Product review: HP iPaq 910c Business Messenger smartphone

In the world of smart phones, while Apple's TV ads insist that the company's iPhone 3G "works great with work" and BlackBerry fans eagerly await RIM's BlackBerry Bold, Hewlett-Packard's new Windows Mobile 6.1-based iPaq 910c Business Messenger offers an alternative aimed at corporate users who are willing to pay top dollar for a high-end smart phone with advanced features.

Like the new Palm Treo Pro, the iPaq 910c is being sold unlocked, so you can use it on any GSM carrier worldwide simply by inserting that carrier's SIM card into it. You're not tied to a carrier or a long-term plan, but you don't get a carrier subsidy to lower the price either. HP's iPaq 910c Business Messenger costs US$499 on HP's Web site and is clearly designed with corporate executives and their IT staff in mind.

Like the Treo Pro, the iPaq supports most available wireless standards: Wi-Fi, GPS, quad-band (world) voice, and high-speed HSDPA/UMTS data networks.

In my tests, the iPaq delivered adequate but not outstanding call quality. Unlike the iPhone 3G, it has a removable rechargeable battery, which is rated at 1940 mAh. The iPaq's battery provided 4 hours, 58 minutes of talk-time in our lab tests--a poorer-than-average figure among recently tested PDA phones, though it's not unusual for 3G phones to have shorter battery lives than non-3G phones.

The iPaq 910c's design resembles that of the Palm Treo Pro to some extent: Both are glossy black, candy-bar handsets that sport hardware QWERTY keyboards. I give the HP the edge over the Palm for typing messages and e-mail because of its keyboard's superbly sculpted keys and the device's slightly greater width.

The phone's transmissive 320-by-240-pixel touch screen looks crisp and bright. It offers three navigation modes: via stylus (stored within the unit); via central navigation touchpad, surrounded by the usual complement of Windows mobile and phone control keys; and for easy single-handed operation, via a scroll wheel and an OK button on the right side of the unit. The button layout was clear, making the iPaq easy to use overall.

The iPaq 910 provides 128MB of RAM for running apps and 256MB of flash ROM, most of which will be occupied by operating-system and application files. Its microSD card slot lets users add storage for images, music, documents, applications, and so on. Unfortunately, the unit supports cards with a capacity of no greater than 4GB--a serious limitation when you consider that the iPhone is sold in 8GB and 16GB configurations.

In my hands-on experience, the quality of audio and video playback was acceptable. But because HP's headset connects to its mini-USB port you have fewer options if you aren't happy with the quality. A bigger perk: HP's 3-megapixel still/video camera had several brightness controls and a built-in flash, and it produced pleasing pictures.

The iPaq 910c comes with GPS-assist software to help it get fixes faster--plus Google Maps, which can use GPS to show your location (but does not provide turn-by-turn voice navigation). HP's site posts a link to an offer for CoPilot Live 7 software and maps on a 2GB microSD card for $80 (I did not test this).

HP's enterprise focus is apparent from its software bundle, which includes various applications for security, remote control (for demanding IS departments), mobile printing, using the device as a modem, and viewing PDFs (on top of Windows Mobile's pared-down Office apps). I was impressed by HP's voice recognition software, too: It supports a number of command and control functions beyond voice dialing.

I would definitely recommend the HP to hard-core business users who can benefit from its enterprise software--as long as they can live with its expansion-card limitations.

This story, "Product review: HP iPaq 910c Business Messenger smartphone" was originally published by PCWorld.

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