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NEC MobilePro 900 running Handheld PC 2000

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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 2003.

NEC MobilePro 900

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.

top view of NEC MobilePro 900

Top View

bottom of MobilePro 900

Bottom View

 

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.

 

 

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Screen and Sound

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 900.

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 I/O cards.

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!

Networking

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.

Software Bundle

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).

Conclusion

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.

Suggested list price $899

 

Specs:

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.

Battery Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable, 2200 mAh. Standard coin cell CR2032 backup battery. Optional larger main battery available.

Performance: Intel 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.

Size: Width - 9.69 in. (246 mm), Length - 5.05 in. (128 mm), Thickness - 1.19 in. Weighs 1.8 lbs.(810 g).

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder included.

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.

Expansion: One Type I/II PC Card slot, one Type I/II CF card slot.

Modem: 56K Data/fax modem (V.90).

Ports: VGA out - support for simultaneous LCD/CRT display, RJ11 modem jack, USB host and slave, serial sync port, headphone jack.

 

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