Brighthand Reviews the HP iPAQ h4355

by Reads (165,411)

The Internet has changed many peoples’ lives profoundly. Email and the Web have become part of our daily routine. But being tied to a bulky desktop computer or even a laptop can be inconvenient.

With its latest high-end Pocket PC, HP has created an excellent device for accessing the Internet from anywhere that is easy to carry everywhere.

On the Outside

Keyboard What separates this model from almost every other Pocket PC is its built-in miniature keyboard. This is very handy for quickly entering text.

Thought the letter keys are laid out in the standard QWERTY arrangement, you’ll have to practice with it before you become really proficient. You’ll have to get used to where the numbers and punctuation marks are, as they aren’t in the locations you are used to on a standard keyboard.

Still, you’ll improve quickly with practice. I ran some tests and found that I’m much faster with the keyboard than I am with any of the Pocket PC’s on-screen input methods, mostly because I made a lot fewer mistakes with the keyboard.

However, using this mini keyboard isn’t faster than typing with a full-sized one. If you are planning to write a novel on your iPAQ, you’d be better off with an external keyboard. But the h4355’s built-in one is great if you write a lot of emails on your handheld or frequently do instant messaging.

HP has added some nice touches, like a button that will open the Start menu. You can also close most pop-up windows by hitting the OK key.

Screen The h4355’s 3.5-inch screen has a resolution of 240 by 320 pixels. While this is the Pocket PC standard, it is a bit behind the curve for handhelds in general. Most Palm OS models have a 320 by 320 pixel screen, and the new Toshiba e805 has a 480 by 640 pixel display, which means it has four times as many pixels as the h4355.

This iPAQ’s screen can display 16-bit color, so it is quite capable of showing off your latest vacation photos to their best advantage. Unfortunately, it does exhibit the yellow tinge that many recent iPAQ Models have. This isn’t excessive, though, and is really only noticeable when there is a lot of white on the screen.

There are some additional pictures comparing the screen brightness of the h4355 with other handhelds on this page.

Buttons The h4355 has the usual buttons for a Pocket PC. There are four beneath the screen that are intended to launch frequently used applications. There’s also one on the side for opening the voice recorder, but, like the other buttons, this can be pre-programmed to open any application you want.

Also on the front is a directional pad, usually just called a D-pad. This is handy for games and also for navigating around the user interface if you don’t want to get the stylus out.

Card Slot On the top is a slot for Secure Digital (SD) cards. It can also be used for Multimedia Cards (MMC). These can be used like tiny floppy disks, though they hold far more than floppy disks ever did. You can get a 512 MB SD card for about $150, which will allow you to store a huge number of additional applications for this iPAQ, plus MP3s, pictures, and even video.

In addition, this slot supports SDIO, which means it can use peripherals that plug into the SD slot. However, I don’t know how much you’ll need this as most SDIO peripherals are for wireless networking, and the h4355 has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Form Factor At 5.5 inches long, 2.9 inches wide, and .6 inches thick, the h4355 is larger than most handhelds. I’ve been carrying my loaner model around in my pants pocket, where it makes a noticeable bulge, especially when it’s in its slip cover.

Still, this model offers features smaller handhelds don’t. The most obvious is the keyboard I already talked about. The other is a good-sized battery. I’ll cover this in greater detail later, so at this point I’ll just say that this model has a much longer battery life than any other I’ve tested recently.

But if you’re looking for something similar but smaller, take a look at the iPAQ h4155, which is about an inch shorter. However, it also lacks the keyboard and the high-capacity battery.

On the Inside

Windows Mobile The iPAQ h4355 runs Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC. Steve Bush wrote an overview of this a few months ago for Brighthand.

Processor Like many high-end handhelds, this handheld runs on a 400 MHz Intel XScale processor. All in all, the performance of the h4355 is quite good. I tested this device with Spb Benchmark and got an overall score of 1585. This application tests many facets of a Pocket PC’s functions, and the h4355 did quite a bit better than the 1240 score the Dell Axim X3i received, or the 1146 score the iPAQ h2215 got.

Memory The h4355 has 64 MB of RAM, of which about 57 MB is available to the user. This is a fairly typical amount for a handheld in this price range. RAM can be used to store applications and files, but it is also needed to run applications

This model also has a 2.85 MB File Store. This is an extra place to store files and applications that won’t be erased in case the handheld undergoes a hard reset. This is actually the unused space in the handheld’s ROM not being taken up by the operating system and is normally larger that just a couple megabytes. Still, any additional Storage space is good.

One of the quirks of the Pocket PC operating system is that hitting the X icon on the upper-right-hand corner of the screen doesn’t close applications like it does in Windows. Instead these are minimized and continue to run in the background, taking up system resources. Many hard-core Pocket PC users aren’t fond of this, so companies like Dell and HP have begun to bundle applications that help you easily control whether applications are closed or minimized. HP’s is called iTask, and it shows you a list of your running applications, allowing you to either quickly switch between them, or close them, freeing up memory.

Software

MS Office Of course, the h4355 comes with the default Pocket PC applications, allowing you to edit Microsoft Word and Excel files. But be careful about these; they don’t support all the formatting the full desktop versions do and will remove from the file any formatting element they don’t support.

PIM One of the major uses for handhelds is to keep track of people’s calendars and address lists. The applications that come with every Pocket PC handle this sort of information very well. Also, they can be synchronized with Outlook on your home or office PC so you don’t have to maintain several separate lists.

Multimedia This is a pretty good multimedia device. It comes with the Pocket PC version of the Windows Media Player so it can play MP3s and video in the Windows Media format.

The h4355 has an internal speaker but you’ll probably want to get yourself a pair of headphones to listen to music. There’s a standard-sized headphone jack on the top of this model.

Wireless Networking

The iPAQ h4355 has clearly been designed primarily as a mobile Internet access device. It has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking, which means you can get Web access from just about anywhere.

Wi-Fi is a medium-range wireless networking standard. You can get a Wi-Fi access point for your house fairly cheaply these days and there may already be one at your office. Wi-Fi offers a fairly quick data transfer rate which allows you to access the Internet at close to the speed you are used to on your PC.

Or at least you can if you are close to an access point. The farther away you get, the slower your connection is. What kind of range you get depends heavily on the devices you are using. When I first saw the h4355, I was nervous because it lacks an external antenna. Handhelds without these frequently have a shorter Wi-Fi range. And the h4355 is no exception, though its range is still decent.

I found that this iPAQ’s Wi-Fi range is about 30 feet less than a Dell Axim X3i or a CompactFlash Wi-Fi card. It is comparable with SanDisk’s SD Wi-Fi card. With my set-up, it was able to connect to my access point through several walls — one of them brick — from the middle of my yard. I had no problem getting a connection anywhere inside the house. The Axim and the CF card can connect from the end of my driveway.

Because the h4355 also includes Bluetooth, you don’t have to be out of touch when you can no longer connect to a Wi-Fi access point. You can use a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone as a modem to connect to the Internet from almost anywhere. This isn’t as fast as Wi-Fi but it’s acceptable for getting your email and surfing pages that have been designed for mobile devices.

Wireless networking draws a lot of power so you don’t want to leave it on if you aren’t using it. The h4355 comes with an application that allows you to control this. So you don’t accidentally leave them on, there’s an LED on the front of this handheld that blinks green when Wi-Fi is active and blue when Bluetooth is. Incidentally, you can have both active at the same time, though that’s really hard on the battery.

Of course, this iPAQ comes with Pocket Internet Explorer. This is a decent Web browser, but if you are going to frequently be surfing the Web on your handheld, I’d suggest you look into one of the third-party applications that either shore up the deficiencies in PIE or replace it entirely.

The h4355 also come with Inbox, an email client for the Pocket PC. This can directly download your email or synchronize with what’s on your PC.

Peripherals

Slipcover I wish it had sunk in to HP that handhelds need flip covers, but it hasn’t happened yet. Instead, it supplies a slipcover. This provides a bit more protection but at the cost of adding substantially to the size of the h4355.

Stylus Probably to save space inside the handheld, HP has begun using a very slim stylus. This is roughly the same size as the one Sony includes with its Clie line, which I refer to as the coffee stirrer. The h4355’s stylus is so slim, it isn’t comfortable to hold in your hand. Thank goodness for the keyboard, as it allows you to enter lots of text without the stylus.

There is one good thing to say about the stylus: this handheld comes with a spare. I appreciate this a lot, as I’ve lost quite a few styli over the years.

Cradle The h4355’s cradle does double duty. It both recharges the handheld and provides a way for it to synchronize with your PC.

Now that I think about it, it actually does triple duty. The cradle can recharge a spare battery at the same time it is charging the handheld.

Battery Life

The amount of time a handheld lasts on a single charge is one of its most significant features. The h4355 includes a 1500 mAh battery, which gives it the best battery life of any handheld I’ve tested this season, Pocket PC or Palm OS.

To test this model, I used it as my primary handheld while keeping track of how long it was being used with an application called BatMemTime. While doing so, I occasionally made use of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, plus I played a few games, read some of the ebook I’m in the middle of, and so on. This, I think, makes for a very realistic test. Over several charge cycles, the h4355 never lasted less than six hours, which is more than double the battery life I’ve been seeing on other high-end models recently, like the Dell Axim X3i.

Like I said before, Wi-Fi takes a lot of power, so I did a bit of a torture test. I turned Wi-Fi on and left it on an entire charge cycle, whether I was using it or not. The h4355 lasted an impressive 4.5 hours.

If that isn’t enough, the h4355’s battery is swappable. This allows you to buy a second battery for about $100 and double your battery life.

Value

The best way to determine whether a handheld is a good value is to compare it with other, comparable models. There isn’t another model with the h4355’s exact features, but a few come close. For example, the palmOne Tungsten C has Wi-Fi, a built-in keyboard, and a large battery but lacks Bluetooth. It lists for $500. The Axim X3i has everything the h4355 does but Bluetooth and the built-in keyboard and its list price is $380. However, adding a keyboard and Bluetooth to the X3i would make it cost about as much as the h4355 and be less convenient to use. With these as comparisons, I’d have to say the iPAQ h4355 is a good value at $499.

Conclusion

Having a Wi-Fi enabled handheld is amazingly convenient when you are around the house. You don’t have to run off to the home office if you want to check your email or look something up on the Web, you just have to pull out your handheld. And being able to connect to a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone to send and receive email is even better, because you can do that anywhere. No more missing your kid’s little league game because you’re waiting for an important email to come in; you can get it at the park and send a reply back, too. I applaud HP for building both these wireless-networking options into the h4355.

Though I wish HP would hurry up and put better screens in its models, all in all the h4355 is a very good device for Internet access, plus it has all the other advantages of a Pocket PC.


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