Review posted Feb. 26, 2006 by Lisa Gade,
Editor in Chief
If you feel like you've seen the HP iPAQ
2790 (or 2190 and 2490) before, that's because you have. Mostly.
Like Dell and their X51 series,
Several of 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.
This brings to mind the adage don't
mess with it if it ain't broke which 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.
The hx2790 is HP's top-of-the-line hx2000 model
running Windows Mobile 5, and it's likely the fastest Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC. It offers a lot of bang for the buck:
a 624 MHz processor, 192 megs of flash ROM for program and file
storage, WiFi, Bluetooth, biometric fingerprint security, an SD slot and a CF type II slot. Despite
the plentiful features, the iPAQ is reasonably compact. It hit
the market with a $499 US list price, while the iPAQ hx2490 (520 MHz,
less flash memory and no biometric fingerprint scanner) lists
for $399 and the 312 MHz 2190 sells for $349. In fact, the hx2490 and 2790 are identical other than the variations mentioned, so you'll note our reviews of these two units share much of the same wording. 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 hx2790'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 hx2790
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.
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 hx2790
and hx2795 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. The biometric fingerprint reader is located between the four application buttons below the display.
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 fastest Pocket
PC we'd ever benchmarked, and we benchmark them all! The hx2790 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 2790 has a 624 MHz Intel XScale PXA 270 (Bulverde)
processor, that's currently the fastest Intel mobile CPU for PDAs.
The hx2790 is likely the fastest Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC. We say likely given how fast it feels, its clock speed and the fact that it's a QVGA Pocket PC, which is always faster than VGA. The hx2750 won by a good margin under WM2003SE tests, which is another strong indicator given that they share the same motherboard and CPU. However, Spb Benchmark isn't compatible with the hx2790, so we couldn't run accurate benchmarks.
The flip cover on the iPAQ
The iPAQ has
64 megs of actual physical RAM, and ~ 40 megs are free at boot, which is plenty enough to run several demanding applications
simultaneously. It has 192 megs of flash ROM, with 95. 85 megs available
to store any additional programs and data you wish (that's quite a lot— most PPCs have 128 megs of flash ROM with 50 or less available except for the Dell Axim X51v which has 256 megs of flash ROM with 195 megs available). 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.
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 most Pocket PC and Palm PDAs, the iPAQ hx2790 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).
Display and Multimedia
The iPAQ hx2790 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
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 last generation hx2750 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.
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 hx2790 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: 637.59%
Bench Frame Rate: 123.08
Bench. Data Rate: 2.0 Mbit/s
Orig. Frame Rate: 24fps
Orig. Data Rate: 310 kbit/s
For a true torture test we tested a 950 kbps WMV file which is more to the normal
high end taste and the iPAQ benchmarked as follows: Average speed: 154.07%
Bench Frame Rate: 36.68
Bench. Data Rate: 1.3 Mbit/s
Orig. Frame Rate: 24fps Orig. Sample Rate: 44100
Orig. Data Rate: 950 kbit/s
Biometric Fingerprint Scanner and HP Protect
Many of us remember the biometric fingerprint
scanner on the iPAQ hx2750 and the iPAQ 5555.
In fact, HP was the first manufacturer to include biometric security
on a PDA. Security has grown up with the hx2790, which uses HP
Protect Tools from Credant in combination with the scanner to offer
highly configurable security on the PDA. Why such serious security?
If your PDA is lost or stolen and holds sensitive data, someone
might be able to hack the password system included with the OS.
Since the hx2000 series targets business users who often carry
sensitive company data, HP has included HP Protect Tools and the
scanner. All hx2000 models come with HP Protect Tools. Besides
locking the device to intruders, it allows you to use AES,
Lite, Triple DES or Blowfish encryption on your choice of Contacts,
Calendar, Notes, Email, Tasks and the contents of the My Documents
folder on both internal and SD card memory. The hx2790 adds the
biometric scanner, which is the slit-like window just above the
d-pad. Once you've enrolled at least both index fingers, you can
swipe your finger over the scanner to unlock the PDA. While gifted
hackers can sometimes crack complex passwords, no one can fake
your fingerprints because each one of us has a unique set of fingerprints.
On the hx2790, you can set the device to use
a password, strong alphanumeric password, PIN, fingerprint, fingerprint
or PIN, fingerprint and PIN, or use a strong password rather than
a PIN in these combinations before the device can be used at power
on or after a specified period of inactivity. You can specify the
number of attempts (1 - 10) and use a backup question in case you
forget your PIN. You can set the number of allowed attempts at
answering the backup question, and have the unit pause before allowing
you to retry or have it hard reset the device after the allowed
number of attempts has been exhausted. A checkbox lets you keep
security even after a hard reset. That means no one will be able
to use the unit even after a hard reset unless they can enter the
right security info (password/PIN/fingerprint or whatever you've
specified). Very serious security indeed. Fingerprint scanning
worked extremely reliably and has improved since the iPAQ 5555
and decrypt times were reasonably fast. The biometric scanner and software are virtually unchanged from the iPAQ hx2750.
WiFi and Bluetooth
The iPAQ hx2790 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 hx2790 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).
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 on the hx2790 and other WM5 devices we've reviewed.
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
Battery life was excellent, lasting through four
hours of video playback. Surfing via WiFi consumed
about 25% 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 hx2790 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.
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 hx2795). 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
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.
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's stable and reliable and built like a tank. And for securing your data, nothing beats the hx2790's biometric fingerprint scanner.
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. Biometric security keeps your data safe.
Con: Not much of a software bundle by HP standards.
TFT color LCD, 64K colors. Screen size diag: 3.5".
Resolution: 240 x 320 (QVGA). Supports both portrait
and landscape orientations.
mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Performance:624 MHz Intel
XScale PXA 270 processor. 64 MB built-in
RAM. 192 MB Flash ROM with
~95.85 megs available in File Store for your use.
x 3.01 x .65 inches. Weight: 5.8 oz.
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
WiFi 802.11b (also supporting LEAP). Bluetooth 1.2.
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.
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