Last year HP embarked into the mobile media market with its iPaq rx3xxx line of PDAs, a product sold primarily to consumers who prefer an all-in-one PDA/video/audio device. They released two versions of the series, the rx3115 and the higher-end rx3715. Geeks.com sent us the rx3115 and we put it to test.Overview
The device features the 312 Mhz Samsung S3C 2440 processor, 64 MB RAM from which 41 MBs are available to be shared as storage and main memory (more on this later), 32 MBs of internal flash of which 4 MBs can be used as storage ROM, integrated Universal Remote Control/IrDA, Wi-Fi 802.11b, Bluetooth 1.1, SD/MMC slot, 3.5″ QVGA TFT at 65k colors, microphone, headphone jack, external speaker, 920 mAh battery and a pleasantly thick stylus. The box includes a sudo-leather case, Plantronics earbud headphones, power cables (USB 1.1 and direct charging are supported), CDs and manuals. The device comes without a cradle, although this is available as a third party accessory. On the software side, the rx3115 comes with Windows 2003SE Pro with all the MS Office apps pre-installed and it has the latest ROM available pre-installed (v1.01.11). The OS and apps load into RAM after a soft-reset in a 16-seconds time.
The PDA weighs 147 grams and I could say that it has a “small” size compared to other PDAs, especially the Dell or the high-end iPaqs. The PDA has a 5-way joystick and 4 programmable application launch buttons, which default to iPAQ Mobile Media, HP Image Zone, Nevo Universal Remote and iTask. Pressing them longer makes them load alternative office applications. There is also a side button that when pressed opens up Note’s Voice Recording application. Pressing longer the “On/Off” button dims the screen backlight, but unfortunately there is no “Hold” button, which is peculiar, as this is supposed to be a media device. One of the best hardware parts of the product is its stylus. Myself, coming from the Dell PocketPC world where nearly all of their stylus designs suck (too thin), the rx3115 features a thick, well-built stylus that doesn’t do wrong when in your fingers — that’s a welcome usability feature. I only have three gripes with the hardware design of this product, but only one really gets on my nerves. The two small gripes: the 4 programmable buttons are a bit small and the second gripe is the battery cover which is too relaxed and moves around (the battery cover is *safely locked*, but it does move around in its allowed space). The one, real big gripe I have with the industrial design is the camera placeholder, because there is no camera in this model. You see, HP uses the same body for both rx3xxx PDAs (cheaper manufacturing that way). The rx3715 comes with a 1.3 MP camera in it while the rx3115 does not have a camera, but it still has the special curved placeholder for it, taking space and looking weird (it looks like an eye patch).
The rx3xxx series come with the best collection of media software in the PDA market today. HP has put lots of effort to innovate here and differentiate from its competitor’s PDAs and mp3/video players. The “Today” screen has been replaced by the HP Mobile Entertainment plugin which loads for the user the photo viewing application (very easy to use and full of features), the Nevo Universal Remote which allows you to control all your living-room devices, and the Mobile Media, which can play mp3/wma music and wmv/avi video. HP also includes the “PocketTV Pro” third party application which enables mpeg1 playback, and the HP “Pocket Painter”, the best painting app I have seen on a PDA as of yet. HP also includes its own backup application and iTask, a popup window that lets you close active applications rather than just minimize them (although I personally prefer the much lighter vBar). We should not be forgetting the excellent Zone printing software, which allows you to connect to any network, IR or Bluetooth printer!
Going back to the media applications, I found the performance extremely good, in fact this 312 Mhz CPU fares way better than my ex-PDA’s, the Axim X5-Advanced which had a PXA255 CPU at 400 Mhz. On the X5, WMV QVGA videos would drop frames here and there but the rx3115 flies with any QVGA+ Avi/mpeg and WMV/ASF videos I threw at it. HP includes a Windows-based Nevo media server in its software CDs that allows you to use your PC as a server and stream/share media files through WiFi/network in addition on loading local media files from the SD slot. Regarding the Universal Remote Control, it supported both my 55″ and 27″ Sharp TVs and my Comcast cable box perfectly, but it didn’t seem to work out of the box with my Philips DVD, Philips surround receiver, Yamaha amplifier and Sony CD player. By registering at mynevo.com it let’s you download newest versions of the .lrc files that contain updated information to let Nevo “talk” to your devices. Otherwise, the user must know the “device code” and enter it manually. Another welcome media surprise in this product is the inclusion of the recent Microsoft Media Player 10 in addition to the cool Nevo media player.
I made a few tests with the 920 mAh battery and it proved to make the rx3115 a good average-battery-life PDA. It is not going to receive any awards or anything, but it does the job as I would expect from any PDA in its price range. With LCD brightness 50%, IrDA/WiFi/BT ON and using the PDA continuously by playing games, streaming music off the net, and sending files from my Powerbook via Bluetooth, it lasted 2 hours. With LCD brightness 50%, IrDA/WiFi/BT OFF and using the PDA periodically, but with some local mp3s play back on the background the whole time, the PDA lasted 5 hours. With the LCD off and all wireless off too, playing local mp3s, the PDA lasted a bit less than 6:30 hours. I estimate 7:30-8 hours of battery life when the PDA is just used periodically for office purposes only (but with its LCD being ON the whole time). When in standby, the PDA can run a few weeks without any charging needed in the meantime. Concluding, the battery life performance is very good for normal office usage, good enough to view 2 movies back to back, but pretty poor when used as an mp3 player (real mp3 players can do a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of 32 hours). Optional 1440 and 2880 mAh Lithium-lon batteries are available for purchase.
The Storage Space Fiasco
If there is one, single, real problem with this device is its storage capacity. Honestly, I feel insulted by HP for providing only 4 MBs of file-store (in reality it’s just 3.8 MBs), or in PPC speak, “ROM storage”, when all other PPC manufacturers offer 32 MBs minimum (e.g. my Dell x50v has 128 MBs in it, 96 MBs usable). The device also has 64 MBs of main RAM but only 41 MBs are available for usage because of the many special HP media apps and drivers loaded by default. Now, from that 41 MBs, you can take the decision of either installing apps in there, or for saving it all for program memory usage. Myself and most PPC power users do just that: save the main memory for usage as main memory only, because overtime some applications install some files in there EVEN if the user instructed them to get installed on an SD or on storage ROM (e.g. drivers, all Resco apps put help files in RAM, Netfront places files there too etc). In other words, it is safer in the long run to never install any apps on the main memory and instead to use the SD/CF slots or the storage ROM. So, with only 4 MBs of storage ROM, I was out of application space already 30 minutes after I started using this PDA. I have a set of 8-10 third party applications that I always use and need on all my PDAs. The rx3115 fails in this very basic need. And no, installing apps on the SD card is not the optimal thing to do, because remember, this is a *Media PDA*. Meaning, that I can have many SD cards, each with different style of music, or different movies ripped in them. In other words, the SD slot in this Media PDA should be used as a way to view different kinds of media, not to store apps. If a Compact Flash or a second SD slot were also included, things would be better. At the end, I was forced to install some of my apps in the main memory, and that left me with only 25 MBs of overall free RAM (and I should note that having the Nevo media app open, plus IE browsing some large web pages, poof!, takes your memory away in an instant)…
A month ago I made a mini online research and presented on my blog a list of the best three bang-for-the-buck PDAs (for the $250 price-point or below). The rx3115, despite its major ROM storage shortcoming and the lack of a cradle or a VGA camera, still keeps the second place because of its dual wireless and good IrDA implementation, special HP media apps, feel-good looks, attention to detail. It’s a good media and office PDA and I can fully recommend it to people who don’t want to pay a lot for a PDA, and yet get tons of features from it. Just make sure you buy an SD card for it too.
Pros: WiFi, Bluetooth, remote control functionality, unique media applications, good performance, fair price.
Cons: embarrassingly low storage space, small inconveniences here and there.