For Geeks on the Go - InformationWeek

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Hardware & Infrastructure
12:05 PM

For Geeks on the Go

Mobility rules, so don't leave home without these gadgets.

Coolness and Value Factor No self-respecting geek leaves the house without a PDA, and because newer models are true handheld computers, you might not even need to massage your purchase order too heavily to get it approved. Check out HP's newest handheld, the iPAQ hx4700. I predict it will rival handhelds from all other vendors, who are probably already scrambling to catch up.

While I impatiently waited the recommended two hours for the hx4700's battery to charge, I read about the extensive list of new features. The device's 624-MHz Intel PXA270 is the fastest processor currently available in any PDA. The hx4700 also offers 192 MB of on-board memory, 135 MB of which is available to users for files and applications. With integrated 802.11b and Bluetooth wireless, you'll always be connected to your corporate network.


My first impression once I got the hx4700 up and running: This device offers the best handheld display I've seen. The 4-inch VGA TFT screen is mind-blowing--it's capable of displaying 65,000 colors, and I could view the screen in portrait, landscape right-handed and landscape left-handed mode.

The hx4700 has the conventional touch-sensitive screen, but it also offers users an alternate navigation method: a Synaptics touchpad on the bottom of the device. HP's choice of Synaptics, which makes most laptop computer touchpads, was a smart move. The hx4700's Synaptics NavPoint offers two modes. In default Navigation mode, the touchpad acts like a typical navigation button found on most PDAs. However, common tasks like scrolling though menus and selecting items weren't as intuitive as they could be. In cursor mode, the NavPoint acts more like a touchpad, giving you a mouse pointer. I found the cursor mode to be a great tool, once I got the hang of it.

The hx4700 is built on Microsoft's latest incarnation of its mobile operating system, Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition. Not much is different from the first release of Mobile 2003, though the Second Edition does enable portrait and landscape screen layouts and adds support for VGA resolution. Because the OS is relatively new, almost every application I downloaded and installed prompted me with a warning that the app was designed for a previous version of the OS. In fact, HP's own mobile printing application gave me this warning! Still, every application worked, including the mobile printing app, and I expect these errors to subside as 2003 Second Edition becomes more prevalent.

Although its $649 list price is at the top end of the handheld computer market, the hx4700 does offer IT pros advantages over less expensive devices--for example, integrated Wi-Fi. Sysadmins will be glad to know that telnet, SSH, FTP and remote desktop applications let you perform common administration tasks using your handheld from any wireless hotspot. Network admins will be happy to find applications that can pinpoint rogue wireless devices and troubleshoot users' connectivity problems. VPN and network tools like ping, trace route and DNS lookups are also available.

To make sure you'll be able to justify this purchase by, say, troubleshooting your boss' PC while at Starbucks, I put the hx4700 Wi-Fi capabilities to the test at our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®. Using Apani Networks' VPN client for Nortel Contivity VPN switches, I connected to the campus VPN servers with ease. I was able to control a Windows 2003 Server using a remote desktop client, as well as a router with a telnet application. With any of the numerous available Wi-Fi-sniffing applications, like WiFi Fo Fum or WiFiGraph, I could quickly zero in on access-point locations.

For tracking down a movie schedule after work, Web browsing with the hx4700 is much better than with other handhelds, but not because of some fancy new browser--Pocket Internet Explorer is still stripped down and doesn't support ActiveX or Java. Rather, browsing the Internet with a higher VGA resolution screen reveals more content with every scroll. The touchpad lets you scroll lines or pages at a time, even autoscroll. Best yet, turning the screen to landscape mode provides a monitorlike view, wider than it is tall. Landscape mode saves valuable time when looking up information because you don't have to scroll left to right as often.

iPaq hx4700, $649.99. Hewlett-Packard Co., (888) 999-4747.

--Christopher T. Beers

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