Editor's update: Check out the HP Glisten, HP's newest smartphone available on AT&T.
Reviewed August 4, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
HP iPAQ phones are few and far between. Nonetheless, we've looked fondly at their last few models and have been waiting with bated wallets for their latest, greatest model, first let out of the bag late last year via press release. The HP iPAQ 910c Business Messenger started shipping in July 2008 as an unlocked GSM phone rather than with a carrier in the US. In the past, AT&T has carried the iPAQ line, but there's no word that they'll pick this one up. Though there's no carrier subsidy, the iPAQ is less expensive than most high-end unlocked Windows Mobile Professional phones, retailing for $499 in the US. It's available online direct from HP and from retailers that carry HP mobile products and phones like Fry's.
Like the old iPAQ hw6900, the 910c is a QWERTY-bar Windows Mobile Professional phone with GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth. But the similarities end there. The older model was a little behind the times in terms of design and cellular data: it had no 3G and looked more like an old keyboarded iPAQ PDA than a phone. The 910c has the faster 7.2 Mbps HSDPA 3G and a modern design that reminds us of a touch screen Motorola Q9 Global.
That beefy telescoping metal stylus is a rarity on phones-- we like!
The 5.4 ounce iPAQ is just a bit thicker than the Samsung BlackJack II, thinner but 0.4 ounces heavier than the Treo 800w and narrower than the wide-ish Motorola Q9h. For a Windows Mobile touch screen phone, the iPAQ is pleasingly compact and significantly thinner than QWERTY side-sliders like the HTC Tilt, E-TEN M810 and MWg Zinc II. If you love the size and design of the BlackJack II and Moto Q9 but want a touch screen, the iPAQ is your answer.
The 910c (the "c" stands for camera) has a black and chrome gloss front and shiny black keys that miraculously don't attract fingerprints madly. The back is matte, with a semi-soft touch finish (not as "soft" as the T-Mobile Dash or MWg Zinc II). We though we'd dislike the gloss keys since they offer less finger traction than rough-surfaced keys, but in the end we liked them just fine. They afford quicker movement from key to key compared to the Treo 800w and we found we typed a bit faster. However, typing while riding on a bumpy bus or car is more challenging on the slicker surface.
The keyboard is excellent, with a "smile" curve that makes for more natural thumb movement. It's incredibly similar to the Moto Q9's excellent keyboard, though surprisingly, the iPAQ's keys are just a hair smaller.
The iPAQ has a jogwheel on the upper right edge with an OK button just below along with a standard d-pad with center action button. There are buttons for voice dialing, the camera, and volume on the sides and the power button is up top. The standard mini USB jack and microSD card slot are located on the left side under rugged rubber doors. The camera lens, LED flash, self-portrait mirror and speakerphone are on the back with the large battery door below. The SIM card lives under the large 1940 mAh Lithium Ion battery.
Rubber doors cover the mini USB port and microSD card slot.
One-Handed Operation and Display
As is the case with many WinMo QWERTY-bar phones, one-handed operation is a breeze. Though it lacks Palm's further usability enhancements that sets the Treo apart, it's still extremely easy to smart-dial, speed dial, open the Start Menu, check email and close windows with one hand and without using the stylus. But you'd be getting a BlackJack II or Moto Q if you didn't want to touch the screen for certain tasks, right? You can tab through links in IE Mobile until your thumb goes numb, or use your finger or the stylus (a good old-fashioned metal telescoping beefy metal stylus is included, no toothpick here) to scroll and click on links. Though the LED backlit transflective display is small by WinMo Professional standards (they're generally 2.8"), the iPAQ's 2.46" display isn't too small for link tapping or reading text. The display is very bright, vivid and has a slightly warm color bias that makes photos look more natural and pleasing.
The HP iPAQ 910c and the Treo 800w. The iPaq is set to 50% brightness while the Treo is one notch below full brightness,
yet the iPAQ's screen is much brighter and sharper.
Gone are the days of the 240 x 240 iPAQ phone display- yes! The HP 910 has a 320 x 240 landscape display (there's no way to rotate it to portrait orientation). Thus you see just as much on-screen as you would with the Tilt and other standard QVGA WinMo phones, but in landscape mode which is better suited to web browsing, working with spreadsheets and watching video. There's no option to rotate the screen to portrait mode, which isn't something you'd generally want to do, but some games require initial portrait orientation (even though they rotate the screen to landscape-- go figure). Games that work include Bejeweled 2, Broken Sword and Distant Galaxies. Games that don't include Corsair and Red Sector 2112. The screen is the traditional recessed design, and we really wish that it were flush like the HTC Touch Dual and MWg Zinc II since those are much more finger-friendly. That said, the iPAQ's relatively small LCD doesn't lend itself to extensive finger use.
Phone, Reception and Data
The iPAQ 910c Business Messenger is a quad band unlocked GSM phone that supports all the world's bands for GSM and EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900MHz. Since it's unlocked it will work with any GSM carrier's SIM (that generally means AT&T and T-Mobile in the US). It has worldwide 3G UMTS and HSDPA on the 850/1900/2100MHz bands. HSDPA works well with AT&T in the US. The iPAQ has the newer, faster 7.2Mbps HSDPA spec and in our tests in the DFW area, we got an average 630kbps on the DSL Reports mobile speed test (post-iPhone 3G, that's a good result since the 3G network has become more congested). So the iPAQ is a very good performer when it comes to data, and as a result web pages load very quickly and email downloads fast. The phone runs a wizard that sets up data and MMS when a new SIM is inserted, making life easy for those who haven't memorized their carrier's data settings.
Reception is good, and is in line with the Samsung BlackJack II but not quite as good as the Moto Q9 and Tilt (TyTN II) on AT&T. Unlike the iPhone 3G that tenaciously holds onto a weak 3G signal, the 910c will drop down to EDGE if the 3G signal isn't at least moderately good. By default the iPAQ, like most WinMo phones, is set to automatically select bands, but you can override this and set it to GSM or UMTS as you see fit. Indoors in our weakest RF room the iPAQ sometimes decided that 1 bar of 3G wasn't good enough and dropped down to EDGE. We set it to use only UMTS 3G and it managed just fine to hold a signal, transfer data and make good quality calls. That way we saved a little battery power by preventing it from hunting and switching bands. Likewise you could set it to GSM (EDGE) only to save battery power if you're not in a 3G coverage area or prefer GSM's better battery life.
Phone call quality is middle-of-the-road with average volume by GSM standards. It's loud enough for a somewhat noisy public place like a restaurant (we're not talking Chuck E. Cheese but rather someplace less cacophonous like the Olive Garden). If you're in a busy mall or at a ball game, opt for a headset-- either the included wired one or a Bluetooth headset. The speakerphone's volume is below average, though sound quality is good and there's very little distortion. The speakerphone is located on the phone's back, not the ideal solution for overcoming crowd noise while holding the phone to your head. Before you grumble about the location, keep in mind that the speaker is on the back on most phones so that you aren't accidentally deafened if you forget and put the phone to your head while it's in speakerphone mode.
The HP 910c has the usual suite of Windows Mobile call features including smart dialing, speed dial, call waiting and conference calling. HP includes Cyberon's Voice Commander 2.5.1, a good speech recognition and command system that doesn't require voice tags and supports voice dialing over Bluetooth. It handles voice dialing along with launching applications, checking appointments and composing audio voice mail messages. That means you can tell the phone to compose a message to a contact in your address book, then record and audio message that will be sent as an audio attachment via email. A neat party trick, though I'm not sure how this is more useful than sending a text message or leaving an old-fashioned voice mail message.
Horsepower and Performance
The HP is no slouch in the performance department thanks to ample memory, the speedier Windows Mobile 6.1 and a 416MHz XScale processor. The iPAQ is one of the more responsive WinMo Professional phones on the market and there's little lag if any opening the start menu, accessing the programs folder and scrolling. At boot, the HP has 73.68 megs free RAM to run programs-- plenty for several memory-hungry applications to run concurrently. There are 123.7 megs free for storage, plus a 24 meg iPAQ Filestore (remember the iPAQ Filestore from the days before persistent memory?). While both main internal storage and the Filestore will survive a complete battery drain, only the Filestore will survive a hard reset (complete wipe out). Should you want more memory to store songs, videos, files or programs, the iPAQ has a microSD card slot that accepts standard and SDHC microSD cards. We tested the iPAQ with an 8 gig Kingston microSD card and a 4 gig SanDisk card, both of which worked fine.
The iPAQ has the usual Windows Media Player Mobile for music and video playback. While not the most inspiring multimedia application on a mobile device, there are 3rd party alternatives if you want a prettier interface or more supported video formats. The phone can play MP3, WMA (including protected Windows Media format files) and AAC (unprotected iTunes M4A) music files along with ASF, WMV and MPEG files. While most WinMo Pro 6.1 phones can play MP4 format (the same format the iPhone and iPod support), the HP can't (it only plays the audio track). We're curious why HP left out the required codec, but as a consolation, CorePlayer Mobile and TCPMP (the .72 version floating around the Net that's been recompiled to support Windows Mobile 6.1) can play these formats. Video playback performance is very good and we got impressive benchmark numbers in CorePlayer using the default XScale optimized setting. At 2.46 inches, we weren't tempted to watch video for hours on end, which is a shame given the iPAQ's video prowess.
Sound volume through the rear-firing loudspeaker wasn't impressive with Windows Media Player Mobile, though quality was fine. The included headset sounded loud and clear with enough bass and treble to make music listening pleasurable. The phone supports A2DP Bluetooth stereo and sounded very good with the Samsung SBH500 stereo Bluetooth headphones.
There's an integrated GPS on board to help you find your way from place to place, but you'll have to provide your own mapping and navigation solution for spoken turn-by-turn directions. There's no Telenav option since this isn't a carrier-branded phone and we tried the old version of Telenav meant for the HP iPAQ hw6945 on AT&T but it didn't work with the GPS chip. Google Maps comes pre-installed and you can download Windows Live Search which works great on the iPAQ. Cold starts are a bit slow at over 1 minute but warm starts are very fast at 15 seconds. HP includes a utility that downloads satellite data to speed up acquisition times. We tested the iPAQ with CoPilot 7 and the iPAQ's GPS proved accurate and quick to update position. Oddly, the loudspeaker that's soft for calls is louder for GPS spoken directions, and we were able to hear the CoPilot male voice without a problem in a sedan (Ferrari owners and big rig drivers would need something louder).
The iPAQ runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional with improvements to overall device speed, download speeds over cellular connections and threaded text messaging. Mobile versions of IE and Outlook are standard as is MS Office mobile which can read and write Word and Excel documents as well as view PowerPoint presentations. HP includes their Photosmart Mobile application (an image viewer and editor), HP PrintSmart (supports printing over Bluetooth and WiFi to HP printers), Sun's Java VM and Cyberon Voice Commander. There's also Remote Desktop Mobile, Internet Connection Sharing (the easy way to tether) and HP iPAQ GPS Qk Position (downloads satellite data for quicker fixes).
Things are looking up for Windows Mobile imaging, now that we're seeing several decent 3+ megapixel autofocus cameras on the market. I'm talking about the HTC Touch Diamond here, along with the Samsung Omnia i900 and now the HP 910. The iPAQ 910c (the "c" stands for camera, so we assume they'll be a 910 without camera for corporate users whose companies forbid camera phones at work) has a 3 MP camera with autofocus that takes very good outdoor shots. Really good, in fact. Colors are balanced, saturation is natural and sharpening isn't overdone. Max photo resolution is 2048 x 1536 and there are a variety of lower resolutions suitable for email, MMS and caller ID. Indoor images, even with the LED flash, aren't overly noisy for a camera phone but they aren't nearly as sharp. The camera focuses quickly but we noticed that you really need to hold the phone very still until the shot is taken, otherwise you'll get fuzzy shots.
Video max resolution is QVGA 320 x 240 and there's also an MMS-sized 176 x 144 option. Both have mono audio and are 3GP format. Video is average by camera phone standards with nice color, not too much ghosting but video looks blocky.
The white rocks often white-out when taken with camera phones. The HP did a good job of not over-exposing them.
Click on a photo to see the unedited original at 3MP resolution.
A dark shot that came out decently given the lack of ambient light.
The HP iPAQ 910c has an high capacity 1940mAh Lithium Ion battery that seems impressive compared to the 1100 to 1500 mAh battery found on many PDA phones. We expected the iPAQ to run for many days with moderate use but found that it had only slightly better battery life than other WinMo Pro phones with similar features like the HTC Tilt. If you're a heavy user (plenty of time on the phone, push email on and a good deal of surfing or video playback) expect to charge nightly. If you're a moderate user the phone should last 2 to 3 days on a charge.
The HP iPAQ 910c Business Messenger is, as its name implies, a very good business phone. Like the BlackBerry Curve, it proves that business phones can be attractive and we do like the looks and compact size. It's a dream phone for those who love the T-Mobile Dash, Moto Q9 and BlackJack II but want Windows Mobile Pro rather than standard edition. The QWERTY-bar design is ever-popular in the US and we do love it for easier one-handed operation and expedience. The iPAQ doesn't bring any flashy design elements as do the HTC Touch Pro or Omnia, but we'll largely forgive that since it aims to be a solid business and messaging phone rather than an iPhone competitor. That said, we do wish it had a flush touch screen which would make it both more attractive and finger-friendly. While the iPAQ couldn't be described as an iPhone killer, it certainly is a Treo killer and we're impressed with the display, features, design and build quality compared to recent Windows Mobile Treo models.
Pro: Very compact for a Windows Mobile Pro phone. Great keyboard and nice looks. Relatively reasonable price for an unlocked WinMo Pro phone with all the trimmings. GPS works well, WiFi has good range and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR offers fast transfer speeds and Bluetooth stereo. The iPAQ 910c is fast for a Windows Mobile Pro device and one-handed operation is a breeze for common tasks. Fast data speeds on HSDPA networks. Solid build quality. Unlocked for use with any GSM carrier.
Con: Screen is small (a necessary evil when making a device this compact). Screen is the old-fashioned recessed type, making it hard to operate scroll bars with a finger rather than stylus. Speakerphone and ringer could be louder.
Display:65K color transflective
TFT color LCD with LED backlight. Screen size diagonally: 2.46". Resolution:
320 x 240.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1940 mA. Uses standard 5v 1 amp mini USB charger.
XScale PXA 270 416 MHz processor. 128 megs RAM, 256 megs flash ROM and 24 meg iPAQ Filestore.
Size:4.5 x 2.5 x 0.6 inches. Weight: 5.4 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band unlocked world phone 850/900/1800/1900MHz with EDGE. Triband worldwide 3G UMTS and HSDPA 7.2Mbps 850/1900/2100MHz.
Camera:3.0 MP with autofocus lens and LED flash. 2048 x 1536 max resolution with several lesser resolutions supported. Video resolution 320 x 240 and 176 x 144 in .3GP format with mono audio.
GPS:Yes, integrated GPS. No navigation software included other than Google Maps.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR.
Mobile 6.1 Professional operating system. Outlook Mobile (email, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks), Microsoft Office Mobile (Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile), Internet Explorer Mobile, Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, Notes, OneNote Mobile, Calculator, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker, Microsoft Live Messenger, Microsoft Live, Internet Sharing, Pictures & Videos, Remote Desktop Mobile, Search, Task Manager, Sun Java 2.01.
HP Photosmart Mobile software, HP iPAQ GPS Quick Position, HP PrintSmart, HP Asset Viewer, Google Maps. ActiveSync 4.5 and Outlook 2007 trial for PCs included.
microSD card slot supporting SDHC high capacity cards. We tested it with cards up to 8 gigs.