We've waited a long time to get our hands on the HP iPaq hw6900 series. Though Hewlett-Packard first unveiled it at the 3GSM World Congress back in February, it wasn't until late October that HP and Cingular announced the official availability of the Windows Mobile smart phone. Was it worth the wait?
Well, sort of. With an integrated GPS receiver, the iPaq hw6900 sets itself apart from its competitors by doubling as a handheld GPS device supporting Cingular's new location-based service. In addition, it offers Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a full suite of productivity apps, making it a road warrior's dream. However, it's not all that dreamy.
Though we appreciate the full QWERTY keyboard, the buttons are tiny, so we often pressed the wrong key and the 240x240-pixel-resolution screen pales in comparison with other smart phones we've tested. In addition, all that functionality seemed to take a toll on the device's responsiveness, and it doesn't support Cingular's HSPDA network like the recently launched Cingular 8525 does.
Yet overall, the smart phone performs its primary functions well. The HP iPaq hw6900 series consist of four models: the HP iPaq hw6925 and the cameraless iPaq hw6920 are available through Cingular for a pricey $359.99 with a two-year contract, or you can get the unlocked hw6945 or hw6940 (no camera) directly through HP for $599.99. For our review, we used the HP iPaq hw6945.
The design of the HP iPaq hw6900 series has not changed much from the hw6500 series. It retains that PDA-like form factor, which is to say that it's a bit blocky (4.6x2.8x0.7 inches) and heavy (6.3 ounces) for a phone. Though it's not any bigger than the Nokia E62 or Palm Treo 700wx, if you haven't used a Pocket PC phone before, its wider body might require some acclimation when using it as a phone.
On the other hand, there are some advantages to the larger size. The first benefit is a nice, wide display. The iPaq hw6900 series features a 3-inch diagonal touch-screen that displays 64,000 colors. The extra real estate makes it better for viewing Web pages. The touch screen is responsive, but the 240x240 pixel resolution isn't as sharp as some of the other Windows Mobile smart phones we've reviewed recently, such as the Cingular 8525. The display is still readable in direct sunlight, however, and HP includes an attachable plastic flip cover to protect the screen from scratches. There is a small status-LED above the screen that illuminates different colors for wireless connections and battery status. To the right of the LED is the power button, and the stylus holder is on top of the unit.
Another perk of having a larger phone is that HP was able to fit in a full QWERTY keyboard for easy messaging. Now, while the iPaq hw6900's round keys are brightly backlit (much improved over its predecessor) and seem well-spaced, they are so tiny that our thumbs often covered two buttons, and so we had to be very careful to press the right key. That said, we give a slight edge (and we mean slight) to the hw6900 series over the Treo 700wx because of the extra spacing between the keys. Above the QWERTY keyboard are two soft keys, a small joystick, and the Talk and End buttons for making calls. For dialing phone numbers, you can use either the spacious onscreen virtual dial pad or the number keys that share space with the letters on the right half of the QWERTY keyboard. The latter are highlighted in black for easy identification.
On the left spine is a volume slider and a camera activation key, while the camera lens, flash, and self-portrait mirror are on the back of the unit. To store all those photos, you'll of course need plenty of memory, so there is a mini-SD expansion slot on the right spine of the hw6900 series. Finally, there is a 2.5mm headset jack, a connector port, and a reset hole on the bottom of the device.
The HP iPaq hw6900 series improves upon the iPaq hw6515/hw6510 in several ways. First, it's powered by a higher-speed 416MHz Intel PXA270 processor (compared to 312MHz) and runs the latest Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC Phone Edition. This version has the full Microsoft Office Mobile suite for viewing and editing Word and Excel documents and opening PowerPoint presentations. In addition, you get the standard set of PIM tools--calendar, contacts, notes, and tasks--and other useful utilities, such as a software download manager, a voice recorder, and a Today Panel Lite app, which installs a convenient toolbar on your Today screen to indicate battery life, backlight setting, and available memory. Speaking of which, the hw6900 series comes with 64MB SDRAM for running applications and 45MB user accessible memory. For even more storage space, there's also a mini-SD card expansion slot.