(discontinued) by Lisa
Gade, Editor in Chief, posted July 10, 2002
(also check out the iPAQ 5555, introduced Summer 2003
to replace the 3900 series and the iPAQ 5450)
We just got our hands on one of the first commercially
available (not pre-release or reviewer unit) iPAQ 3970 Pocket PCs
with the new XScale processor. The screen is beautiful beyond words
(I've never said that about a Pocket PC until now), the iPAQ 3800
series bugs are NOT present, the SD card slot is fast and it has
some nifty new features. It is not noticeably faster than the StrongARM
processor-driven iPAQs of the past, except in a few tasks. Is it
worth the big bucks Compaq is charging? Read on.
The iPAQ 3970, manuals and included
Cover Pack case. Look at that screen, which looks bright and sharp
even in this digital photo. Note that the 3900 series models have
been phased out, but you can still find them at retailers for significantly
less than the original retail price.
Screen, Sound, and Gaming
As I said, this is an amazing screen. It equals
if not exceeds the Sony Clié NR70. The 3900 series, like
the NR70, uses a transflective screen. It both reflects ambient
light to illuminate the screen (for outdoor viewability and power
savings) and has backlighting. How different is it? The 3800 and
3900 PDAs look identical and I was worried I'd be confusing which
is which in my PDA pile. But one look at the screens when the units
are turned on and there's no mistaking them for each other. The
3900 series screen is that much brighter (without appearing milky)
and richer, that even when they are not side by side you can tell
Colors are also more accurate. When I create
images using Paint programs, I'm not startled to see how different
they appear when transfered to my color-calibrated desktop PC.
If you're interested in paint/image editing programs, you can read
my review of 4 top apps, complete with sample art here.
Sound is typical iPAQ: as loud and good sounding
as it gets on a Pocket PC. No clicks or pops from the speaker.
So far I've tried Hexacto
Bounty Hunter 2099 Pinball, Hyperspace
Delivery Boy, Diamond Mine and
a few old WinCE games and they all run fine. Their speed seems
no different than on StrongARM Pocket PCs. They look better thanks
to the transflective screen. The directional pad is described
as "8-way" and it does diagonal movements. Which games
didn't work? Icy Maze, Reflect It, FogNog Blaster and Warring
Battery life is head and shoulders above the 3800 series
(which was no slouch) and I've been pounding on the unit for 5 hours
so far (yes straight!) with 45% power remaining. During that time I benchmarked
the device twice, played 6 movies, 2 MP3s, attempted to use my Sierra
Wireless 555 AirCard, used a Socket
WiFi card with the CF Plus Pack, connected to our Anycom Bluetooth
printer module and peer-to-peer Bluetooth to the e740 which had an Anycom
Bluetooth CF card, setup the Nevo remote control to control our home
entertainment components, and ran just about every app I frequently use
(graphics apps, Word, IE).
I've tried the CF Expansion
Sleeve Plus and the PC Card expansion
sleeve, which both work fine. All Compaq branded accessories should
work without a problem. The 3900 series uses the same charger and sync
cradle as the 3800 series iPAQs. Note: You
do NOT need to install the drivers for the CompactFlash Expansion Pack
Plus or PC Card Expansion Pack Plus, they are included in the 3900
series operating system. These drivers should be the new ones (soon
to be released for the 3800 series) which doesn't cause the iPAQ to
hard reset randomly (yay!).
I've thrown just about every popular software title
on this thing and so far everything except for the the current release
version of Pocket DivX (.8g) didn't work correcty. There is a new version
out that does work with the 3900 series on the Pocket
DivX site now.
The Sierra Wireless AirCard
555 that worked well with the iPAQ 3835 worked only for voice but
not for data connections on the 3970. There's a simple workaround that
allows you to make data connections which we'v posted in our discussion
As expected with Compaq and HP PDAs, the 3970 comes
with a very generous software bundle. You'll get the usual Pocket PC
2002 Premium Edition apps: Microsoft Pocket Office suite including Pocket
Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, Reader, and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services,
MSN Instant Messenger for Pocket PC, MS Reader and Voice Recorder as
well as handwriting recognition.3rd party software: IBM ViaVoice (voice
recognition), iPresention Mobile Converter LE, WordLogic Keyboard (on-screen
keyboard software), Quick View Plus (document and attachment viewer supporting
70 file formats), MARGI Presenter-to-Go, Callex Pocket PC with ETPlayer
Voicemail, Flash 5, Bust'em (arcade), RealOne Player, Jeode Java runtime,
F-Secure FileCrypto for Pocket PC Personal Edition, Afaria (software
deployment and managment for businesses), Pocket Watch World Clock, Acrobat
Reader and several additional trial/demo programs.
Compaq has added a new feature to the Battery control
applet. You can set the "Standby" time (essentially how low
you're willing to let the battery get before it gives you warnings and
shuts down to preserve the contents of memory).
Compaq's Backup Utility has grown up. You can now select
which files you'd like to back up to a storage card or to the File Store.
It also seems much faster. I even backed up the 3970 (22 megs of data)
to an SD card in under 5 minutes! Yeehah!
Nevo: A/V Remote Control software plus enhanced IR
It used to be if you wanted to control your home entertainment
components with your PDA you had to get a Sony Clié. Not any more!
You'll get an A/V remote control program called Nevo (the same company
that does much of the world's remote control software). This is more
than just software: if you've ever tried shareware A/V remote control
software on Pocket PCs, you've probably noticed that the range isn't
very good (who wants to get up and stand within 5 feet of her TV to change
channels?). Compaq has beefed up the IR power to what they call consumer
grade, so you'll be able to use your iPAQ to control your TV, DVD, Stereo
and etc. from your couch, even if you have a large living room. You can
set up more than one room as well, telling Nevo you want to control the
living room TV, VCR and etc or the bedroom A/V gear. Nevo has a friendly
and unique user interface that won't take long to master. Setup is easy,
you can select your A/V by brand, do a few tests and you're done. There
are a lot of brands included! More brands and models can be downloaded
If you're a remote guru, you can add your remote by its code as well.
SD Performance, Bluetooth and Flash ROM
The SD card slot is MUCH faster than the iPAQ
3800 series and benchmarks faster than the Toshiba
e740. It has a 4 bit bus (compared to the 3800 series 1 bit bus)
and supports SDIO, which means you can use it for communications SD
cards like Bluetooth and whatever else comes along. I used the included
Windows Media Player 8 to play several MP3s encoded at 128k from a
SanDisk 128 SD card and didn't hear one skip or pause. Compaq's Backup
Utility can back up 22 megs of data to an SD card in less than 5 minutes.
Bluetooth is a pleasure to use. Some folks had problems
with having to do a soft reset to turn on their Bluetooth radios on the
3870. I am happy to report you can turn the 3970's radio on and off to
your heart's content. The
Bluetooth version is 1.1 (previous iPAQ BT owners can download and upgrade
their software to this version by going to Compaq's website). I connected
to an Anycom Bluetooth printer module and printed, ActiveSync-ed wirelessly,
then transfered files to our Toshiba e740 which has an Anycom Bluetooth
CF card. I still wish
Compaq had opted for WiFi, which is much more prevalent in the US (sorry
to those of you in Europe and Asia!)
As with previous iPAQs, a portion of Flash ROM is available
for your use. It's called the iPAQ File Store, and appears under File
Manager just as a storage card does. Flash ROM doesn't get wiped out
even if you iPAQ crashes and loses the contents of it's regular storage
area (RAM). You can store all your PIM data here (contacts, calendar),
and install any other apps or data files you don't want to lose if your
PDA crashes. The 3950, like older iPAQs, has about 8 megs available space
for your use (32 megs total Flash ROM). The 3970 has about 22 megs available
for your use (48 megs Flash ROM).
Numbers? Does 400 MHz mean 2x faster?
Here we go again, *sigh* Alas, just as with the Toshiba
e740 that came out a few weeks before the new iPAQ 3900 series,
the 3970 does not run noteably faster than StrongARM 206 MHz
processor Pocket PCs such as the iPAQ
3800 series. It most certainly doesn't run twice as fast,
as one might first expect given that the XScale runs at 400 MHz
and the StrongARM at 206 MHz.
We've run benchmarksusing
VOBenchmark from Virtual
Office Systems. I've also recorded the dropped frames in
Pocket DivX, a popular and very capable multimedia player (thanks
to Marc at Pocket
DivX Player who sent me a pre-release version of DixV for
the 3900 series).
Microsoft has stated that they hadn't seen the
performance improvements they'd hoped for in the XScale. So should
you run out and buy a 3900 series iPAQ? Well, the transflective
screen is absolutely gorgeous, the SD card slot is much faster
than the 3800 series iPAQs and a bit quicker than the Toshiba e740
(see SD card benchmarks). If you're looking for a radically faster
Pocket PC than your current Pocket PC 2002 PDA, I'd wait for improvements
in performance before buying one.
I used VOBenchmark from Virtual
Office Systems to test the iPAQ 3970 vs. the Toshiba e740
vs. iPAQ 3835 (ROM 1.15 processor rev B4). I've also included
Benchmarks for SD card speeds since the iPAQ 3835 has a 1 bit
bus SD slot (slow) and both the iPAQ 3900 series and the Toshiba
uses a 4 bit data bus (wider data bus means faster speeds). Higher
numbers are better (shown in bold).
Below the benchmark table, you'll find a comparison
of dropped frame rates playing some popular movie (.avi and .mpeg)
files using the latest version of Pocket DivX.
3835 ROM 1.15 (StrongARM)
Toshiba e740 (XScale)
iPAQ 3970 (XScale)
1.48 (1.30 with ClearType enabled)
128 meg SanDisk and SimpleTech
128 meg SanDisk and SimpleTech
128 meg SanDisk and SimpleTech
DivX Multimedia Player Dropped Frames(movies
stored on built-in memory, not expansion card)
trailer, high quality 5.95MB .mpeg
0 (zero) dropped!
497 dropped out of 2639 frames
0 (zero) dropped!
trailer, high quality 2.6MB .avi
7 dropped out of 1887 frames
164 dropped out of 1887 frames
0 (zero) dropped!
From the benchmarks we can see that the iPAQ
3970 is somewhat faster than the iPAQ 3835. It is wickedly faster
in SD card access, thanks to the 4 bit bus. This will make iPAQ
fans happy since the slow SD card slot in the 3800 series was infamous.
The e740 posts high graphics numbers thanks to the ATI Imageon
graphics chip. However, in gaming and movie playback, the Toshiba
Using Pocket DivX, an excellent and popular multimedia
player that handles MPEGs, MP3s and AVI files, the iPAQ 3835 drops
almost no frames playing the popular high quality movies listed
above. The 3970 dropped no frames! Again we used a patched version
of DivX since the release version for iPAQ doesn't run on the 3900
series. The patched version is a compatabiity fix, it does not
have enhancements for XScale. The e740 drops a shameful number
of frames, though it's interesting that it didn't seem that bad
when watching the movies (and I used to work for Avid, a computer
that makes video post-production systems, so I usually notice these
things!). The next release of DivX for the Toshiba e740 will do
much better (we're just started using a beta version that shows
great improvements. Read our Toshiba
e740 review to see the beta benchmarks).
You've probably figured out that I really like
the 3970 .
I didn't expect to: I already knew that XScale wasn't going to
make much of a performance difference, the battery still isn't
user replaceable and I really want a built-in CF slot. After playing
with it all day, I'm ready to retire my iPAQ
3835 and switch to the 3970. The screen, battery life, working
Bluetooth, fast SD card access times, Nevo remote and all that
bundled software are way too sweet. The added FileStore Flash ROM
space is also handy. If only we could see 128 meg RAM models now
that memory prices are so low.
I do like this better than the Toshiba
e740 because of the screen, build quality, versatility of
expansion sleeves (I need to be able to use PC Cards) and bundled
software. It's not an easy choice though, because the e740 gives
you both an SD and a CF expansion slot, WiFi at a lower price.
Do I think the 3950 and 3970 are worth the price? Definitely
not. I only hope that Compaq lowers the prices of each by $100
as soon as market demand diminishes. One of the reasons Handheld
PCs (those WinCE devices with keyboards) failed is because the
price was too close to a budget notebook PC. The 3970 is pushing
that same price envelop, alas.
price $649 for the 3950 (and
3955) and $750 for the 3970 (and 3975).
The 3955 and 3975 have
different model numbers from the 3950 and 3970 respectively, because Compaq
uses different model numbers to track sales via consumer vs. business channels.
Best in class screen, truly excellent battery life for a Pocket
PC. SD card slot is fast, Bluetooth works well and reliably,
generous software bundle. FileStore allows you to store data
in a user-accessible Flash ROM area. For the 3970 model, 48 megs
of Flash ROM space means you have 22 megs of safe storage for
important files, contacts and etc, and likely enough room to
store future operating system upgrades. Can use existing Compaq
expansion sleeves. Con: Price! No performance gain over the StrongARM
processor running at 206MHz! What's up with that? No user replaceable
battery, when will Compaq (HP) give us a built-in CompactFlash
TFT color LCD, 65,536 colors, Screen Size Diag: 3.8",
Resolution: 240 x 320.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is not replaceable.1400mA.
XScale 400 MHz processor. 32MB Flash ROM on 3950,
48MB Flash ROM on 3970 with 22 megs available in
FileStore for your use, 64 MB built-in RAM.
Size: 5.3" x
3.3" x .6". Weight Approximately 6.5 oz.
in speaker, mic and stereo headphone jack. Voice
Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player included.
PC 2002 operating system. Microsoft Pocket Office
suite including Pocket Word, Excel, Internet Explorer,
and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, MSN Instant
Messenger for Pocket PC, MS Reader and Voice Recorder
as well as handwriting recognition.3rd party software:
IBM ViaVoice (voice recognition), iPresention Mobile
Converter LE, WordLogic Keyboard (on-screen keyboard
software), Quick View Plus (document and attachment
viewer supporting 70 file formats), MARGI Presenter-to-Go,
Callex Pocket PC with ETPlayer Voicemail, Flash 5,
Bust'em (arcade game), RealOne Player, Jeode Java
runtime, F-Secure FileCrypto for Pocket PC Personal
Edition, Afaria (software deployment and managment
for businesses), Pocket Watch World Clock, Acrobat
Reader, Nevo A/V remote control, and several additional
SD (Secure Digital) slot, 4 bit data bus, supporting