Brighthand Reviews the HP iPAQ h1940

by Reads (100,076)
  • Pros

    • Great looking
    • Small and sleek

     

  • Cons

     

    • Some tinting when tilted

     


When Hewlett Packard released the iPAQ h1910 last year, most people agreed it was a device that broke new ground for Pocket PCs. It was an amazingly small and light handheld, while at the same time being absolutely gorgeous. Still, some people wanted more.

The most frequent requests were for more memory, Bluetooth wireless networking, and for its SD slot to be able to use peripherals besides memory cards, like wireless networking cards. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what HP did when it created the iPAQ h1940. This has made a great design even better.

On the Outside

iPAQ h1940 Pocket PC Even before you turn the h1940 on, you’ll be amazed at how good it looks. I can comfortably say that HP’s h1900 series is, hands down, the best looking group of handhelds ever made. They are small and sleek and fit perfectly in your hand. They aren’t quite as small as the legendary Palm V series, but I like the looks of the h1900 series better.

The h1940 is 4.46 inches long, 2.75 inches wide, and 0.50″ thick (113.3mm by 69.8mm by 12.8mm). It weighs 4.37 ounces (124 g).

Screen The 3.5 inch screen has the standard resolution for a Pocket PC: 240 by 320 pixels. It can display 16-bit color.

The h1940’s screen has proved to be a bit controversial. Some people have been unhappy that the display takes on a yellowish tint if not viewed straight on. On the model I’m reviewing, the screen looks just fine most of the time. But if I tilt the top away from me, items that should be white become cream colored. The more the top is tilted away, the darker the yellow becomes. To me, this is no big deal. Keep the screen pointed straight at you, or with the top tilted slightly towards you, and you won’t even notice it.

If you want to read more about this issue, check out Steve Bush’s analysis.

Buttons On the front of the h1940 you’ll see a row of buttons that follow the curve of its shell. These make it easier for you to launch some of the built-in applications. Between them is five-way directional pad that is a fairly standard piece of equipment on Pocket PCs.

The D-pad is nice but I wish HP would add a jog wheel to the h1900 series. These make reading long web pages or ebooks much easier.

Left Side

 

On the left side you’ll find a button dedicated to the voice recorder. If you choose, though, you can reprogram this to launch any application you like. Actually, this is true of all of the h1940’s buttons except its Power button.

Speaking of the Power Button, it’s located above the screen, in the middle. It blinks blue when you are using Bluetooth, blinks green when an alarm goes off, and blinks orange when the h1940 is recharging. It glows solid orange when the device is fully charged.

Top View On top, you’ll find the Secure Digital slot, stylus, microphone, and the stereo headphone jack. The headphone jack isn’t the standard 3.5mm size; instead, it’s 2.5mm. Fortunately, HP includes an adapter so you can plug a standard set of headphones into the smaller plug.

The back is taken up by a large plastic door that covers the removable battery.

On the Inside

Windows Mobile Operating System The h1940 runs the Professional Edition of the recently-released Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PCs. This latest version includes an improved system for wireless networking, which comes in handy with the h1940’s built-in Bluetooth.

Processor The h1940’s CPU is a Samsung S3C2410 running at 266 MHz. This is an increase over the 200 MHz XScale processor in the h1910, and the improvement is noticeable. Applications launch very quickly, and large JPEGs open in a heartbeat.

Just to be sure, I ran Spb Benchmark and got a CPU index of 1306, more than double the 602 the h1910 received. For comparison, the iPAQ h2215, with a 400 MHz processor, got a score of 1885. While faster is better, the h1940 is probably fast enough for most people.

Memory RAM is used to store applications and files and to run the applications. This model technically has 64 MB of RAM, but only 56 MB of this is available to the user. In addition, the h1940 includes a 14 MB File Store. This acts like a built-in memory card where you can store applications and files. Together, they give you 70 MB of storage on the device, which is quite a lot for a mid-range device like this.

Software

This isn’t going to be a complete review of all the applications that are part of Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC. However, I’m sure some of the people who are reading this are considering buying a h1940 as their first handheld so I’ll go over some of what it can do.

The two biggest uses for handhelds are as an address book and calendar. Of course, the h1940 comes with very good applications to handle these jobs. In addition, these can be synchronized with Outlook on your PC so you don’t have to maintain two separate lists. The device comes with a copy of the latest version of Outlook, by the way.

The email application can be synchronized with Outlook. I do a lot of email reading and writing on my handhelds and the h1940’s spell checker comes in very handy. Of course, this application supports attachments. Most of these can be opened with apps that come on this handheld.

The h1940 comes with Pocket Word and Pocket Excel, which can open and modify files from their desktop equivalents. These apps are probably best described as “acceptable.” They don’t support all the features the desktop ones do, and they have the bad habit of whacking out things they don’t support. For example, say someone wants you to look over a Word document and emails it to you. When you open it in Pocket Word, any images embedded in it won’t appear. If you find an error in the document, make a change, and then email it back, when the document arrives it won’t have the embedded images any more. Still, it is nice to be able to read the files you get as attachments, even if modifying them sometimes causes problems.

Multimedia The h1940 comes with Windows Media Player for Pocket PC, which allows it to play MP3 files and video in the Windows Media format.

You’ll probably want to listen to music through a pair of headphones, though a pair isn’t included with the h1940. When I first got this handheld, I was concerned that the audio was much too quiet, even with the volume control turned all the way up. Turns out that Windows Mobile 2003 doesn’t handle volume the same way Pocket PC 2002 did. With Pocket PC 2002, the system volume and the Windows Media Player volume were the same. With Windows Mobile 2003, they are separate but the system volume affects the Media Player volume, so that if the system volume is turned down, music plays very quietly, even if you turn the volume slider in Media Player all the way up.

A monophonic speaker is located behind the D-pad. This is pretty good, though I doubt audiophiles will listen to any music through it. The speaker is loud enough that you probably won’t miss your alarms. Still, I do wish it came with some better choices for alarm sounds. The standard ones are very polite. An alarm that is going to wake me up needs to be irritating, if not obnoxious.

Like all Pocket PC models, the h1940 has a built-in voice recorder. This is handy for making short notes to yourself when you don’t have both hands free.

In addition, it includes iPAQ Image Viewer, which not only displays pictures, but also puts them together in a slide show.

Wireless Networking

One of the big improvements in the h1940 is the inclusion of Bluetooth short-range wireless networking. This gives you several options for connecting your handheld to the Internet or your home computer.

Bluetooth Logo If you get an h1940, I highly recommend picking up a Bluetooth adapter or dongle for your home computer. These are fairly inexpensive and will allow you to make a wireless ActiveSync connection between the PC and the handheld. You can use this to do anything you would do with your handheld if it was in its cradle, including access the Internet. My access point is from Belkin and it also supports Bluetooth file access. This means I can download and upload files via Bluetooth from my PC with the h1940.

Bluetooth devices are divided into Class I, with a max theoretical range of 100 meters, and Class II, with a maximum range of 10 meters. The one I have is Class II, and I can get a good connection in about half my house. People in the Brighthand forums report getting a good connection with Class II access points at 50 or 60 feet, even through several walls.

Another option is a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. With one of these and a wireless plan that supports data, you can use your phone as a wireless modem for the h1940, meaning you can get your email or surf the Web from almost anywhere. And best of all, because you are using Bluetooth, you don’t even have to take your phone out of your pocket.

Bluetooth is nice but its range is somewhat limited and its data transfer speed is kind of pokey. As I already mentioned, the SD slot on the h1940 allows you to plug in other types of peripherals than just memory cards. One of the best uses for this capability is a Wi-Fi networking card, like the one from SanDisk. Wi-Fi offers much wider range than Bluetooth and a much higher data-transfer rate, too. If this sounds interesting, check out Brighthand‘s review of the SanDisk SD Wi-Fi card.

Internet Applications Of course, just making an Internet connection is only the beginning. The h1940 comes with a web browser and email application that let you do something with it.

Pocket Internet Explorer is like a miniature version of the desktop app. It allows you to visit almost any web site and supports important web standards like JavaScript, CSS, SSL, and more. While it is doable, surfing the web on the h1940 isn’t one of its strong points. Sadly, it is somewhat limited by the handheld’s 240-by-320 pixel screen. The problem is, most web sites are formatted for desktop or laptop screens that are at least 600 pixels wide, and looking at them on a screen that is just 240 pixels wide makes for a lot of scrolling. Pocket Internet Explorer gives you the option of reformatting sites down to the size of a handheld’s screen but this gives mixed results. It would be better if this application supported landscape mode, so you could use the widest part of the screen, but it doesn’t.

In addition to being able to synchronize with Outlook on your desktop, Inbox can directly download email from a POP3 or IMAP4 account.

Battery Life

I found the battery life of the h1940 to be about average. I can easily get through two or three days of moderate use, even if I do some Bluetooth networking and listen to MP3s. To me, moderate use is more than an hour but less than two. This can be stretched out some by dimming the screen’s backlight.

Still, if you intend to carry this handheld with you on long trips, I’d suggest you pick up a second battery (for about $50) or bring the recharging cable with you.

I mentioned the Wi-Fi SD card so I ought to say that it, unsurprisingly, has a major effect on battery life. I can get two or three hours of web surfing before the first battery warning goes off.

Accessories

The h1940 is a lot of handheld but it only costs $300 and HP had to make some compromises. Just about all of these are in the area of accessories.

For one, it doesn’t come with a cradle. Instead, it has a power cord and a synchronization cable. It’s handy that these are separate because you can bring just the power cord on a trip to keep the battery topped off. Though the synchronization cable hooks up to your USB port, no power is sent to the handheld through it.

A cradle is a handy thing to have, but you can get by without one. If you really want a cradle, you can buy one for $50.

There is one accessory that doesn’t come with the h1940 that you are absolutely going to have to get: a case. This handheld doesn’t come with anything whatsoever to protect its screen and that just isn’t a very good idea. Actually, this is the only genuine flaw in the h1900 series’ design. HP really should have put a slot on one side to attach a flipcover. This would have given the screen some absolutely necessary protection while adding a minimal amount to its size and weight.

Fortunately, there are a variety of cases available on the market, from leather flipcovers to aluminum hardcases, though none are as small and light as an integrated one would be.

Value

When HP was putting together the h1940, it managed to pack a relatively fast processor, a good amount of memory, an expansion slot, and wireless networking into one of the smallest and lightest handhelds around. You can get a handheld with more capabilities, but it definitely won’t be this small or this good-looking. I think the h1940 is an excellent value at $300.

Bottom Line

HP started with one of the most popular handhelds of the last year — the iPAQ h1910 — and made it better by adding the most requested new features. The result — the iPAQ h1940 — is a dynamite combination of performance and portability and one sure to be a best seller.


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