HP iPAQ RX4240

Like the offspring of a futuristic pager and an mp3 player, HP’s new iPAQ might change the way you think about PDAs.

There’s a strange phenomenon in technology where the original model of a device becomes the template for the foreseeable future simply because we psychologically adopt its form. With a little effort we can break out of that mindset and both devise and use familiar tools in striking new packages, something the iPAQ RX4240 achieves.

At 65x100mm, it’s smaller than the footprints of the old Pocket PC and Palm designs. Looking like it could have been designed by Apple, the clean front face has only the full colour 50x60mm LCD screen. The rest of the casing sports only a scroll wheel, four shortcut buttons and the power and connectivity ports. One of the buttons reorients the display between horizontal and vertical, giving you another dimension in an already high level of user-friendliness.

With a sleek silver chassis and a pleasing shape, it feels extremely comfortable in your hand while you tap away with the stylus.

Unlike most PDAs, the iPAQ has a good quality music player. It’s accessible through the operating system and the scroll wheel doubles as the volume control. The single speaker on the unit is enough to sound your calendar reminders but you’ll need headphones to play music with any serious listening intent. With 100Mb onboard memory, it’s not going to replace a 60Gb mp3 player, but the memory card slot makes it as expandable as you can afford.

With the Windows Mobile operating system, the iPAQ comes with every possible business application you could ever need, everything from office tools to games, media tools to LAN management. Syncing your contacts, calendar and email data via cable or Bluetooth is simple using Microsoft’s ActiveSync software, but like most devices without a keyboard, you’re limited in managing email. It’s handy to read them on the road, but with only the tiny onscreen virtual keyboard writing emails is an exercise in torturous dexterity.

You could attach a Bluetooth keyboard, but the iPAQ has no push email capability like you’d find in a Blackberry, so it’s not until you next connect to your PC that any emails you write will be sent anyway.

The battery life is very good. After a short charging period the unit was only down 40% capacity after nearly a week of use, thanks to a default auto shutdown of about a minute. Even more helpful, the Windows Mobile start screen shows you how much capacity you have left in both your battery and onboard memory.

If the iPAQ has one drawback, it’s the lack of a phone. That sounds like a strange gripe about a PDA, but there are simply too many smartphones around that do the same thing and more. Most business users who can afford the $1000 plus price tag for the premier smartphone models like the Palm Treo aren’t likely to look twice at the iPAQ.

But there is a place for it among users who have a rudimentary phone without all the data features, or who simply want a serious calendar, contacts and data manager. If you’re one of those, the price tag is just enough to make the iPAQ an attractive proposition in every sense of the word.

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