The Unlaunched Jornada

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Jornada 575 Pocket PC A funny thing happened to the Hewlett-Packard Jornada 575 Pocket PC on its way to the consumer market: it didn’t make it. The landmark merger of computing giants Compaq and Hewlett-Packard spelled the end to the Jornada line, a victim of the ensuing product triage.

But that hasn’t stopped a few pre-production models from sneaking out of Singapore, and I was lucky enough to spot one on eBay a month ago. So with an ample dose of skepticism I placed my bid…and won. Then I held my breath until it finally arrived and I was able to confirm that–yes, indeed–it was the real thing.

So here’s my hands-on evaluation of “the unlaunched Jornada”, the 575.


Form

At first glance, the HP Jornada 575 Pocket PC appears identical to its familial predecessor, the HP Jornada 560 series. It’s the same size and weight–5.2 inches tall, 3 inches wide, 0.7 inches thick, and 8.9 ounces–and it has that same sleek Jornada look. But what distinguishes the 575 from its elder sibling, at least on the outside, is the color of its shell–two-tone blue rather than corporate gray. Otherwise, it’s a twin, with the same black rubber side grips, the same layout of its buttons, and the same 3.5″ Active Matrix LCD.

As I mentioned, the button layout is the same as the 560 series. It has a stiff yet sturdy navigation button with a unique Action button just below it. On the lower right is a monophonic speaker, and on the lower left is its Power button. Along the left side are a rubberized rocker switch, the Record button, and the backup battery. And on top are its infrared port, stereo headphone jack, Compact Flash slot, and activity button, which lights up. And don’t let me forget the stylus, which is lighter than your typical PDA stylus.

One slightly significant cosmetic change from the 560 series is the guard around the directional keypad. It’s now silver-colored plastic (that may just fool you into thinking its metal). It brings an elegant touch to the 575, making both the guard and the button standout.


Speed

Jornada 575 Pocket PC First, the good news. The Jornada 575 performs well, thanks in part to its 400Mhz Intel PXA250 XScale processor. Both the VO Benchmarks and the Pocket PC Benchmarks I ran produced fairly standard ratings (when compared to a 200Mhz Casio Cassiopeia E570 and a 400Mhz Dell AXIM X5 Advanced) for a unit with a 100-megahertz bus.

Now the bad news. Performance is erratic. Sometimes there are pauses when switching between apps, while other times it’s fast and crisp. Still, keep in mind that this was not a final production model and the version of the ROM likely needed some additional tweaking.

For you overclockers out there, I tried my best to install and run two different overclocking utilities on the 575. However, both installations met with complete failure. Anton Tomov’s Hack Master resulted in a hard reset, cleaning out the memory, while Turbo Tray forced a soft reset.


Memory

If the Jornada 575 had seen the light of day last fall, its 64 megabytes of RAM and 32 megabytes of ROM would have been something to write home about. But now it is simply standard fare.


Display

Again there’s good news and bad news. The good news is no dust. The screen is sealed, so any problems with dust particles seem to be a thing of the past. And HP also pepped up the display’s video performance by adding an ATI Imageon 2D Graphics Accelerator (more about that later).


Jornada 575 Pocket PC

The bad news is that the Jornada’s 16-bit color reflective TFT display simply isn’t the best of breed. In fact, both the Dell Axim and Casio Cassiopeia’s screens are clearer and more visible. Then there’s the matter of the screen’s milky cast and bluish tint, something that’s plagued the Jornada line for years.


Power

When I acquired the unit, the previous owner informed me that the Jornada 575’s 1550 mAh battery would have remarkable longevity. Yet when I tested it with the Pocket PC Benchmark utility’s battery test, I found that it hit its critical 30% limit after only 8 hours. To put this in perspective, the Dell Axim X5’s 1500 mAh battery didn’t hit its critical limit until more than 13 hours.

I did notice that a message referring to a “200->400 CPU initialization process” appears during the startup sequence following a reset. However, the 575 does not provide a utility to allow switching the processor from 200 to 400 megahertz. Perhaps this provides a clue to the undoing of the supposedly powerful battery.

One thing I noticed while charging the device was a slight distortion, almost like a power surge, that would appear towards the bottom of the screen. Of course, that may have been due to the HP 560 power adapter I used (since the 575 I received came with and International charger) or because of the different currents between the U.S. and abroad. Again, bear in mind that this was a pre-production unit.

Another issue that I noticed came when handling the 575’s battery. If the battery is removed and then replaced, the unit refuses to power up. The only way I found to get around this is to remove the backup battery, which forces a hard reset. I can only guess that this is due to an incorrect driver or other firmware.

On a side note, a nice power-saving feature that I never noticed in any other Pocket PC is the ability to suspend the unit completely or just power off the screen by pressing down the Power button.


Sound and Video

Jornada 575 Pocket PC Video playback is where the HP Jornada 575 excels. After installing Pocket TV and copying the famous Monsters INC trailer from Pocket TV.com to RAM, I saw a huge difference in video playback. While the Dell Axim ran at 13-16 frames per second (fps) and the Casio Cassiopeia E750 ran at 16-19fps, the Jornada 575 achieved between 19-22 fps. These figures are substantiated by the VO Benchmark bitmap ratings, which tends to point to the effectiveness of the ATI Imageon 100 chip.

In regards to gaming, I ran through some test runs of the trial version of Michael Schumacher’s Racing Kart 2002. It seemed to run faster and smoother on the HP 575 as opposed to the Dell Axim X5. I also installed a trial version of Morph Gear and tried a few Gameboy ROMs. The Final Fantasy Legend III ROM just seemed to open up faster on the HP 575, as opposed to the Dell Axim X5. When I tried one of my favorite Turbo Grafix 16 ROMs, Gunhead (Blazing Lasers), although still unacceptable for play at perhaps 5-10 fps, it too moved faster on the HP 575. Even when I overclocked the Axim to 500Mhz it did not achieve the video performance of the Jornada.

The Jornada’s sound, however, is nothing to get excited about, although it’s more than adequate for playing MP3s with a set of headphones, and a tad clearer than on the Axim.


Expansion

While the Jornada 575 comes with only one expansion slot (a Compact Flash Type I-e slot), it can accommodate the Jornada expansion sleds that were released for the Jornada 560 series. This includes a PC Card sled that will allow CF Type II cards with an adapter and a sled that can accommodate Secure Digital and MultiMedia cards.


Bottom Line

The HP Jornada 575 would have been a solid Pocket PC in today’s world, but certainly not an excellent one. While its form factor and expandability are its strengths, its single Compact Flash Type I expansion slot and reflective screen are its weaknesses.

However, I should point out again that the device I purchased was not a production unit (although the unit did have a unique serial number). While a finalized product might have yielded better results, alas there will be no final product.


About the author

William Perry Henderson is a certified Systems Analyst for the Council of State Governments. He received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Kentucky and his hobbies include PDAs, ANIME, reading the Holy Bible, basketball and football.

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