HP Jornada 548 – Review

My experience is that PDA users are as loyal to particular brand of PDA as the Windows vs. Linux people, the PCs vs. Macs people, and the old Atari vs. Amiga wars.

Because of that, I’m going to try to stay clear of singing the praises of Pocket PC over Psions or Palms, or any other type of PDA. All I will say on the matter is that I’ve been a Psion 5 user for a number of years, and although I still use, and like my Psion, I find that it’s inclusion of a keyboard makes it just that bit too big to carry around on a daily basis.

That said though, a keyboard is, in my opinion, a very valuable addition for a PDA. I can type much quicker that I can write, especially when forced to write on the screen of a PDA using character recognition. However, with the addition of a “Stowaway keyboard”, my new Jornada 548 does virtually everything I want it to.

I first came across Windows CE in general, and HP Jornadas in particular when working for a company a year or so ago who wanted to run their web application on a Jornada 720 (the 720 being a Handheld PC, rather than a Pocket PC, one of the main differences being the addition of a built in keyboard).

I immediately was impressed by the quality of the HP machines, and in particular, the ease in which documents, contacts, e-mail and other items can be synchronized with desktop PCs. I use Outlook 2000 extensively, and my main stipulation for a new handheld was that it must be able to synchronize with Outlook.

Windows for Pocket PCs (AKA Windows CE), being a Microsoft product, allows virtually seamless synchronization with Windows based PCs. This is not unique to the HP Jornada, but is a function of the ActiveSync software that comes with all Win CE machines.

(This may, or may not, be a good time to point out that Microsoft have recently change the name of Windows CE to “Windows for Pocket PCs”, the general consensus being that they were not too happy with Windows CE being shorted to Win CE, and pronounce “Wince” :-).

There are a number of Windows CE Pocket PCs on the market, probably the most notable ones currently being the HP Jornada 548, and the Compaq iPAD both running Windows CE version 3. Both are very good machines, and my choice of the HP was made primarily because of the inclusion of a CF type 1 (Compact Flash) port as standard in the HP. The Compaq also supports CF (and the better known, and larger, PCMCIA), but requires the purchase of an additional “sleeve” to allow CF or PCMCIA cards to be used (although the PCMCIA card sleeve also comes with an additional battery).

Compact Flash is an interface usually used for the addition of extra memory, however there are also non-memory CF cards available (I have a CF network card for example). The network card will not allow the Jornada to “map” network drives in the way you may be used to on you desktop or portable PC, but will allow access to Intranet and/or Internet sites via the network. Bluetooth, and wireless network cards should also soon be available in the CF format.

Hardware The Jornada 548 is based around a 133Mhz, 32-bit Hitachi processor. It comes with 16Mb of ROM (holding the operating system, plus some of the “standard” applications), and 32Mb of RAM. When I bought my 548, I was given a free 24Mb CF card, but so far, I’ve found the internal 32Mb plenty for my needs.

The internal memory is split between “storage memory” and “program memory”, the ratio between the two is set at 50/50 initially (meaning 16Mb for storage, and 16Mb for programs to use), but this ratio can be changed very easily.

The screen is a colour LCD screen at a resolution of 240 by 320. Measuring the screen from corner to corner reveals that its size is just under 4 inches. Plenty big enough for an “on the move” PC.

The Jornada comes as standard with both a USB cradle, and a serial lead, either of which can be used for connecting it to your PC. The USB cradle is by far the preferred method as it simply requires the Jornada to be “dropped” into the cradle for synchronization to start (as well as charging the battery).

Other ports include a standard IrDA port, which allows connection to a PC via infra red, or the use of a mobile phone to act as a modem (assuming the phone supports it of course). For what it’s worth, I had the Jornada connected to the Internet using my Nokia 7110 in a matter of minutes. There is also a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.

The overall size of the Jornada is 130mm by 78mm by 16mm. Certainly small enough to slip into a pocket, and with a weight of around 260 grams, it’s not too intrusive.

Input comes in the form of a stylus pen that is used in the way we’re used to seeing on PDAs. Characters may be input using either a pop-up, on screen, keyboard, or using character recognition. I initially thought that I’d only ever use the pop-up keyboard, but the character recognition is so intuitive, and easy to use, that I’ve found I tend to use that more than anything else (in fact, much of this review has been written on the Jornada using the stylus pen).

An “on-off” button is located on the front of the unit, as are four programmable buttons (which default to some of the main applications such as the diary and contact list).

The left hand side of the Jornada holds a recessed “record” button (for taking voice notes), and a scroll button which can be used in much the same way as the wheel on the intellimouse (e.g., for scrolling though a document).

Software The Jornada is packed with software both in ROM, and included in the accompanying CD. Some the titles included are:

Microsoft Windows for Pocket PC

Pocket Outlook
Pocket Word
Pocket Excel
Pocket Internet Explorer
Microsoft Reader
Microsoft Media Player
OmniSolve (calculator, conversions etc.)
PeaceMaker 1.0 (exchange docs via IrDA)

Plus a few other bits and bobs included on the HP CD. I won’t bother to describe this software in detail, with the exception of MS-Reader which deserves a mention:

For those unfamiliar with MS-Reader, it is a software product which allows electronic books to be read on your portable device. I was always a little skeptical about the usability of such a product, although I must admit that I’ve become a complete convert.

MS-Reader compatible Books can be bought from a number of web sites (or downloaded from certain newsgroups, Not that I ever do that of course! :-), and although will never make the printed book obsolete, do have a number of advantages.

The most obvious advantage being that you can now carry around as many books as you have storage space for. However the main advantage I’ve found is the ability to read books in bed without disturbing my other half! To cut a long story short, I’m an insomniac, and often when I can’t sleep, I’ll get up, pop downstairs, and read for an hour or so. The problem of course being that I’m inherently a lazy person, so getting out of bed, fumbling around for a dressing gown (which of course, is never on the hook behind the door, and generally on the floor somewhere), walking downstairs and disturbing the cats (who then inferably demand something to eat) can all get a little too much. But I can’t turn the light on in the bedroom without my girlfriend waking up and giving me grief, so up until now, I had no choice in the matter.

With the Jornada, my worries (and the cat’s midnight feasts) are finally over. All I need to do now is reach over for the Jornada, press the “on” button, and the backlight of the LCD screen allows me to happily read whatever book I currently have stored on it without any of the previous troubles. Eyestrain is virtually non-existent, and I find I can quite happy read for as long as I’d read a paper book without my eyes starting to bleed!

AvantGo AvantGo has nothing to do with HP, but rather the PDA community as a whole (that includes Palm users of course). I thought it was worth a mention here because it’s such a useful service.

Basiclly the AvantGo.com web site allows various web content to be downloaded to your PDA for you to read at your leisure off-line. Web sites are downloaded automatically using the ActiveSync software (at least, for the Windows CE version). There are a number of web sites which you can subscribe to using AvantGo including BBC News, DigiGuide, and of course, the Automated Home UK AvantGo version of its News page..

Connectivity As I’ve previously mentioned, the Jornada comes as standard with both USB and serial connections, however, sometimes this isn’t quite enough.

One of my ideas in purchasing a Windows CE machine was to use it as a portable MP3 player throughout the house. I pipe music down to a stereo in the front room from a PC, but there are times when I’d like to listen to music in rooms which are fitted with CAT5, but do not contain a music system.

Using the Jornada, I wanted to be able to connect to the network, and play MP3’s directly from the server. In theory this sounded like an easy task, but the reality has been a little more complicated!

Of course, I could simply copy MP3 files to the Jornada, and play them “locally”, but the problem with this is that I currently have over 40 Gb of MP3s (having recently MP3’ed my CD collection), and as far as I’m aware, there isn’t a 40Gb CF memory card available! (yet!).

Windows CE does support network devices, however it doesn’t support network clients, which means that although TCP/IP works, you can’t map a drive in the same way you would on a desktop Windows machine. The upshot of this, is that you can’t just plug a network card such as the Socket CF+ LP (LP = Low Power), map a drive, and play MP3’s. Instead you have to stream the audio via the network.

I don’t want to get too bogged down with this process here, but the upshot is that the current version of Media Player for Pocket PC’s doesn’t support streaming, and the new “technology preview” version of Media Player does, but only WMA files, and not MP3s. I’ve yet to find a Windows CE MP3 player which is capable of streaming (if anyone knows of one, please drop me an e-mail! I’m not sure I fancy converting all my MP3s to WMA format!).

However, at least the network connection allows me to browse web sites on the Jornada via the ICS connection to my cable modem, although most web sites are (obviously) designed for larger screens, and can look a little cluttered on a 4 inch screen! HP do supply a WAP browser for the Jornada, and this is sometimes a better option for small screen browsing.

Wireless networking is the next obvious step?

Conclusion The HP Jornada 548 is a well built, easy to use, Pocket PC. if you’re in the market for a Windows CE based machine then it’s certainly worth a look, although don’t dismiss the Compaq iPAQ if you have the need to use PCMCIA cards (although remember that not all PCMCIA cards will work with Pocket PCs – You’ll also need CE drivers of course).

For me, the Jornada with it’s built-in type 1 CF slot is an ideal machine. MS-Reader alone makes it worth the money!

Approximate Price £386.00

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