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Hewlett-Packard's iPAQ h4355

If you hate writing with a stylus and you're definitely looking for a Pocket PC, as opposed to a Palm, the Hewlett-Packard's $499.99 iPAQ h4355 may just be the PDA for you. Building off HP's successful iPAQ line, the h4355 adds a thumb-keyboard so that you can jot down e-mails and notes with a familiar typewriter-style input, as with a Blackberry, rather than a mistake-prone handwriting recognition system.

But its keyboard isn't the only thing that makes the h4355 stand out. It also has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and a better-than-average battery. Busy business travelers are sure to like it, since it's made for those who need to keep in touch while on the go.

To accommodate the keyboard, the h4355 measures a bit longer than other PDAs on the market: 5.4-inches long by 2.9-inches wide and 0.6-inches deep. It also weighs in at 5.8 oz. Whether or not the extra bulk bothers you is a personal thing, but we found it a tad uncomfortable in a pocket, especially when housed in the included slip case.

(The slip case, by the way, may be the least attractive case to ever accompany a pocket device. It's rough texture has all the charm of a burlap potato sack, and it lacks even a simple belt clip, so it's good for nothing except preventing scratches. You'll find yourself looking for a replacement immediately, but since the h4355 is longer than most PDAs, you can't just use any generic case.)

The h4355 was the first Pocket PC to have a built-in keyboard, joining the Palm Tungsten C, which was the only other PDA to have one. HP did it right, giving the keyboard the familiar QWERTY layout and making the keys rounded and slightly raised for easy use. We especially like the built-in keyboard backlighting, which turns on with the click of a button. That means you can easily type away in a dimly-lit commuter train or while waiting for a movie to start. The Tungsten C doesn't feature a backlight for its keyboard.

The keyboard includes a number pad section and a few useful extra buttons, like one that opens the Start menu. After a little practice, you'll be inputting at least as fast as with a stylus.

The h4355 includes both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, giving you all you currently need to stay connected wirelessly. Both can be easily turned on with a program under the Start menu called iPAQ Wireless, and they can be turned on independently of each other to save battery life. When Bluetooth is on, a light on the top left of the unit blinks blue, and when Wi-Fi is on the same light blinks green. Both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi worked well in our testing, letting us go online or connect to a Bluetooth printer with no problem. Unlike most wireless units, the h4355, like the Tungsten C, lacks a external antenna, although its wireless range is still robust enough to accommodate a roaming worker.

Other controls on the h4355 include four buttons above the mini-keyboard that provide one-button access to your calendar, contacts, and e-mail, as well as HP's own iTask app, which opens a small window in the lower right of your screen displaying all the currently running applications. Since the Windows Mobile 2003 OS leaves programs running, even after you click the X in the upper right-hand corner to make them go away, users need a quick way to see which programs are still on. iTask offers a solution. It also offers quick access to system controls and brightness settings.

The h4355 also has a voice recorder button on the top left side and a headphone jack and a Secure Digital card slot (which can also take Multimedia Cards) on the top. A thumb-operated jog dial would have been a nice addition, especially for browsing through long Web pages.

The device runs off a 400-MHz Intel XScale PXA255 processor, which is plenty fast for most tasks. It was the fastest Pocket PC processor out when the unit debuted, but the speed limit has already been raised by a few hundred megahertz. The h4355 also has 64MB RAM. The screen seems large at first glance, but that's only because of the length of the PDA. The screen is only a 3.5-inch, 240 by 320 pixel display, which is small compared to others on the market. It's capable of 64,000 colors and produced good color saturation in our testing.

One drawback to the h4355 is that it was introduced before Microsoft Windows Mobile 20003 Second Edition was released, so it still runs Windows Mobile 2003 Premium. That means the user misses out on the niceties of the updated OS, including the ability to view the screen sideways (in landscape mode) or the option to have Internet Explorer rearrange Web pages into one long column. The new OS may not have any must-have features, but they still make the experience easier.

We like the h4355's dock, which not only connects to your PC, but also charges a spare battery (available separately) while you power up your PDA. The battery is a bit larger than standard and holds a bit more charge. We got over four hours even with some wireless use. Having a spare battery would ensure that you'd be typing and tapping away for a whole work day, if you like.

Besides the previously mention iTask, the software bundle includes a few other iPAQ extras, such as iPAQ Backup and iPAQ Image Zone, for viewing pictures. Image Zone is more than a viewer, and also lets you attach sounds or voice notes to pictures, giving you an easy way to create a simple presentation on your handheld.

Besides those titles, you'll find Pocket PC essentials like pocket versions of Word, Excel, Messenger, and MSN, as well as Microsoft Reader, the usual contact and calendar tools, and a few time-killing games.

The keyboard is the first thing you'll notice with the HP iPAQ h4355, but it has a lot more than that going for it. If you never warmed up to a stylus and you're looking for a powerful Pocket PC for real business tasks, we say the h4355 is a great choice.

Reprinted from PDAstreet.