Reviewed November 17, 2006 by Lisa Gade, Editor
in Chief and Tong Zhang, Senior Editor and GPS guru
HP is re-inventing the Pocket PC, or at least trying to put a new spin on it. They make a variety of Windows Mobile Pocket PC devices that function as standalone PDAs, as "Mobile Messengers" which means they have a mobile phone in them such as the iPAQ hw6915, and now they're offering the iPAQ rx5915 which is a "Travel Companion" housing a GPS (sorry, no phone).
The Travel Companion is designed as a GPS first and a Pocket PC second. Which isn't to say it lacks anything a Pocket PC offers, the device is a full-featured Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC with all the usual software plus Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR and WiFi 802.11b/g. But the physical design and customized launcher lend themselves to GPS use, and it looks a bit like some of the dedicated GPS devices on the market from Garmin, Navman and the like (though thinner). This is in contrast to the iPAQ hw6515 and iPAQ hw6925, Garmin iQue M5 and Mitac Mio 168 which all look and feel like PDAs with standard controls and a default portrait screen orientation. Perhaps it's a case of what goes around comes around: we saw GPS' integrated into PDAs lose ground to dedicated handheld GPS units and now we're seeing interest in GPS with PDA features once again. After all, if you pay around $500 or more for a GPS, why not have it do more than navigate?
There's no need to load maps: the device had 2 gigs of flash storage and approximately 1.5 gigs are filled with maps of the entire US. The iPAQ uses Tom Tom for navigation and Tele Atlas for maps. It has a SiRF Star III GPS that does an excellent job of aquiring satellites (it even got 4 on the 2nd floor of our house). We'll cover the GPS and software in greater detail further down.
In the Box
HP includes the iPAQ, with stylus and 1700 mAh Lithium Ion battery, USB sync/charge cable, home AC charger and car charger (plug the USB cable into either to charge the device), car mounting kit (attaches to either windshield or dash surface with included suction cup and interchangeable adhesive disc), software CD with ActiveSync and Outlook 2002 and printed manuals.
Design and Ergonomics
The iPAQ rx5915 is designed to be used primarily in landscape orientation (though it does support portrait too, and its display can be rotated in any of four directions). It's larger than most Pocket PC and Pocket PC Phone Edition models on the market, though it's not huge either. The somewhat larger casing holds a 3.5" color display (just like the old days, when Pocket PCs had those large displays). It's designed to be easy to see and to use while driving, rather than miniaturized to fit in your pocket easily. That's because HP expects it will spend a lot of time on your car's dash board, held in place by the included mount and charged by the included car charger. You get a home charger too, since HP knows you'll also use this at your desk.
The rx5915 is made of silver plastic and while it's durable and somewhat shock absorbant, it looks plasticy. Its rounded corners save it from slim brick status, speaking of which at 0.65" it is much slimmer that most dedicated handheld GPS devices meant for car use. It's much slimmer than the Cingular 8525 and Treo 700P and weighs 6 ounces.
top view. with SD card slot and voice recorder button
right side view, where most of the controls reside.
It's got a 5 way d-pad that's a bit too soft and springy, a close button and a Windows Start Menu button on the front. The close and Start Menu buttons are more like narrow slits and we wonder how anyone is supposed to hit those easily while driving.
Up top there's a full sized SD card slot and a Voice Recorder button, and the mini USB sync/charge port, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and GPS external antenna port are on the left side. Most of the controls are on the right side: Quick Launch button, navigation launch button, Windows Media Player Mobile button, screen orientation switcher (the display rotates in 90 degree increments with each button press) and the power button. The wireless indicator light also lives on the right side. The top and left edges have a metallic rose color and are somewhat concave to make the iPAQ more grippable.
Horsepower and Performance
The iPAQ runs on a Samsung S3C2442A 400MHz processor that's a good performer while being more power-friendly than current Intel XScale processors running at the same speed. That's the same CPU used in the Cingular 8525 Pocket PC phone, and it manages similar benchmarks in SPB Benchmark. The rx5915 has 64 mes of RAM (used like RAM in your computer) wtih 40 megs typically free at boot. It has 2 gigs of flash ROM for persistent storage that will survive a complete battery drain. It's arranged a little differently than other Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PCs with 79 megs showing in storage memory and an additional 437 megs available (out of 1777.5 total) in the iPAQ File Store. What's using all that storage space? The maps and associated data. For those who hate loading maps, the irx5915 is perfection, and you still have over 437 megs to store stuff (far more than any other Windows Mobile device on the US market).
The iPAQ feels similar to other Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PCs in terms of speed drawing windows, launching programs and accomplishing tasks in programs. It's neither a sceamer nor a slug. It does a decent job of video playback using the included Windows Media Player 10 Mobile and TCPMP, a free open source audio and video player. Our usual test file, the BMW short film "The Chosen", benched at 305% with a data rate of 947 kbit/s and a bench frame rate of 73.39 which is just so-so. The Cingular 8525 running the same processor (plus an ATI graphics processor) benched at 549% in contrast, though the iPAQ somehow managed a higher grahics benchmark score in SPB Benchmark. Given the large landscape display and roomy storage, we wished the device did a bit better so we could load high bitrate movies for our video fix.
Benchmarks comparing WM5 Pocket PCs with 400MHz CPUs
This is one loud device. That's good thing since you need to hear it in the car. The iPAQ's single rear-firing speaker is loud and clear and you won't have problems hearing and understanding directions unless you have a hole in your muffler the size of a grapefruit. For private listening and multimedia pleasure, the rx5915 has Windows Media Player Mobile and a standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack which outputs good sound. Though the device supports headset, handsfree and audio gateway Bluetooth profiles (generally useful for phone edition Pocket PCs, not those without a cell phone), it doesn't have the A2P profile for Bluetooth stereo headsets.
The display is large and bright. At 3" it's larger than most mobile device displays and the HP Quick Launch launcher and navigation buttons are large and easy to press using a finger. The screen requires a firm touch compared to some other iPAQ Pocket PCs with very sensitive and "squishy" screens.
The transflective screen's antiglare coating makes it a tad less crystal clear indoors but works well outdoors when held or mounted with the screen facing you. The viewing angle isn't wide outdoors but it's fine for the driver. If you hold it facing up (horizontal facing the sky) you won't be able to see it, so um, well don't do that. The screen's coating is designed to reduce glare and improve readability when the device is held in a natural vertical position, at a 90% angle from the dash's top surface facing the driver's (or co-pilot's) face.
Bluetooth and WiFi
The iPAQ has HP's usual wireless utility which we like. It's got a today screen plugin that lets you turn the Bluetooth and WiFi radios on and off and see the status of the GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi radios. You can jump to Bluetooth and WiFi settings directly from the Today Screen and a handy "all off" applet turns off all wireless radios for flight.
The HP rx5915 has Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR (enhanced data rate) which is a rare treat on a PDA. This makes for fast, interference-resistant connections when used with other Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR devices such as notebooks. It runs version 1.7.1 of Broadcom's Bluetooth software which is more user friendly and informative than the basic Microsoft Bluetooth software used on most Pocket PC and Pocket PC Phone Editions PDAs. It has a wizard interface that guides you through the connection process with a variety of devices including headsets, PC ActiveSync partner and keyboards. It supports the following profiles: ftp, info exchange, serial port, personal network server, audio gateway, handsfree/headset, activesync, LAN and HID.
For wireless Internet, the x5915 has WiFi 802.11b/g that supports WEP encryption and VPN connections. It had good range that's similar to other iPAQ models (less than a notebook's range but better than some of the competing handhelds) and offers reliable wireless connections.
The iPAQ rx5915 runs Windows Mobile 5 Premium Edition with AKU 2.6. It comes with desktop syncing software for Windows only (ActiveSync) and Outlook 2002. The device has the usual mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint (PowerPoint is view only), Internet Explorer, Outlook (Messaging, Contacts, Calendar, Notes and Tasks). It comes with Tom Tom navigation software and maps of the US (more on that in our GPS section). HP's value added include the iPAQ Audio applet with 5 band EQ for headphones, mic AGC and enabling 3D surround sound; the iPAQ TodayPanel plugin that shows battery, memory and storage levels on the Today Screen and allows you to adjust display brightness using a slider. HP also includes the afore mentioned iPAQ Wireless Today Screen plugin and WorldMate 2006 Standard Edition. HP's Quick Launch with has large buttons to go to the Today Screen, Travel Assistant, Entertainment (WMP 10 (10.3), PhotoSmart mobile, Bubble Breaker and Solitaire), Navigation and IE.
HP's Quick Luanch is handy for fingertip control in the car
In addition you get HP Photosmart Mobile which is a fairly good image viewer than can read embedded GPS data from photos (though the rx5915 doesn't have a camera, so the images must come from a competing product to use this feature.
The Today Screen with supplied Quick Launch, Today Panel, iPAQ Wireless and WorldMate plugins.
The iPAQ rx5900 has the latest SiRFIII GSC3f GPS chipset which is the newest version in the SiRFstarIII family of chipsets. If you haven’t used a device with the SiRFIII chip, you’ll be happy to hear that this generation of chipsets has some significant improvements over the previous generations. The major features that this chipset provides for GPS receivers are high sensitivity, lower power consumption and fast time to fix speed. In fact, the SiRF III chipset has been re-architected to have the equivalent to more than 200K correlators as opposed to the old sequential search process that contains only a few hundred to a few thousand correlators. The result is your GPS receiver becomes much more sensitive and can get a good signal even under dense foliage, downtown high-rise buildings and indoors in many cases which was not achievable with past generations of GPS receivers. Another benefit of having a higher performance chipset is that your GPS will have a faster time to fix, especially time to first fix (TTFF) speed.
To launch the GPS, you can either tap on the GPS icon in HP Quick Launch or select from the Preferences screen. Using the SiRFIII chipset, the iPAQ GPS tracks 12 satellites consistently with strong signal strength from 6 satellites. The TTF (time to fix) was slower than we’d expected and it sometimes took 30 seconds to 1 minute for a cold start and other times 2-3 minutes before it could get a 3D fix. The TTF is a lot longer than the ASUS A636 which also uses the SiRFIII chip but has a dedicated flip-up style GPS antenna. The indoor cold start takes longer than in outdoors but the iPAQ was able to hold a good signal from 3-4 satellites indoors which is amazing performance compared to last gen GPS receivers. Having an indoor signal allows you to plan trips before leaving the house. Hot starts in both indoor and outdoor environments take just few seconds. Once the iPAQ has a fix and is tracking the satellites consistently, the positioning reading is very accurate. Combine the great GPS accuracy and Tele Atlas’ map data, and you’ve got an outstanding navigation tool in the iPAQ rx5915. All destinations to which we navigated in the Dallas metro area have been spot on. In addition to driving mode, he TomTom 6 navigation system also offers modes for motorcycles and pedestrian navigation. For those who are familiar with GPS while walking, the iPAQ GPS is set with the Static Navigation setting on and there isn’t any included software on the device to switch it off for walking purposes. But you can find quite a few utilities online to do the switching. The GPS also has the SBAS support off as default.
If you are in an area where you don’t get strong signal inside your vehicle, you can get an additional external antenna (3rd party) that you can put on the roof of your car to get better access to the sky. You’ll plug it into the external antenna port (MMCX RF connector) on the iPAQ. For vehicle mounting, the iPAQ comes with a plastic mounting kit that should make it easy to securely position the iPAQ in your car. There is also a car charger included with the kit.
Navigation On the Go
If you’ve used a navigation system on a PDA or PNAV (personal navigation device) before, you know that each navigation system has its own User Interface and you will need to take a little bit of time to find your way around. TomTom Navigator 6 is one of the major navigation packages for handheld GPS solutions and it has evolved in the past couple of years to provide more and more options and features. TomTom Navigator 6 offers navigation tools for driving, cycling and hiking. When you start to navigate your route, the navigation software will offer you shortcuts to destinations that are easy for you to pick from including Home address (which you can enter or set), favorites, recent destinations, a GPS position, a point on the map, Latitude/Longitude readings, POIs, addresses in your Contacts database or enter a fresh address. The iPAQ comes with 5 million POIs and TomTom sorts them in several categories such as POI near you, POIs in a certain city, near home, along the routes you’ve planned or near your destination. It’s intuitive and fast to navigate. Like many navigation packages, TomTom Navigator 6 offers plenty of ways for you to map your trips. You can choose Fastest route, Shortest route or customize the criteria to meet your travel needs such as road speed, avoidance (roadblocks, construction, toll ways, etc.) and more. You can add waypoints and stops along a long trip and TomTom Navigator 6 gives you an itinerary view of the entire trip and can save all the trips you’ve planned.
In our navigation and driving tests, all trips routed according to our specifications and all destinations were accurate thanks to the sensitive GPS and accurate map data which we will talk about in the next section. If you’ve steered off of your planned route, the GPS will automatically track your location and re-route for you on-the-fly. The re-routing is very fast and hassle-free and it will direct you back to your original route or map out a new route if it’s better suited to your navigation criteria.
The only less than smooth operation comes from the directional pad. It has a rocking motion that’s too flexible. Like driving a mini-van, it’s hard to control the d-pad movement precisely and it’s easy to make mistakes.
TomTom Navigator 6 has both visual and audio guidance to assist you when you travel on the planned routes. You can view the map in 2D, 3D or demo mode where you can play the trip before hand to see if that’s the best route. You can set the guidance display in text, map plus turns and map view that follows your movement along the route. There is additional info on the guidance screen including battery status, satellites status and your position in Latitude/Longitude. For voice guidance, you can choose language (English UK, US and Australia, French and Spanish), male or female and different voices in each camp. All voice guidance instructions are given by native speakers and comes through the iPAQ’s speaker loud and clear. The frequency of the instructions is good but not as good as from HP Navigation software on the iPAQ hw6915. You will generally get turn instructions at 200-yards, 80 feet and at the turn; and the accuracy of these instructions have been spot on as well.
The HP iPAQ rx5915 comes with Tele Atlas’ latest digital maps for North America (US and Canada) including Alaska and Hawaii. Thanks to iPAQ’s 2GB of storage, you don’t have to go through any map installations as the maps and POI database have been pre-loaded onto the device and you can start navigating out of the box.
Tele Atlas is one of the major vector based map data providers and they cover 650 million addresses in 51 countries. They have 7 million miles of road coverage in North America with 300 plus million addresses. Among them, they have 43 million addresses mapped so accurately that they can pinpoint the front door of a building. Tele Atlas also keeps a POI database that has 17 million 2D-3D POIs worldwide and 11 million of them are in North America.
Tele Atlas gathers data from many government agencies, map source partners and by driving daily and feeding a live database. The database is updated in real time as the data is collected, and at the current rate, the map database gets about 100K updates per day. Tele Altas makes major map updates available to partners quarterly.
If you're looking for both a GPS and a PDA, with good GPS design for car use, the iPAQ won't disappoint. It has the strong SiRF III chipset that gets a great GPS signal and TomTom 6 navigation software which provides good navigation and guidance. And we love not having to sit at our desk to load maps!
Pro: Large display, good navigation software and maps including. No need to download maps to the device. Accurate navigation and sensitive GPS. Full-featured PDA built in means you can route directly from your address book, keep track of appointments while in the car. Plus it doubles as an MP3 and video player with nearly 500 megs of internal storage and an SD slot to add even more memory.
Con: Sometimes slow fix times. D-pad isn't the best.
Display:65K color transflective
TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 3". Resolution:
320 x 240, supports both portrait and landscape modes and can rotate in 90 degree increments.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1700 mA. Home and car charger included.
Performance: Samsung S3C2442A 400MHz processor. 64 megs RAM and 2 gigs flash ROM with approximately 437 megs available for your use (maps take up the rest of storage).
Size:4.74 x 3.0 x .65 inches. Weight: 5.99 ounces.
GPS:SiRF III. TomTom 6 navigation software and Tele Atlas maps of the 50 US states and Canada included.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR.
Mobile 5.0 Premium Edition operating system with AKU 2.6.
Microsoft Mobile Office suite including Mobile versions
of Word, Excel, PowerPoint (view only), Internet
Explorer, and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, MSN
Instant Messenger for Pocket PC, Windows Media Player
10, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker (game), Voice Recorder
as well as handwriting recognition. Additional applications:
HP PhotoSmart, WorldMate 2006, iPAQ Wireless Manager, HP Quick Launch, HP Today Panel, TomTom 6 navigation software and Tele Atlas maps.
ActiveSync and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.