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What does every gadget geek need in their life? An organiser to keep 'em on the straight and narrow, that's what. Step forward my HP iPaq 2210 PDA (that's Personal Digital Assistant, if you didn't know).
The HP iPaq 2210 is a little outdated (by way of it's replacement - the hx2000 series) at the time of writing, but that doesn't mean that you can't pick a bargain up if you manage to track one down. Mine was a gift, but a search on eBay flagged a few up around the £130-£150 mark (correct as of 01-07-05).
~ Looks: A sleek brushed aluminium case, with a screen approximately 6cm by 8cm in size (2 1/4" x 3" in old money). No thicker than a cassette tape and only a teeny bit heavier. You won't suffer from aching hands from using this, I can tell you. About 85% of the unit is taken up with the screen at the front - along with four very fiddly buttons underneath the screen and a larger 'menu' button in the centre.
The sides of the case are complemented with rubber side grips, which many reviews have slated as bubbling and loosening. I've had my iPaq almost a year and I haven't had any problems with them. They are replaceable, and at that - replaceable with smarter, more stylish grips. I'm happy with the ones included, for now - they have a sturdy rubbery feel to them and provide the grip I need.
Above the screen is the fiddly main on/off button (more on that later). The front casing also features two coloured lights - one blue (for Bluetooth), and one orange (for charging / connection notifcation).
Tucked around the back is an inbuilt stylus holder. There is a simple pull-up motion required to loosen this... but miss the holder when you're trying to clip it back in and I can imagine that it's easy to lose them. The older predecessors had spring-clips for the stylus, but HP have discontinued this (to the annoyance of earlier Compaq PDA users, I found). I have no problems with the storage as it is - it's neat and tucked out of the way.
~ Setup / First Use: This was incredibly simple. The unit came preloaded with Windows Pocket PC 2003, and to get up and running I merely had to plug the cradle in (my HP2210 came with a docking cradle and cable which connected to my PC via the USB port) and dock the unit onto it with the PC off. This allowed the battery to charge. From memory, this took about 4 hours to fully complete. I then undocked the unit, and installed the HP software (supplied) on my PC. This also included Active Sync version 7.3, but I have since downloaded a free upgrade to version 8 from the Microsoft site.
Once the software was installed, I redocked the unit and Active Sync automatically kicked in. I was able to use the application to setup which files and folders I wanted to synchronise.
Also on the CD was the software install for and a link to the AvantGo website. If you are not familiar with this, I suggest you have a look immediately! AvantGo provides a list of optional 'channels', and if you sign up you are allocated a free 2mb allowance for these channels, which you can download onto your PDA. Example channels are BBC Sport, BBC News, and The Times and The Guardian newspapers. If you synchronise your unit first thing in the morning, you can take the papers to work with you to read - most welcome on a lunchbreak, I can verify!
Battery life can be measured by checking the current system settings. On average, with maybe two applications running, I get around 7-10 hours between charges. The battery is a Li-ion rechargable one, which seems to be lasting well. There is an optional purchase of a backup battery, should you wish.
~ Operation: Those not used to PDAs will take some time to get used to the stylus, and the practice of tapping everything to get what you want. However, the 2210 is very responsive to taps, and offers the ability to realign the screen and test the responsiveness if you're tapping away and nothing's happening. I find the slight protruding 'clip' on the stylus irritating when using - I've found that it rubs against my fingers.. I'll blame it on the way I hold a pen!
Microsoft Pocket PC 2003 (ie Windows Mobile) is a specialised cut-down version of Windows but offers everything you'd need for on-the-go computing. The familiar 'start' menu is there, and you can customise what you want to appear in the Start Menu (although you are limited to a maximum of 9 items, which irritates me as I want more than that in use on a daily basis). The system does remember the last six programs you opened, which in turn have their icons displayed in a quick-launch style menu across the top of the start bar.
The Active Sync program keeps the unit in sync with your PC via the cradle, Bluetooth, infrared or cable (the choice is yours). You can choose what you want to synchronise - from your Outlook calendar and email to files and Internet favourites. Occasionally, I find that the Active Sync sometimes (randomly) fails to connect to the unit. Often, a restart of the PC, and undocking and redocking the unit solves this.
~ Performance and Storage Capabilities: The unit performs well and can cope with having two programs running at once. Try and run any more, and it begins to struggle. Despite it's 400mhz Intel® XScale™ technology-based processor and the 64mb of RAM, it does struggle with too many programs open (too many being 3 or more!).
The system allows you to manually adjust the memory use for programs or storage, however I leave this as 'auto'. Windows manages this well enough, but leads me to one of my main gripes regarding the unit and the programs it stores in memory. Programs keep running 'in the background' and having too many open can slow the machine down. You have to manually go into the memory settings and 'stop' the programs from running. This is a typical 'feature' of Pocket PC to allow you to reopen the programs quickly if needed, but a 'feature' that I would happily trade for better performance.
There isn't much storage included for programs, in fact you're looking at about 4mb if you're lucky. Most of the unit's 64mb of memory is reserved for operation of the machine itself. However, HP counteract this with not one, but two slots for expansion. The unit has a Secure Digital slot, supporting SD, SDIO, and MMC, and a Compact Flash slot, supporting Compact Flash Type I and II. These are two types of storage card on the market at the moment and are also used in digital cameras and some mobile phones. I currently use a 256mb Secure Digital card to store music and most of my games on, but am planning to buy an additional 1Gb card in the future. Not only that, I could also buy a Compact Flash card for double the storage, but I've decided to leave the CompactFlash slot free for the time being for expansion for items like GPS (for Satellite Navigation) - you can buy GPS antennae which plug in via the CompactFlash slot.
~ It does Music and Video too! (shock): Well yes, as long as you have sufficient storage. As mentioned above, get yourself a card or two of either variety, and you can copy your MP3s across onto them and play them through the unit. I've also copied MPEG files over and played them as well, and the quality hasn't been too bad - but you need a lot of storage to hold some of them! Windows Media Player is included with Pocket PC as standard, but there are a few freeware alternative video/music players out there if you're fussy like me. My only fault with the unit is it's sound through the built-in speaker - it's tinny and resonates badly at high volumes. That said, through earphones, the sound is excellent for on-the-move music.
~ Not only that.. it'll change your TV channels: Honestly! HP have included their 'Nevo' software which you can program to control your television, video, DVD player, Sky box... and that's all I've got programmed at the mo. I could also add any of the following: # Cable box # PVR # TV/VCR Combo # Audio Receiver # Audio Amp # CD # LD/VCD # Video Projector
This piece of software has been the subject of much annoyance in my parents' house, when I've been over and changing channels to annoy my dad (OK, even at 25 I'm still 5 at heart!). You can program separate 'rooms' into the unit and it will store the relevant accessories for each room - so I have my parents' house stored as a 'room'. Ideal if you ever lose or break a remote control (or like me, have 7 on the table and could do with one unit to condense them all!).
~ Connection: As I've mentioned, there's the Active Sync connection. I also use Bluetooth via a bluetooth dongle attached to my PC. This was an absolute pig to set up, as I was led to believe that you can connect, via bluetooth, straight to the computer's Internet Connection. I haven't managed to do this, despite some excellent tuition websites (drop me a note in my Guestbook if you'd like the links). Instead, I connect using Bluetooth to Active Sync and browse the Internet from my iPaq through that. That said, my K700i connected instantly to the iPaq via Bluetooth, and both happily transfer files between each other with minimum fuss.
Wireless: Wireless isn't included as standard, but I believe that you can buy a wireless CF (CompactFlash) card to enable you to work on a Wireless Network.
GPS: Again, not included as standard, but you can get CF GPS receivers to add into the unit which will work with the likes of TomTom Navigator.
GPRS / Mobile Phone usage: Unlike some newer models on the market, this unit doesn't offer mobile phone capabilities, but then again I personally wouldn't want a mobile phone the size of my palm...
~ Other Extras: Recording: The unit has a 'sound recorder', which will allow you to record conversations / lectures / meetings. The microphone has proven very responsive and has picked up some quite low sounds which I wasn't expecting it to!
Transcriber: Anyone using a PDA will recognise this, the system's ability to recognise your handwriting and have it translated into typed text. With a bit of setting up - ie you have to program your letter styles into it - you can have it recognise almost anything. I've not bothered with this as I actuallly find the transcriber option a pain in the .... Far too often, no matter how carefully I write the letter, it will misinterpret them, and I find I've written a load of gobbledygook. It's not always easy when writing notes to switch off the transcribe function either, it's another of the 2210's 'buried' settings.
Alarm: As well as the calendar and clock, the system has an inbuilt alarm with 4 preset alarm sounds. There are, in fact, four alarms to be set, allowing you to specify certain days, appointments, etc.
~ Problems??: I've had a few. Occasionally, for no reason, the unit will lock up and freeze. To solve the problem I have had to pop the stylus into the 'reset' button on the back quickly to do a 'soft reset'. This keeps your settings intact. A 'hard reset' requires a longer hold of the reset slot, and will lose all your settings.
Turning it off can be fiddly until you get the knack - at first, I found I was putting it into standby as I was holding the on/off button for too long. It requires a very short press of the button to switch it 'off' (well, into Standby, but that uses such little power it might as well be off).
On the subject of buttons, I find the ones on the unit a little too fiddly to use. The recessed on/off and quick-menu buttons are very fiddly to press, and even with girly fingers take some getting used to. A large man with substantially bigger hands than me would struggle...
Also, the menu button setup just confused me. Why would I want to press a button, then another, when I could tap my stylus and get me to where I want to go quickly? If HP had taken off the lower function buttons, I wouldn't have been bothered in the slightest.
My first port of call when experiencing any problems has been the HP website. I have to say, the amount of information here is vast. You can find the answer to almost everything, but it takes some sifting through the search results! I use the HP site to download updates for the firmware and search for resolutions to problems.
HP have their own iPaq minisite with quicker access to software, and one nice aspect I found was that you get free credits to 'spend' on software on the site just for buying the iPaq - to get you up and running. A nice touch, I thought, but *very* easy to spend on the vast amounts of software they have (you can purchase more credits if you wish).
~ Final thoughts: Overall, certainly as an introductory PDA I can't recommend this enough. Although it doesn't provide telephone capabilities, which newer versions on the market do offer, it's got more than enough gadgets to keep the average business / pleasure user happy. It comes with more extras than you could possibly need, and it's very easy to use. If you're looking for a posh calendar with a bit extra, get this. If you want a bit more functionality and fun thrown in, still get this! In fact I'm being harsh, calling it an introductory PDA - this is certainly for the intermediate PDA user out there and offers more than enough functionality to keep it up there with the big boys. It might not be a phone, a GPS receiver or have Wireless, but it certainly will organise and keep you uptodate with the world's events, and if Wireless and GPS are required, they can be added cheaply (they are inexpensive to the point of making another unit with GPS enabled more expensive overall). Apart from it's little niggly bits (and I blame Windows, not HP!), I am extremely happy with this unit.