we were surfing the Internet via a Wi-Fi access point. Pages loaded quickly for a handheld, but we noticed that some of the Favorites that HP selected were not optimised for Pocket Internet Explorer. We did like the unit's streaming media performance; we watched a Terminator 3 movie trailer that unfolded like silk (albeit violent silk). The Bluetooth, too, works like a charm. Improvements to Windows Mobile 2003 make Bluetooth easier to use, and they streamline the connection process. We were able to connect to another Bluetooth-enabled iPAQ (the H2210) and swap files in no time. You can also use the Bluetooth to connect to a phone, a headset or a PC for Internet access or syncing. The H5550 comes with a 1,250mAh, lithium-ion battery, which should provide a good amount of time between charges. However, the device must have an appetite for juice, because we only squeezed adequate performance scores from it. Playing movies in PocketTV with the screen at 50 percent brightness, the H5550 mustered only 3 hours and 25 minutes of video before running down. Granted, this is better than the H2210's 3 hours and 17 minutes, but the step-down model uses only a 900mAh cell. You can expect better performance with the less-demanding task of listening to MP3s -- or worse performance if you're using energy-hogging Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

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