So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
HP iPAQ rx4540
- 1GB of storage, 802.11b/g WLAN and Bluetooth 2.0, SDIO slot, outstanding audio quality, compact
- Lack of multimedia playback buttons, no camera, only supports Windows Media Video files natively
A PDA dressed in a portable media player's clothing, the rx4540 is an attractive device that is equally good for productivity and mobile entertainment.
Price$ 499.00 (AUD)
Pitched as a 'Mobile Media Companion', the iPAQ rx4540 is HP's latest attempt at breathing new life into the increasingly flagging PDA market. With portable media player sales booming, it makes sense for HP to push the rx4540's multimedia capabilities over its productivity features.
Not that it's any less of a PDA. The rx4540 runs the Windows Mobile 5 operating system, and as such features the full gamut of productivity applications, including Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, Messaging (for push and POP email) and Internet Explorer. For Internet access on the go, it has built-in 802.11b/g WLAN and Bluetooth 2.0, the latter of which lets you jump online by connecting to data-enabled mobile phone.
It's the funky styling of the rx4540 that gives away its 'lifestyle' angle. A lacquered silver body with copper side panels is certainly a change from the standard fare, as is its landscape orientation. The front of the device is dominated by the 2.8in display - smaller than what you'd get on a traditional PDA, but still reasonably good for watching videos. A 320 x 240 pixel resolution and 65 thousand colour depth is nothing out of the ordinary, however great brightness and colour saturation - not to mention excellent viewing angles - make it one of the best handheld screens we've seen.
The smaller screen size also ensures the overall unit is smaller. Measuring 102mm x 63.5mm x 16.75mm and weighing 127g, the rx4540 is roughly the same size as an 80GB iPod. A button on the right-hand edge switches the display orientation between landscape and portrait, and holding the rx4540 in either mode feels good in your hand thanks to the rounded edges and smooth finish.
Multimedia playback is accommodated by Photosmart Mobile and Windows Media Player 10 Mobile. The former is a basic image application that lets you view photos in a slideshow, send them via email or Bluetooth or set them as a screensaver. It doesn't have any image editing features, but you can annotate photos with text or voice recordings.
A surprising omission from the rx4540 is the lack of an integrated camera. If you have a digital camera that uses SD cards however, you can pop the memory card into the SDIO slot to view pictures on the 2.8in screen. While many of the newer compact cameras have a larger 3in display, the ability to send photos from the rx4540 is a useful feature if you're on holiday and didn't bring a laptop.
The SD card slot also makes supplementing the iPAQ's memory much cheaper than on equivalently-sized smart phones, which tend to use the smaller (and more expensive) microSD and miniSD formats. However, if you don't want to spend extra on a memory card, the rx4540's generous 1GB included memory (plus 88.14MB of ROM) is ample for storing music.
Video and music playback is taken care of with Windows Media Player 10 Mobile. You can use version 10 or 11 of Windows Media Player on your PC to synchronise content to the rx4540. While transferring multimedia is a lot faster using a memory card reader and Windows Explorer, going through Windows Media Player lets you set up smart playlists, automatic synchronising, smart shuffle and automatic conversion of formats not supported on the mobile client.
The latter feature is important for video playback. Music formats supported are the standard MP3 and WMA, however video is limited to WMV. We transferred a 700MB movie encoded in DivX; depending on the speed of your PC, conversion takes anywhere from half an hour to two hours for a video this large. Using the default settings, Windows Media Player reduced the file size to a much more manageable 241MB. However it didn't retain the movie's widescreen aspect ratio - instead, it enlarged the picture to fill the whole screen, causing it to look slightly stretched. The good news is that quality doesn't degrade noticeably in the converted WMV file: there is minimal pixilation, smooth playback and audio consistent with the video. Combined with the zippy 400MHz Samsung processor, watching everything from short music clips to full movies on the rx4540 is a pleasure.
Maximum volume on the external, rear-mounted speaker is low, but any misgivings we had about sound quality were quickly remedied when we plugged earphones into the 3.5mm audio jack. A mediocre set of earbuds are included in the box, but even those couldn't disguise the rx4540's audio prowess. It sounds fantastic, furthering the already strong media capabilities of this unit. An iPAQ Audio applet provides a customisable equaliser and six presets, and a 3D Sound setting does a remarkable job at mimicking a surround sound environment.
A removable lithium ion battery keeps the rx4540 ticking along - this can be topped up using the mini-USB cable or AC charger. HP doesn't give a specific battery life figures, stating it depends too much on the applications used.
The included screen cover is appreciated, but as it doesn't flip open, you need to remove it completely to access the touch screen. This is where the lack of dedicated media playback buttons is missed the most, especially on a device that calls itself a Mobile Media Companion. You can, however, reassign the buttons on the right-hand edge to Windows Media Player controls. The lack of four-way directional pad also means that many action games designed for Windows Mobile 5 aren't playable on the rx4540 - disappointing, as its two-handed design makes it perfect for game play.
For those who want PDA functions but don't want to go down the converged smartphone route, the rx4540 is certainly small enough and capable enough to satisfy most needs. It doesn't have enough built-in memory to take on conventional portable media players, but its extra productivity and wireless connectivity features - not to mention its expandability via SD card and Bluetooth - make such a comparison irrelevant.
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