HP's iPaq 914c Business Messenger is a Windows Mobile handset designed primarily for email and messaging, and is thus a potential rival for RIM's BlackBerry models. When used in conjunction with new management tools from Microsoft, the iPaq could prove to be a worthy challenger to the RIM device.
Shipping since early July, the iPaq 914c is almost exactly the same size as RIM's BlackBerry 8000 series, and just a tad larger than the BlackBerry Curve models. However, it is heavier than either of these at 154g, which HP puts down to a larger than standard battery pack to give users a long time between charges while on the road. It is also quite chunky, especially when compared with Nokia's slimline E71 handset.
Like many current smartphones, the new iPaq supports GSM, 3G/HSDPA cellular connections up to 7.2Mbit/s, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, and has built-in GPS capability for navigation. However, the iPaq 914c is the first device we have seen to ship with Windows Mobile 6.1, the latest version of Microsoft's handset platform.
With its qwerty keyboard, the iPaq bears more than a passing resemblance to a BlackBerry, and HP has in fact borrowed one feature that users of older BlackBerry models will be pleased to see; a thumbwheel on the side of the device, which makes it easy to scroll through emails while holding the unit in one hand.
The iPaq also has a five-way navigator control and a stylus-driven t ouch-screen, so the user is not short of control options. You can dial phone numbers using an on-screen keypad or the physical keys, for example.
For messaging purposes, the keyboard is one of the most important aspects of a mobile handset. The iPaq 914c has rather small keys with a curved top, but we found we could enter text at a reasonable – if not very fast – pace. BlackBerry-using colleagues that we showed the device to said they found the keyboard better than expected, but preferred that of the BlackBerry Curve, which has a distinct gap between adjacent keys.
The screen on the iPaq 914c looks small for the size of the device, but at 2.46in is almost identical in size to that of the BlackBerry Curve, and has the same resolution at 320x240 pixels. Text, however, does appear a little small for easy reading.
Just below the screen are a cluster of buttons, including the standard red and green call/hang up phone keys, plus context-sensitive buttons, a Windows menu key, and shortcuts to the calendar and email.
Windows Mobile 6.1 introduces a number of enhancements, but these are not immediately apparent on the iPaq 914c. Its home screen looks pretty much the same as many handsets we have seen with Windows Mobile 6.0, for example.
One noticeable change is that SMS texts are now displayed as threaded conversations in the messaging inbox, so that users can see messages they have sent to colleagues and the responses in chronological order. Also new is a Getting Started Center to help setup features such as email accounts and pairing the handset with Bluetooth devices. However, this simply follows the format of a Help file entry, and we found it to be of little value.
For corporate IT departments, Windows Mobile 6.1 holds out the promise of better security and management, at least when used in conjunction with new Microsoft server products.
System Center Mobile Device Manager (MDM), for example, joins mobile devices to the corporate domain and brings them under the control of Active Directory policies set by the IT department. According to Microsoft, policies can govern which applications users are allowed to run, enable or disable specific hardware features, and remotely deploy applications.
Potentially, this means that Windows Mobile 6.1 handsets such as the iPaq 914c could have a level of management control akin to that of BlackBerry devices. However, like the BlackBerry, this control comes at the expense of licensing and deploying extra servers on the corporate network in addition to the Exchange groupware server. HP also has its own Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) for managing mobile devices.
Windows Mobile 6.1 also brings some enhancements to the Internet Explorer browser, such as the ability to zoom in and out of pages. However, we found that it still does not render web sites as well as other mobile browsers such as Opera's Java-based Opera Mini, which we downloaded and installed for comparison purposes.
We tested the iPaq 914c using a 3G SIM supplied by Vodafone, and were able to get an HSDPA connection for much of the time we browsed the web. This gave reasonable download speeds, although obviously not as fast as when we connected to a Wi-Fi access point.
The iPaq 914c also features GPS capability, the primary use of which is likely to be navigation. The handset comes with Google Maps built-in, but an optional HP iPaq Trip Guide Kit provides real-time turn-by-turn directions.
As well as Assisted GPS (A-GPS), which uses information from the cellular network to speed up the time to first fix, HP provides a software tool that can download satellite ephemeris data from the internet. Nevertheless, we found that the iPaq still took several minutes to get an initial fix on our location.
As part of Windows Mobile 6.1, the iPaq 914c ships with Office Mobile 6.1, the latest version of Microsoft's mobile productivity tools. In addition to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, this includes a mobile version of OneNote.
However, these applications now save documents by default in the OOXML file formats used by Office 2007. While they can open documents created by versions of Office up to 2003, they cannot save in this format. As the majority of businesses still run older versions of Office on the desktop, this could lead to interoperability problems when sending documents to colleagues.
Other applications include Google Search; HP's Printsmart Mobile, used for sending documents to a printer via Bluetooth or a network connection; a Remote Desktop client; and Voice Commander for controlling functions of the phone by voice.
The iPaq 914c is based on a 416MHz PXA270 processor with 128MB RAM and 256MB Flash ROM. The handset has a slot on the left side of the case for SD Card Flash storage, next to a mini-USB connector for charging the battery and linking to a PC. Both are protected by rubberised covers. A three megapixel camera is at the rear of the device.
HP quotes the battery life of the iPaq 914c as up to four hours talk time and up to 10 days or 250 hours on standby. This figure seems rather low, considering the 1940mAh battery pack, which is one of the largest we have seen on a mobile handset, and in fact HP said that this figure includes the talk time users can expect to get while using other features of the device as well. In our tests, we used the iPaq 914c for the best part of a week before needing to recharge it.