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HP iPAQ 500 Series Voice Messenger

HP Unveils Next Generation iPAQ Smartphone

by Ronald J. Wooldridge, Mobile Technology Editor

On February 12, 2007, HP introduced the latest iPAQ device at the 3GSM conference, Spain. It's an iPAQ like none we've ever seen, a sleek and small smartphone designed to provide the most flexible wireless email experience for business customers possible via voice control and hands-free operation. Hewlett Packard calls the new 51X line "Voice Messengers" though most will probably just think of them as iPAQ smartphones.

The HP iPAQ 500 series Voice Messenger is a handsome "soap bar" design that, in addition to being a phone, has VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) capabilities, "push" email, and uses the new Windows Mobile 6 OS platform. A fully charged 1,100 mAH removable and rechargeable battery provides up to six hours of continuous talk time, immediately putting the new Voice Messenger ahead of most of the competition in the ever-important battery life department. Though HP has offered Pocket PC Phones before, the 500 Series is the company's first Windows Mobile-powered smartphone, and also the first in an entirely new lineup. The purpose of the series, according to HP, is to help mobile professionals stay connected wherever they are.

What's in it?

Since the iPAQ 5000 Series is a smartphone and no longer a Pocket PC Phone, it's rather small and light. We're talking 4.23 x 1.84 x 0.64 inches and a weight of 3.95 ounces. It runs the Windows Mobile 6.0 - Phone Edition platform on a 200 MHz TI OMAP processor, has 64MB of RAM, 128MB of Flash ROM, and has a micro-reflective 2.0-inch TFT display with 176 x 220 pixels. Yes that's right: digital cameras now have bigger LCDs, by far, than the latest smartphones.

In terms of controls, there is a compact 5-way navigation button, the standard green and red pick-up and hang-up bottons, two softkey function buttons, "Home" and Enter, volume control and voice command. The LED-backlit 12-button numeric keyboart is large and supremely readable, very much unlike the increasingly tiny and stylized buttons some of the competition offers. There is a microSD card slot, a 2.5mm stereo headphone jack and USB connectivity to the PC.

On the software side, you get a highly readable and logically arranged Start screen, the standard Microsoft software, and a number of HP-exclusive apps, those being iPAQ DataConnect to automatically configure the 5000 Series for the carrier's network settings, iPAQ Help and Support, iPAQ Shortcuts, VoiceReply to emails, Cyberon Voice Commands, MMS Composer as well as iPAQ Tips, Setup Assistant, Asset Viewer, Certificate Enroller, and a few more.

Without going into much detail on the Windows Mobile 6 platform, we'll mention that it gives business professionals a significantly enhanced Outlook Mobile experience. You can view emails in their original HTML format if they are sent that way, and there's quick access to contacts with the ability to search a call history and contacts database. And, of course, the ubiquitous built-in suite of mobile versions of the Office apps provides warm fuzzies and a familiar look and feel.

Voice replies and commands

Voice commands in handhelds are not new, but they have not generally been featured as a primary way to communicate with a phone or Pocket PC. The iPAQ 500 Series uses more than 20 voice commands with the goal to offer customers hands-free operation. Using a "voice reply" feature you can reply to email by dictating and sending a voice response, without the need for any typing. Users also can listen to email and text messages, navigate through phone and calendar tasks and issue spoken commands to start applications.

Voice over IP

Another feature that's been used in vertical market handhelds for years but is new to general purpose smartphones is that the HP iPAQ Voice Messenger offers a Voice over IP alternative to traditional office phone setups via built-in Wi-Fi. By integrating the HP iPAQ Voice Messenger with office phone systems, businesses can actually eliminate the need for desk phones and benefit from streamlined communications and reduced IT management. For regular phone operations, the iPAQ 500 uses GSM/EDGE. It also has Bluetooth for a variety of other wireless connectivity options.

What HP and Microsoft say about it

"Busy professionals are constantly flooded with email and looking for ways to quickly and easily manage it and move on with their day," said Dave Rothschild, vice president, Handheld Business Unit, Personal Systems Group, HP. "Our HP iPAQ Voice Messenger smartphone gives mobile users an easy way to manage all types of communications and stay focused on their business."

Todd Warren, corporate vice president of the Mobile and Embedded Devices Division at Microsoft said, "Windows Mobile 6 delivers advanced communications, increased productivity and integrated mobile business performance all within the familiar Microsoft software experience. We're pleased to work with HP to offer a device that will help businesses thrive by enabling people to access important data wherever they are."

Bitfone acquisition pays off

The HP iPAQ Voice Messenger is also the first iPAQ to offer over-the-air device management capabilities that became available with HP's recent acquisition of Bitfone Corp. With these capabilities, businesses can remotely manage and support the HP iPAQ 500's performance, security and access to applications, data and networks. For example, IT managers can remotely erase data on lost or misplaced devices, configure and repair units, and provide updates and security applications.

Mobile pros want fun, too!

And in addition to all this corporate stuff, on-the-go professionals get to have fun with the new iPAQ phone -- or, sorry, Voice Messenger: there's digital entertainment in the form of music, watching videos, playing games, and capturing and sharing photos wirelessly.


The HP iPAQ 500 series Voice Messenger is expected to be available this spring in the United States direct from HP and select authorized dealers. International pricing and availability for the HP iPAQ 500 series will vary.

Bottom line

It's clear. For now, the era of the Pocket PC as we knew it is over. It hasn't gone away, but its role has been usurped by phones. From now on, the challenge will be to pack as much PDA and "computer" functionality into as small a package as is feasible and possible. It is a tough challenge. The public loves phones as small and sleek as possible -- witness the huge popularity of Motorola RAZR-style fliphones -- and even if they aren't as stylish as the RAZR and its siblings, they are gobbled up by the millions if they are small enough. In order to reach critical mass, smartphone makers must do the seemingly impossible: offering a device that's small enough so as to be attractive as a cool cellphone while still offering standard, heavy-duty and secure email and data communication, and perhaps more. And do all that while not totally falling prey to the phone companies' myriad of balkanizing "services" and extra charges.

This first iPAQ smartphone is promising, IF HP once again shows full commitment to the iPAQ as opposed to the rather confusing path of the last couple of years.