It's been a while since we were excited about any handheld device from HP; don't get us wrong, the company has produced a solid line of PDAs over the years, but they've all been pretty status quo--until now. Today, the company introduced its HP iPaq rx5900 Travel Companion--a sexy and sleek handheld that not only offers the benefits of a Windows Mobile PDA but also integrates GPS into the mix. It's more refined than some of the other PDA/GPS combos out there, such as the Asus MyPal A636; plus, the PIM functionality gives it an edge over the Garmin Nuvi 350. Unfortunately, it stumbled a bit in the performance department. The rx5900 was slow to acquire an initial GPS fix, and the various functions took a toll on processor speed. All said, we still think the rx5900 is a handy device for on-the-go professionals, providing them with the tools for organization, travel, and entertainment. The HP iPaq rx5900 is expected to ship in mid-October and will cost $599, which is on the pricier side, but you do get both the PDA and the GPS capabilities, and it's on a par with other devices in this category.
The HP iPaq rx5900 Travel Companion is a sleek device, both as a portable nav system and a PDA. The travel-friendly handheld measures just 4.7 by 3 by 0.6 inches and weighs 5.9 ounces, making it easily portable between your car and for use on foot. We really like its streamlined look and attractive silver casing and burnt-orange accents. In general, the device had a solid construction, but the glossy coating made it quite slippery in the hand.
The 3.5-inch, QVGA touch screen has a 240x320 pixel resolution and features an antiglare coating, which did a pretty decent job of keeping the display readable in direct sunlight, but colors tended to wash out a bit. As of this writing, HP will not offer a VGA model of the rx5900, which is shame since this type of device would really benefit from an extrasharp screen, but they did not rule it out for future Iterations of the rx5000 series. You can easily rotate the screen's orientation four ways with the screen rotation button on the right spine. In addition to this control, the right side also holds a power button, a small status LED (blinks blue for the wireless connections, amber for battery charge, and green for complete charge), and three more shortcut keys to the Quick Launch page, Navigation menu, and media player. All buttons are identified clearly by small icons, and they can be reprogrammed to open other apps.
To the right of the touch screen, there is a nine-way navigation pad that lets you scroll through the various menus and options and is great for panning in and out of maps. Pressing the center of the toggle also acts as an OK button. That said, we felt the directional keypad was a bit loose, so we didn't always get the precise movements we wanted, and sometimes we had to press down on the control hard to get our commands to register. On a brighter note, we were big fans of the two keys below it, which let you exit out of applications and access the Start menu with the press of one button. As a result you don't always have to rely on the stylus, and one-handed operation is easier. We should note that the way the iPaq rx5900 is built and the orientation of the buttons makes it more comfortable to use in rx5900 landscape mode (horizontally) rather than portrait mode (vertically).
Overall, the rx5900 is easy to navigate thanks to its smart set of external controls and a feature called HP Quick Launch. This utility simplifies the interface by bringing together the five most essential functions of the device--Today, Entertainment, Navigation, Travel Assistant, and Internet--onto one screen, although we would prefer to see another option for the productivity tools.
There is a voice record button, a reset hole, and an SD/MMC card expansion slot on top of the unit, while the left spine has a port for attaching an external antenna for enhanced GPS reception, a mini USB connector, and a 3.5mm headset jack that accepts Walkman-style headphones. The stylus holder is located on the back, as is the rx5900's speaker. One note about the stylus: its placement on the lower left backside makes it bit awkward to access for right-handed users, as we found out during our test period.
HP packages the iPaq rx5900 with a nice set of accessories, including a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a USB cable, a power adapter, a car charger, a protective case, and reference material.
For HP, the GPS capabilities and the travel tools are the main focus of the HP iPaq rx5900 Travel Companion. The handheld is equipped with a SiRFstarIII GPS receiver and comes loaded with maps of North America and TomTom Navigator 6 software. As such, from a GPS standpoint, the rx5900 has a similar feel and look to TomTom's stand-alone products. It supports text- and voice-guided driving directions (no text-to-speech functionality), automatic route recalculation, and a points-of-interest database. To get started, you enter your destination by address, city center, or intersection, then instruct the device to calculate directions based on a number of criteria, such as the quickest or shortest route, by avoiding toll roads, the required arrival time, and more. There's also an option to plan a walking route, which is great since the rx5900 is so portable. If at any time you want to avoid a part of your route, you can tap the Find Alternative icon, and the system will plot a new course. You can view maps in 2D or 3D mode. A status bar at the bottom of the screen displays useful information, such as the next instruction, remaining distance, and estimated time of arrival. There are also two icons in the upper right and left corners that let you zoom in and out of maps. You can add real-time traffic information, safety camera alerts, and other advanced nav features via TomTom's subscription-based Plus services.
In addition to the navigation functions, the iPaq rx5900 includes a copy of WorldMate 2006 Standard Edition to help with your trip planning. The app provides you with some handy tools, such as current times around the world, international dialing codes, a packing list, and converters for currency, clothing size, and measurement. If you have a long flight ahead of you or you just need to relax, you can keep yourself entertained by listening to your favorite tunes or watching video clips with Windows Media Player 10 Mobile. The player supports popular formats including WMA, MP3, and WMV. Plus, Windows Media Rights Management 10 gives you access to audio and video content from subscription services, such as MSN Music, Musicmatch, Napster to Go, and Wal-Mart Music Downloads. You can also view photos, and there's a nifty app called HP Photosmart Mobile to help you create slide shows, share images via e-mail, and record voice notes with pictures. The handheld also comes with two preloaded games (Bubble Breaker and Solitaire).
For the road warrior, you can stay productive on the road, thanks to Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC Edition, which includes the full Microsoft Office Mobile Suite. In addition to mobile versions of Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, and Outlook, the machine has a handy PowerPoint viewer; we were successfully able to open and view all three of the document types on the rx5900. As far as memory, the unit has 64MB of SDRAM for running apps and a whopping 2GB of flash ROM. In addition, you have access to the SD expansion slot for more storage capacity. Though there's no cellular wireless, the HP iPaq rx5900 Travel Companion is well connected with integrated Bluetooth 2.0 and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), so you can connect to a variety of Bluetooth-enabled devices and make VoIP calls.
Performance was a bit of a mixed bag. As a GPS device, the HP iPaq rx5900 Travel Companion had a hard time acquiring a satellite fix from a cold start. It took the unit about five minutes to finally lock onto our position, which was frustrating. On the upside, subsequent starts were much faster, and the rx5900 did a good job of tracking our position. Directions were also accurate, as were route recalculations.
The iPaq rx5900 handled its PDA and entertainment duties well. As we mentioned before, we had no problems transferring or opening Office documents. The device also detected our test Wi-Fi access point immediately, and we were able to connect to the Web without a problem with relatively quick download times. Music and video playback were excellent with clear sound and fairly good picture quality. However, if you're listening to your tunes via the built-in speakers, take care not to place the device with the speaker side down. We also plugged in a pair of Shure E3 earbuds, and sound was even better. We did, however, notice a slight lag in performance when we had numerous apps open.
Clearly, battery life is a key factor for a mobile device like the rx5900. In CNET Labs performance tests, where we looped a video clip with all wireless radios off and backlight set to midlevel, the HP iPaq rx5900 1,700 mAh lithium-ion battery lasted for 4 hours of constant use, falling behind the Asus MyPal A636, the Garmin Nuvi 350, and the . We also noticed that using any of the wireless options really took a toll on the cell; after a day and a half of use, we were running for the nearest electrical outlet. That said, if you're using as an in-car GPS device, battery life is less of an issue, since you can keep the unit juiced with the included car charger.