Reviewed by Lisa
Gade, Editor in Chief, Aug. 14, 2003
HPCs (Handheld PCs) were the first PDAs to run
Windows CE and were somewhat popular in the late 1990s. Pocket
PC and Handheld PCs evolved from the first Windows CE operating
systems, and Pocket PCs took the market by storm because they closely
resembled the form factor of the very popular Palm PDAs. Sales
of HPCs declined, and manufacturers stopped offering these models
despite a recent resurgence of interest in PDAs with keyboards.
NEC has been making HPCs for years, and they are now the only manufacturer
in the game. The HP Jornada 728, the
lone competitor to the MobilePro HPC line was discontinued in early
Size, Design and Ergonomics
Handheld PCs have clamshell designs and resemble
highly miniaturized laptops. While HPCs were larger than Palm PDAs,
they were still small enough to fit in a large (I mean large) pocket.
Portability was decent, but the keyboards were big enough to tempt
you into touch-typing, but too small to allow you to type quickly
and easily. The MobilePro line took a different route: they aren't
designed to be pocketable, but rather to be more portable than
an ultra-light notebook and offer a truly touch-typeable keyboard
that's 92% of a full sized notebook keyboard. The keyboard is simply
a dream to use compared to any other PDA, including ex-competitors
like the HP Jornada 728. It feels like a notebook keyboard in terms
of key size, spacing and travel.
The unit measures 9.69" x 5.05" x 1.19" and
weighs 1.8 lbs. Why buy one of these? Because they have large displays
running at half VGA resolution, are significantly lighter than
ultra-light notebooks, can run 5 hours on a charge and have no
moving parts to break in transit.
The MobilePro 900 has a touch screen and stylus
just as do Pocket PCs and Palm OS PDAs. It doesn't come with handwriting
recognition software, though there are 3rd party applications you
can purchase, such as Calligrapher.
It comes with InkWriter, which allows you to handwrite notes in
digital ink and draw diagrams, scribble directions and etcetera.
Features and Horsepower
The NEC MobilePro 900 has an Intel XScale PXA255
processor running at 400 MHz, which is the same as top-of-the-line
Pocket PC models. Older MobilePros such as the 780
and 790 models ran on a 168 MHz MIPS processor. While the operating
system, like the Pocket PC OS, isn't optimized for XScale processors,
the unit feels a bit zippier than older MobilePros, and since it
uses an ARM family processor, you'll enjoy a wider selection of
3rd party software.
The NEC has 64 megs of RAM available to the user,
and a 32 meg flash ROM area where you can install programs, data
and backup files.
The LCD is a large 8.1" DSTN passive matrix running
at half VGA (640 x 240 pixels). Back in the heyday of HPCs, this was
an impressive resolution, having the same width and half the height of
standard VGA monitors. However, this resolution is no longer impressive,
and it's not NEC's fault. Microsoft hasn't updated the HPC 2000 operating
system to support higher resolutions. An LCD of this size would certainly
be impressive running at 800 x 600, though it might be a bit harder on
the eyes. Speaking of 800 x 600 resolution, the 900 can drive an external
display at that resolution for PowerPoint presentations using the NEC
VGA cable. For anything other than PowerPoint presentations, you'll get
640 x 240 resolution on an external monitor. That VGA cable used to be
included with previous MobilePro models, but wasn't included with our
HPCs don't have those gorgeous transflective displays
found on most new Pocket PCs. Instead you get a passive matrix display
that's reasonably bright and sharp, but won't make you want to look at
pretty digital images for hours on end. Digital photos don't look great
on the internal LCD, likely because passive matrix displays aren't capable
of rendering 16 bit images well. The MobilePro 900 has a coating on the
display which is somewhat visible and gives a feeling of resistance when
you use the stylus. Some folks love resistance as it mimics the feel
of pen on paper, and the stylus won't go sliding everywhere when you
tap and drag items on screen. The screen is very hard to see outdoors
in bright sunlight, so don't buy one of these if you're looking for the
ideal beach companion.
The sound volume is reasonably loud and the MobilePro
has a good sized speaker located on the bottom of the unit. MP3s sound
good when using stereo headphones connected to the standard 3.5mm audio
jack, and the unit comes with the HPC version of Windows Media Player.
If you want to watch MPEG movies, Pocket TV Enterprise is available for
HPC 2000 models such as the NEC.
Battery Life and Expandability
The NEC has a 2200 mAh Lithium Ion battery that lasts
about 5 hours per charge in our tests (NEC states 8 hour battery life).
That's good battery capacity, coming close to that of some subnotebooks.
If you use the PCMCIA slot or the CF slot for networking cards, then
battery runtimes will be shorter. Surfing via WiFi using the Socket
CF WiFi card, I got about 3.5 hours runtime. The integrated V.92
56K modem will also diminish runtimes, but not as significantly as using
The 900 has a PCMCIA slot and a CF slot compatible
with type I & II cards. When plugged into an external monitor using
NEC's optional adapter cable, the MobilePro can display at 800 x 600
resolution with 256 colors. There's one USB host port, which is a standard
USB 1.1 port just like you'd find on computers. I plugged in USB mice
and keyboards and they worked fine. Zip drives didn't work, but USB printers
that can speak HP PCL3 will!
The MobilePro has a built-in V.92 56k fax/modem.
In addition, you can use the PCMCIA and CF slots for wired Ethernet
and WiFi connections. Not many cards come with drivers for HPC
2000 these days, but the Socket
CF WiFi card, Symbol WiFi CF card and Ambicom WiFi card do
come with drivers. The Pretec wired Ethernet CF card also works
with HPC 2000 drivers.
HPCs come with Pocket versions of Internet Explorer,
Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access. If you've checked
out Pocket PCs, you'll have noticed that they don't come with PowerPoint
or Access, so the HPC has an advantage there. Like the Pocket PC
versions of MS Office apps, formatting basics are well supported
but advanced features like table of contents, index and tables
are not. Third party software on the CD include bUsefulBackup,
bFax Pro 5, Citrix ICA client, HPC NetProfile (allows you to create
several network profiles and switch between them), Aysyr's Primer
PDF viewer and JETCET Print (yep, for printing to a variety of
USB laser and inkjet printers).
This is an absolutely great unit for vertical
markets, sales force automation and the like. The MobilePro 900
is also the perfect companion to writers on the go who value a
true touch typeable keyboard, durability and extreme portability.
The processor and memory match high-end Pocket PCs, and the unit
can be used on wired and wireless Ethernet networks. This unit
is not intended to be a pocketable, carry-anywhere PIM and multimedia
device. The NEC is closer to a desktop replacement since it has
not only Pocket versions of Word and Excel, but also PowerPoint
and Access. The user experience closely mimics Windows 98, so novice
PDA users will feel right at home. VGA output to an external monitor
at 800 x 600 resolution makes it a useful presentation tool and
for working with more screen real estate while at your desk. Cons:
The screen is not very good quality and pales in comparison to
Pocket PC and recent Palm OS PDAs. The selection of 3rd party software
and peripherals available for HPCs isn't good. The Microsoft HPC
2000 OS is a few years old now, and showing signs of age: networking
setup isn't as simple as Pocket PC 2002 and 2003 PDAs, and the
OS should really be supporting higher resolution displays for devices
of this size.
Display: 8.1" DSTN
passive matrix color LCD, 64,000color display, 640
x 240 resolution (half VGA). 9-level backlight control.
Can drive an external monitor.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable, 2200
mAh. Standard coin cell CR2032 backup battery. Optional
larger main battery available.
XScale PXA255 400 MHz processor. 32MB Flash ROM (Strata)
with an additional 32 available for flashing applications
for corporate customization, 64 MB built-in RAM.
- 9.69 in. (246 mm), Length - 5.05 in. (128 mm),
Thickness - 1.19 in. Weighs 1.8 lbs.(810 g).
in speaker, mic and stereo headphone jack. Voice
Software: Microsoft® Windows® H/PC
2000 operating system. Microsoft Pocket Office suite
including Pocket Word, Excel, Pocket PowerPoint,
Pocket Access, Internet Explorer, and Outlook. Also,
Terminal, Windows Terminal Server, Calculator, InkWriter,
Solitaire, Windows Media Player and Voice Recorder.
3rd party and other software: ANSYR PDF Viewer, Citrix
ICA Client, Phatware Netprofiler, BSQUARE® bFAX
fax software, BSQUARE bBackup backup utility, and
Westtek JetCET Printer Driver.
Type I/II PC Card slot, one Type I/II CF card slot.
Data/fax modem (V.90).
out - support for simultaneous LCD/CRT display, RJ11
modem jack, USB host and slave, serial sync port,