REVIEW: HP iPaq 5450

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The HP iPaq 5450 is a release that builds upon the successful form factor and functionality of the 3900 iPaq series.  In fact, if we step back to 2000 and the release of the 3600 series iPaq we’ll see that the iPaq 5450 is indeed just a next step in the evolution of the high-end iPaq series.  Having said that, the extra features introduced with the iPaq 5450 are probably greater than any step in iPaq evolution we’ve seen in the past.  Here’s a run down of some of those new features:

 Built in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.
 Biometric fingerprint security using built-in fingerprint scanner.
 Removable/Replaceable slim battery.
 USB Charging option.
 Vibrating alarm.
 Internal backup battery (to allow for battery swap while device is in standby)
 Graphics accelerator

The cost of buying into these new features is going to set you back $700.00.  HP is not expecting a large amount of individual consumers to purchase this PDA though, it is absolutely designed and priced to be an enterprise type of device.  HP placed the biometric security feature in as a selling point to government agencies and corporations with employees that place sensitive data on their PDAs, not as a cool feature for the everyday Joe to have just because it’s neat.  Having said that, if you’re the type of person that has to have the latest and greatest in technology then the iPaq 5450 is the right PDA to get, but can you justify spending $700 for this?  In this review I will cover all the features and functions of the 5450 that will allow you to make this decision.

In the box:

 

Here’s a picture of the box and then the box and it’s contents and a list of what you’ll get with the iPaq 5450:

 iPaq 5450 Pocket PC
 Cradle for synching via USB or Serial, charging device.
 AC Adaptor for charging iPaq (dongle included for charging outside of cradle)
 Slip case with protective screen cover
 Two styli
 Getting started manual
 CD with software for iPaq 5450, ActiveSync & Microsoft Outlook 2000 for desktop.

Form Factor & Buttons:

If you’re a stickler for small size then the iPaq 5450 might not be the right PDA for you.  With all the functionality that comes with the 5450 the trade off is that the size and weight of the device is one of the highest for any PDA on the market.  The exact weight of the device comes in at 7.26 ounces (206 grams) and the dimensions of the device register at 5.43″ x 3.30″ x 0.63″ (length x width x depth).  These measures are taken without the protective slip cover that comes with the iPaq.  One thing the 5450 has going for it as far as size goes is that the sleek curvy design doesn’t actually make it look that big.  In fact, the iPaq is slightly longer and wider than the Dell Axim (5.1x 3.2 x 0.7 in.) but due to the Axim’s more blocky look the iPaq looks smaller at a first glance.  This is of course a tribute to the nice design of the iPaq, it really is quite a sleek looking device.

The dimensions on the iPaq are bigger, but the right curves make it look smaller than the Axim

The layout of the iPaq 5450 is definitely much like the previous iPaq 3900 line, but the engineers at HP have had to move things around and change button sizes to accommodate some of the new features.  For instance, the biometric reader is located just below the D-pad, and to make room for this reader the D-pad has shrunk in size. 

The oval button has been rounded off and shrunk, that little slit below it is the finger reader

The iPaq used to have an oval style button, now it is a much smaller and round button.  Some will be disappointed that the button size has reduced, but I found the new smaller style button is actually more responsive than with former iPaq models.  Still, my fingers are fairly small and if you have larger fingers then you might not go for the smaller size D-pad.  The headphone jack has also migrated to the bottom of the iPaq from where it used to be on the top of the device.  This is unfortunate; I much prefer the headphone out jack on the top so the device can be in a case or my pocket and remain easy to plug headphones into.  Using an old iPaq case will not have a hole in the bottom to allow access to this jack, so you’ll have to find a case designed specifically for the 5450 (this is also necessitated by the addition of the antennae, so you’d have needed a new case anyway if upgrading from an older iPaq).  On the plus side, the jack provides for audio-in via a microphone, an unusual feature for PDAs, this is definitely a nice feature if you ever want to use voice recognition applications or VoiceOver IP.  The built-in microphone on the iPaq has also moved from previous versions.  There are now two openings for the microphone located on the bottom left front side of the face and on the bottom.  The out speaker is located at the top of the iPaq.

Another great addition to the H5450 is a hardware volume control rocker button. This control is located where the voice record button used to be.  Pushing the plus sign increases the volume, minus decreases volume, and pushing down in the middle will activate the voice record feature.

volume control rocker button

The most obvious form change to the iPaq is of course that little hump on the left hand side at the top.  This is of course the antennae for improved radio signal reception for the Wi-Fi feature of the iPaq.  The black hat’ style look at the top of the iPaq has been extended to sort of integrate the look of the antennae into the device and also hide the speaker, overall this works well, but some say the black hat give the 5450 an alien-like look!

Processor:

The H5450 uses Intel’s PXA250 400MHz processor.  Software out there now will allow you to overclock the chip to 600 MHz, but 400 MHz should suffice for any application a business user will be running — and keep you within your warranty ;-).  Many Pocket PC devices on the market use this chip.  Don’t expect to see faster performance than the 3900 version of the iPaq, benchmarks show that the 5450 performs about on par in terms of speed with its 3900 predecessor and other devices with the same chip.  The H5450 does have a graphics accelerator, a first for iPaqs.

Battery:

Behold, an iPaq with a removable battery!

The battery is always a big consideration with the purchase of a PDA.  Nobody wants to deal with a device that has a short-lived battery, but that is a major concern with a device such as the 5450 that has features such as Wi-Fi requiring more power to operate.  Wi-Fi will definitely eat through your battery if you’re using it, here’s some battery life statistics to show this:

Full brightness, wireless features off:

Time running before very low battery warning:  3 hours, 5 minutes

Time running before complete shut down: 3 hours, 34 minutes

Full brightness, wireless features on:

Time running before very low battery warning:   1 hour, 43 minutes 

Time running before complete shut down:   2 hours, 8 minutes

To answer battery concerns HP has finally given users what they really want — a replaceable battery.  I love this feature and think it’s great that so many other manufacturers are moving towards this as well.  The battery is easy to swap in and out of the iPaq when needed.  HP provides a 3.7V Lithium-Polymer rechargeable battery running at 1,350 mAh.  You can buy an extra one of these from HP for $80 and an extended battery (2,500 mAh) that will soon be available for $130. With this extended battery you get almost twice the battery life but cannot use iPaq expansion packs.

The iPaq also comes with an internal backup battery’.  This is slightly misleading though because if your main battery dies you don’t exactly have hours to depend on this battery to save what’s in RAM, instead this battery is designed to allow you to swap out batteries from the iPaq while the device is in stand-by mode.  The backup battery’ is probably better to be called a bridge battery’ since it really only lasts long enough to allow a user to switch out the main batteries when needed.

Memory & Expansion:

The iPaq 5450 comes with 64 MB RAM and 48 MB of ROM, this is a nice amount but not extraordinary by any means since former iPaq devices and many other manufacturer’s PDAs have these memory stats.  I wonder what price point it takes to crack the 64 MB RAM amount, $1000?  If you need more than the memory provided on board then utilize the SD expansion slot of the iPaq (located on top) to store files and applications of up to 512 MB in size by purchasing that capacity SecureDigital card.  In September we’ll see a 1 GB SD card from Panasonic, so your memory storage needs should be taken care of by that.  The SD slot on the H5450 is also SDIO compatible, so you’ll be able to add on accessories via this slot.  Many SDIO cards such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and FM radio cards are either on the market or hitting it soon.  If you wish to purchase the expansion sleeve for the iPaq you’ll be able to use CompactFlash as a memory or accessory expansion slot — this will support further add-ons such as GPS and 1 GB microdrives.

Software:

The iPaq series has long been known to come with the best software selection of any Pocket PC on the market and the iPaq 5450 only builds on that.  Here’s a list of some of the applications that come bundled with the iPaq:

Included in the ROM (HP exclusive applications onboard the device):

 iPAQ Fingerprint Reader: enhanced security
 iPAQ File Store: non-volatile storage in flash ROM
 iPAQ Task Manager: access and launch programs easily
 iPAQ Backup: utility for Backup/Restore to Main Memory, Memory Card, or iPAQ File Store
 iPAQ Image Viewer: view images and create slide shows
 Nevo: Universal Remote Control
 Adjustable Standby Settings: Utility for adjusting power conservation modes, Utilities:
 Self Test, Expansion pack, iPAQ Audio, Power Status

Full version applications on included CD:
 Jeode Java Virtual Machine
 Macromedia Flash Player*
 Quick View Plus
 FileCrypto Data Encryption
 Colligo
 Bust’em game
 SuperScape interactive game
 Adobe PDF Viewer
 RealOne Player for Pocket PC
 iPresenter PowerPoint converter
 Pocket Watch World Clock

Trial version applications on included CD:
 Xcellenet Device Management Agent
 Wordlogic Predictive Keyboard
 Eletel Messaging Software
 Margi Presenter-to-Go (requires purchase of additional hardware)
 Ewallet
 ListPro

Operating System (Pocket PC 2002) applications:
 Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Voice Recorder, Notes, Pocket Word (with Spellchecker), Pocket Excel, Pocket Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player 8 (MP3, audio and video streaming), Calculator, Solitaire, Inbox (with Spell Checker for email), Microsoft Reader (eBooks), File Explorer, MSN Messenger, Terminal Services Client, VPN Client, Infrared Beaming, Clock, Align Screen, File Explorer, Memory, Volume control

There’s more than just that, but you get the point.  I will mention that the iPaq 5450 comes with a couple of great applets for managing the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.  Here’s a couple of screenshots as to how that looks.

Wi-Fi Settings Applet

Bluetooth Settings Applet

The WLan software allows you to store WiFi settings for different networks in a profile, and then switching between profiles (networks) is as simple as selecting your network from a dropdown.  Setting up a partnership with a t68i was a breeze using the Bluetooth management applet.  This applet also allows you to store profiles and switch them.  You are able to turn on and off the Bluetooth and WiFi features via these applets, if you’re not using either and want to conserve battery then this is a good idea — especially the wi-fi.

Screen:

The iPAQ 5450 comes with a 16-bit transflective color display.  This screen can display 65,536 different colors, which is of course pretty typical for Pocket PCs these days. The stand-out factor for the screen on this device is its remarkable brightness, the only device that I think might give a brighter display is the iPaq 1910 — I love the display on that little device.  The iPaq 5450 screen is more advanced in a couple of ways though, the screen on the 5450 is larger than the 1910 screen, and bigger than many other Pocket PC’s screen for that matter.  The usual size for a Pocket PC screen is 3.5″ diagonal but the 5450 will give you 3.8″ of diagonal viewing real estate.  The iPaq 5450 will also sense lighting levels and adjust it’s brightness accordingly.  The colors displayed on this TFT screen are rich and the blacks appear black and not indigo as some devices tend to do.

tweak your brighness levels very finely, or let the 5450 do things for you

Security:

I don’t usually cover security when reviewing a PDA, but HP has pushed this feature to the forefront with the addition of the biometric finger print reader.  When the user activates and enters their own fingerprint as the devices password protection (you can still use the standard password protection, or combine it with fingerprint recognition for double the security) then only that user can access the device and get the data.  It is true that if somebody wants to steal the 5450 and kill the batteries or do a hard reset then they can get into the device, but all data will have been lost at that point so if it were sensitive data they’re after then they’re out of luck.  Of course, you’re out of luck and $700 too.  I think the point to make here is that this feature is absolutely targeted at the enterprise user.  Companies or government agencies that want to empower their employees with handheld computers will buy the iPaq 5450 so they know the data can be easily and securely protected.  For instance, some police departments are using handheld computers to collect data in the field for each arrest or ticket issued.  Making sure that information is kept confidential and secure is important, so the 5450 would certainly appeal to such an organization.

Train yourself until you can swipe that finger perfectly!

The important thing with the fingerprint reader is that it really is pretty easy to use after doing the initial tutorials on how to swipe your finger.  You must take a tutorial and pass the test in which you get 7 out of 10 successful finger swipes before the device allows you to use the fingerprint protection.  There’s a certain technique you must use when running your finger along the reader, and until you get used to it you’ll get quite a few unsuccessful finger swipes.  So it is certainly good the 5450 forces you to take a tutorial and become a good finger swiper’ before enabling the biometric security.  Personally I love this feature since it’s so much easier than typing in a password or trying to remember which password I protected a device with.  The something you carry with you’ security that isn’t stored in your head but right on your finger is a good thing!

Conclusion:

The bottom line on the iPaq 5450 is that it packages together the most features of any PDA on the market (Until the Sony CLIE NZ90 is released next week that is!).  It’s absolutely choc-a-bloc with features and software.  But there aren’t too many people out there that will be looking to spend $700 on a device, and that’s quite understandable.  This device really is aimed at the enterprise or small business user and HP has told us themselves this is exactly where they have their sites targeted.  But if you really insist on having one of the better screens for any PDA, the best software, the most built-in wireless options, superb looking design and excellent speed and performance then go ahead and lay your money on the table for the iPaq 5450, because you will get all that.

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