We've waited a long time to get our hands on the HP iPaq hw6900 series. Though Hewlett-Packard first unveiled it at the 3GSM World Congress back in February, it wasn't until late October that HP and Cingular announced the official availability of the Windows Mobile smart phone. Was it worth the wait?
Well, sort of. With an integrated GPS receiver, the iPaq hw6900 sets itself apart from its competitors by doubling as a handheld GPS device supporting Cingular's new location-based service. In addition, it offers Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a full suite of productivity apps, making it a road warrior's dream. However, it's not all that dreamy.
Though we appreciate the full QWERTY keyboard, the buttons are tiny, so we often pressed the wrong key and the 240x240-pixel-resolution screen pales in comparison with other smart phones we've tested. In addition, all that functionality seemed to take a toll on the device's responsiveness, and it doesn't support Cingular's HSPDA network like the recently launched Cingular 8525 does.
Yet overall, the smart phone performs its primary functions well. The HP iPaq hw6900 series consist of four models: the HP iPaq hw6925 and the cameraless iPaq hw6920 are available through Cingular for a pricey $359.99 with a two-year contract, or you can get the unlocked hw6945 or hw6940 (no camera) directly through HP for $599.99. For our review, we used the HP iPaq hw6945.
The design of the HP iPaq hw6900 series has not changed much from the hw6500 series. It retains that PDA-like form factor, which is to say that it's a bit blocky (4.6x2.8x0.7 inches) and heavy (6.3 ounces) for a phone. Though it's not any bigger than the Nokia E62 or Palm Treo 700wx, if you haven't used a Pocket PC phone before, its wider body might require some acclimation when using it as a phone.
On the other hand, there are some advantages to the larger size. The first benefit is a nice, wide display. The iPaq hw6900 series features a 3-inch diagonal touch-screen that displays 64,000 colors. The extra real estate makes it better for viewing Web pages. The touch screen is responsive, but the 240x240 pixel resolution isn't as sharp as some of the other Windows Mobile smart phones we've reviewed recently, such as the Cingular 8525. The display is still readable in direct sunlight, however, and HP includes an attachable plastic flip cover to protect the screen from scratches. There is a small status-LED above the screen that illuminates different colors for wireless connections and battery status. To the right of the LED is the power button, and the stylus holder is on top of the unit.
Another perk of having a larger phone is that HP was able to fit in a full QWERTY keyboard for easy messaging. Now, while the iPaq hw6900's round keys are brightly backlit (much improved over its predecessor) and seem well-spaced, they are so tiny that our thumbs often covered two buttons, and so we had to be very careful to press the right key. That said, we give a slight edge (and we mean slight) to the hw6900 series over the Treo 700wx because of the extra spacing between the keys. Above the QWERTY keyboard are two soft keys, a small joystick, and the Talk and End buttons for making calls. For dialing phone numbers, you can use either the spacious onscreen virtual dial pad or the number keys that share space with the letters on the right half of the QWERTY keyboard. The latter are highlighted in black for easy identification.
On the left spine is a volume slider and a camera activation key, while the camera lens, flash, and self-portrait mirror are on the back of the unit. To store all those photos, you'll of course need plenty of memory, so there is a mini-SD expansion slot on the right spine of the hw6900 series. Finally, there is a 2.5mm headset jack, a connector port, and a reset hole on the bottom of the device.
The HP iPaq hw6900 series improves upon the iPaq hw6515/hw6510 in several ways. First, it's powered by a higher-speed 416MHz Intel PXA270 processor (compared to 312MHz) and runs the latest Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC Phone Edition. This version has the full Microsoft Office Mobile suite for viewing and editing Word and Excel documents and opening PowerPoint presentations. In addition, you get the standard set of PIM tools--calendar, contacts, notes, and tasks--and other useful utilities, such as a software download manager, a voice recorder, and a Today Panel Lite app, which installs a convenient toolbar on your Today screen to indicate battery life, backlight setting, and available memory. Speaking of which, the hw6900 series comes with 64MB SDRAM for running applications and 45MB user accessible memory. For even more storage space, there's also a mini-SD card expansion slot.
With its integrated QWERTY keyboard, e-mail is an obvious draw for a device like the hw6900 series, which also ships with Microsoft's Messaging and Security Feature Pack, so you get direct push technology for wireless synchronization with Microsoft Exchange and your Outlook e-mail, calendar, contacts, and tasks. Most likely you'll want to contact your I.T. department for help setting up access to your corporate e-mail. If your company uses Good Technology, don't worry, the hw6900 also supports this solution, as well as Cingular XpressMail. The latter allows you to not only access work e-mail but also POP3, IMAP4, and SMTP accounts. We used XpressMail to receive our Yahoo e-mail on the hw6945, and after entering our user ID and password, we started getting messages within 15 minutes with no problems.
One thing that sets the HP iPaq hw6900 series apart from the rest of its smart phone brethren is the integrated GPS receiver, so it can double as a handheld GPS device. Even better, the smart phone supports Cingular's recently launched location-based service, TeleNav GPS Navigator so you can get turn-by-turn, text- and voice-guided directions and color maps, a Biz Finder for searching local businesses, a Fuel Finder, and a Spot Marker so you can find your car wherever you parked it. The service costs $9.99 per month for unlimited use or $5.99 per month for up to 10 trips. (Check back for our full review.) The hw6900 series also ships with the Microsoft Pocket Streets 2006 mapping program.
In addition to the GPS radio, the iPaq hw6900 series also packs in Bluetooth 1.2 and Wi-Fi (802.11b) wireless connections. The iPaq Wireless utility found on the device conveniently allows you to turn on either or both of the wireless options with a tap of a button. Supported Bluetooth profiles include file transfer, information exchange, dial-up networking, and hands-free kits. While the integrated Wi-Fi will help you cruise the Web, the EDGE brings faster data connection speeds. It's too bad the hw6900 series can't accommodate Cingular's 3G HSPDA network.
As for voice features, the HP iPaq hw6900 series is a quad-band world phone, so you can use it while you travel overseas. The address book is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts), and it can store up to 12 numbers for a single entry, as well as home and work addresses, e-mail, IM screen name, birthday, spouse's name, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can pair a contact with a photo, a caller group, or one 9 ring tones. The phone also supports MIDI, WAV, and WMA ring tones. Other highlights include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, and voice dialing.
Both the HP iPaq hw6945 and hw6925 are equipped with a 1.3 megapixel camera with video recording capabilities and flash. For still images, you have a choice of 4 resolutions, 3 compression sizes, and settings for white balance and color. There's also a self-timer and an option to turn off the capture sound. In video mode, you can record clips with sound and no time limit, but you're restricted to just 3 resolutions. There are a couple of cool things about the iPaq's camera: First, HP kindly includes a photo management app, called HP Photosmart Mobile, where you can view your images in a slide show, add voice notes, send them via e-mail, and so forth. Second, when you're using the camera, you may notice a GPS icon along the bottom edge. When you press it, the hw6945 will record the GPS coordinates (as long as you have a satellite fix at the time) of the location where you're taking the photo. Then, if you happen to want to return to the spot at a later time, the device can map out the location based on the saved GPS coordinates. The feature is very similar to the one found in the Navman iCN 750 portable navigation system--and it's very cool. As far as image quality goes, the hw6945 was mediocre with fairly sharp lines but washed-out color. We appreciate that HP and Cingular offer cameraless versions in the iPaq hw6920 and hw6940, given that more and more businesses are prohibiting the use of camera phones for security reasons.
Finally, as with all Windows Mobile devices, the HP iPaq hw6900 series comes with Windows Media Player 10 for your multimedia needs. The device supports AAC, MP3, WAV, WMA, MPEG-4, and WMV files. Also, if you have TV shows recorded on your Windows Media Center PC, you can transfer them to the hw6945 and view them on the go. In addition, the smart phone comes preloaded with two games: Bubble Breaker and Solitaire.
We tested the quad-band HP iPaq hw6945 (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) world phone in San Francisco using Cingular's service, and call quality was generally positive. Like the i-mate Jaq, we had to adjust the phone's earpiece several times in order to find the audio sweet spot, but once we did, conversations were loud and clear. Our callers reported the same. Unfortunately, the audio quality diminished when we activated the speakerphone. There was a slight echo and volume was low. On the bright side, we had no problems pairing the hw6945 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset.
Beyond phone quality, the HP iPaq hw6945 was a mediocre performer. The Web browsing experience was good as pages loaded quickly, though it was nothing compared to the super-fast Cingular 8525. The handheld was generally responsive to our commands as well, but we noticed a definite delay when we activated the camera or GPS function. Music playback through the device's speakers was pretty dismal, as songs sounded weak and tinny. We plugged in a pair of earbuds, however, and sound was much better.
The hw6945 is rated for four hours of talk time and up to 7 days of standby time. In our tests, we got 7 hours of talk time before having to recharge. We did notice that using the other wireless options really had an affect on the battery life. If you don't need to use these features, we recommend you turn the radio off to conserve your battery.