Dial, Shoot and Surf with HP's Latest iPAQ

Wednesday Apr 20th 2005 by Joseph Moran
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The iPAQ h6315 combines a phone and camera with two ways to surf the Web — GSM and Wi-Fi.

If you spend a lot of time out on the road and use a PDA (or plan to get one), you've probably considered buying a device that combines both phone and PDA functions. Here's something to think about before you buy — screen size matters.

Smartphones that evolved from cell phones have extremely small screens whereas PDAs that morphed into smartphones offer more screen real estate. People accustomed to a (relatively) large PDA display or even notebook screen may find the smaller devices unappealing

If you fall into that category, you'll appreciate the HP iPAQ hc6315. At first glance, the Windows Mobile 2003-based h6315 (with it's 3.5-inch, 65K-color, TFT display) looks a lot like a typical full-size PDA, but its digital arsenal also includes both a GSM mobile phone and a digital camera.

The Basics
Although most high-end PDAs now include 128MB of RAM, the h6315 comes with only 64MB of RAM, which is more or less standard for Windows PDAs.

About 55MB of that goes toward applications and data, and a 20MB iPAQ File Store (non-volatile storage set aside in the system's ROM) provides supplemental storage. The iPAQ comes with a side-mounted SD slot that accommodates a memory card, so you can further expand capacity.

The h6315 is just about the same size (4.68 x 2.95 x .73 inches) as conventional Windows-based PDAs that lack phone or camera capability — impressive for a device that seemingly offers everything but the kitchen sink.

At 6.7 ounces, though, it weighs an ounce or two more than most similarly sized handhelds. Admittedly, the slightly bulky h6315 won't slip into a shirt or pants pocket like a phone-sized device would, but that's the price you pay for the iPAQ's larger display. The h6315 comes with an aesthetically and functionally adequate clip-on leather case with magnetic latch.

The h6315's Lithium-ion battery provides up to five hours of talk time and up to five days on standby. You can charge the h6315 (and synchronize data) with the included dock, which provides a slot to charge an extra battery.

Phone and Wireless Data
With its broad and unconventional design (by phone standards, anyway), the h6315 takes a bit of getting used to, but most people should acclimate quickly. To place a phone call, a press of a button on the h6315's front panel brings the phone application to the fore.

Although you can use the stylus to key numbers into the on-screen dial pad, you can easily press the large buttons with your finger without incorrectly dialed or missed keys. The h6315 also features a speakerphone function.


HPiPAQh6315

When you want to access the Internet with Internet Explorer, the h6315 gives you two choices. If you have access to a Wi-Fi signal, you can get online via built-in 802.11b. Otherwise, you can do it from the cellular carrier's network through GRPS (General Radio Packet Service).

The 56-114 kbps throughput is only a fraction of what you'll typically get from Wi-Fi, so you'll spend much more time waiting for pages to load. On the flip side, GRPS doesn't rely on the proximity of a hotspot or other Wi-Fi connection.

The h6315 supports both 115kbps IrDA (Infrared) and Bluetooth for wireless synchronization, connecting to printers, and in the case of Bluetooth, wireless headsets. (HP includes a garden-variety wired earbud in the box.)

A Real Keyboard
For inputting text data, the h6315 provides the standard Windows Mobile methods, like using the stylus to peck at an on-screen keyboard (less than efficient), or scrawl characters for the unit to recognize (less than accurate). As an alternative to these forms of input, however, HP includes an external snap-on keyboard, which you can quickly and easily connect when needed. The keyboard provides a QWERTY layout with embedded numeric keypad, and it fits over the h6315's built-in front panel buttons (as a result, it necessarily replicates the talk and hang-up buttons.)

Most people will find the keyboard module easy to use and far superior to the stylus for text input. With the keyboard attached, the hc6315's length grows by less than an inch, but that's long enough so that the iPAQ won't fit into its carrying case.

Not Quite Pixel-Perfect
Like most phones with integrated cameras, the h6315's sub-megapixel resolution (0.3, to be precise, resulting in 640 x 480 pictures) can't hold a candle to even the most basic stand-alone digital camera. The lack of a built-in flash (along with the inability to record motion video) also somewhat limits the camera utility. However, the h6315 produced adequate snapshots for situations where image detail is not paramount, particularly outdoors or in brightly-lit situations.

Despite of the technical limitations, snapping photos with the h6315 is certainly easy. A press of a button on the lower-right edge of the unit invokes the camera mode and converts the entire display into a landscape-mode viewfinder. (You use the same button to take pictures.)


HP

Bundled Software
The small-business person can't subsist on hardware alone, and the h6315 includes a stable of applications that should help enhance your productivity when on the road.

Like all Windows Mobile devices, the h6315 offers pint-sized versions of Microsoft Office applications like Word, Excel and Outlook to manage e-mail, contacts and schedules. You can use the h6315 to access your own POP or IMAP e-mail account as well as a wireless e-mail account provided by T-Mobile.

To satisfy your urge to chat, you can use a quartet of instant messaging clients — AIM, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo. HP's Image Zone makes it easy to view snapshots stored on the device, and you'll also find two utilities that let you view PDF documents and PowerPoint presentations.

Pricing and Availability
Purchasing the iPAQ h6315 directly from HP's Web site will set you back a hefty $599, which is about as much as you can pay for a smartphone from any vendor these days. (Signing up for a T-Mobile account at the same time gets you a $100 mail-in rebate, and you can save the $100 up front if you buy the h6315 directly from T-Mobile.)

Service plans that provide 1000 "anytime" voice minutes — along with a wireless e-mail address and unlimited Internet access via GPRS — start at $79.99 a month. All plans also include a T-Mobile HotSpots account so you can take advantage of Wi-Fi connectivity in many public locations.

The Bottom Line
Whether you're shopping for a PDA, phone or combination device, you have quite a few choices. The h6315 is by no means svelte, but it does offer phone and camera capabilities with a no-compromise PDA. As hi-tech gadgets go, the h6315 isn't necessarily the most stylish or trendy choice, but it saves you from having to carry two or three devices on your belt or in your bag.

Price: $499 with T-Mobile service plan; $599 without plan

• Pros: Combines phone and camera with full-size PDA; detachable keyboard aids with data input

• Cons: Pricey; not as light or compact as a typical mobile phone

Joe Moran spent six years as an editor and analyst with Ziff-Davis Publishing and several more as a freelance product reviewer. He's also worked in technology public relations and as a corporate IT manager, and he's currently principal of Neighborhood Techs, a technology service firm in St. Petersburg, FL. He holds several industry certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).

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