HP's Got-It-All Pocket PC Phone

By Gerry Blackwell | Posted November 30, 2004

The SMB owner or manager who needs to stay in contestant contact while on the road and away from the office might do well to consider the iPAQ h6315 Pocket PC from HP. It carries a hefty price, but then again, this device can take the place of a notebook PC.

The h6315 is an all wireless and all everything PDA/phone. It is an international quad band GSM /GPRS model with built-in Wi-Fi for linking to wireless LANs and hotspots, and Bluetooth for connecting to a wireless headset or sending documents to a Bluetooth-equipped printer. Did we mention it has a camera built in too?

Feature-Packed
HP packs all this and more into a unit that measures 4.6 x 2.9 x .70 inches and weighs 6.7 ounces. That's more than two ounces heavier than the Nokia 6620 smartphone and slightly bulkier too. But for the two ounces, you get a much bigger screen — a bright, clear 3.5-inch (240 x 320 pixels, 65,536 color) transflective LCD.

If you're accustomed to using a more conventional mobile phone for voice or a BlackBerry for wireless data and you're concerned about the Pocket PC's lack of a physical keyboard or keypad, rest easy. HP includes a tiny QWERTY keyboard that clips on the bottom of the unit. It's not quite as well designed as Blackberry keyboards — the keys are too small and close together and there's no thumb wheel — but it works reasonably well.

The typical broad, flat PDA form factor doesn't feel as natural as a sleek phone like the Nokia 6620 when you hold the thing to your ear to make a call, but you can get used to it. Or, if you prefer, use a wired or wireless headset. Besides, in our opinion, the pluses outweigh the minuses. This is a laptop replacement proposition. Who needs a computer when you've got one of these babies in your pocket?

Acronyms Worth Knowing
The h6315 runs Windows Mobile 2003 (Phone Edition) on Texas Instruments' OMAP 1510 processor. It includes pocket versions of Outlook, Word, Excel and Internet Explorer and comes with 64MB SDRAM, 64MB Flash ROM and has an integrated SDIO (Secure Digital Input/Output) card slot — a 1GB SD memory card will set you back less than $100.

I like the impressive physical design, particularly the well-labeled LEDs at the top of the front face beside the power button. They indicate the status of the GSM/GPRS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios, blinking orange when not connected green — or in the case of Bluetooth, blue — when working properly.


HP's iPAQ h6315 Pocket PC
Full View: The h6315's large screen makes it one of the best for browsing the Web.

The Internet, Send, End and e-mail buttons and the scroll wheel at the bottom of the front face are smaller than on previous Pocket PC models — but this helps make the h6315 shorter overall and also makes room for a bigger screen than early Pocket PCs.

The big problem with the h6315 is that it's available only on the T-Mobile network and costs $500 — twice the sticker price on the Nokia smartphone at the time we reviewed it — plus $80 to $110 a month for plans that provide 1,000 or 1,500 "whenever" minutes and unlimited e-mail. This is an expensive solution.

Battery life, specifically standby time, is another possible problem. Although we were not able to test it, HP claims the rechargeable Lithium-Ion (1800 mAh) is good for up to 5 hours talk time and up to 5.5 days of standby time. The talk time is actually slightly better than the Nokia 6620, at four hours, but it's not as good on standby time as either the Nokia or Blackberry at eight and nine days respectively.

Testing, Testing
In our testing on the Rogers and Fido GPRS networks in Canada — both are T-Mobile roaming partners — voice quality was generally good: clear, good volume, with minimal static and break-up. This was true even at my home office where connections to the Rogers network in particular have not always been strong. In fact, connections using the h6315 appeared to be stronger than with other devices tested here, though this is not scientific observation.

The camera has the usual 0.3 megapixel (640x480 pixel) sensor and a lens that is fixed-focal length (i.e. no optical zoom) and fixed focus (pictures are never absolutely razor sharp). It also has no flash.

These specs are fairly standard for camera phones, but they reduce the camera's utility to taking shots in favorable light that are good enough to use as memory aids or, in optimum conditions, to transmit visual information, such as the condition of a piece of broken-down machinery. The camera is of course also good for taking fun shots you can e-mail or send over the carrier's MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service).

The tiny camera lens is located at the top left on the rear surface of the unit. This means you can hold the PDA in a typical one-hand grip and not cover the lens with your fingers - always a nice feature. The HP Image Capture software uses most of the screen as a viewfinder, and it lets you adjust White Balance, Color, Compression and Resolution.

To take pictures, you can either tap the big on-screen shutter button or push the tiny button on the right edge of the unit.


h615 accessories
All Dressed Up: The h6315 with the attached keyboard and a range of other accessories.

The pictures we took with the h6315 in less than ideal lighting conditions tended to be fuzzy, noisy — i.e. with distortions produced in the compression process — and washed out looking, as might be expected. The trouble is, the ones we took in bright sunlight were not much better. The pictures were not as good as those we took with an add-on HP PDA camera reviewed earlier.

Of the three main PDA platforms — Palm, Pocket PC and Symbian — Pocket PC, with its generally superior screen, is probably the best for Web browsing. We tested Web browsing on the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) of Canadian T-Mobile roaming partner Fido. It was surprisingly quick at times, especially on WAP pages accessible from the T-Mobile home page loaded into the h6315's memory.

With the built-in Wi-Fi connectivity you can also browse the Web at high speed on a corporate or home WLAN connected to the Web, or at a hotspot. It worked well from the first time, connecting to my home office wireless LAN with minimal set-up hassles. Accessing pages designed for small screens was very zippy indeed. Accessing pages on the wider Web is naturally slower, and of course you'll have to use scroll bars to see everything on most pages.

The built-in Bluetooth radio was able to "pair" with two different Bluetooth devices I had on demand to test with it — a Logitech wireless headset and a keyboard — and it correctly detected the "services" offered by the headset, but would not actually connect to either. T-Mobile said that since everything was working fine up to the point of actually connecting, it must be a problem with the device.

A call to Logitech technical support yielded no joy. After 20 minutes of waiting on hold, I was told Logitech doesn't support the Windows Mobile 2003 operating system; so much for standards.

QWERTY, But Awkward
The clip-on keyboard looks like an after thought. It adds almost an inch to the length of the PDA and also increases the thickness of the unit at the bottom to about an inch — all in all, not terribly elegant. And to what end? It's easier by far to dial phone numbers using the on-screen keypad than it is to poke at the tiny round keys on the keyboard. (They're about 3/16th of an inch in diameter.)

I could generate text using the Pocket PC handwriting tools at about 20 words per minute or better without much practice. I doubt anyone could go faster on this keyboard and certainly not without long practice.

As a multimedia device, the h6315 more than holds its own against other devices. To my ears, it rivals dedicated digital music players for sound quality. And with a1GB SD memory card for less than $100, you can store a lot of digital music. It also does a reasonable job of playing downloaded video clips and streaming video when connected to the Net via the Wi-Fi network.

Bottom Line
The iPAQ h6315 isn't perfect, and it'll set you back a few bucks. Still, this is a solid contender if you're looking for an "ultimate" PDA phone — a device that can replace a PC but still fit in your pocket.

Adapted from smartphonetoday.com.

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