TDK Systems’ BluePAQ

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TDK Systems’ BluePAQ is a Bluetooth expansion pack, or sleeve, for Compaq iPAQ Pocket PCs, similar to Compaq’s Bluetooth sleeve. However, TDK seems to have taken some hints from GM’s SilverSlider concept, giving the BluePAQ smaller arms, a slimmer profile, and a transparent silver color scheme that matches the iPAQ perfectly. Plus, the sides are ribbed, providing a reassuring grip. Overall, it’s clearly more visually appealing than Compaq’s Bluetooth sleeve offerings..

However, the BluePAQ’s size isn’t much different, therefore, cases made for the iPAQ’s Compact Flash sleeve will also be a tad large. Fortunately, my favorite PielFrama case, while a bit loose, is useable.

I was initially puzzled by the absence of a status LED on the BluePAQ, but quickly discovered that this is built into the body of the unit, shining through the transparent right arm with an electric blue glow. Very impressive. However, a minor downside with the hardware construction presented itself when I tried to insert my CF card: the slot is oriented backwards. This could present a problem for some CF peripherals, but shouldn’t be a problem for memory cards.

Driver installation is automatic: slip on the sleeve (a somewhat tight fit) and you will be prompted to install the drivers from the BluePAQ’s own memory — no Activesync required. The process is brief and painless, and ready to use within seconds. Handily, the BluePAQ has its own memory — for the drivers, obviously, but some space is also left for corporate driver customization (Tactel also produces a version of this sleeve with a SmartCard reader just behind the CF card) — or, a little user Storage area for important documents.

The software implementation is elegant to say the least. Within the Contacts application of the OS are two new options: Dial Contact and Send SMS to Contact (see screenshot). Each works flawlessly. Equally easy was the set up of my T68 GPRS connection over Bluetooth, achieved through a helpful and straightforward wizard. A Bluetooth LAN profile is also installed for Activesync.

All of the configuration options are available from a tray icon on the today screen (see screenshot), including one-touch Bluetooth Activesync and access to device pairing, preferences and so on. The program seemed both responsive and stable, with some handy ergonomic touches: a summary of active connections; the ability to set favourite devices for functions; power saving options, and even a comprehensive help section. TDK Systems obviously put a lot of effort into this software — it serves its role extremely competently and with the minimum of fuss.

In power usage, the BluePAQ seems frugal, with a maximum draw of 60mAh. In a unique and appreciated software option, TDK Systems allows the iPAQ to turn the radio on at device boot or on demand, to save power. I noticed very little battery drain when using Bluetooth, and none when it was idle. Altogether, very efficient. It’s equally light on RAM usage for drivers, making a negligible impact on my free space.

The main downside is that it is feature-light. Although it gave the option to select my particular phone model when installing, the software offers no facility to synchronize my Outlook data, phone book and SMS messages, or to send ring tones and background pictures via Bluetooth. In fact, there is no ability to send files of any sort to any device. An included program to achieve these little things would have been much appreciated and it seems a little odd that I can send SMS messages from my PDA but have to get the phone out to read the response (see my SimpleSMS review). Similarly, I can send a background image using infrared directly from File Explorer, but cannot choose to send it over a Bluetooth connection, confirmed with a TDK Tech Support analyst, who remarked that “this feature is not supported.” Considering the high integration and thoughtfulness of the rest of the software, this is an unfortunate failing. In addition, the BluePAQ doesn’t seem very responsive to other devices making requests to it. My Brainboxes PC card couldn’t get a list of supported protocols for it, and my Sony-Ericsson T68 cellphone couldn’t send it a business card. It seems that it works fine as a master, but hates being a slave. This might be something I’m doing wrong, but possibly not: there aren’t many options for the BluePAQ, and the same functions work fine with the Brainboxes CF card. I therefore admit defeat.

Overall, the BluePAQ is impressive. It’s an enormously stylish and robust piece of hardware that’s almost matched by its software. Although lacking in features, it lives up to TDK Systems’ claims of ease of use through heavy integration with the OS and a simple, effective user interface. What the software does, it does well, and with few problems — exactly what is needed from a productivity tool.

Note: As of now, the BluePAQ does not appear to work with the 3900 series.

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