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At last we have seen the top model in the new PDA series from HP to appear in stores and thus in our test lab. We can positively say that it's one of the two most anticipated Pocket PC models of the last year together with the equally anticipated HP smartphone of the 6300 series.
According to the tradition of top iPAQ models, designers were not anxious to make hx4700 too small but they rigged it with rich configuration. It's a first PDA from HP with a VGA display, new 624 MHz PXA270 processor, and touchpad.
The most interesting question in the analysis of hx4700 is whether 624 MHz CPU is enough to provide normal performance in VGA mode. As is generally known, both 520 MHz ASUS MyPal A730 and especially 400 MHz Toshiba e800 demonstrated that their CPU performance was not enough to provide the interface response speed comparable with that provided by 400 MHz XScale in 320x240 resolution. But let's not put the cart before the horse.
HP iPAQ hx4700 is a large and hefty device, though you cannot call its dimensions and weight excessive. The design differs much from previous iPAQ models but it's consistent with the common design of the new series. But unlike the slightly softened design of the 3000 series, hx4700 looks strict and high-tech.
The main material of the case is metal, there are plastic accents at the top and bottom sides and partially on the front panel – they are necessary for the operation of radio interfaces. Remarkably, there are also glossy plastic inserts at the sides, where user's fingers usually are, and thus rough rubber nonslip inserts would have done better than smooth panels. However, those accents have little effect on the ergonomics, the surface texture is not too slippery, and the small area accents do not have the key role.
As we have already noted, hx4700 is equipped with a touchpad, which replaces a traditional joystick and application buttons. The touchpad consists of the corresponding number of sensor pads. The one in the center serves as the OK button (which is usually located in the center of the joystick). There are four dots located crosslike around it designating up, down, left and right directions. And finally, there are four sensors at the sides of the panel with standard functions to launch calendar, address book, email box, and the iTask utility (instead of the Home button, which is usual for Pocket PC). Virtual positions of the joystick and quick launch buttons are marked with raised dots on the panel to find them quickly by touch.
The touchpad obviously provides completely different tactile sensations than mechanical buttons, the general impression is very pleasing – it takes zero efforts to control scrolling and to run operations mapped to program buttons in a nice and easy manner. But zero efforts mean zero information, there is no feedback, you cannot use your tactile sensations to determine whether the button is pressed or not. With multiple single-type operations (for example, manual scrolling of the text when reading an ebook) touch control is much better than mechanical control, because it requires less effort and results in much lesser fatigability. But still, the touchpad in hx4700 has a drawback – the central and extreme sensor positions (especially vertical directions) do not differ sufficiently. Very often a careless touch hits the OK area instead of a scrolling direction, and vice versa. If you put your finger on one direction and constantly press it (for example, when you read a text), there will be no problems. But if you use all directions in random order, you will not avoid false touches. It's practically impossible to solve this problem radically within the limits of the existing design: when operating blindfolded, users find necessary buttons by touch and only then press them. In this case, any attempt to grope for a button results in a press.
Another interesting detail – a removable semitransparent plastic screen cover. It's spindled to the left side of the casing (like a wristlet) and it has a rubber "spine" to bend it around so it is behind the device to hold the PDA with one hand. Free edge of the plastic screen cover has a magnet to hold it closed. Another use for this accessory – as a light filter, which additionally reduces the brightness of the display to make reading more comfortable in the dark (that is, any function, which does not require using the sensor display). The only serious drawback – the cover tends to show fingerprints and smears on both sides, so you have to constantly wipe it.
The remaining external rigging of hx4700 is typical of a High End Pocket PC. The left side hosts a voice recorder button, there is no scroller (which is quite traditional for iPAQ). The top houses the SD/MMC and Compact Flash slots, as well as a stylus bay and a headphone jack. The last two elements are located close to each other, so you may have some problems taking out the stylus, when your headphones are connected to the device.
Package contents include the device itself, battery, AC adapter, plastic flip cover, cradle, and CD with software (standard for all Pocket PC models).
Stylus in hx4700 is of an average size, solid, circular, made of plastic. It's quite a usual small stylus appealing to common users. Those who prefer larger styli had better buy a special accessory.
Cradle is of an average size, it consists of a base and a tightly fixed durable frame, which supports the device on the rear. The frame also serves as a guide to plug the device to the data connector. In this respect the frame is very good, because there are no problems with connecting the device to the cradle. The cradle is equipped with a stationary USB data-cable – standard for up-to-date Pocket PC. So, if you need to synchronize with your PC when you travel, you will have to take the cradle with you or to buy an additional data-cable. The cradle is equipped with a round jack to connect the charger.
Display in hx4700 is a transflective 640x480 TFT matrix supporting 65 536 colors. It's subjectively the highest quality display among all VGA PDAs, it stands out by better contrast and absolutely imperceptible grain. This display unveils its potential to the full extent when viewing photos, which look bright and live. Due to the transflective design, the display reads well even under direct sunlight, but in this case the number of distinguishable colors heavily drops. Monochrome text can be read without any difficulties, but if you try to play Jawbreaker, in the heaviest cases you may fail to distinguish some ball colors at all.
hx4700 has a 1800 mAh Lithium-Ion battery. Its retention is somewhat special – the battery must be inserted into a battery holder. Then you slide it into the device and fix with a couple of latches – a latch spring and a slide lock. The retention mechanism is somewhat excessive, a latch spring would do well alone. But it causes no problems, so it can be considered a success. No flexing, creaking is out of the question, because the battery and the flip cover are mounted with metal parts.