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HP iPAQ 5550 Pocket PC


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Introduced in the summer of 2003, just after the iPAQ 2215, the iPAQ 5550 is HP's new flagship Pocket PC, replacing the 5450. The first word that comes to mind is "excellent", and the 5550 is all that the 5450 should've been and more. At $649, it's the most expensive Pocket PC, but you do get a lot for the hefty price tag. If you need WiFi, Bluetooth, an impressive array of expansion possibilities, lots of memory, a large display and biometric security, then the price may well be worth it.

While the 5450, which the 5550 strongly resembles, had most of the same hardware features and used the same casing and design, it suffered some bugs and reliability issues when it first came out. Most of the 5450's bugs were fixed by service packs and ROM updates issued by HP, but I'm happy to say that the 5550 doesn't share those bugs and has proved very reliable out of the box.

iPAQ 5555
iPAQ 5555 back


What's New?

The 5550 runs the new Pocket PC 2003 OS (also called Windows Mobile). Pocket PC2003 is based on Windows CE 4.2, while prior Pocket PC and Pocket PC 2002 PDAs were based on Windows CE 3.0. Microsoft is calling all new devices based on Pocket PC 2003 "Windows Mobile 2003". What's the difference between Pocket PC 2002 and Pocket PC 2003 PDAs? You won't notice much difference at all. There are numerous bug fixes, improvements in page rendering times and standards support for Internet Explorer, a new user interface for setting up networking that uses a Mobile version of Windows XP's zero config networking, and support for 3rd party applications that are written for the XScale processor. The OS itself still doesn't run natively for XScale, but now developers can offer enhanced versions of their applications that should run noticeably faster. Basic apps like PIMs can only run so fast, but gaming and multimedia applications can really benefit from native code.

MS Reader fans will be happy to know that the memory leak bug has been fixed and your books won't slow down (or worse) after you've been reading for a long time. You get a new game called Jawbreaker (a port of Bubblets) and support for vCard entries.

There are two versions of Pocket PC 2003: Pro for the more basic Pocket PC models and Premium for higher end Pocket PCs. The 5550 runs the Premium edition and includes apps like Terminal Services, MS Reader and the new Pictures app built into ROM.

Cases Online iPAQ 5555 case

The case above is included with the iPAQ. It's a leather case made by Cases Online, who has a partnership with HP. If purchased separately, the case costs $45.


Horsepower and Features

The 5550 has an Intel XScale PXA255 processor running at 400 MHz. The 5450 had a PXA250 processor also running at 400 MHz, and the PXA255 is supposed to be a bit faster (thanks to a faster system bus) and more power-frugal. The 5550 does feel considerably faster, though those speed improvements may be due to OS improvements and bug fixes more than the processor change. Interestingly, the more affordable iPAQ 2215 shares the same processor as the 5550, but benchmarks a bit faster in several areas. Experientially, the 2215 feels a hair faster when navigating the OS and playing games. Video performance was similar between the two units when playing movies using Pocket Windows Media Player 9 and Pocket TV Enterprise.

The iPAQ 5550 has 128 megs of RAM, while other high end Pocket PCs have 64 megs. Like all Pocket PCs, that memory is divided between the OS (like RAM in your PC) and storage space (like your PC's hard drive). The Pocket PC has an application that allows you to adjust the balance between these two using a slider, and generally allocating 30 to 35 megs to the OS (called Program Memory by the Pocket PC) is plenty.




The iPAQ has 48 megs of Flash ROM, of which 17 megs are available to the user as the iPAQ File Store. Since the File Store is a Flash ROM storage area, anything stored there will survive a hard reset (erasure), making it ideal for backups or storing important apps and data.

The 5555 (our unit is the 5555 model, which is identical to the 5550) has an SD slot supporting SDIO but no CF slot. The 2215 is the only iPAQ with a CF slot. You can use iPAQ expansion pack sleeves to add a CF slot (with or without additional battery built into the sleeve) and a PCMCIA slot. For more info on sleeves, see our review and listing here. HP has done good things with the SD slot: memory card access and write times were excellent, surpassing even the speedy iPAQ 2215 (we used the same card for testing these two models). SDIO means that the iPAQ can use SD cards that require I/O such as networking cards (not that you'll need add-on WiFi or Bluetooth cards with the 5555), bar code scanner cards, SD digicams and more.

In addition, the 5555 has built-in WiFi, Bluetooth and a biometric fingerprint scanner which are covered in detail below.

Screen, Sound, and Gaming

The 5555, like all recent iPAQs, has a transflective display capable of displaying over 65,000 colors. The LCD measures 3.8" which is the same as the iPAQ 3900 and 5400 series models. Most other Pocket PCs have 3.5" displays, and some folks swear by the larger screen which is easier on the eyes (Toshiba upped the e750 to 3.8" to compete with high end iPAQs). Transflective screens reflects ambient light to illuminate the screen (for outdoor viewability and power savings) and has backlighting. The 5555 offers the same auto brightness setting as the 3900 and 5400 series models, where the iPAQ measures ambient light and adjusts screen brightness accordingly. While the 3900 series could be annoyingly fast to react to small changes in ambient light, the 5555 has got it down, and most users will find it great for viewability and power savings. Should you prefer to manually set brightness, you can do so. Screen quality is excellent, with very good color saturation and brightness. In fact it's so bright, I never wanted to set it above the 50% setting, while in comparison, I always set the Dell Axim X5 to 75% or higher brightness. The display doesn't have the iPAQ 1940's yellow color cast, nor does it have the grid pattern that's discernable from certain viewing angles under bright lighting on the iPAQ 2215. The 5555, like prior high end iPAQs such as the 3900 and 5400 series models, have the best displays among Pocket PCs.

The sound volume is very loud. The 5450 was one of the few "quiet" iPAQs, but the 5555 is quite loud. The speaker is mounted on the top front, under the black plastic cap. It's definitely louder than the iPAQ 2215, whose speaker is located on the back. Side by side, games were louder, as were alarms and MP3s . MP3s sound great (and very loud— I had to turn the volume down to the lowest setting!) when using decent stereo headphones connected to the standard 3.5mm audio jack, and you'll find the familiar iPAQ Audio Settings in the control panel, which allows you to set bass boost, amp power savings and mic gain control.

Like all Pocket PCs and several Palm OS PDAs, the 5555 has a voice recorder application that allows you to record voice notes. You won't get concert quality recordings, but it does a decent job of recording your own voice or a conversation within a few feet of the unit. Sony Cliés with recorders such as the NX and NZ models offer the best recording quality among PDAs. Sound volume for the speaker and headphones is controlled via a rocker switch located on the upper left side of the unit (where the record button used to be on older iPAQs). If you press and hold this button, it will launch the voice recorder application, though you can remap it to another application if you wish. The iPAQ is one of the few PDAs that supports vibrating alarms.

While the 5450 wasn't a gamer's dream in terms of performance, the iPAQ 5555 does much better and offers good frame rates and smooth screen re-draws. I tested Bust 'em, Bust 'em 2, Blade of Betrayal, Metalion 2, Diamond Mine, Hyperspace Delivery Boy, Bounty Hunter Pinball and Hexacto's Tennis Addict. All ran well, except background music (but not sound FX) stuttered annoyingly on Blade of Betrayal (I turned off background music under options to deal with this) and Metalion 2 didn't run correctly at all. There is a version of Metalion 2 for the iPAQ 2215 running Pocket PC 2003, but that version didn't run any better on the 5555. Since Metalion 2 also doesn't run well on the iPAQ 5450, I can't blame the 5555.

The circular directional pad on the 5555 isn't very large but it is round, well sprung and rotates smoothly in a 360 degree circle. It's very pleasant to use for gaming, and the 4 front buttons, often used in games are large enough and easy to press. In comparison, the iPAQ 2215's 4 buttons are too small, recessed and hard to press when playing games. The 2215's d-pad is very similar to the 5555's, but it is 1/8th inch larger.

Battery Life

The 5555 comes with a user replaceable 1250 MAh Lithium Ion battery. That's a decent capacity battery, and an optional extended 2480 MAh battery is available (the iPAQ has a hump on it's back when you use this larger battery). Battery life depends on your wireless usage. If you don't turn on the wireless features, you should get about 3 hours actual usage per charge, which puts it at middle of the pack for Pocket PCs. I used the iPAQ on auto brightness settings, 48 hour standby, and played games for over an hour, watched 30 minutes worth of movies, and used Pocket Word, Palm Reader and the PIM apps for the remaining time. Your mileage will vary depending on backlight settings and whether you use processor intensive apps like games vs. using Pocket Word or PIM applications such as contacts and calendar lookups

Battery life when using WiFi was surprisingly good. WiFi is usually a big power drain and can reduce run times on Pocket PCs by 50%. However I surfed the web for one hour and the battery dropped only 35%, which isn't that bad! Bluetooth uses less power than WiFi, and thus has an even lesser impact on battery life. I was surprised that I could surf the web just as long using the 5555's WiFi as I could using the 2215 (which has good battery life) and power-frugal WiFi cards like the Ambicom and Socket CF cards.

Like the 3900 and 5400 series, you'll get a battery control applet where 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 5555 supports USB charging using a sync n' charge cable, and the battery control panel applet allows you to specify whether or not you wish to use USB charging, and whether you want it to fast or slow charge via USB.


The sleeve connector and sync port have remained the same as the iPAQ 3800/3900/5400 series PDAs. I've tried the Compaq/HP 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 5550 series operating system. Compaq and HP branded accessories should work without a problem, even the folding and micro keyboards, using the Pocket PC 2003 drivers from HP's web site. I tested the HP Folding Keyboard using these drivers and it worked well. The new cradle retains the dual USB and serial connectors found in the 3900 and 5400 series cradle, so users running NT 4.0 or a PC without USB ports can sync the 5550.




5550 vs. 5555 Series Models:
They're the same. HP uses two different numbers: one for corporate channel sales (5550) and 5555 for retail sales channels. There may be some small variations in software bundles, but most all bonus 3rd party apps should be the same.

5150 Model: This is the same as the 5555, but it does not have WiFi, the biometric fingerprint scanner and has 64 rather than 128 megs of RAM. It's $100 cheaper than the 5555 and doesn't seem like the best buy at $549. It's targeted at corporate customers.

You've Been Fingerprinted!

Like the 5450, the 5555 has built-in biometric security (these are the only PDAs offering this feature) and our review of biometric security and the Bluetooth Wizard remains largely unchanged from the 5450. 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" two fingers, 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 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. I found it even more consistent than the 5450's biometric scanner. Since it uses thermal metrics, a simple cast of your finger won't fool the iPAQ.

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. You'll also specify max login attempts (3 to 9) before the unit locks itself. You'll have to hard reset the iPAQ if this happens, so make sure you've done a good job of training the recognizer or use it in conjunction with a password or PIN, just in case. If the unit is soft reset (rebooted) it will ask you for your fingerprint, password or PIN, depending on which security measure(s) you're using. If anyone tries to change the security settings, they'll first have to enter the correct fingerprint, password or PIN. This is a very robust security solution!

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.


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. Unlike the 5450, I haven't had to do occasional soft resets to turn on the Bluetooth or WiFi radios, due to out of memory errors. The Bluetooth software is made by Widcomm and is version 1.4.1. I ActiveSync-ed wirelessly, connected to Belkin and Red-M Bluetooth access points for Internet access and, transferred files to other Bluetooth enabled Pocket PCs. Speeds when ActiveSyncing and surfing the Net were quite good, though not as fast as using WiFi, which is to be expected since WiFi offers greater speeds.


The iPAQ 5555 has built-in WiFi 802.11b wireless Ethernet networking. The nub on the top left of the unit is the WiFi antenna. I was pleasantly surprised at how power-friendly the built-in WiFi was, since both built-in and CF WiFi cards are usually power hogs on PDAs. It had the least effect on battery life I've seen on a Pocket PC, and I was able to surf for more than an hour without using more than 29% of the battery life. Generally, low powered WiFi solutions have less range, but the iPAQ surprised me again, surpassing the range of any of the WiFi cards reviewed on our site, and beating other built-in WiFi solutions on Pocket PCs and Palm OS PDAs. Using Cirond's Pocket WiNc, I was able to sniff out WiFi access points from my home that I never knew existed and even notebooks hadn't discovered. Note that out of the box, range wasn't that impressive, but once I installed HP's WiFi update from their web site, range was awesome. There are two versions of the WiFi updater, one supporting 802.11b and the other supporting LEAP. In the future, HP hopes to to create one updater that will work with both.

Software Bundle

As expected with high end HP PDAs, the 5550 comes with a very generous software bundle, albeit with a corporate focus-- i.e.: 4 different Voice over IP apps, Margi Presenter to Go software, Check Point VPN secure client as well as a few great all around apps like Westtek's ClearVue Office Suite, WorldMate, HP Printing, RealOne Player and Resco's powerful file explorer. You'll get the usual Pocket PC Premium Edition Apps: Microsoft Pocket Office suite including Pocket Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, Reader, Terminal Services, MSN Messenger, MS Reader and Outlook and of course, handwriting recognition software. HP's own software includes a built-in ClearType Tuner that allows you to tweak font rendering for sharper and smoother ClearType text display, a wireless utility that allows you to turn WiFi and Bluetooth on or off, iPAQ Backup (made by Sprite Software, excellent app!) and iPAQ Image Viewer (made by Westtek). Note that unit doesn't come with Nevo, the ever-popular AV remote software, which is installed in ROM on the iPAQ 2215 and on the now discontinued iPAQ 3900 series and iPAQ 5450.


screen shot

Above: training the iPAQ to recognize your fingerprint.

screen shot

Above: The new Bluetooth interface is much friendlier.



We've run benchmarks using VOBenchmark 3 from Virtual Office Systems. I've compared the iPAQ 2215, iPAQ 5450 , and our 5555. All tests were run with units fresh out of the box with no other software added, and the storage cards were 60% full with data and applications. All units run at 400 MHz, and all except the iPAQ 5450 run Windows Mobile 2003. Higher numbers are better (shown in bold).

Test HP iPAQ 2215 (PPC 2003, Intel PXA 255 processor) 5450 (PPC 2002, XScale PXA250) iPAQ 5555 (PPC 2003, XScale PXA255)
CPU Floating Point 12.68 12.64 12.66
CPU Integer 26.96 26.86 25.82
Graphics Bitmap BitBlt 78.25 56.30 39.76
Graphics Bitmap StretchBlt 76.70 (grow) 28.60 (shrink) 17.71 73.50 (grow), 29.90 (shrink)
Graphics Filled Elipse 4.68 2.34 4.96
Graphics Filled Rectangle 12.94 6.50 9.41
Graphics Filled Round Rect. 3.82 1.70 3.78
Memory Allocation 11.23 11.71 11.31
Memory Fill 1.97 0.91 1.99
Memory Move 1.24 0.37 1.34
Text 19.80, 5.20 with ClearType enabled 4.45 21.00, 4.80 with ClearType Enabled
SD Storage Cards 256 meg SanDisk card was used 128 meg SanDisk and SimpleTech were used 256 meg SanDisk card was used
LRR/LRW 0.62/0.08 0.64/0.18 0.68/0.08
LSR/LSW 0.61/0.19 1.13/0.19 1.19/0.32
SRR/SRW 238.18 /0.48 123.32/1.64 303.44/0.18
SSR/SSW 14.08/9.51 22.57/3.40 24.53/7.20


This is a great unit for power users! It will be overkill if you're looking for a basic PDA, but you've probably figured that out already. I didn't expect it to rival the wonderful iPAQ 2215 and full-featured Toshiba e750, but it certainly does. You certainly can't find more features in a Pocket PC, and the unit has proved reliable. Should you buy one? If you want or need integrated WiFi, Bluetooth, biometric security, and excellent 3.8" transflective LCD, serious expandability and accessory selection as well as lots of internal memory, then yes. If you don't need all these features, consider the iPAQ 2215, which has Bluetooth, a very nice 3.5" transflective display, the popular Nevo AV remote, and a CF slot for $399. The bargain-priced $499 Toshiba is also a direct contender to the 5555, offering integrated WiFi, a 3.8" transflective display and a CF slot. If money and/or a CF slot are important to you, do consider the e750 as well. Despite the price difference, I'd say the 5555 beats out the Toshiba since it has Bluetooth, biometric security, more memory and greater expandability. In addition, it has a much better software bundle (you get what you pay for), and HP has a great track record for build quality and support, offering frequent updates free of charge, and OS version upgrades for even relatively old models. The 5555 comes with a very nice $45 leather horizontal belt mountable case, while the Toshiba comes with a a vinyl slip case. But only you can decide, ultimately, what features and price point suit you.

Pro: The built-in WiFi is a winner, getting a super-strong signal after applying HP's update. Bluetooth is user-friendly and supports just about anything you'd want to connect to, including headsets. The battery is user-replaceable, and an extended battery is available. The 5555 has more memory than any other Pocket PC. The screen is perfection. For now, nothing will beat HP's biometric fingerprint scanner for security and ease of use on a PDA. The unit, like the prior 3000 and 5000 series models, is very expandable thanks to expansion packs, and there's a huge assortment of accessories available. This is the only current Pocket PC that can use PCMCIA cards (may require PPC drivers) via the optional PC Card expansion sleeve.

Cons: Price: this is the most expensive Pocket PC on the market *ouch*. NO CF slot, though you can add one by purchasing an optional sleeve, increasing your cash outlay. If you prefer small and light PDAs, then the iPAQ 5555 may not suit you, though all high end, feature-packed units are on the large and heavy side.

Suggested list price $649
The 5550 and 5555 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.

The 5150 is the same as the 5555, but it does not have WiFi, the biometric fingerprint scanner and has 64 rather than 128 megs of RAM. At $100 cheaper than the 5555, it doesn't seem like the best buy. Suggested list price $549





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