First Thoughts – HP iPaq hx4700

by Reads (21,801)

I’ve had the HP iPaq 4700 for about twelve hours, and I’ve got some first impressions about HP’s entry into the VGA PocketPC market.

The casing of the 4700 is an alloy of magnesium, dark grey in color, and very tough. Though magnesium casings tend to feel more like plastic than other metals, they remain extremely resistent to damage. The shape of the 4700 is very square, with its main concession to design being a certain top/bottom symmetry no doubt intended to make it more usable in landscape mode.

The 4700 is one of only a handful of PocketPCs on the market that use a VGA screen, offering four times the resolution–meaning four times the sharpness and clarity–of conventional QVGA screens. Many programs don’t yet fully support this, but they’re handled painlessly though pixel-doubling. The apps that do use it, however, look stunning. The difference between QVGA and VGA is like the difference between penciled sketches and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. VGA is so crisp, it makes the real world look fuzzy. The text is clearer than ever, making it easy to read anything off the screen, even for people who had trouble with it before. The screen is also physically larger, 4.0 inches diagonal, compared to the standard 3.5 inches for QVGA. This means more room for the resolution to really strut its stuff, though it also neccessitates a larger overall device size.

Of course, the 4700 doesn’t want to be outdone on any other grounds either. It features dual wireless, WiFi and Bluetooth 1.2, as well as dual expansion slots, CompactFlash Type 2 and SDIO. To power all this hungry hardware, it sports an 1800 milliamp-hour removable battery, with an option for a 3600 mAh extended battery. Both of the expansion slots are mounted dead center in the top of the unit. The 4700 also features a Fast IR, or FIR, port on the bottom of the device. FIR is as the name implies a faster infrared communication standard, capable of a theoretical 4 Mbits per second, considerably faster than the serial IR standard used in most PDAs that tops out at 115 Kbits/second. The location of the port does make infrared beaming a problem, though.

The 4700 features a rather unique directonal controller. Instead of a conventional directional controller, the 4700 uses a touch-sensitive pad similar to those found on laptops. Within about 30 minutes of opening the box, I had developed a passionate hatred of the touchpad. We can start with the fact that it’s almost impossible to use for actual directional control. At first, I couldn’t make it work right if my life depended on it. Eventually, I figured out the secret–you have to touch it very quickly, and very precisely. If you aren’t quick enough, it will register several presses. If you’re not precise enough, it will either register the wrong direction, or it will register two or three directions and become confused as to what you want to do. And, whatever you do, make sure not to accidently brush your finger against it, because it interprets this as a press and can completely screw up whatever you’re doing.

The touchpad also offers the option of using it in ‘cursor mode,’ which makes it the equivalent of a mouse pad on a laptop computer, used to move a mouse pointer around the iPaq’s screen. I assume that this is HP’s attempt at making the device usable with the flip cover down, but it just doesn’t make sense. Trying to do practically anything on the iPaq using only the cursor is an exercise in frustration. It’s inaccurate and so slow you might as well drop what you’re doing and pull out the stylus. I really think HP made a mistake using a touchpad on this thing. For crying out loud, you have a touch-sensitive screen a quarter inch above the pad. A little redundant, don’t you think?

Overall, the 4700 is nice but not perfect. It’s got a great screen, big battery, and tough casing at the expense of a bad navigational system, relatively large size, and high price.

Stay tuned, because we’ve got much more coming up in our full review of the iPaq 4700, including pictures, specs, benchmarks, and a complete rundown of everything else you want to know.

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