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HP iPAQ rx1950

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Reviewed Oct. 4, 2005 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

HP's first Windows Mobile 5.0 introductory level Pocket PC is a winner. It's got good looks, an impossibly thin design, an excellent display and WiFi wireless networking. Gone is last year's harshly angular HP design for consumer-oriented PDAs: with the rx1950 they've returned to the more attractive days of old, with a design that harks back to the ever-popular iPAQ 1940. HP learned their lesson with last year's poorly received introductory level rz1715 which was lacking both in looks and features for the price. The rx1950 delivers style and bang for the buck. At $299, currently the lowest price you'll find for any Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC (Dell's base model is priced the same), the rx1950 makes a good value proposition. Though if HP could hit the $249 mark, the device would appeal to even more buyers who might otherwise opt for one of the capable but less expensive Palm models such as the Tungsten E2.

HP iPAQ rx1950
back of HP iPAQ rx1950

 

Features at a Glance

The iPAQ rx1950 targets non-power users who need decent performance but are interested in using their devices at WiFi hotspots at home, work or the local Starbucks. The device runs on a 300 MHz Samsung processor, has 32 megs of RAM, 64 megs of flash ROM about half of which is available to store programs and data, an SD slot, a surprisingly good 3.5" transflective color display and a user-replaceable rechargeable battery. Like all Pocket PCs, it can play MP3s, videos, record voice notes and has handwriting recognition.

In the box you'll find the iPAQ, battery, world charger, USB sync cable, ballistic nylon slip case, printed guide and a software CD which includes a detailed PDF manual, ActiveSync 4.0 and Outlook 2002 for Windows PCs.

Design and Ergonomics

At only 0.5 inches thin and 4.41 ounces light, this iPAQ will fit almost anywhere. It's a very good looking unit, with a bright silver finish accenting sexy and ergonomic curves. The back of the unit is black plastic and the unit's fit and finish are good overall, though the battery door's plastic is a bit thin.

 

Deals and Shopping

 

 

 

The various models:

Confusing to consumers but useful to HP, you'll find the same product under two model numbers. Models that end with a "0" are sold through corporate channels and those that end in "5" are sold through consumer retail channels. Thus the rx1950 and rx1955 are the same, but HP uses the final digit to track retail vs. corporate channel sales.

 

 

 

side view

Control location is standard on this model, with four application buttons surrounding a squarish five way directional pad. These buttons launch Calendar, Contacts, Email and the WiFi control application, though you can re-assign them to any program (and some commonly used functions) if you wish. The voice recorder button is located on the left side, the IR window (standard, not consumer IR) is on the bottom left where the unit curves and the SD slot is on the top edge. The power button is top dead center, flanked by two LEDs that indicate charging status, alarms and WiFi status.

Windows Mobile 5.0

Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows Mobile 5.0, offers many improvements; the most important being persistent memory. All data and applications are stored in flash memory which will survive a complete battery rundown. No need to leave it on the charger when you go away for a 2 week vacation. Just charge it up upon return and your data will still be there! WM 5 devices still have RAM, which is volatile and faster than flash ROM. But RAM is now used in the same way your PC uses it: running programs are loaded into RAM and operating system files are cached there to improve response times. You can no longer install programs or files into RAM, only flash ROM. Since the device need not power RAM at all times, battery life is improved by approximately 10%.

Windows Mobile 5's improved user interface makes some tasks a bit quicker and more intuitive and Internet Explorer, Word Mobile and Excel Mobile are more capable. In addition, you get a Mobile version of PowerPoint which can open and run but not create or edit PowerPoint presentations. To learn about Windows Mobile 5's new features in detail, read our article here.

Horsepower and Performance

The iPAQ runs on a 300 MHz Samsung SC32442 processor that's fully ARM and XScale compatible. Though 300 MHz won't send power hungry users to their local retailers' shelves, the Samsung performs surprisingly well for its clock speed and the unit is responsive for business and Internet tasks. It's adequate for gaming but not a shining star for video playback at high bitrates.

Memory is adequate and no more. Flash ROM for storing programs and data comes in at a healthy 35 megs out of 64 total, but RAM (used in the same way RAM is used by your PC) is a tad low at 32 megs. The operating system and related apps use approximately half of that, so you're left with only 13 megs to run programs. That's enough for the included applications such as Mobile Word, Excel and Internet Explorer, but video playback applications and resource intensive games may suffer. Use the Memory Settings applet to kill programs you no longer need to keep RAM available for those apps you do need.

Like all Pocket PCs, the iPAQ rx1950 has an IR port which is handy for IR keyboards but likely won't be useful as an AV remote since it's standard rather than consumer grade IR and the port is located in an unideal location (bottom curvy area). In addition, you can use SD memory cards and SDIO cards (such as SD networking cards) with the iPAQ.

Size comparison, top to bottom: Motorola RAZR, iPAQ rx1950 and the HP iPAQ hx2490.

Benchmarks

We use Spb Benchmark to test PDAs. Windows Mobile 5.0 devices score much lower on file system and application launch tests since they use ROM rather than the faster RAM for storage. This greatly reduced File System Index in turn brings down the overall Benchmark Index, since the file system tests account for 25% of that total score. That makes for an unfair comparison, but in the pure sense, WM5 is slower for file system activities. Certainly, it's worth the tradeoff, since your data is safe from battery drain related hard resets, and the device doesn't feel seriously slower than WM2003SE devices on file access and launch.

Now the rx1950 isn't in the speed demon category anyway, but the performance to price ratio is good, as you'll see from the benchmark numbers. Though WM5 devices can't compete on Spb's raw benchmark, and the rx1950 is bested in file system tests by the rz1715 it replaces, the numbers are good by WM5 and current Spb testing standards. When Spb releases their updated benchmarking application which takes into account the differences in RAM and ROM and the new file system, the playing field will be leveled between WM2003SE and WM5 devices.

How about video playback? We threw our usual test file at it: "The Chosen" (a neat BMW flick with Clive Owen) which is a 4:26 minute long, 10 meg MPEG1 file recorded at 320 x 240, 308 kb/s. We tested the rx1950 using TCPMP, an extremely fast open source free video player that supports MPEG1, DivX, ASF, WMV and AVI files. TCPMP played back "The Chosen" with benchmarks of:
Average speed: 296.42%
Bench Frame Rate: 71.14
Bench. Data Rate: 918 kbit/s
Orig. Frame Rate: 24fps
Orig. Data Rate: 310 kbit/s

Those numbers are reasonable, beating some 400 MHz XScale Windows Mobile 2003 devices dating two years back. The rx1950 is capable of playing video encoded at 350 kbps smoothly with no skipping or loss of sync, but don't throw super high quality 900 kbps video files at it.

 
HP iPAQ hx2490 (520 MHz, WM5)
HP iPAQ rz1715 (203 MHz, WM2003SE)
HP iPAQ rx1950
Spb Benchmark index
276
1031
324
CPU index
2234
1010
1107
File system index
105
945
137
Graphics index
2809
1783
2537
Platform index
366
960
385
Write 1 MB file (KB/sec)
858
755
558
Read 1 MB file (MB/sec)
4.3
19.2
4.84
Copy 1 MB file (KB/sec)
713
746
719
Write 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
220
586
214
Read 10 KB x 100 files (MB/sec)
2.27
7.98
2.33
Copy 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
199
560
244
Directory list of 2000 files (thousands of files/sec)
0.85
27.4
1.2
Internal database read (records/sec)
1753
835
1057
Graphics test: DDB BitBlt (frames/sec)
360
238
303
Graphics test: DIB BitBlt (frames/sec)
50.6
13.5
30.7
Graphics test: GAPI BitBlt (frames/sec)
316
272
318
Pocket Word document open (KB/sec)
11.7
92.5
10.1
Pocket Internet Explorer HTML load (KB/sec)
7.66
4.82
5.94
Pocket Internet Explorer JPEG load (KB/sec)
137
71
110
File Explorer large folder list (files/sec)
392
568
435
Compress 1 MB file using ZIP (KB/sec)
304
207
180
Decompress 1024x768 JPEG file (KB/sec)
774
297
401
Arkaball frames per second (frames/sec)
187
112
126
CPU test: Whetstones MFLOPS (Mop/sec)
0.098
0.043
0.062
CPU test: Whetstones MOPS (Mop/sec)
71.4
28
39.4
CPU test: Whetstones MWIPS (Mop/sec)
6.33
2.76
3.92
Memory test: copy 1 MB using memcpy (MB/sec)
118
50
47.1

Display, Gaming and Multimedia

HP iPAQ Pocket PCs have always had some of the nicest displays, but this year's Windows Mobile 5 models have really gone the extra mile and impressed us. For a "budget" PDA, the rx1950 has an extremely nice display that beats its competitors. The screen is very bright and extremely colorful with excellent color saturation and sharpness. Though not a video playback monster, the screen looks so good when watching movies you just don't want to stop. Good going, HP. Like most Pocket PCs, the rx1950 has a 3.5" transflective color display capable of displaying 64,000 colors. Given the unit's small size, the display in fact dominates the iPAQ's front face.

MP3 playback quality using the included Windows Media Player Mobile 10 (with support for DRM) is very good, with pleasing bass and no annoying background hiss, even when using sensitive high quality headphones. The iPAQ has a standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack which is far superior to the built-in mono speaker.

Though not at the top of the CPU performance list, this iPAQ is still faster than older model devices from two years back and can handle fairly demanding games such as Tennis Addict, Warfare Inc. and a long list of others. Highly graphical games with large files may bog down a bit due to the device's low RAM configuration. If you're a fan of such games, stop other applications using the Memory applet before playing your game.

WiFi

If you wish to surf the web wirelessly at hotspots, home or work, the rx1950 is up to the task with its integrated 802.11b WiFi. Press the dedicated WiFi button to bring up HP's iPAQ Wireless application, a slimmed down version of that found on other HP models. There you'll turn WiFi on and off, see current network status, view a list of access points in range and set VPN and proxy settings as needed. For a small budget device with little room for a large internal antenna, we were amazed at how many networks the rx1950 spotted. Generally our notebooks and PDAs pick up 6 in range of my home, and the rx1950 managed to find 11 (hey, it's Silicon Valley!).

Battery Life

This little iPAQ gets good runtimes out of its 1100 mAh Lithium Ion battery. The Samsung processor is quite power efficient, and WM5 offers some improvements over its predecessors which means very good runtimes. With average use, the handheld should last three days on a charge in a mixture of MS Office app use, surfing the Net and checking email for 45 minutes/day and some light gaming. We set the unit to loop MP3s playing through earbud headphones with the screen off and it still had power to spare after 8 hours.

Software

All Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PCs come with the operating system, Mobile Office suite including Outlook Mobile and desktop Outlook, Windows Media Player Mobile 10, Terminal Services, Pocket MSN (Hotmail, MSN Messenger), File Explorer, handwriting recognition (print and cursive), Solitaire, Bubble Breaker (the game formerly known as Jaw Breaker), Calculator, a GPS applet (driver, not mapping or navigation software) and support for secure certificates and VPN connections. Outlook on the PDA has calendar, contacts, tasks, notes and email, which you can sync to a Windows desktop running Outlook. HP adds a few of their own applications, including HP Image Zone (image viewer), iPAQ Wireless (to manage WiFi connections), HP's multimedia-oriented optional Today Screen with large icons leading to music and video playback and their image viewer, Today Panel, a handy Today Screen plugin that shows power, RAM and flash ROM status, and also allows you to adjust backlighting.

Conclusion

If you're looking for an attractive, extremely pocket-able Windows Mobile Pocket PC that won't break the bank, the HP iPAQ rx1950 is a good choice. It looks great, the display is lovely for viewing photos and videos and performance isn't bad. Throw in WiFi and you've got a reasonable handheld for the networking-minded.

Pro: Very slim and light, great looks, good controls and a fantastic color display that's bright and colorful. CPU performance is good and it doesn't leave you waiting to get basic business tasks done. WiFi is easy to use and has excellent range. Battery life is strong.

Con: No software bundle to speak off. $299 isn't a bad price for what you get, but $250 would make it even more tempting to the budget-conscious.

Price: $299

Web Site: www.hp.com

Comparison Shopping: Where to Buy

 

Specs:

Display: Transflective TFT color LCD. 64K colors, screen size diag: 3.5". Resolution: 240 x 320 (QVGA).

Battery: 1100 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable battery. Battery is user replaceable.

Performance: 300 MHz Samsung SC32442 processor (XScale compatible). 32 MB built-in RAM. 64 MB Flash ROM with 35.07 megs available to the user to store programs and data.

Size: 4.47 x 2.78 x 0.5 inches. Weight: 4.41 ounces.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Media Player Mobile 10 included for your MP3 and video pleasure.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b.

Software: Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system. 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. HP apps: iPAQ Wireless, HP Image Zone for Pocket PC. Utilities: Self Test, iPAQ Audio, Today Panel, Certificate Enroller. ActiveSync 4.0 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot supporting SDIO and SDIO Now! Standard IR port.

 

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