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Compaq iPAQ 3970 Pocket PC

(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.

iPAQ 3970 and accessories

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 the difference.

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 States.

 

 

 

 

Questions? Comments?
Post them in our Discussion Forum!

 

Battery Life

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).

Compatibility

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 forum here.

Software Bundle

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 from www.mynevo.com. 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. Excellent!

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 benchmarks using 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.

Benchmarks

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.

Test Compaq iPAQ 3835 ROM 1.15 (StrongARM) Toshiba e740 (XScale) iPAQ 3970 (XScale)
CPU Floating Point 8.05 12.66 12.66
CPU Integer 15.53 26.92 26.95
Graphics Bitmap BitBlt 8.2 76.31 26.42
Graphics Bitmap StretchBlt 0.55 0.25 0.79
Graphics Filled Elipse 0.54 1.00 0.51
Graphics Filled Rectangle 0.56 5.26 2.10
Graphics Filled Round Rect. 0.52 0.74 0.50
Memory Allocation 8.71 11.48 11.16
Memory Fill 0.54 0.95 0.95
Memory Move 0.86 0.39 0.37
Text 2.40 1.48 (1.30 with ClearType enabled) 3.24
SD Storage Cards 128 meg SanDisk and SimpleTech were used 128 meg SanDisk and SimpleTech were used 128 meg SanDisk and SimpleTech were used
LRR/LRW 0.04/0.02 0.46/0.24 0.50/0.24
LSR/LSW 0.04/0.01 0.46/0.33 0.84/0.35
SRR/SRW 60.10/0.84 13.46/0.86 166.32/0.84
SSR/SSW 1.29/0.51 12.43/10.15 21.71/10.27

DivX Multimedia Player Dropped Frames (movies stored on built-in memory, not expansion card)

Movie iPAQ 3835 Toshiba e740 iPAQ 3970
Spiderman trailer, high quality 5.95MB .mpeg 0 (zero) dropped! 497 dropped out of 2639 frames 0 (zero) dropped!
Matrix Reloaded 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 seems slower!

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).

Conclusion

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.

Suggested list 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.

Pro: 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 slot?

Read our comparison of the Pocket PC 2002 brands

 

Specs:

Display: transflective TFT color LCD, 65,536 colors, Screen Size Diag: 3.8", Resolution: 240 x 320.

Battery Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is not replaceable.1400mA.

Performance: Intel 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.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player included.

Software: Pocket 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 trial/demo programs.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot, 4 bit data bus, supporting SDIO.

 

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