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HP iPAQ hx2790

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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.

HP iPAQ 2790
back of iPAQ hx2490


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.




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 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.

ipaq with cover

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 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 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 Tools

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).

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 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 docking portion.

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 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.


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.

List price: $499

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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: 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.

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). Bluetooth 1.2.

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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