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HP iPAQ hx2490

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

If you feel like you've seen the HP iPAQ 2490 (or 2190 and 2790) before, that's because you have. Mostly. Like Dell and their X51 series, HP's first Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PCs use the same hardware as previous models with more flash memory and the new OS added. To be fair, their entry level iPAQ rx1950, released at the same time as the revised hx2000 series models, does sport a new design, and I'm sure we'll see more new designs in the coming months. That said, the adage don't mess with it if it ain't broke holds true with the hx2000 series. These are some of the best Pocket PCs on the market, offering great performance, dual wireless, excellent displays and durable designs (see our review of the hx2750). While the original hx2000 series models were pricey: since they targeted the corporate market, the new line is more reasonably priced.

HP iPAQ 2490

The hx2490 is HP's mid-range hx2000 model running Windows Mobile 5. It offers a lot of bang for the buck: a 520 MHz processor, plenty of flash ROM for program and file storage, WiFi, Bluetooth, an SD slot and a CF type II slot. Despite the plentiful features, the iPAQ is reasonably compact. It hit the market with a $399 US list price, while the iPAQ hx2790 (624 MHz, more flash memory and biometric fingerprint scanner added) lists for $499 and the 312 MHz 2190 sells for $349. In the box you'll find the PDA, stylus, removable flip cover, printed guide, software CD, world charger and a cradle.

Design and Ergonomics

The flip cover is here to stay on the hx2000 series, and that's a good thing since it protects the most vulnerable part of the PDA: the screen.The hx2000 series use a hard plastic translucent flip cover that's mounted up top and thankfully stays up when opened. Simply excellent. Should you still prefer a case over the flip cover, you can easily remove the flip. You may find that you can carry your iPAQ naked thanks to the flip, sturdy casing and the serious rubber side grips. Unlike the old iPAQ 2215 whose grips had a tendency to unglue and looked a bit like an afterthought, the hx2490's are well-integrated into the body and wrap around the top and bottom a bit. They provide side cushioning against drops and help the device stay in hand. The grips and sturdy casing give this mid-sized Pocket PC a ruggedized look.

Speaking of looks, the hx2000 models looks like no other Pocket PC. The device gets a bit chubby in the middle, with curvy good looks reminiscent of the Nokia 6600 Series 60 smartphone. The hx2490 feels very good in hand thanks to the curves and rubberized sides-- definitely an ergonomic PDA. Is this an attractive Pocket PC? The decision is yours. The metallic charcoal finish and the black grips and accents give the unit a staid and modern look that will be at home in office environments.

 

 

 

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 hx2490 and hx2495 are the same, but HP uses the final digit to track retail vs. corporate channel sales.

 

 

The power button lives on the top right, above the display, and two LEDs that indicate wireless status, charging status and alarms are on the left. The flip cover curves below this area so the LEDs are unobscured and you can turn the unit off and on when the cover is closed. The cover is translucent, so you'll be able to read the extremely bright display even with the flip down. The SD and CF slots are located on the top as are the IR (standard, not consumer) port and the standard stereo 3.5mm headphone jack. The top is finished in gloss plastic and the unit comes with matching removable protective plastic blanks that fill the slots when not in use. The five way direction pad is easy to use and moves smoothly in all directions. Four programmable application buttons flank the d-pad and the record button (which can be re-assigned to another app or function) is located on the unit's left side. Both the mic and speaker are located on the iPAQ's front face below the LCD and above the navigational button cluster.

iPAQ hx2490 with cover

The iPAQ with flip cover

size comparison

Comparing the Dell Axim X51 and the iPAQ hx2490

 

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.

If you already own an older hx2000 series model that came with Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, you can download an upgrade to Windows Mobile 5 from HP's web site. No need to purchase a newer hx2000 series model. The only hardware improvement HP made was additional flash ROM to increase available storage over the first generation models, which makes them compelling, though not enough so for existing owners to shell out the bucks for the new models.

Horsepower and Performance

The mid and high end hx2000 series models are great performers, a tradition started with the Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition versions released in 2004. In fact, the iPAQ hx2750 was the fasted Pocket PC we'd ever benchmarked, and we benchmark them all! The hx2490 runs the new Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system which uses persistent storage. This means that all of your programs and data are stored in flash ROM rather than RAM and will thus survive a compete battery run-down. That's right: leave it in your drawer for a month, take it out and plug it in and all your data will still be there. Why? no power is required to preserve the contents of flash ROM, unlike RAM. Though flash ROM (previously called the iPAQ File Store in HP's lingo) is slower than RAM, which means that the 2005 edition hx2000 models aren't as fast in file system tests and it does take a hair longer to launch programs and files.

The iPAQ 2490 has a 520 MHz Intel XScale PXA 270 (Bulverde) processor, that's currently at the top of Intel's mobile device CPU line. The top speed for this chip is currently 624 MHz, and if you have a real need for speed, the iPAQ hx2790 offers it. Memory works differently in Windows Mobile 5. RAM is used in the same way as desktop and notebook computers: to run programs. All programs, files and data of any sort is stored in flash ROM, which works like a hard drive in your PC, but has no moving parts. WM5 devices now report memory as RAM, internal storage (flash ROM, akin to the iPAQ File Store in older devices), SD and CF. You'll install programs and data to internal memory (flash ROM) and programs will run in RAM until you exit them.

You'd think RAM would be used in the same way on all devices, with the same amount of RAM reserved to cache commonly used operating system files and apps, but the hx2490 has more free RAM than other WM5 devices we've seen such as the Dell Axim X51v and the PPC-6700 from Sprint. The iPAQ has 64 megs of actual physical RAM, and 56.59 megs are free at boot (the Axim X51v has 49.47 in comparison). Of those free 56.6 megs, 15.8 are used by the OS (compared to nearly 20 on the Dell), leaving 40.71 megs available for running programs (the Dell has 29.76). Nearly 42 megs of RAM should be plenty enough to run several demanding applications simultaneously, so we're pleased with HP's engineering on that front.

The iPAQ has 128 megs of flash ROM, with 70 megs available to the user to store programs and data. Though the box and HP's web site say up to 80 megs available, our virgin unit had only 75 megs free with no programs or data added. Yes, the OS and built-in applications use approximately 48 megs or more under Windows Mobile 5! Still, that's a nice chunk of storage and will suit most users, even power users. Should you need more space, you can use SD and CF cards to expand storage. As with RAM, available ROM vary between models and brands because the manufacturer may install additional applications there.

back of iPAQ hx2490

Expansion

All hx2000 series models have an SD slot supporting SDIO and a CF type II slot compatible with type I and II cards. That makes for a very expandable unit that will work with MicroDrives, CF GPS, SD 56k modem cards and of course, memory cards. Like all Pocket PC and Palm PDAs, the iPAQ hx2490 has an IR port (standard, not consumer) and a USB sync port. You can use Bluetooth and IR keyboards with the iPAQ (we tested the Think Outside Stowaway Universal Bluetooth keyboard and it worked well- no drivers needed since Windows Mobile 5 supports HID devices such as mice and keyboards out of the box).

 

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. But if you're one of those folks who craves the device that tests best on benchmarks, in general, WM5 devices won't give you that high. Spb's test is a pure test, as they put it, and thus VGA devices test slower than QVGA and the new Windows Mobile 5 persistent storage isn't taken into account. In their next revision, they will offer relative benchmarks that compensate for these differences. For example, they say that a VGA device's scores could be multiplied by 4 to reflect that they are drawing 4x more data to the screen than a QVGA device.

We compared the hx2490 to the Dell Axim X50 running the same 520 MHz processor and QVGA display (but Windows Mobile 2003SE) and the Dell Axim X51v running on a 624 MHz processor with a VGA display and WM5. As you'd expect, the Dell Axim X51v with its faster clock speed runs a bit faster on cpu-intensive tasks, but surprisingly not all, and the iPAQ beats it on a few cpu intensive tests. The Windows Mobile 2003SE X50 does better on file system tests since that older OS version runs programs and data from RAM rather than flash ROM.

How about video playback? We threw our usual test files 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 hx2490 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 strong benchmarks of:
Average speed: 512.83%
Bench Frame Rate: 123.08
Bench. Data Rate: 1.6 Mbit/s
Orig. Frame Rate: 24fps
Orig. Data Rate: 310 kbit/s

For a true torture test we played a 1753 kbps WMV file which has never played well on any PDA we've tested. That encoding rate is simply much too high, yet the hx2490 managed to play it, generally keeping the audio in sync and not jittering unbearably. Most folks don't encode video at that high bitrate, so we tested a 950 kbps WMV file which is more to the normal high end taste and the iPAQ benchmarked as follows:
Average speed: 134.07%
Bench Frame Rate: 36.68
Bench. Data Rate: 1.1 Mbit/s
Orig. Frame Rate: 24fps
Orig. Sample Rate: 44100
Orig. Data Rate: 950 kbit/s

  Dell Axim X51v 624 MHz, Auto mode, WM5
Dell Axim X50 (520MHz, Max mode, WM2003SE)
HP iPAQ hx2490
Spb Benchmark index
335
1803
276
CPU index
2044
2070
2234
File system index
142
1287
105
Graphics index
616
4653
2809
Platform index
423
1350
366
Write 1 MB file (KB/sec)
630
1548
858
Read 1 MB file (MB/sec)
3.78
29.3
4.3
Copy 1 MB file (KB/sec)
600
1549
713
Write 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
245
1039
220
Read 10 KB x 100 files (MB/sec)
1.88
10.7
2.27
Copy 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
247
874
199
Directory list of 2000 files (thousands of files/sec)
1.33
22.8
0.85
Internal database read (records/sec)
1950
1709
1753
Graphics test: DDB BitBlt (frames/sec)
277
288
360
Graphics test: DIB BitBlt (frames/sec)
22.2
33
50.6
Graphics test: GAPI BitBlt (frames/sec)
58.9
901
316
Pocket Word document open (KB/sec)
12.7
40.9
11.7
Pocket Internet Explorer HTML load (KB/sec)
7.05
8.36
7.66
Pocket Internet Explorer JPEG load (KB/sec)
135
272
137
File Explorer large folder list (files/sec)
483
604
392
Compress 1 MB file using ZIP (KB/sec)
241
273
304
Decompress 1024x768 JPEG file (KB/sec)
657
752
774
Arkaball frames per second (frames/sec)
52.6
277
187
CPU test: Whetstones MFLOPS (Mop/sec)
0.117
0.097
0.098
CPU test: Whetstones MOPS (Mop/sec)
84.9
70.4
71.4
CPU test: Whetstones MWIPS (Mop/sec)
7.53
6.39
6.33
Memory test: copy 1 MB using memcpy (MB/sec)
116
104
118

Display and Multimedia

You already know that the iPAQ hx2490 makes a great portable video player. In fact, it can function as your MP3 player as well. Use the included Windows Media Player Mobile 10 (with support for DRM) or a 3rd party MP3 player (see our review) and a good sized storage card to carry tunes on the go. Sound quality through headphones and the stereo 3.5mm headphone jack is quite good as is overall volume.

The display is gorgeous, just as we noted in our HP iPAQ hx2790 review. The display is very, very bright (you'll likely not use it at full brightness), is extremely contrasty, color saturated and sharp. This is one of the best QVGA resolution displays we've seen on a Palm or Windows Mobile device. Given the device's strong performance in CPU and graphics, it makes an excellent gaming machine, despite its corporate targeting. We tested a large collection of games which ran well, and the small but usable direction pad worked well.

WiFi and Bluetooth

The iPAQ hx2490 has integrated WiFi 802.11b wireless networking and Bluetooth 1.2. The device has HP's usual user-friendly iPAQ Wireless application which allows you to turn on or off each connection type and manage various settings. WiFi range, as with most HP handhelds, is very good and our device was able to find access points within range that some notebooks couldn't detect. Fortunately, HP provides a very full-featured WiFi management program which augments the rather basic Windows Mobile Connection Manager. This application has four tabs which show you current connection info (strength in a bar graph and Dbm), current SSID, encryption type, IP address, an even fancier reception graph, DHCP, subnet, gateway, an IP renew button (useful if the connection falters) and site survey (SSID name, signal strength and channel). In addition you can set a roaming trigger (look for another access point when the device has no WiFi signal or a weak WiFi signal), and power saving mode (auto, extended, disabled). The iPAQ comes with support for Certificates (a Windows Mobile standard) as well as HP's own Enroller certificate manager. In addition, Windows Mobile 5.0 offers support for VPN connections and HP adds Funk Odyssey VNP client.

All hx2000 series iPAQ Pocket PCs have integrated Bluetooth 1.2. Since Windows Mobile 5 comes with Bluetooth support (better than that found in older OS versions but still very basic and not user friendly), it seems most manufacturers are using the MS Bluetooth stack and drivers. The iPAQ hx2490 is a pleasant exception: HP kept Broadcom's (formerly Widcomm) very user friendly Bluetooth Wizard and strong stack found in prior iPAQ models. Both novices and experienced users alike will appreciate the Wizard which not only makes it easier to connect to Bluetooth accessories, but makes it clear which profiles and Bluetooth devices are supported. These include high quality stereo audio (A2DP), audio gateway, hands free/headset, DUN (dial up networking using a Bluetooth mobile phone as a wireless modem), ActiveSync over BT, FTP, Serial Port Profile, personal networking between the iPAQ and another machine, and Bluetooth networking using a BT access point. You can set the iPAQ's BT network name, turn discoverability on and off, limit connections to previously paired devices if desired and enable encryption. You can also create several profiles as needed (discoverable at home but not when traveling for example).

Battery Life

HP iPAQ hx2000 series models have user replaceable 1440 mAh Lithium Ion batteries. That's a high capacity battery given the device's features (compare it to the Dell Axim X51 with nearly the same feature set but only an 1100 mAh battery). Windows Mobile 5 is supposed to offer 10% better battery life compared to prior OS models since it need not power RAM at all times. That seems on target and we've found that battery life is that much better both on the hx2490 and Dell Axim X51v, each of which uses the same hardware and battery as a prior model but the new OS.

Like most iPAQs, you can charge the device by placing it in the included cradle or you can plug it directly into the world charger using the included dongle adapter. There is no slot for charging a second battery on the iPAQ cradle. This is the same cradle HP has used since late 2004 for most of their iPAQ models. It's both attractive and compact cradle with a snap-on docking portion.

Battery life was excellent, lasting through 4.25 hours of video playback with power to spare. Surfing via WiFi consumed about 23% of the battery per hour with screen brightness set to ~ 66%. In a mix of accessing PIM info, working with a few Word and Excel documents, playing MP3s for an hour and playing games for an hour, the hx2490 should easily last two days on a full charge. If you use WiFi or Bluetooth heavily, expect shorter runtimes since those radios (especially WiFi) consume power.

Software and Compatibility

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 several of their own applications, including the excellent HP Protect Tools which allows you to encrypt and password protect data on the device, HP Image Zone, iTask task manager and Today Panel, a handy Today Screen plugin that shows power, RAM and flash ROM status, and also allows you to adjust backlighting. Gone is the excellent HP backup application found on older models. Since your data is largely safe from a hard reset, a backup app isn't as crucial as on older versions of Windows Mobile, but we'd still like to have seen a basic backup app included. Third party pickings are business oriented since HP targets the device at the enterprise. HP includes BVPR's Bluetooth Phone Manager (makes it easy to use your BT phone as a modem for the iPAQ), Funk Odyssey VNP client and MobiMate's excellent WorldMate (WorldMate comes only with the hx2495). There are demo versions of a few other applications, and kudos to HP for clearly marking full vs. demo software versions on the CD's installer screens.

Though a lot has changed in WM5, we found that most of our favorite 3rd party applications ran on the iPAQ. Many developers have already updated their applications for compatibility as necessary, so if you're running popular and regularly updated software things look good. We tested Spb PocketPlus 3.0 and Battery Pack Pro 2, both of which are WM5 compatible and they ran fine. Resco Explorer 2003 and 2005 as well as Resco Photo Viewer run well, as does TCPMP (The Core Media Player, formerly Beta Player), MS Reader and eReader. Most games we threw at the device ran very well, including Bejeweled 2, Ancient Evil and Tennis Addict.

Conclusion

It's hard to find fault with this unit, and believe me, we have no trouble finding things to complain about. The device is very fast, has great graphics performance for video playback and gaming, Bluetooth, WiFi, good VNP support, SD and CF slots, SDIO support and a fantastic display. It compares favorably against the Dell Axim X50 520 MHz model with the same features and same list price, offering more full-featured Bluetooth software, a more durable casing and better display. Definitely a great device for the price. If you crave an even faster version and/or want biometric fingerprint security, consider the top of the line iPAQ hx2790 which also has 144 megs of flash ROM. The only thing holding back this 5 star-rated product from an Editor's Choice award is its lack of innovation over the model it replaces (hx2410) — maybe HP will live up to their Invent logo next time.

Pro: Fast, spacious flash memory, maximally expandable with Bluetooth, WiFi, SD and CF slots. Durable design, rubber grips help keep the unit safely in hand. Broadcom Bluetooth software is a great improvement over the basic Microsoft BT software. Flip cover is attractive, unobtrusive and protects the display and front controls well— you likely won't need a case. Relatively high capacity standard battery won't send you running for an AC outlet.

Con: Not much of a software bundle by HP standards.

List price: $399

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). Supports both portrait and landscape orientations.

Battery: 1440 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA 270 520 MHz processor. 64 MB built-in RAM. 128 MB Flash ROM with ~75 megs available in File Store for your use.

Size: 4.71 x 3.01 x .65 inches. Weight: 5.8 oz.

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 Windows Media video pleasure.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b (also supporting LEAP) on all except the hx2100 models. Bluetooth 1.2 on all models.

Software: Windows Mobile 5.0 Premium 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: HP ProtectTools secured by CREDANT Technologies, Bluetooth Phone Manager, Bluetooth Manager, iPAQ Wireless, iTask, HP Image Zone for Pocket PC. Utilities: Self Test, iPAQ Audio, Power Status, Certificate Enroller. ActiveSync 4.0 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot, 4 bit data bus, supporting SDIO and SDIO Now! .1 CF type II slot supporting type I and type II cards. Can NOT use iPAQ expansion sleeves.

 

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