As evidence that the PDA/handheld market has come of age, the new iPAQ range from Hewlett-Packard (HP) comes in more flavours than Italian ice cream. The shiny silver livery of the early iPAQs from Compaq established it as something of a design classic, but now there are so many variants, that the unit’s look and feel are a lot less important than what’s inside it.
The Pocket PC operating system, here in its Windows Mobile 2003 Edition, is all well and good – and there’s no question that it’s very good – but HP is looking to differentiate its product with add-on offerings. The rx3715 is one of HP’s consumer range, pitched somewhere between the bells and whistles business products and more entry-level organisers.
It’s very clear from the specifications that HP imagines a very specific audience for this product, labelled a Mobile Media Companion, but one can’t help but wonder if such a multimedia, gadget-wielding geek really exists. Still, I was prepared to adopt the role for a few days.
The essential pitch is that you not only want an electronic organiser to manage your life, you also want it to play a central role in your personal entertainment. Thus – along with the tried and tested information management software that lets you collect and collate full contact details, diary entries, notes and so on – there is also a selection of multimedia tools.
The most obvious of these is the 1.2 megapixel camera with the telltale lens protruding, ever so slightly, from the back of the chassis. The quality is pretty good, though you’d be well advised to avoid the 4x digital zoom. The iPAQ comes bundled with HP Image-Zone software for desktop tweaking but the bottom line is that if you are serious about desktop photography the rx3715 is not going to replace a dedicated camera.
There’s also a video capture facility which can just about cope with grabbing some action as long as you go easy on the pans and are prepared for less than smooth playback. Again, it’s the same usability versus professionalism story: serious video enthusiasts will quickly tire of the limitations.
There is little to fault in its ergonomics and a nice touch is a slideshow screen saver of your camera photos running above the calendar. It brings a bit of cheer to your life as it sits idly in its cradle by the side of your PC.
Windows Media Player helps add to a compelling collection of entertainment options that become apparent from the moment you turn the rx3715 on. The menu (the old Microsoft front page has gone AWOL) affords access to Mobile Media, which uses the onboard 802.11b Wi-Fi standard for streaming in a variety of musical and video entertainment. Bluetooth connectivity is also onboard.
Just in case the various digital music formats, MPEG4 video and camera attributes aren’t enough to entertain you, another option lets you control all of your existing home entertainment devices. Nevi software enables the rx3715 to lead a double life as an infrared remote control, taking charge over just about any device you let it see. In a quick wander around my living room I managed to take control over a Philips TV, a Sony DVD player and even the Sky Plus satellite box. You can also customise settings for different rooms.
Such instant compatibility is impressive, though €599 (including Vat) is a lot to pay for another handset that you’ll end up losing down the side of the sofa. And isn’t there an element of irony in a mobile device that actively encourages you to become a couch potato?
It’s all clever stuff but it begs a big question: is there a market for such a piece of wizardry? The danger is that it’s a Jack-of-all trades, master-of-none device. Anyone interested in a particular function may be more inclined to spend their money on a dedicated piece of kit that does the job better. The rx3715 is most certainly clever and cute, but it could be a product in search of a market.
By Ian Campbell