Tools Of The Trade: The HP iPaq h6340 PDA

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The Independent Online

Combining a decent personal digital assistant (PDA) and a good mobile phone in a single package is a challenge for any designer. Compromises have to be made around keypads, screens, battery life and connectivity, and the earliest combined devices were not an unqualified success.

Combining a decent personal digital assistant (PDA) and a good mobile phone in a single package is a challenge for any designer. Compromises have to be made around keypads, screens, battery life and connectivity, and the earliest combined devices were not an unqualified success.

HP, the market leader in Microsoft PocketPC-based handhelds, was late to enter the market for a PDA-cum-phone, at least in Europe. But with its iPaq h6340, it appears to have learnt from the mistakes of others.

The quality of this device is tangible, but unlike some earlier iPaqs, this is not at the cost of excessive weight. Business customers are the mainstay of the range, and the unit looks as if it could withstand the rigours of daily use.

HP has also addressed some of the shortcomings of handhelds based on the PocketPC, especially the way they handle communications. Other manufacturers have struggled to produce software that can switch seamlessly between GPRS cellular networks, WiFi and Bluetooth personal networking. In some cases, the software is so poor that a non-expert user might never be able to go online.

HP's approach is to hide the complexity in an application that puts all the key functions on a single screen. The interface, with three large buttons, might be more Fisher Price than iPod, but the software works.

Tap the WiFi button and the machine will go online in seconds. Tests with both a secure private network and a T-Mobile public hotspot were flawless. Likewise, connecting over GPRS was simple, with no need to play around with the underlying PocketPC settings. Best of all, the wireless software is one tap away from the iPaq's home screen.

There are other good things about the iPaq. It has a very clear screen and a neat add-on keypad that, while too small for writing long documents, is perfectly good for emails.

The shortcomings include a relatively limited battery life, although this is a common issue on all PocketPC machines. HP has also designed a power adaptor with two parts, so that it can connect directly to the iPaq and to its docking station. Unfortunately, the small part of the adaptor looks too easy to lose.

Overall, though, it is hard to fault the h6340, and its price is competitive. If you need something that works on GPRS and WiFi, and has a Windows interface, this is the device to get.

THE VERDICT

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros: build quality, software, price.

Cons: battery life still an issue.

Price: £399 + VAT.

Contact: www.hp.co.uk

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