Compaq iPaq: A test of strength

It’s a brave company which will donate their product, and allow us a free reign to test it. MEX decided to pass the buck to three complete innocents and see how they fared with the Compaq iPaq

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By  Rania Adwan Published  April 8, 2001

Introduction|~||~||~|Ever since it arrived on the market, the handheld PC has instigated an IT frenzy. Ownership separated those willing to embrace modern technology against those who kicked and screamed against the advancement of mobile computing.

Manufacturers have been keen to point out that the accessibility and versatility of the handheld meant communication at anytime, anywhere and on any device— provided it was their's that you were considering buying. What all this has meant, of course, is a flurry of activity in order to claim that precious location— your pocket.

Previously, PC companions did little more than carry out basic organisational functions. They simply held data, relying instead on your larger computer to run actual applications.

With the reinvention of Windows CE, most of the retailing pocket PCs now boast a minimum of twenty applications, including handwriting recognition, Microsoft Money, Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Pocket Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Note Taker and Microsoft Reader to name but a few. When it comes to handheld technology we are no adversaries, but it did cross our minds that maybe not everyone outside of the MEX office feels the same way. Compaq threw down the gauntlet and challenged us to find anyone who would not be charmed by the shiny new iPaqs and we rose to that challenge.

The iPaq comes with the usual array of programmes, but what is exceptional about the unit is that it runs on the Windows operating system, so even the most technophobic among us would be comforted by the familiar screen and the sight of the start button at the top left hand corner.

The display is almost definitely its shining feature, a 240x320 pixel TFT reflective display that boasts a capacity for 4,096 colours. It comes with 32MB of RAM and has an additional expansion sleeve as well as the flash memory cards to boost your juice.

We chose three different people, two of which where accustomed to the handheld technology and one, Stephanie, who was a completely new to the gadgetry. A healthy spread of occupations resulted in some interesting findings. Beyond the grappling and struggling with the Graffiti function, each tester found their own way to make the iPaq their very own.

We left our guinea pigs alone with a unit each for a week and returned to find them all still alive and happy to talk to us about their experiences. Everyone found something to love about the iPaq, which we have to say is not impossible, however they also made excellent comments for us to ponder.

||**||The Editor|~||~||~|The Editor
David Ingham
Age: 29
Profession:Editor of Arabia

First impressions?
Very sleek, the silver galvanised effect gives it a very sophisticated feel and the leather carry case it came in makes it look very business-like. The first thing I appreciated was the fact that the screen was the largest PDA screen I'd ever come across, I knew it was going to be plain sailing from there.

What was the first thing you did with it?
I have to admit, I didn't know very much about the product before I'd been given it. I was expecting another electronic handheld organiser with a few new gimmicks thrown in for extra measure. I was pleasantly surprised when I realised the iPaq was so much more than that.

Other than switch it on, I went straight into the 'start' menu and practiced the handwriting recognition feature. To be honest, it was one of those believe-it-when-you-see-it things for me. Having said that, I ended up spending quite a bit of time playing around on it and decided I loved it. It takes a little time to perfect the exact strokes required to enter each letter quickly, but once you've got it sussed it's easy. The keyboard function was useful, there's a predict feature that automatically comes on when you're using the keyboard— not as annoying as the T9 function on mobile phones.

Was it easy to use?
Incredibly, I love the ergonomic design. It works as though it were a desktop operating system shrunk into your hand, which I loved because my work is never done. The engineering and design of the unit has obviously been thought out pretty well because it is everything you need it to be without sacrifice.

I loved the fact that the unit ran the Microsoft Windows operating system because it meant synchronising with my PC was fantastically hassle free. I got used to downloading my e-mails and reading them when I was out on the move. But this was all before I got comfortable with the wireless PC card and cradle. I've always been somewhat sceptical of remote connection until now, but the fact that I can be at a press conference and still be clicked on to my office PC is remarkable.

What did you like least about it?
It's quite hard not to like. The unit and its overall functionality is really very inoffensive. I suppose if there were anything at all it would have to be the keyboard function, for some reason I never get the letter I choose.

Did you try all of the features?
No, I didn't get to make the most of the streaming technology incorporated in the iPaq, nor did I exhaust all the fun things like Windows Media, or the games features.

Which feature did you use the most?
Without a doubt the note taker and dictaphone function, it was great not having to collate tiny bits of paper after an interview.

Keep it, throw it?
Keep it.

||**||The Photographer|~||~||~|The Photographer
Age: 24
Profession: Freelance Photographer

First impressions?
I was very impressed. Aesthetically it makes for a very stylish looking product. It fitted comfortably in my hand, so we got off to a good start and the fact that it was just the right size for my back pocket was just icing on the cake. I loved the look of the big screen. It's a feature I haven't seen in too many of the PDAs in the shops. Even the cradle struck a chord with my creative side: I was pleased that Compaq had spent so much time and energy on the design aspect, which is so often overlooked. I was very keen to get it turned on and get straight into it.

What was the first thing you did with it?
I'm quite comfortable with using a PDA, so the whole organizational side of handheld technology fails to inspire a 'wow' out of me. With the iPaq I knew to expect more than your average PDA.

The first thing I did after switching it on was to connect it to my PC and get straight into the downloads. I copied a few pictures from the PC over to the iPaq and was veritably surprised by the quality of the imagery on the screen. Viewing the pictures had to be done using the Picture Viewer, a program Compaq has kindly pre-installed. Doing all this was so much easier than I'd expected, no cursing at the technology was necessary.

I knew that I had about 32MB of memory to mess about with, which works out quite well as I can store a fair amount of high-resolution pictures on there or alternatively a lot of low-resolution images.

Was it easy to use?
Fairly easy, it's all a matter of how often and how extensive your usage of computers and technology is. I'm no techno-geek, but I am fairly familiar with the normal every-day Windows programs and that was more than enough. Navigation is exactly as it would be on the Windows operating system, the only difference being the "start" button moving position to the upper left hand corner of the screen instead of the lower left hand corner, where you'd usually find it.

I already had all my contacts and my diary on my PC, I could simply synchronise all the information between the PC and the iPAQ - which was far less tedious and tiresome than doing it all over again.

What did you like least about it?
A bit more memory would be nice for those extra pictures.

Did you try all of the features?
I didn't try all the features, merely because I didn't need to. The Pocket Money, for example, I have absolutely no need for.

Which feature did you use the most?
The Picture Viewer function and the voice recorder, I've definitely exhausted those two functions.

Keep it, throw it?
Keep it.

||**||The Model|~||~||~|The Model
Age: 28
Profession: Model

What were your first impressions?
'How on earth is this little box going to help me organise my home and work life?' was the first thought that popped into my mind. I did, however, love the size as it fit quite nicely into my handbags and as the screen took up most of the device, everything was clearly displayed. It does look quite funky and stylish, and certainly more attractive than my battered old Filofax.

What was the first thing you did with it?
I kept pressing all the buttons and going through the menus until I figured out how to enter data. I'm used to playing with the children on the PC and Nintendo, so I at least had a vague idea about what to do with it. I hate reading manuals, I'm much more 'try-and-test-it' kind of girl. T

he first function I used was the diary, as my Filofax is fill to bursting, with lots of bits of paper and post-it notes stuffed in, so it was nice giving it a bit of a break.

Was it easy to use?
Inputting my meetings and reminders for shoots was almost too easy. For some of the other features, I sheepishly turned to the instructions, but I was pleased that it was all easy to grasp and I didn't need to actually sit and read it for too long before I could go back and carry on playing with my new gadget.

What did you least like about it?
At first using the pen annoyed me as I kept opening a few applications at once by accident. It's very touch sensitive so takes a bit of getting used to.

Did you try out all the features?
No. I didn't use the record facility or use most of the office applications, as I don't really have a need or an interest in those. I did like the fact that I could quickly connect it up to my PC and start downloading stuff. I've already taken advantage of the 32MB of memory by downloading loads of music, which kept me entertained on shoots. Other than that, I think I had a general play around with all of the features, even if I didn't use them all on a daily basis.

Which feature did you use the most?
I used the calendar far more than any other feature. Trying to keep track of when and where I had to be for my modelling assignments, and then having to remember whether I had a parents/teachers meeting, or a party to take one of the children to, has always been difficult. The iPaq certainly made my life easier with the calendar alarm to remind me of all my appointments.

Keep it, or throw it?
Keep it, definitely keep it, it's an absolute Godsend.


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