HP has jumped headfirst into the O2 Xda Atom's territory, having just released its new iPAQ rw6828 smart phone. Its petite, chic design is very similar to that of the Atom, but dig deeper and you'll find that this device has much more to offer than just good looks.
Part of the company's "Designed in Asia for Asia" (DIAFA) initiative, HP describes the rw6828 as a "designer" device that's been built from the ground up to "reflect the young Asian consumer's chic, minimalist style today". While we're not sure of the exact criteria that HP uses to distinguish Asian consumers -- and by Asia they're referring to the entire Asia Pacific region -- from the rest of the world, we can confirm that the rw6828 is indeed an attractive handheld.
It comes in both white and metallic silver colour schemes, and features a changeable screen protector. The screen protector is somewhat garish, but it's a necessary evil for safeguarding against scratches.
The handheld is small and lightweight, measuring 102mm by 58mm by 19.5mm and weighing in at 140 grams. Its size means that, unlike with most smart phones, you can comfortably hold the rw6828 up to your ear to make calls, without worrying about muscle fatigue or simply looking dorky.
The unit's design is minimalist -- there's no keyboard and few function buttons to clutter the face. The lack of a keyboard means that the rw6828 isn't ideal for heavy data-entry, but on the positive side it has allowed HP to integrate a large 240x320, 18-bit screen. The above-average screen size is great for watching video content or GPS maps, though you'll need to fork out extra for a GPS receiver as one isn't included.
In place of a keyboard, all data is entered using the stylus and touch screen. Handwriting recognition is pleasing and usually accurate, but it's still a lot slower than bashing out e-mails on a hardware keyboard.
As an aside, those that require a keyboard and an integrated GPS receiver but aren't fazed too much by multimedia features may want to take a look at the iPAQ hw6965 instead.
We were extremely excited to receive the rw6828 for evaluation, as it's the first Windows Mobile 5 device we've tested that supports push-e-mail. For the unaware, this feature "pushes" new e-mail messages straight to the phone just like a regular SMS text message, without forcing the user to continually hit send/receive. It's extremely handy for business users that spend much of their work day on the road, and it's also useful for staying on top of your personal e-mail.
In addition to mobile messaging, the rw6828 offers virtually every connectivity option under the sun, including tri-band (900/1800/1900MHz) GSM, GPRS/EDGE, Bluetooth 1.2, Infrared and 802.11b Wi-Fi. All of these features can be turned off, which not only conserves battery power but also enables users to operate the device like a regular PDA during air travel.
Naturally, the phone/push-e-mail combination puts the device in direct competition with the BlackBerry. However, one qualm that we've always had with the BlackBerry is that its lack of multimedia features alienates non-corporate users and even corporate customers that use their device for non-work purposes. Although RIM promises that a "prosumer" BlackBerry is in the works, HP has beaten it to the punch with the rw6828, which offers a slew of multimedia functions.
Audio playback is catered for by an integrated FM radio and PocketMusic MP3 playback software. These can be tapped into using either a regular set of headphones or the integrated dual stereo speakers, and both options offer up impressive sound quality. You'll want to buy an expansion card to stick into the device's mini-SD slot, however, as it only comes with 128MB of flash ROM. These audio features are certainly attractive, but make no mistake, it won't replace the intuitive interface and long battery life of your current MP3 player. But that's OK, since HP reps said it themselves at the launch event in Hong Kong -- "we're not targeting iPod."
In addition to audio, the rw6828 also supports video playback using any Windows Mobile 5 media player software such as VLC. Again, picture quality is pleasing and playback is smooth.
Rounding out the device's excellent multimedia feature-set is an integrated HP 2.0-megapixel camera with a flash and self-portrait mirror. This is similar to the O2 Atom's camera offering, and while shots are suitable for e-mailing around to your mates, the quality is distinctly underwhelming and you certainly won't be making prints of any photographs.
Since the device runs on Windows Mobile 5 Phone Edition, it also comes with Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet Explorer and Outlook 2002 pre-installed. These are handy for those that need to stay productive whilst on the move, and offer more features than many of the third-party software offerings available for the BlackBerry. However, keep in mind that the mobile version of PowerPoint only allows you to view, not edit, presentations, so don't bank on making last-minute modifications before entering the board room.
One of the things we love about the rw6828 is how easy it is to get up and running. Minimal software configuration is required, and configuring the push-e-mail feature is painless. Simply enter your e-mail address, and the device will attempt to pull all other details (such as server addresses) directly from the Internet. We used Google's Gmail, and it found these settings without issue.
Only the headers of e-mails are pushed to the phone, and after seeing the subject and sender you can choose whether or not you'd like to download the full text and attachments. This is thoughtful of HP, as it helps to avoid unnecessary data usage, in turn minimising your phone bill.
Most e-mails came through with proper yet basic formatting, and text is readable. Scrolling through long messages and documents is done using the stylus or the front-mounted buttons, which we found isn't as fast or efficient as the BlackBerry's side-mounted jog wheel.
As detailed above, the device's multimedia features are head and shoulders above those offered by any current BlackBerry device. Video files are played back smoothly and in high detail, and audio quality is equally impressive. The only let-down is the camera, which produces fairly grainy shots that are often out of focus, particularly when indoors.
Being such a converged device, we expected the rw6828's battery life to take a back seat. Thankfully, HP proved us wrong; our Spb Benchmark battery tests produced a battery life score of seven hours and three minutes. The Spb tests attempt to imitate a regular usage environment and produce a fairly accurate result, assuming non-stop usage. Under regular, intermittent usage, we went three to four days without needing to reach for the charger.
The HP iPAQ rw6828 is available now for AU$999 and is exclusive to Optus for the month of June. Optus also offers a two-year contract with an AU$99 upfront fee and monthly payments of AU$75.