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HP iPAQ 5550 Pocket PC
Editor's rating (1-5):
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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
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
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
case above is included with the iPAQ. It's a leather case made
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Above: training the iPAQ to recognize your
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).
||HP iPAQ 2215 (PPC
2003, Intel PXA 255 processor)
2002, XScale PXA250)
||iPAQ 5555 (PPC
2003, XScale PXA255)
||76.70 (grow) 28.60 (shrink)
||73.50 (grow), 29.90 (shrink)
5.20 with ClearType enabled
||21.00, 4.80 with ClearType Enabled
||256 meg SanDisk card was used
||128 meg SanDisk and SimpleTech
||256 meg SanDisk card was used
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
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
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.
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
list price $549