Thumbs Up for HP’s Pocket PC

For many people, writing with a stylus is a lesson in frustration. You can put in hours trying to master your PDA penmanship and still be stymied by a device’s hit-or-miss ability to recognize your handwriting.

If that scenario sounds all too familiar, the Hewlett-Packard’s iPAQ h4355 may just be the Pocket PC for you. Building off HP’s successful iPAQ line, the h4355 adds a thumb-keyboard so that you can write e-mail and notes with a familiar typewriter-style input, similar to that of the popular Blackberry..

But its keyboard isn’t the only feature that makes the h4355 stand out. It also has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth along with a better-than-average battery. Busy business travelers are sure to like it, since it’s made for those who need to keep in touch while on the go.

Can You Spell QWERTY?

The h4355 is the first Pocket PC to have a built-in keyboard, joining the Palm Tungsten C &#151 the only other PDA to have one. HP did it right though, giving the keyboard the familiar QWERTY layout and making the keys rounded and slightly raised for easy use.

We especially like the built-in backlighting that turns on with the click of a button. You can type away in a dimly lit commuter train or while waiting for a movie to start. Palm’s Tungsten C doesn’t offer a backlight keyboard.

The keyboard includes a number pad section and a few handy buttons like the one that opens the Start menu. After a little practice, you’ll be inputting at least as fast as with a stylus.

To accommodate the keyboard, the h4355 measures a bit longer than other PDAs on the market: 5.4-inches long by 2.9-inches wide and 0.6-inches deep. It also weighs in at 5.8 oz. Whether or not the extra bulk bothers you is a personal thing, but we found it a tad uncomfortable in a pocket, especially when housed in the included slipcase.

The case, by the way, may be the least attractive case we’ve ever seen. Its rough texture has all the charm of a burlap sack, and it doesn’t even have a simple belt clip, so it’s only good for preventing scratches. You’ll find yourself looking for a replacement immediately, but since the h4355 is longer than most PDAs, you can’t just use any generic case.

Going Wireless

Since the h4355 includes both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, you can easily connect to the Internet or to any Bluetooth device wirelessly. A program called iPAQ Wireless (you’ll find it in the Start menu) lets you open and close both features, and you can turn them on independently of each other to save battery life. When Bluetooth is on, a light on the top left side of the unit blinks blue, and when Wi-Fi is on the same light blinks green. Both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi worked well in our testing, letting us go online or connect to a Bluetooth printer with no problem. Unlike most wireless units, the h4355 doesn’t have an external antenna, although its wireless range is still strong enough to accommodate a roaming worker.

The HP iPAQ 4350

The iPAQ 4350 offers a QWERTY keyboard, not a stylus, for inputting data &#151 we say it’s about time.

More Bells And Whistles

Four programmable buttons above the mini-keyboard launch your calendar, contacts, e-mail and iTask, an HP utility that opens a small window in the lower right corner of your screen and displays all the currently running applications. Since the Windows Mobile 2003 OS leaves programs running, even after you close the application onscreen, iTask offers a quick way to see which programs are still on. It also offers quick access to system controls and brightness settings.

The h4355 also has a voice recorder button on the top left side, a headphone jack and a Secure Digital card slot (that can also take Multimedia Cards) on the top. A thumb dial would have been a nice addition, especially for browsing through long Web pages.

Powered by a 400-MHz Intel XScale PXA255 processor and 64MB RAM, the h4355 is plenty fast. It was the fastest Pocket PC processor available when the unit debuted, but the speed limit has already been raised by a few hundred megahertz. The screen is only a 3.5-inch, 240 by 320 pixel display, which is small compared to others on the market, but it’s capable of 64,000 colors and produced good color saturation in our testing.

We like the h4355’s docking station, which not only connects to your PC, but also charges a spare battery (available separately) while you power up your PDA. The battery’s slightly larger than standard, and it holds a bit more charge. We got over four hours even with some wireless use. Add a spare battery, and you’ll be typing and tapping away for an entire workday.

Sorting out the Software

In addition to the previously mention iTask, the software bundle includes Pocket PC essentials like pocket versions of Word, Excel, Messenger, and MSN, as well as Microsoft Reader. Other iPAQ extras, such as iPAQ Backup &#151 a utility for backing up and restoring to the main memory or memory card &#151 and iPAQ Image Zone for viewing pictures and creating slide shows. Image Zone also lets you attach sounds or voice notes to pictures, giving you an easy way to create a simple presentation on your handheld. You also get the usual contact and calendar tools and a few time-killing games.

One drawback to the h4355 is that it was introduced before Microsoft Windows Mobile 20003 Second Edition was released, so it still runs Windows Mobile 2003 Premium. That means the user misses out on the niceties of the updated OS, including the ability to view the screen sideways (in landscape mode) or the option to have Internet Explorer rearrange Web pages into one long column. The new OS may not have any must-have features, but they still make the over all experience easier.

The Bottom Line

Although the keyboard is the first thing you’ll notice with the HP iPAQ h4355, it has great features and provides a lot of value for its $449.99 price tag. If you never warmed up to a stylus and you’re looking for a powerful Pocket PC for real business tasks, the h4355 is an excellent choice.

Adapted from

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