HP iPaq hx4700 Review

by Adama D. Brown Reads (104,089)
  • Pros

    • Tough magnesium casing
    • Excellent battery life
    • Big screen

  • Cons

    • Touchpad system unreliable and uncomfortable
    • More expensive than competitors
    • Antiquated graphics processor
    • Comparatively large


This article serves as a review of both the iPaq hx4700 and the hx4705. The two units are identical, and are only named different because of HP’s insistence on making our lives difficult with their inane inventory tracking methodology.

Also, you may notice a large number of comparisons between the 4700 and the Dell Axim X50v. This is because these are the two major VGA PocketPCs on the U.S. market, and I happen to have both of them in hand.

 

Design

Like many of the new line of iPaqs, the 4700′s design is an almost perfect cuboid–rounded corners, but overall a near perfect rectangle with smooth flat sides. The main body of the 4700 is a magnesium alloy. Unlike aluminum and other metals, magnesium has a tendancy to feel almost like a plastic in terms of texture and weight. It does, however retain the resilience of metal, and won’t scratch or chip as easily as plastic will. It’s dark gray in color, with a hint of mettalic flake. The magnesium portion of the case seems to be very thin, with the underside of the veneer being black plastic.

Left, HP iPaq hx4700. Right, Dell Axim X50v.

The 4700 is symmetrical, with an equal amount of space above the screen as below it. This is designed to make it easier and more natural to hold on to in landscape mode, but also contributes to its relatively large size and minimal ergonomics. The size, shape, and symmetry of the device, along with the size of the screen, combine to make the 4700 feel more like a sub-Tablet PC than a traditional PocketPC in some ways.

In the upper left hand corner of the case, barely discernable against the black backdrop, are three small dots. Topmost of these is the wireless indicator LED. This lights up a quite bright blue when one or both of the wireless modules is turned on. It does not give an indication of activity, or of which module is on, it just says that one of them is.

Middle is the power LED. It blinks amber to indicate that the battery is charging, and glows steady amber to indicate a full charge.

The last dot is not an LED at all. Like many prior high-end iPaqs, the 4700 features a light sensor that lets it automatically adjust the screen’s brightness depending on the ambient light. The idea is that you can leave the backlight set to automatic and forget about it. When you walk from direct sun, through fluorescent lights, and on into total darkness, the iPaq would know the right settings for the backlight at all times. Unfortunately, compared to the iPaq 5550 that I once had, the 4700′s light sensor seems a little less sensitive to changes in light. While the 5550 would frequently increase or decrease its own brightness, the 4700 seems to remain more or less the same no matter the ambient light, unless you put it in direct sun.

Off to the top right is the iPaq’s speaker.

With the 4700, HP has basically thown out all conventionality in button design. Unlike all other PocketPCs, which use five-way directional controllers, the 4700 has a small, flat pad that’s sensitive to the touch of a finger, just like those used on many laptops. The touchpad has two modes: Navigation mode makes it imitate a conventional directional pad, with touches to the up, down, left, right, and center areas performing the corresponding actions of a directional pad. Cursor mode causes a mouse pointer to be displayed on the iPaq’s screen, which can then be moved around and clicked by the tapping of the touchpad. You can change modes via an applet on the iPaq.

I cannot stand the touchpad. I’m not a big fan of touchpads on laptops–I prefer the classic ‘Trackpoint’ type pointing stick–but at least there they’re tolerable. Putting a touch-sensitive pad on a PocketPC, which sustains far more casual contact than a laptop, and which already has a touch-sensitive screen not a quarter inch up the face of the device, is sheer insanity. For one thing, it’s nearly impossible to pick up the iPaq from below without brushing the touchpad–and, unless you set the touchpad’s controls very low, even a casual brush can wreak havoc with whatever you’re doing. Unfortunately, even setting to requite a ‘heavy touch’ doesn’t help much, since it still causes pure chaos if you don’t stroke it the right way. After about a couple of weeks of trying to make it work, I eventually managed to master some small amount of navigation with the pad, but it was never as good, as easy, or as precise as a physical directional controller. There’s just no way to feel how much you’re moving, no tactile response, and no safety margin–you can’t feel your way around the touchpad in the dark, because it interprets that as a command. Eventually I gave up on up on the touchpad entirely, turned it to its lowest sensitivity, and tried to pretend that it wasn’t there.

The cursor mode makes even less sense. You can use it to navigate around the iPaq’s screen without actually touching the screen, but why? To use the touchpad effectively, you have to have both hands free and holding the iPaq anyway, in which case why not just pull out the stylus? The point of creating a one-handed navigation system is that it be usable one-handed. With the newest build of Windows Mobile supporting a much-increased range of 5-way navigator functions, it seems stupid to rip out the 5-way controller and replace it with something that doesn’t work as well.

The buttons, like the directional control, have undergone a drastic makeover. Unlike the classic free-moving buttons, the new buttons are tiny pressure-sensitive plate switches mounted under a flexible plastic membrane. You press the spot where the buttons is supposed to be, and that’s it. They do offer a little click when pressed, but it’s at best a consolation prize. Each button has a very tiny plastic nub, about the size of three or four grains of salt–no, I’m not kidding–poking up out of its center to tell you where the button is supposed to be, but like the touchpad this is a bad idea that works more in theory than in reality.

Over in the bottom right corner is a single hole which services the iPaq’s microphone.

The iPaq’s removable battery is handled in a slightly odd manner. Rather than snapping into a depression, then having the cover plate refastened on top of it, the iPaq’s battery actually snaps onto the cover plate, which then slides into the groove on the back of the machine. No doubt this engineering measure was designed to save on the thickness of the battery compartment. I rather like the new style–it’s closer to the style of snap-on battery packs that I loved about the early Axim line. An extended battery would neccessitate a replacement cover plate, but this design allows you to carry the battery and cover plate as a single item, negating the annoyance of carrying two pieces for an extended battery. Nice.

When I refer to the iPaq’s battery, I almost have to refer to its batteries. The main battery of the 4700 actually appears to be two seperate Lithium Ion cells connected in parallel within a single pack to increase capacity. I would assume that like the battery attachment mechanism itself, the design of the battery pack was designed to allow for 1800 milliamps of total capacity in a relatively thin case. The whole setup is for all intents and purposes, a single battery. It’s all totally transparent to the user, so I mention it only for completeness.

Also for the sake of completeness, I mention this–inside the battery slot, there are a number of contact pins, sixteen by my count, that are not used by the battery. Perhaps HP had some plan for expansion packs that integrated with the battery, such as on the old HP Jornada series of PocketPCs.

Unfortunately, no matter what I do, I can’t remove the battery on the 4700 without triggering a soft-reset. Usually, this only happens if the PocketPC is left on while you remove the battery, but the iPaq seems to do it regardless. It’s possible that my unit is unique in this, but I can’t be sure. I hope it is, because if the 4700 resets every time you remove the battery, it would make warm-swapping spares rather difficult.

On top of the machine is the headphone jack and stylus, at left, along with the power button and dual expansion slots. The first two are rather inconveniently close to each other. Depending on the size of your headphone plug, you’ll quite likely have to remove the headphones to insert or remove the stylus. That’s just bad engineering, and an inconvenience. The stylus is a decently hard plastic, but plastic none the less. Length and width are good, though.

Almost right on top of the stylus/headphone conflict is the power button. I have something of a perpetual distaste for top-mounted power buttons, because they always seem to be deficient in some way or another. This one’s no exception. For starters, like all other top-mounted buttons, it’s too small. On top of that, it’s proximity to the headphone jack and stylus silo could be problematic. To press the power button while a pair of headphones are plugged in, a right-handed person would have to turn the iPaq around, or pass it to the right hand and use the left to press the button. Again, I have to say, this is just bad engineering. The engineers could have solved myriad potential issues by moving the headphone jack to the top left corner, which in contrast to the overcrowded right is totally empty.

The two expansion slots are piled right on top of each other, seperated by a thin partition. By default the CompactFlash slot comes with a plastic placeholder, who’s outside surface is designed to blend in with the iPaq’s top.

The bottom of the 4700 is chock full of considerably more bits than is normal. Starting from the left, we have the reset button, first battery latch, docking port, IR port, and second battery latch. The reset button is utterly normal. The dual battery latches on the 4700 must both be slid towards the center for the battery to be slid free. One latch springs back automatically, one stays where you put it–both have to be back in their original configuration before you can turn the iPaq back on. Unneccessarily complex, in my opinion.

The curious location of the infrared port would make beaming and use of IR keyboards with the 4700 very difficult. I can’t fathom why they put it here when there’s so much available space up top.

Left hand side, we find the record button on the top of the iPaq, and in the middle the attachment area for the 4700′s flip cover. The flip cover itself is nothing too remarkable, simply a rigid, transparent plastic sheet which flips down to cover the iPaq’s screen. Mainly, when using the iPaq in portrait mode, it just gets in the way. Landscape mode is a little better, since then the cover flips down from the top, but still more hassle than it’s worth. Fortunately it’s easy to remove without leaving any annoying aftereffects, and it can be reattached at any time.

The cradle that comes standard with the 4700 has a curious and serious omission–it doesn’t have a slot to charge a second battery. Despite the fact that all the Dell Axims and the older iPaq 4000 series have this feature on their cradles, the 4700 seems to think that there’s no need for an additional battery slot. If you want to charge a spare, you’ll need to swap it into the iPaq itself.

I might have said that the iPaq 4700 gets a zero for style and looks, but I’ve since seen pictures of the iPaq 2700 series, so I’ve had to readjust my scale of measurement. The 4700 is functional, though not particularly pretty. The metal case is nice, but I’d prefer a slightly more ergonomic design, something that fits in the hand and makes the machine feel smaller. The current design does neither, actually making the size more apparent by its unwillingness to fit in your palm. The symmetry of the design is interesting, and might have been useful if HP had included a directional pad–as it is, the idea’s potential seems unrealized.

 

Tech Specs

Processor: 624 MHz Intel XScale PXA270 with WMMX
Operating System: Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition
Display: 4.0 inch 480 x 640 VGA screen, ATI Imageon 3220 graphics processor
Memory: 64 MB RAM (55 MB available); 128 MB flash ROM (80 MB available)
Size & Weight: 5.1 inches long x 3.0 wide x 0.6 inches thick, 6.6 ounces
Expansion:

CompactFlash Type 2 and SDIO slots

Docking: Standard iPaq docking connector
Communication: Integrated Bluetooth 1.2, 802.11b WiFi wireless networking, IrDA 1.3 Fast InfraRed port
Audio: Internal monaural speaker; microphone; 3.5mm headphone jack
Battery: Standard 3.7 volt, 1800 milliamp-hour Lithium-Ion battery; optional 3600 mAh extended battery
Input: 4 remappable application buttons; touchpad; touchscreen

 

Processor

The 4700 uses the newest and fastest 624 MHz Intel XScale PXA270 processor. The PXA270s also include Wireless MultiMedia Extensions, or WMMX, a special instruction set designed to improve speed in multimedia applications.

Subjectively, the 4700 felt adequately speedy in anything I put it to. Perhaps I’m just getting spoiled by the speed, but I’m having a hard time telling the difference between the 624 MHz units in basic functions.

In the benchmark tests, I threw together the three major PocketPCs to use the 624 MHz PXA270–the iPaq 4700, the Dell Axim X30, and the Axim X50v. As noted in the past, SPB Benchmark is not compatible with the Intel Marathon 2700G graphics processor in the Axim X50v, so we can’t offer meaningful graphics or cumulative benchmarks for that model.

  iPaq hx4700 Axim X50v Axim X30 (624 MHz)
SPB Benchmark Index 1609 Unavailable 2113
CPU Index 2335 2284 2475
File System Index 1471 1408 1487
Graphics Index 878 Unavailable 5329
Platform Index 1301 Unavailable 1493

The results are decent but not exceptional for the iPaq. In the CPU and File System categories, where we have results for all three devices, the 4700 has a thin margin over the X50v–to use a phrase I’m sure all of my fellow Americans are sick of hearing, within the margin of error–though still behind the X30. In a head to head versus the reigning speed champion, the Axim X30, the 4700 fails to excel. It’s overall benchmark index is 25% lower than the X30–file system about even, CPU and ‘platform’ slightly lower. The biggest hit is in Graphics, where the 4700 performs on a fairly poor level. Even the ridiculously low-end iPaq rz1715 scored a 1787 in the Graphics Index, while the 4700 only scores an 878. Having four times the pixels to push drags down sheer graphics performance, and you’re not likely to get a much better speed on any VGA PocketPC using existing benchmarks designed for QVGA performance. This number shouldn’t be taken as too great a measure of the future capabilities of the unit, but rather of what it can do with existing graphics intensive applications.

The iPaq is plenty fast enough for anything not involving heavy graphics usage. For graphics, it holds its own, but doesn’t come close to the performance of the X30.

 

Operating System

The 4700 runs a largely unremarkable copy of Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, with the normal set of portrait, landscape, and VGA capabilities.

Unfortunately, the 4700 lacks the new Adaptation Kit Update 2–an AKU being something akin to a service pack for PocketPC manufacturers. AKU2 includes the new Windows Media Player 10, along with some minor media and DRM tweaks. The Dell Axims and the iPaq rx3700 already include the new player, so it’s rather surprising that HP’s erstwhile flagship still doesn’t have it as of this writing. HP may still deliver an update that includes it, or they may decide that a ‘corporate market’ device such as the 4700 doesn’t require it.

 

Display

 

The 4.0 inch VGA screen on the iPaq 4700 is unquestionably its most desirable characteristic. Four inches is the largest screen available in a PocketPC, and the extra space gives the high resolution plenty of room to shine. Every square inch is crisp and colorful, with no sign of dead pixels or other defects.

Left, HP iPaq hx4700. Right, Dell Axim X50v. Both set to maximum brightness.

The colors on the 4700 are absolutely beautiful, very rich and saturated, looking like they just came out of a gloss printer set to maximum. The whites are a little more problematic, though. Compared to the X50v, and to a carefully calibrated desktop CRT monitor, the iPaq’s whites are shaded towards yellow. I would tend to call the quality of the screen even. Points on for the vividness of the colors, points off for the yellow-tinted whites.

The 4700 also features an independant graphics processor to drive the VGA screen and help speed up graphical functions. In this case, the chip is the ATI Imageon 3220, the same chip that was used in Toshiba’s original VGA PocketPC, the e800. This is both good news and bad news. The good news is that there will already be programs optimized to use the processor. The bad news is that the 3220 is two years old, and a lot of technical advances in mobile graphics have happened in that time. The 3220 has only 2 MB of dedicated video RAM, and no 3D graphics acceleration capability, unlike the competing Intel Marathon 2700G with 16 MB of RAM and 3D hardware acceleration used in the Axim X50v.

 

Memory

Like its main competitor, the Axim X50v, the iPaq 4700 chooses to forgo the 128 MB of RAM traditionally reserved for ‘high end’ PocketPC devices in favor of piling on additional internal flash memory. While the iPaq has only 64 MB of RAM, 55 MB of which is available to the user, it has a whopping 128 MB of flash ROM, including 80 MB available to the user.

Personally, I prefer to install my programs almost exclusively to flash memory, minimizing RAM usage and making for less to back-up against the possibility of a hard-reset. That being the case, I much prefer great heaps of flash memory over additional RAM, which would mostly be wasted to me. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down 128 MB of RAM if it were offered to me, but don’t think its neccessary. Some others disagree, and that’s fine because there are VGA PocketPCs with 128 MB of pure RAM as well.

A noticible benefit to using only 64 MB of RAM is that the ‘battery creep’ effect is less significant. Most devices, even when off, draw some power from the battery to keep data in their RAM refreshed. With 128 MB of RAM, the required power would be doubled, reducing the amount of time that the device’s standby time.

 

Size & Weight

The iPaq 4700 is not the smallest of PocketPCs, nor is it the smallest of VGA PocketPCs. And the cuboid design doesn’t do anything to make it seem less large. A shirt pocket definitely isn’t happening for this thing. Even a jacket or pants pocket would need to be fairly sizable to comfortably carry the 4700.

Lower left, iPaq hx4700. Upper right, Axim X50v.

Top, Axim X50v. Bottom, iPaq hx4700.

 

 

Expansion

The 4700 opts to join all the rest of its VGA competitors in offering dual expansion slots, CompactFlash Type 2 and SDIO. With this combo, there’s little to nothing in the way of expansion cards that the iPaq can’t support.

 

Docking

In times of change, the iPaq line has stayed with the same connector for their mid-range and high-end units since the long-departed iPaq 3800. This is the sort of consistency that it would be nice to see out of, say, Dell. Of course, maintaining compatibility doesn’t mean that the iPaq can’t improve. (Hello, PalmOne?) The 4700′s USB sync connection is pure USB 2.0, giving a bit of a speed boost to syncing over USB as well as making it easier to maintain a pure USB 2.0 environment.

 

Communication

Practically a requirement for any mid-range and above PocketPC these days, the 4700 sports dual wireless radios, Bluetooth and WiFi. The Bluetooth radio is a standard Class 2 transceiver, which gives the 4700 a range of approximately 32 feet in clear air. It’s got all the standard profiles, such as file transfer, ActiveSync, network, dial-up, and others, as well as one semi-standard one: headset support. WiFi works quite well, getting average to good ranges and speeds, though it’s perhaps a little more power-hungry than the WiFi radio’s I’m accustomed to dealing with. Rather than including their own WiFi sniffer program with the 4700, HP opted to use just a simple on/off applet, and let the built in WM2003 SE configuration tools handle detecting networks and connecting to them, as well as Bluetooth setup.

Also worth mentioning is that the standard infrared port on the 4700 has gotten a speed boost. Not that it makes much difference, given the increasing rarity of infrared, but on the 4700 it has been upgraded from the standard 115 Kbit/second Serial IR to the 4 Mbit/second Fast IR.

 

Audio

The iPaq has the standard audio gear, a monaural internal speaker, a microphone, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Good quality all around, volume is good. Nothing extraordinary, but there rarely is.

 

Battery

Besides the large VGA screen, the high battery capacity is one of the iPaq’s main selling points. In these tests, processor activity was provided by SPB Benchmark’s standard test of repeatedly opening a large file in Pocket Word. Wireless tests were conducted with Bluetooth and WiFi active until the machine shut down.

Brightness on maximum, processor active: 4 hours, 18 minutes

Brightness on 50%, processor active: 6 hours, 5 minutes

Brightness on maximum, wireless on: 2 hours, 47 minutes

Brightness on 50%, wireless on: 3 hours, 33 minutes

While the iPaq’s battery life may not break the bank when compared to some ordinary PocketPCs, it’s quite good for a unit with such a large, sharp, bright screen. Unlike some other models, the wireless radios seem a bit more power hungry, which evens the field somewhat versus models with smaller batteries if you intend to heavily use the wireless capabilities.

 

Conclusion

There’s one thing that has yet to be addressed, and that is price. The iPaq 4700 costs $650, which is a very high price point. Admittedly, you pay a considerable premium for having a VGA screen, but competing VGA PocketPCs such as the Dell Axim X50v and Asus A730BT are currently at or under $500. Even the Toshiba e830, available in Canada but not the U.S., comes in at the equivalent of US$530. The only conclusion is that besides paying the premium for a VGA screen, you’re also paying a significant premium for the iPaq brand name. That’s hardly a surprise, since HP’s most recent round of new releases have been pretty much universally considered to be overpriced.

I’d be more fond of the 4700 if it had better controls. The touchpad does a lot to limit the 4700′s capabilities. The immense difficulty of paging up and down without using the touchscreen hampers book and document reading. The sensitivity to handling causes much annoyance as well. If it weren’t for the directional controls and a few other questionable design decisions, it would be a straight-up power versus size trade-off. As it is, though, you’re paying more money for a lot less control, as well as less graphics capability and style.

The 4700 will attract a lot of people who want the biggest available screen, the largest battery, or the toughest casing. In short, it wins with people who are buying based on one major thing that the iPaq has. If you want the biggest screen, or the toughest casing, this may be your choice. Those seeking a balance of capabilities are probably better off looking elsewhere.

 

Pros:

  • Tough magnesium casing
  • Excellent battery life
  • Big screen

 

Cons:

  • Touchpad system unreliable and uncomfortable
  • More expensive than competitors
  • Antiquated graphics processor
  • Comparatively large

 

Bottom Line:

Significant power in a mediocre design with a vicious price tag.

Pricing and Availability


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