Product Review: HP personal digital assistant

16 Jun 2008

How business-like is the new personal digital assistant from HP?

When it comes to catering for the business person on the go, the Palm was always the king of the personal digital assistant (PDA) world. Or at least it was until ‘CrackBerry’ fever swept the professional ranks.

But the BlackBerry has always been primarily an email device, while Palm and its ilk gave that little bit extra. Armed with a stylus and the ability to read and edit documents and spreadsheets on the go has its advantages.

Me, I’ve survived with a BlackBerry so far but wouldn’t have minded something a little bit meatier.

The new HP iPaq 914c Business Manager is a bit of a sirloin steak in this respect – it is tricked out with the latest version of Windows Mobile and comes with GPS navigation, Google Maps and pretty good hands-free functionality for when you’re driving and want to reply to an email.

HP envisions this device being used by the jet-setting business person who doesn’t want to bring a laptop for a short trip but needs to be able to read PDFs or edit Word documents sent by colleagues and keep connected with work email.

As the name suggests, Windows Mobile 6.1 is a pared-down, mini-version of the Windows operating system, so like other Windows Mobile PDAs it has the Mobile Office bundle – Word, Powerpoint and Excel.

I won’t get started on how finicky and annoying Windows Mobile is: suffice to say, it could be a lot more user-friendly.

While I was battling with finding my way around Windows armed with a combination of stylus, scroll wheel and navigation button, I wondered why the screen could not have been made that much bigger: at 2.46-inches wide, another inch would have been very welcome when confronted with such a jam-packed ‘desktop’.

The iPaq, like other PDAs, has syncing options with most major enterprise applications like Oracle, SAP and Microsoft Exchange.

On the other hand, while you’re on business in London or Paris for a couple of days, it’s always nice to squeeze in a bit of sightseeing – but where is the nearest Tube station?

The iPaq has the latest version of Google maps, which, combined with GPS navigation and downloadable city guides makes for an easy way to choose your destination and plan the route from your hotel via Google Maps. And when you get there, you have a three-megapixel camera to capture the sights.

The iPaq is not just a tool for the business traveller. The first thing I did with this 3G device was to connect it to my home Wi-Fi, set up my personal Gmail and Hotmail accounts and sign in to MSN Live Messenger and get chatting on the Qwerty keypad.

I must admit that I found the voice activation weird. It worked fairly well but I didn’t really enjoy having my emails read by a robotic voice and it didn’t seem to understand everything I said to it (although when I swore in frustration, it said goodbye in a cheery voice).

The verdict? I prefer to read my email via BlackBerry and surf the web via iPhone but I would use this for the Microsoft Office package, reading PDFs and the like.

Pros: Google Maps and GPS nav combo is pretty cool

Cons: Screen is far too small

Price: From €399

By Marie Boran