HP iPAQ h6315

By Gerry Blackwell

November 16, 2004

The All-Everything Pocket PC phone with GSM/GPRS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, could be enough to make you leave the laptop at home.

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The iPAQ h6315 Pocket PC from Hewlett-Packard (HP) is an all wireless and all-everything PDA/phone. It is an international quad-band GSM/GPRS model with built-in Wi-Fi for linking to wireless LANs and hotspots, and Bluetooth for connecting to a wireless headset or sending documents to a Bluetooth-equipped printer. Did we mention it has a camera built in too?

And all this and more in a unit that measures 4.6 x 2.9 x .70 inches and weighs 6.7 ounces. That's more than two ounces heavier than the Nokia 6620 smartphone , which we reviewed recently, and slightly bulkier too. But for the two ounces, you get a much bigger screena bright, clear 3.5-inch (240 x 320 pixels, 65,536 color) transflective LCD.

If you're accustomed to using a more conventional mobile phone for voice or a BlackBerry for wireless data and you're concerned about the Pocket PC's lack of a physical keyboard or keypad, rest easy. HP includes a tiny QWERTY keyboard that clips on the bottom of the unit. It's not quite as well designed as BlackBerry keyboardsthe keys are too small and close together and there's no thumb wheelbut it works reasonably well.

The typical broad, flat PDA form factor doesn't feel as natural as a sleek phone like the 6620 when you hold the thing to your ear to make a call, but you can get used to it. Or, if you prefer, use a wired or wireless headset. Besides, in our opinion, the pluses outweigh the minuses. This is a laptop replacement proposition. Who needs a computer when you've got one of these babies in your pocket?

h6315 with Keyboard Attached & Accessories

The h6315 runs Windows Mobile 2003 (Phone Edition) on Texas Instruments' OMAP 1510 processor. It includes pocket versions of Outlook, Word, Excel and Internet Explorer and comes with 64MB SDRAM, 64MB Flash ROM and has an integrated SDIO (Secure Digital Input/Output) card slota 1GB SD memory card will set you back less than $100.

The physical design is also fine. I particularly like the well-labeled LEDs at the top of the front face beside the power button. They indicate the status of the GSM/GPRS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios, blinking orange when not connected, greenor in the case of Bluetooth, bluewhen working properly.

The Internet, Send, End, e-mail and scroll wheel at the bottom of the front face are smallsmaller than on some previous Pocket PC modelsbut this helps make the h6315 shorter overall and also makes room for a bigger screen than early Pocket PCs. Missing from this unit is the scroll wheel that appeared on the left edge of some early devices, which is a shame.

The big problem with the h6315 is that it's available only on the T-Mobile network and costs $500—twice the sticker price on the Nokia smartphone at the time we reviewed it—plus $80 to $110 a month for plans that provide 1,000 or 1,500 "whenever" minutes and unlimited e-mail. This is an expensive solution.

Battery life, specifically standby time, is another possible problem. Although we were not able to test it, HP claims the rechargeable Lithium-Ion (1800 mAh) is good for up to 5 hours talk time and up to 5.5 days of standby time. The talk time is actually slightly better than the Nokia 6620, at four hours, but it's not as good on standby time as either the Nokia or recent BlackBerrys at eight and nine days respectively.

The camera has the usual .3 megapixel (640x480 pixel) sensor and a lens that is fixed-focal length (i.e. no optical zoom) and fixed focus (pictures are never absolutely razor sharp). It also has no flash.

These specs are fairly standard for camera phones, but they reduce the camera's utility to taking shots in favorable light that are good enough to use as memory aids or, in optimum conditions, to transmit visual information, such as the condition of a piece of broken-down machinery. The camera is of course also good for taking fun shots you can e-mail or send over the carrier's MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service).

Camera & Battery Compartment
on Back of Pocket PC Phone

The tiny camera lens is located at the top left on the rear surface of the unit. This means you can hold the PDA in a typical one-hand grip and not cover the lens with your fingers - always a nice feature. The HP Image Capture software uses most of the screen as a view finder, another good feature. It lets you adjust White Balance, Color, Compression and Resolution.

To take pictures, you can tap the big on-screen shutter button or push the tiny button on the right edge of the unit.

The pictures we took with the h6315 in less than ideal lighting conditions tended to be fuzzy, noisyi.e. with distortions produced in the compression processand washed out looking, as might be expected. The trouble is, the ones we took in bright sunlight were not much better. The pictures were not as good as those we took with an add-on HP PDA camera reviewed earlier.

Of the three main PDA platforms—Palm, Pocket PC, and Symbian—Pocket PC, with its generally superior screens, is probably the best for Web browsing. We tested Web browsing on the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) of Canadian T-Mobile roaming partner Fido. It was surprisingly quick at times, especially on WAP pages accessible from the T-Mobile home page loaded into the h6315's memory.

With the built-in Wi-Fi connectivity you can also browse the Web at high speed on a corporate or home WLAN connected to the Web, or at a hotspot. It worked well from the first time, connecting to my home office wireless LAN with minimal set-up hassles. Accessing pages designed for small screens was very zippy indeed. Accessing pages on the wider Web is naturally slower, and of course you'll have to use scroll bars to see everything on most pages.

iPAQ Wireless Manager

The built-in Bluetooth radio was able to "pair" with two different Bluetooth devices I had on demand to test with ita Logitech wireless headset and a keyboardand it correctly detected the "services" offered by the headset, but would not actually connect to either. T-Mobile said that since everything was working fine up to the point of actually connecting, it must be a problem with the device.

A call to Logitech technical support yielded no joy. After 20 minutes of waiting on hold, I was told Logitech doesn't support the Windows Mobile 2003 operating system; so much for standards.

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