The iPaq hx4700 is HP’s first Pocket PC with a VGA screen. It also has multiple kinds of wireless networking and dual memory card slots.
This is a device loaded with features. Some would say it’s capable of replacing a laptop, which is a good thing, as it has a price rivaling that some low-end laptops.
The feature that sets this device apart from almost all previous Pocket PCs is its 640-by-480-pixel display.
Physically, this is just beautiful. Pictures look far, far better than they do on a QVGA model. Colors look great, and the screen is very responsive. It continues to look good at a wide viewing angle.
This screen is a full four inches, so it’s larger than the ones in many of the other VGA Pocket PCs, including Dell’s Axim X50v.
In additon, the hx4700′s colors are better than they are on the X50v. I created a comparison picture so you can see what I’m talking about. On the other hand, the backlight on the X50v is a bit brighter. Also, the X50v’s whites are whiter; the iPAQ’s screen has a slight yellow tint to it.
However, when Microsoft was adding VGA support to Windows Mobile Second Edition, it made some decisions that I don’t agree with.
I believe that one of the biggest limitations of handhelds has been the small screens. Sometimes, when I’m looking at a large spreadsheet or web page, I get the feeling I’m working through a key hole.
This is why I was so ecstatic when VGA screens began to appear on Pocket PCs. However, Microsoft seems to have emphasized making what is on the screen look better, rather than having more information appear.
Even with the global text size on the same setting on both machines, when I open the same spreadsheet in Pocket Excel, my QVGA Dell Axim X30 actually shows more rows and columns than the hx4700 does. The text on the iPAQ is much, much clearer, but there’s definitely slightly more info displayed on the Axim. This despite the fact that the hx4700 should be able to display four times as much as the X30, as it has four times the resolution.
I’m not saying everything on the hx4700 should be in teeny tiny type. But I’d like the option of displaying things that way.
Fortunately, a couple of applications are available that will let you switch your hx4700 into “true” VGA mode: SE_VGA and OzVGA.
There are a couple of downsides to these. You have to soft reset your device to change modes, and a lot of things on your iPAQ become really small. You can bump up the size of fonts, but there’s a limit to this.
I use real VGA mode for some applications, like web surfing, but too much of it and I start getting eye strain.
Of course, the hx4700 runs the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system for handhelds, Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Second Edition.
It uses the fastest XScale processor currently available: 624 MHz. At no point would I ever describe anything about this model as “sluggish.”
This iPAQ has 64 MB of RAM. This is somewhat surprising; I really expected a handheld this expensive to have 128 MB of RAM.
This device also has 128 MB of ROM. A big chunk of the ROM space — 85 MB — is available to the user as an iPAQ File Store. Think of this as an internal memory card where you can store additional files and applications. These will survive if the device undergoes an accidental hard reset.
I ran Spb Benchmark on this iPAQ and the hx4700′s Benchmark Index, an overall rating of its performance, is 1659. This is just slightly above the 1606 score received by an older high-end device with a QVGA screen, the iPAQ h4150 (larger numbers are better).
At 2389, the CPU Index for the hx4700 is about a third higher than the h4150′s score in this area. This isn’t surprising, as the older iPAQ has only a 400 MHz processor.
However, the hx4700′s graphics performance is holding this device’s overall score down. Its Graphics Index is just 1031. For comparison, the h4150′s Graphics Index is 3858. I think this is something we’re going to have to get used to, as it is simply going to take longer for a VGA screen to refresh than a QVGA screen does.
The feature that most sets the hx4700 apart is its trackpad. If there’s ever been handheld that had one of these before, I can’t think of it.
You have a couple of options in how you use the trackpad.
In the first, called Navigation Mode, it basically works like a D-pad. There are small bumps at top and bottom, left and right, and tapping on these is the same as pushing a D-pad up or down, left or right. Tapping in the middle of the trackpad does the same thing as pushing in on a D-pad.
There are a couple of extra features in this mode. Sweeping your finger across the trackpad jumps you a long way, for example.
The second option is called Cursor Mode. As its name suggests, you get an on-screen cursor that’s controlled by moving your finger on the trackpad, just like you were using a laptop.
I used to have a PowerBook with a trackpad, and initially I had no real problems using the hx4700′s. It was sometimes a bit frustrating to use when I first got this device, but I assumed it would get easier as I got used to it. It didn’t. At least not in any significant way. The thing is just so small! The “up” area, the “select” area, and the “down” area are all crammed into a space not that much bigger than my finger tip.
I gave the hx4700 to my wife to try out, and she had even worse problems. For one thing, you have use your fingertip; your fingernail has no effect on it. For another, as a person not used to trackpads, she had a bigger learning curve than I expected. She can move the cursor around fine, but tapping and double-tapping exactly in the center is very hard, so she kept moving the screen when she was trying to select something.
Also, if you are a game player, the hx4700 isn’t for you. The trackpad is basically unusable for playing games.
Despite all the difficulties I had, not using it turned out to be the biggest problem. If you have the hx4700 in landscape mode, your thumb just naturally rests on the trackpad. This means you can easily select things you didn’t intend, or even accidentally close the document you are using.
After several weeks of use, I have to say that I’m not pleased with the trackpad. It is probably going to make the hx4700 more durable, as it isn’t unusual for D-pads to break. The trackpad has no moving parts, so HP will have to replace fewer of them. But I don’t think this justifies the extra hassle of using it.
In HP’s defense, I think the designers were really trying to make the make the hx4700 easier to use by including the trackpad. In theory, it seems to be much better than a D-pad. But when the hx4700 was going through usability testing, HP should have realized the trackpad was a bad idea and dropped it.
Buttons Four of the hx4700′s hardware buttons are located on either side of the trackpad, and they look like they are part of it, but they aren’t.
HP built a nice feature into the hx4700. Each of the four main buttons can do more than one job. Pushing the button once can launch one application, while holding it down can perform a completely different one. Of course, which functions are performed can easily be changed.
On the left side is a button that by default is for the voice recorder, but I changed this to switch the screen orientation, as that’s something I do far more often than record voice memos.
On the top is the power button. This is kind of small and deep set. I guess it’s nice that you won’t be accidentally hitting this button but it does make turning the hx4700 off a bit more work than I think it ought to be.
There’s no doubt the hx4700 has a lot to offer. But the fact is, you don’t squeeze a 4-inch screen into a small device.
This handheld is 5.2 inches tall, 3.0 inches wide, and .6 inches thick (131 mm by 77 mm mm 15 mm). It weighs 6.6 ounces (186.7 g).
Sometimes it’s hard to get a real feel for the size of something just by reading the dimensions, so I’ve included a picture of the hx4700 next to an Axim X30 and a Sony Clie NX80V (the largest handheld I own).
If you don’t carry a briefcase or purse, you can put the hx4700 in a pair of cargo pants, but definitely not a shirt pocket.
The good news is the hx4700 is the first iPAQ in far too long to have a flip cover. This means you can forgo a bulky case, unless you just want the extra protection.