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HP iPAQ 5450 Pocket PC

Review posted by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief, posted Jan. 2003

Introduced in December, 2002, and widely available in Jan. 2003, the iPAQ 5450 is HP's new flagship Pocket PC. It isn't cheap at $699, but HP has given us a couple of significant new features for our money. In fact, the 5450 is priced at $50 less than the iPAQ 3970 was at introduction in the Summer of 2002, while adding built-in WiFi, an improved Bluetooth interface and a biometric finger scanner. Interestingly, the 5450 and 3970 are similarly priced at the moment, which is confusing since the 5450 is newer and has more features! Which should you choose? Read on!

HP iPAQ 5450 and cradle

What's New?

The 5450 ostensibly seems similar to the 3970, but there are some nifty new features under the hood. You'll notice a small nub antenna on the top of the PDA, and that's the WiFi antenna. Yes, you no longer need to add a CF sleeve and CF WiFi card to use WiFi (802.11b) with your iPAQ. In case you do want to use sleeves, the 5450 still works with existing iPAQ sleeves.

The d-pad (directional pad) is now a small round button rather than the large oval button used on previous iPAQs. Why? Because a fingerprint scanner is built into the d-pad area and resides just below the d-pad. This isn't a great d-pad for games, alas.

As you've now guessed, the 5450 offers biometric fingerprint scanning for security. It's a thermal reader that can store images of several fingers. If you use this feature, you can lock your iPAQ so only a swipe from one of your fingers will unlock it.

Finally, the 5450 has a removable battery. You can swap a new one in whenever power's running low, or simply replace a tired battery easily. It's nice to see more manufacturers adding this feature.

What's the Same?

Just as with the iPAQ 3900 series, you get a lovely transflective display that's one of the best out there. The 400 MHz XScale processor, 64 megs of RAM, 48 megs of ROM and basic software are also the same as the 3900 series (the 3950 has 32 megs of ROM, while the 3970 has 48). Like the 3970, the 5450 has built-in Bluetooth, though the interface has been greatly improved on the 5450.

The 5450 can use existing expansion sleeves as well as accessories made for the iPAQ 3800 and 3900 series. I've used my old cradle, charger and even a Stowaway keyboard without a problem. The new cradle retains the dual USB and serial connectors found in the 3900 series cradle.

back of iPAQ 5450 The back of the 5450. The door covers the user-swappable battery. The black nub at the top houses the WiFi antenna.



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Screen, Sound, and Gaming

Transflective displays are absolutely gorgeous, and the iPAQ 5450, 3900 series and 1910's are some of the best. Transflective screens reflects ambient light to illuminate the screen (for outdoor viewability and power savings) and has backlighting. How different is it compared to older technology reflective screen PDAs like the Toshiba e740? Hugely different! Reflective screen PDAs look milky and lack the color saturation and true blacks of transflective displays. Colors are also more accurate.

Sound is typical iPAQ: as loud and good sounding as it gets on a Pocket PC. Some folks have said they think it's quieter than previous iPAQs, but it seems just as loud to me. In fact, iPAQs have the loudest speaker of any Pocket PC. I've had to shout over it in the office!

Gaming. . . well, er, if you're a gamer, this d-pad will likely drive you nuts. Since HP targets the unit at corporate buyers, they make no claims about the 5450's gaming perfection. The d-pad is too small and stiff. You'll find it difficult to press the d-pad hard enough to register your desired movements consistently while gaming. Then the extra presses will register and goodness knows where your spaceship or character will end up. The screen also requires a harder touch, so you'll have to use more pressure with the stylus than with previous iPAQs. Most popular games do run on the 5450, but graphically intensive games (we're not talking about board games) run slowly and drop frames. Perhaps the MediaQ accelerated graphics chip in the 5450 isn't yet well supported .

Despite it's business-like software bundle, it does come with two cool games, including a motorbike racing game developed exclusively for the 5450. It's called Pocket TT, and it's a stunning 3D racing game that even supports multiplayer over TCP/IP. While Pocket TT is probably the best looking 3D driving game I've ever seen on a Pocket PC, the in-game controls makes it a bit hard to maneuver your motorcycle. Bust'em, the ever-popular and sweet-looking breakout style game is also included on the CD. For some reason, Bust'em doesn't run smoothly on the 5450 however.

Battery Life

Battery life depends on your wireless usage. If you don't turn on the wireless features, you should get an average of 2.5 to 3 hours actual usage per charge. The 3900 series has longer battery life, and in fact has a 1400 mA battery, while the 5450's has a 1250 mA battery. But hey, you can swap a new battery in, and that's a great consolation prize. When using WiFi, I got about 1.5 to 1.75 hours per charge. Bluetooth requires less power than WiFi, so you should see about 1.75 to 2 hours per charge when using Bluetooth.

Of course, runtime varies depending on what you do with the PDA. If you're into high drain activities like gaming, watching videos and playing MP3s with the screen on, you'll get less time per charge than if you use it for PIM activities and document editing.

Like the 3900 series, you'll get a 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). So if you generally put it in the cradle each day or at night when you get home, you can set a low standby time since you know it'll be charged frequently. This can significantly increase runtimes.


The sleeve connector and serial port have remained the same as the iPAQ 3800/3900 series PDAs. I've tried the Compaq expansion sleeves, which work fine. 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 5400 series operating system. All Compaq branded accessories should work without a problem. While the 5450 cradle has an HP logo, it seems to otherwise be the same as the 3800/3900 series cradle. It can also use the same charger and sync cables as the 3800/3900 series iPAQs. The popular Stowaway keyboard also works fine.

I've thrown just about every popular software title on this thing and so far everything runs without a problem other than many popular highly graphical games like Bust'em, EverQuest and Intersellar Flames, which at times run slowly or drop frames. Games from Hexacto and Zio run fine though.

The Sierra Wireless AirCard 555 that worked well with the iPAQ 3800 series worked only for voice but not for data connections, just as with the iPAQ 3900 series. There's a simple workaround that allows you to make data connections which we've posted in our discussion forum here. Hopefully Sierra Wireless will release a new driver, so you don't have to tweak the settings yourself!

You've Been Fingerprinted!

The 5450 is the first PDA to offer built-in biometric security. What does biometric mean? It measures or scans a part of your body that is unique (fingerprints, retina scan), and uses that image to identify you. While you might forget your password, your fingerprints should stay the same for life. Take a look at the screen on the right-- it shows part of the fingerprint training process. You can "enroll" more than one finger, and in fact your finger plus someone else's if you plan to share the iPAQ. The software has you swipe your finger until it gets 8 successful images of the print. After this, it should hopefully recognize you when you swipe your finger. The iPAQ uses a thermal reader, but no matter how cold my fingers got (and they get amazingly cold) accuracy wasn't effected.

Do you have to use biometric security? No, it's optional. You can run your iPAQ with no security, with fingerprint, PIN, fingerprint or PIN, fingerprint and PIN, strong alphanumeric password, fingerprint or password, and finally fingerprint and password. You can set it to require a password after 0 minutes, 5, 15, 30, 90 minutes, all the way up to 24 hours. How well does it work? Let me say that you should not use fingerprint alone (opt for fingerprint and PIN or fingerprint and password), because there are times when your best buddy won't recognize your fingertips. Sometimes it recognized a finger after only 1 scan, and that means only a momentary delay before you get to use your PDA. On other occasions I had to swipe 6 times, or resort to entering my PIN. You can specify the number of failed attempts before the iPAQ offers you the option to keep on trying or hard reset (yikes- erase!) your PDA. It works, but it's less than perfect.

Why does the iPAQ have biometric fingerprint scanning? Because it's marketed toward corporate types, and one of the major headaches IT decision makers face is the security of data on company PDAs. PDAs are small and easily lost, dropped or left behind on the train seat. This means that company data can easily fall into the wrong hands. Most users hate passwords and significant delays in getting to the data on their device. HP tried to find a solution that didn't depend on users remembering their password, or worse yet, writing their password on a post-it note taped to the back of the PDA. When the fingerprint technology works, it also doesn't cause an annoying delay that would otherwise drive the user to turn off security, hence driving the IT department nuts.


Bluetooth has gotten downright friendly by today's standards. The new interface is wizard based, and it walks you through connecting to a variety of devices, from your ActiveSync partner (if you have a USB Bluetooth adapter installed on your PC), to headsets. This is the direction that Bluetooth interfaces need to move toward. Just as with WiFi, some folks had problems with having to do a soft reset to turn on their Bluetooth radios on occasion, due to out of memory errors. After 1 week, I haven't encountered this problem yet. The Bluetooth version is 1.1. I ActiveSync-ed wirelessly, then transferred files to a Dell Axim X5 which had a Belkin Bluetooth CF card.

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 from a decent distance, 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). Nevo first debuted on the iPAQ 3900 series. 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 beefed up the IR power to what they call consumer grade for the 3900 series and that continues with the 5450. 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. An amazing number of brands are included! More brands and models can be downloaded from If you're a remote guru, you can add your remote by its code as well.


screen shot

Above: training the iPAQ to recognize your fingerprint.

screen shot

Above: The new Bluetooth interface is much friendlier.

Software Bundle

As expected with high end Compaq and HP PDAs, the 5450 comes with a very generous software bundle, albeit with a corporate focus-- i.e.: 4 different Voice over IP apps, presentation software, conferencing software and even Check Point VPN secure client. You'll get the usual Pocket PC 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 includes: full versions of MARGI Presenter-to-Go and MARGI Mirror (for viewing and giving PowerPoint presentations, Avaya IP Softphone for voice over IP via WiFi), Check Point VPN client, Flash 5, Bust'em, RealOne Player, and Jeode Java runtime. 3rd party demos include Pocket Watch World Clock, Peacemaker Pro and Running Voice IP.


We've run benchmarks using VOBenchmark from Virtual Office Systems. I've compared the iPAQ 3835, iPAQ 3970 and the 5450. I've also tested for dropped frames in Pocket MVP (formerly Pocket DivX), and results were not as good as the 3970, but not notably bad. Perhaps when there's more support for the new MediaQ graphics chip the numbers will be as excellent as the 0 dropped frames for the 3970. Note that in raw benchmarks, the MediaQ graphics chip gives very good results, though in real world use you probably won't see improved application speeds. Higher numbers are better (shown in bold).

Test Compaq iPAQ 3835 ROM 1.15 (StrongARM) 5450 (XScale) iPAQ 3970 (XScale)
CPU Floating Point 8.05 12.64 12.66
CPU Integer 15.53 26.86 26.95
Graphics Bitmap BitBlt 8.2 56.30 26.42
Graphics Bitmap StretchBlt 0.55 17.71 0.79
Graphics Filled Elipse 0.54 2.34 0.51
Graphics Filled Rectangle 0.56 6.50 2.10
Graphics Filled Round Rect. 0.52 1.70 0.50
Memory Allocation 8.71 11.71 11.16
Memory Fill 0.54 0.91 0.95
Memory Move 0.86 0.37 0.37
Text 2.40 4.45 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 0.64/0.18 0.50/0.24
LSR/LSW 0.04/0.01 1.13/0.19 0.84/0.35
SRR/SRW 60.10/0.84 123.32/1.64 166.32/0.84
SSR/SSW 1.29/0.51 22.57/3.40 21.71/10.27


It has a gorgeous screen, more features than my car and the price is a bit lower than the top of the line 3900 series when it came out. As an iPAQ 3970 owner, do I lust after this 5450 and want to auction off my 3970? No. While I do use WiFi and love the idea of using it sans sleeve and CF card, that isn't enough to sell me. I'm security-minded and thus expected to really love the biometric fingerprint reader. I'd be thrilled if I no longer had to whip out a stylus and peck out my password to use my iPAQ. However, the fingerprint scanner isn't always that consistent, and about 40% of the time, I gave up trying and resorted to stylus and PIN instead of swiping until the iPAQ and I got it right. The battery life is noticeably shorter than the 3970 (with WiFi turned off for fair comparison, and standby time set down to 36 hours just as on my 3970). However, it is great to finally have a user-replaceable battery. The 5450 seems slower than the 3970 and even the older StrongARM 3835, though it benchmarks well. I often see noticeable delays switching between apps and opening menus, which is unexpected. This is probably because of the number of drivers and support apps running to drive the WiFi radio, Bluetooth radio, fingerprint scanner and sleeves. Some folks have improved their 5450's speed by removing the software driver for sleeves (don't do this if you DO use sleeves!) and quitting all wireless apps when not using them. I generally ran with wireless apps off and removed from the system tray, and the 5450 often seemed a hair sluggish. Perhaps I should blame all this on my 3970: if it wasn't so darned speedy, stable, reliable and able to outrun most other Pocket PCs on a charge, I'd probably be more impressed with the 5450. So the iPAQ 5450 is not by any means a bad unit, it just hasn't surpassed my 3970 or even equaled in when it comes to a few things I really care about: speed, stability, battery runtime per charge and game-friendliness. If you want a high end iPAQ but you're on a tight budget and don't need Bluetooth or built-in WiFi, consider the iPAQ 3955, which is now heavily discounted at Amazon.

Pro: The built-in WiFi is a winner, with strong signal and a full compliment of configurations settings. Bluetooth has gotten an interface facelift, and has gotten friendlier compared to the older iPAQs. The battery is user-replaceable-- yay! The screen, as with other recent iPAQs, is perfection. Cons: In actual use, the 5450 seems a tad slow compared to other Pocket PC 2002 PDAs running 400 MHz processors, including the iPAQ 3900 series. Many games don't run smoothly. The d-pad is hard to use because it's too small and requires too much pressure. The biometric scanner isn't consistent enough.

Suggested list price $699
The 5450 and 5455 have different model numbers because HP uses different model numbers to track sales in consumer vs. business channels. Both come with a cover pack iPAQ case, cradle with both USB and serial connectors, charger, one battery, an extra stylus, software CD and manuals.



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

Battery Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.1250mA.

Performance: Intel XScale 400 MHz processor. 48MB Flash ROM with 22 megs available in FileStore for your use, 64 MB built-in RAM.

Size: 5.23" (not including antenna nub) x 3.3" x .6". Weight Approximately 7.26 oz.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 8.5 included for your MP3 pleasure.

Software: Pocket PC 2002 Premium 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: Avaya IP Softphone, Cisco CallManager (voice over IP) MARGI Presenter-to-Go, Callex Pocket PC with ETPlayer Voicemail, Flash 5, Bust'em (arcade game), Pocket TT (3D racing game), RealOne Player, Jeode Java runtime, Acrobat Reader, Nevo A/V remote control, and several additional trial/demo programs. ActiveSync 3.5 and Outlook 2000 for PCs included.

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


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