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HP iPAQ 210

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Reviewed Feb. 10, 2008 by Tanker Bob

In this day of electronics convergence, our cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, etc., all compress down into one multi-purpose device that does everything but style our hair. This results in a compromised device, usually with a small screen and a battery that's constantly panting. Back in the old days, PDAs were mighty road warriors that replaced laptops on the road for some intrepid travelers. They had large, bright screens, ran complex applications, and some even possessed mighty batteries that outlasted converged devices.

HP iPAQ 210

But wait, those days are not gone forever. While companies like Sony, Fujitsu, and Dell bailed out of the stand-alone PDA market, HP produced a mighty successor to greats like their own iPAQ hx4700 and Dell's Axim X50v and Axim 51v models. Following HP's release of a “consumer” PDA late last fall in the QVGA iPAQ 110, they have now offered the much-anticipated iPAQ 200-series for sale.

The new iPAQ packs quite a punch with a 4” VGA screen and 16-bit color, 128MB (~35MB used by operating system) of Program Memory, 256MB (162.55MB usable) of Storage Memory, 24.71MB of File Store, all powered by the mighty 624MHz Marvell PXA310 CPU. It sports both SDHC and CF card slots, 802.11b/g WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0, and a nice 2200mAh battery. What's not to love?

The Shiny Box

Even in today's online world, product boxes still bear the bright colors of marketing. Its compact form holds the iPAQ without the battery installed, slipcase, 2200 mAh battery, 24-pin iPAQ sync cable, AC charger, 24-pin recharge adapter head for the 210, a quick start booklet, and the installation CD. HP cleverly put instructions for quick setup on the inside of the box lid for the especially eager. Everything is individually wrapped in plastic bags and well-packed in Styrofoam compartments. But not for long...

HP iPAQ 210 box

For the record, although the box says 210 all over it, the iPAQ internal ID says 211. They are one in the same, HP uses 2 different model numbers to track retail vs. corporate sales channels.

Specifications

Normally, I spread the specs out throughout a review, but two in particular need mentioning up front. You can read the iPAQ's vitals in detail here. On HP's web site, on the box, and in every specifications list that I've seen, HP lists the height of the 210 as 4.96” or 126mm. I took that as a matter of faith until a web forum question about the relative size of the iPAQ vs. the Dell Axim X50v.

 

 

 

 

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The diminutive X50v measures in at just 4.7” high. Looking at the pictures here, you can see that the 210 is clearly more than 0.2” longer than the Axim. As a life-long mechanic and engineer with an eye for sizes, especially relative sizes, the difference here struck me as odd. So, I broke out several measuring devices including a 3x5 card. Sure 'nuff, the HP routinely comes out to 5.25” (133mm) high. However, all the other dimensions check out. Hmmm.

HP iPAQ 210 and Dell Axim X50v

The Dell Axim X50v and the iPAQ 210.

HP iPAQ 210 and Dell Axim X50v

The Dell Axim X50v (top) and the iPAQ 210.

Now, someone at HP had to know how big the 200-series was because the slipcase fits perfectly. It's hard to believe that the individual who ordered the slipcases was the only person at HP that could measure. This seems like a small point (no pun intended), but for people that carry their PDAs in their pockets, any size difference can be significant.

Perhaps more controversially, HP's specifications say that the 200-series screens have 18-bit color, thereby displaying 256K colors. According to the HP Asset Viewer utility that ships with the iPAQ, the screen actually supports 16-bit color for 64K hues (standard for Pocket PC and Pocket PC phones). That's a significant difference. So, I compared the HP's display with the Dell's, the latter advertising 16-bit color, and couldn't see a difference in displaying the same 24-bit color image. All evidence at my disposal points to a 16-bit color display on the 210. As far as I'm concerned, that's fine for a PDA, but others may not think so after laying out $450 for the promise of 256K colors. Your call.

Display

It was partly the Dell Axim's beautiful 640x480 pixel VGA screen that drew me into the Pocket PC world. HP raised that another notch with a 4” VGA screen that includes an auto-dimmer. The dimmer may sound hokey, but it does a great job as your ambient light changes and helps save battery life. It also saves your eyes in a darkened room. The VGA display does not disappoint—it is awesome. The rich and vibrant colors dominate your eyes when gazing upon it. Photos display beautifully in both portrait and landscape—no polarization issues here.

It's also amazing how much bigger the 4” display looks compared to a 3.7” one. Text is definitely easier to read. Indeed, everything looks better on the larger display. If that's the cause of the iPAQ's growth, it was worth the change.

Thanks for the memories...

I can remember when 64k of RAM in a PC seemed like an ocean of space. My, how times have changed. Now a PC with less than 1GB of RAM is considered a good minimum for performance under Windows XP and 2GB the minimum under Vista. And so it has gone with PDAs. My original Palm V had 2MB of RAM, which I traded up within weeks for a Palm Vx with 8MB. The Sony T615C CLIE had a then-huge 16MB, the Palm Tungsten T3 and outrageous 32MB, and my beloved Dell Axim X50v a whopping 64MB of RAM. Who could ever need more?

screen shot

Well, all of us, and HP delivers. The 210 sports a generous 128MB of RAM (121MB user-accessible) and 256MB of Flash (162MB user accessible), plus a ~25MB iPAQ File Store. The Flash survives loss of power and the File Store survives hard resets. As you can see from the screen shot, my fully-loaded 210 still has over 53MB of Storage Memory left and an unbelievable 73MB of Program Memory (RAM). That's what I call head space. By contrast, I had about 13MB of RAM left on the X50v before executing any programs beyond the considerable boot load.

The difference in performance and reliability due to all this memory proved readily evident. Programs that could not run together under the 13MB on my X50v happily coexist with five or six other executing applications and still left about 53MB of RAM for more. Applications that used to be relegated to the cards now run much faster from the copious Storage Memory. Happy days!

Speaking of cards, the 210 supports the rare but welcome combination of both SDHC and CF cards. Some large databases like Lexipedia's unabridged Wikipedia, dictionaries, and medical references will always need generous card spaces. The SDHC slot will use the latest 32GB cards, really opening up the possibilities. The CF slot, in addition to flash cards, supports plug-in peripherals like the GlobalSat GPS receiver. HP clearly intended the 210 as a serious business device.

A connected world

The iPAQ 210 gives you a number of ways to stay connected. The 802.11b/g WiFi support provides a high-speed pipe to your network, with WPA and WPA2 implemented to keep you secure. The 802.11b support also gives you the flexibility for Internet cafes and airport WiFi. Tanker Bob effortlessly connected to his network with WPA-PSK in just minutes after opening the HP's box. HP also includes their own simple-to-use WiFi utility and Today plug-in.

For shorter distances of up to 10 meters, Bluetooth 2.0 with Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) fits the bill. The Broadcom 1.8 stack supports the File Transfer, Information Exchange, Serial Port, Personal Network Server, Audio Gateway, and PIM Synchronization protocols. Pairing with my Kubuntu Linux desktop provided no challenges, and file exchanges back and forth performed well.

The iPAQ includes a mini-USB 2.0 connector that can also be used to both charge and synchronize the device. Generally, though, the 24-pin connector will be used for desktop synchronization while charging as USB charging is rather slow. ActiveSync 4.5 comes on the installation CD. MobileTechReview frowns on the language that I'd use to describe ActiveSync (or ActiveStink) 4.5, so I'll just say that it was the worst part of my initial 210 experience. If you are “upgrading” from AS 3.8 or earlier, do yourself a favor and download/install AS 4.2 first, then update 4.2 to 4.5. After all these years, ActiveSync is still the slowest and more frustrating thing that you'll ever do with your PDA. Under Windows Vista, you'll use Windows Mobile Device Center instead of ActiveSync.

Software to go

Windows Mobile 6.0 Classic comes standard in the ROM. In addition to the core operating system and usual utilities, Microsoft also included its .NET Framework 2.0, Service Pack 1, and Microsoft SQL Server 2005. That all takes up a good bit of the 256MB of Flash. Windows Media Player Mobile 10.3 awaits here as well. The 210 also includes the latest Windows Mobile Office 6.1, which introduces compatibility with Microsoft's “open” data file standard. WMO 6.1 includes Pocket versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote. These all performed well.

I was particularly impressed with Pocket PowerPoint. I use PP a lot on the road and have previously converted presentations to a jpg slide show with Resco's Photo Viewer. Now I can just copy the presentations to my card and off I go. I found one glitch, though. It converted one font in a presentation table to Hebrew on a slide, making that slide unreadable. I have some Hebrew fonts on the 210 for OliveTree's MyBible, but none in my PP presentation. I solved this by copying Times New Roman, Arial, and Veranda TrueType font files from the desktop to the HP's \Windows\Font directory. Worked fine after that.

HP iPAQ 210
HP iPAQ 210

In addition to the standard fare, HP includes their HP Photosmart Mobile, HP PrintSmart, HP Asset Viewer (to view system information), Bluetooth Phone Manager, Certificate Enroller, ClearVue PDF Viewer, HP iPAQ QuickStart, HP Help and Support, HP iPAQ Tips, Internet Sharing. On the Today screen, they included iPAQ Wireless and TodayPanel Lite. With few exceptions, these provide some valuable capabilities. The ClearVue PDF Viewer does an excellent job of PDF rendering, though even on a 624MHz CPU it is a bit slow going from page to page.

Now for a minor but very annoying nit pick. As you can see in the screen shot under the screen section above, WM 6 puts a battery icon on the Task Bar instead of a clock. There are lots of better and free battery monitors, so there's not much need for a minimally-useful icon. You can easily get the time there on bar where other applications are executing, but not on the Today screen. To get the time to replace the battery on the Today screen Task Bar, you have to edit the registry. Under HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Shell, add two DWORD keys if they don't exist. The first is ShowTitleBarClock which should be set to 1. The second is ShowTitleBarBattery which should be set to 0. After creating those values, suspend the device for about 15 seconds then turn it back on for the iPAQ to reread the registry, If that doesn't work, just soft reset it. After that, you have the time on the Title Bar of the Today screen and life is good again.

Entertain me!

The iPAQ 210 is listed under HP's small/home business section, but the Marvell PXA310 CPU that powers your business has plenty of juice for your leisure pursuits as well. For those long flights and boring meetings, Bubble Breaker and Solitaire will help maintain your sanity. If you're satisfied with WMP 10, then you're all set for music and video.

However, with the addition of TCPMP and all its codecs, the iPAQ will acquit itself well in playing a host of video and audio formats. The 210 includes two external speakers, which is unusual though nice. You won't duplicate any concert halls with them, though. The sound through the 3.5mm stereo headset jack is excellent. No tweaking is necessary to get great sound. The downside is that the headset jack is on the bottom of the 210. That may make it challenging to use with the device in a case or in your pocket.

On the other hand, the iPAQ supports Bluetooth 2.0 EDR and Audio Gateway. So, you could use a Bluetooth stereo headset. I don't have one so couldn't test the capability.

Video playback is generally good. Tanker Bob played a selection of movies and found that although the sound progressed smoothly, the video sometimes skipped periodically on higher quality movie rips. This was true in WMP 10 as well as TCPMP. TCPMP did not indicate that any frames were dropped for 15 fps video playback or at 25 fps with a 320x480 video. However, at 25 fps on a 640x368 video with 96 bps audio, 36 out of 4555 frames were dropped, or about 0.8%. Certainly watchable, but not as good as the X50v with its Intel 2700g video coprocessor. The Axim had 0 drops on a 30 fps, 624x336 pixel video, 128 kpbs sound movie. Your results will vary with the total bit rate of the video and audio combination.

In the wild

So, how does all this work together? Very well, thank you. Although the 210 is bigger than your common Windows Mobile device these days, it works well during daily use. The silver metal rim around the edges of the black plastic case is slightly concaved so that your fingers fall into it and grip naturally. The back panel of the iPAQ has a soft, rubberized finish, so it won't slip in your hand or on your desk. This all contributes greatly to a comfortable feel in your hand. The buttons are slightly recessed so that they won't be activated accidentally, plus there is a software locking utility. I have carried the 210 in my front pocket for a typical week and encountered no difficulties doing so.

The 2200 mAh battery seems up to the demand of a large screen and 802.11g WiFi. Over a week of heavy use, Tanker Bob found the battery life to be in the vicinity of 7 hours of actual usage time or slightly more depending on the usage pattern. That's acceptable for all but the longest over-ocean flights. Mugen Power makes a replacement 2400 mAh and huge 4400 mAh extended battery for the 210 already, although the 2400 mAh one wasn't available as of this writing. The battery cover can be challenging to remove. You have to press on the top seem while sliding it down to release the catch.

The 802.11g WiFi worked like a charm. The difference over 802.11b is easily discernible over the local network. Thanks to the extra RAM and the 4” screen, browsing the Internet actually works pretty well. Pocket Internet Explorer continues to improve, but has a ways to go. The eventual release of a Firefox Mobile may finally bring some welcome relief for road warriors.

Overall operating speed is pretty good. Having most applications installed in the faster Storage Memory rather than on cards has the largest effect on program loading. The 624 MHz CPU certainly keeps thing moving along as well. It easily puts my Blackberry to shame and generally feels the same to slightly faster than the Dell X50v.

The iPAQ seems geared towards one-handed operation. One of the buttons brings up the Start menu. Another executes the OK or X to close or move an app to the background. Depending on the software you use, many common operations may not require the stylus. All this seems well thought out.

The voice recorder button is flush on the left side. The button design makes it difficult to activate by accident but easy to do on purpose. I rarely use the recording capability, so I mapped it to the HP WiFi screen. Now I can bring up the WiFi without the stylus. Nice.

Speaking of the stylus, it is a metal design and pretty comfortable. It fits securely down the right side of the iPAQ. The power button on the top front face has a positive feel. Oddly, the 210 takes about 2 seconds to activate after pressing the button, but goes off instantly. Every other device I've had came on instantly as well. I wonder what's up with that?

Stability has been outstanding. I loaded everything but the kitchen sink on the 210, and it took it all in stride. With 9 custom tabs loaded under PocketBreeze 5.4, plus iLauncher 3.1 on the Today screen, I still have over 70MB of RAM remaining and the iPAQ remains very responsive. The only current issue apparently results from the nightly run of Sprite Backup 6. After stopping all processes, running the backup, then suspending the device, somehow the soft key background color consistently becomes corrupted. This usually takes several soft resets to recover. I'm still working on the issue. To date, though, I have not encountered any lockups or unexpected resets. Very nice.

Conclusion

The HP iPAQ 200-series returns to us the strength of a powerful PDA with a decent sized screen and ample memory and storage capacity, and a good battery. The 210 raises the pocket laptop to a new level for road warriors. The high-speed 802.11g WiFi with WAP and WAP2 for networking adds another strong draw, as does the improved Office Mobile 6.1. Although the size is larger than advertised and the color less than pitched, the iPAQ 210 still provides a strong draw. Tanker Bob very much enjoys his and recommends it to his friends.

Pros:
Awesome 4” 16-bit color screen
User-accessible 121MB RAM and 162MB Storage Memory
Nice button layout and 4-way selector
Mini-USB and 24-pin iPAQ synchronization methods
Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR
SDHC and CF card slots.
Lots of value-added software

Cons:
Large size (1/4” larger than advertised)
ActiveSync 4.5 and Windows Mobile Device Center aren't always a joy to use
Silly default battery icon on the Today screen Task Bar

 

Price: $449

Web Site: www.hp.com

Shopping: Where to Buy

 

Specs:

Display: 4" VGA 65K color TFT LCD. Screen size diagonally: 4.0". Resolution: 2480 x 640, supports both portrait and landscape modes.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 2200 mA.

Performance: Marvell PXA310 624 MHzprocessor. 128 MB built-in RAM, 256 MB Flash ROM.

Size: 5.25 x 2.99 x 0.63 inches. Weight: 6.8 ounces.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR with A2DP stereo profile.

Software: Windows Mobile 6.0 Classic (Pocket PC) operating system. HP software bundle includes iPAQ Wireless Manager, HP Photosmart Mobile, HP QuickStart Tour/Setup Assistant and Bluetooth Manager. Microsoft software bundle includes Office Mobile, Office Outlook Mobile, Internet Explorer Mobile, and Windows Media Player 10. Windows Live Messenger client also included. PIM apps and tools include Contacts, Calendar, Notes, Tasks, Calculator, ClearVue PDF viewer and Picture/video viewer. Games include Bubble Breaker and Solitaire.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot supporting SDHC high capacity SD cards over 2 gigs in capacity. 1 CF slot.

 

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