You wouldn’t believe it, but manufacturers are still churning out smartphones based on Windows Mobile. Phones running Microsoft’s dilapidated mobile operating system are a lot more fiddly to use compared to Apple’s dreamy iPhone but are arguably better suited to business environments. The latest HP iPAQ device is a sleek and relatively compact 3G smartphone that delivers a flexible wireless e-mail experience for business customers through easy-to-use voice control and hands-free operation. The iPAQ Voice Messenger (from £337/$469) features voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) capabilities, push e-mail and the latest Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system. With up to 6 hours of continuous talk time on a fully charged battery, the iPAQ Voice Messenger has been designed to help highly mobile professionals stay connected wherever they are.

Windows Mobile
Windows Mobile is a relatively compact operating system combined with a suite of basic applications. It has been updated multiple times, with the current version being Windows Mobile 6.5 (HP’s iPAQ Voice Messenger uses the second latest revision, Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard). Windows Mobile 6.1, which was launched last year, was a minor upgrade to the existing Windows Mobile 6 platform and brought with it various performance enhancements, including a stylish redesigned Home screen featuring horizontal tiles that expand on clicking to display more information. Several other improvements such as threaded SMS and full page zooming in IE were also added.

Version 6.5 is a somewhat minor upgrade again. Released to manufacturers only last month, the first devices running the operating system are expected to debut during Autumn this year. Despite being an incremental update, the operating system promises ‘significant’ new features such as a revamped graphical user interface and new Internet Explorer Mobile browser. Some aspects of the user interface have been redesigned mainly for easier finger usage, with the home screen resembling that of Microsoft’s Zune player and the sliding panel interface of Windows Mobile 6.1.

Design
The iPAQ Voice Messenger (50×136×114mm, 107g) has a candy bar design with 20-key QWERTY/numeric keypad. Thanks to its two-tone glossy finish it’s also a very nice looking handset, both in and out of the office. The ‘flat’ alphanumeric keypad looks great too, but those with larger fingers will struggle with the spacing of the small keys. The unique 5-way optical navigation button takes a bit of getting used to – unlike a traditional D-pad it has no movement but you move your finger around to navigate – as does the ‘intelligent’ predictive text capabilities that learn your vocabulary and style from messages and e-mails for progressively faster and easier message composition.

HP has done a good job of keeping controls to a minimum. On the left side is the normal earpiece volume up and down buttons, a shortcut button pre-programmed to the voice command application, and a key guard lock button that helps to avoid dialling numbers accidentally. The right hand side of the phone has a dedicated camera button, a micro USB charging port and a non-standard 2.5mm headset jack. Finally, the top has a switch similar to those found on Palm Treo devices. Slide it along and the phone conveniently goes into a silent mode (shuts off all noises and puts the phone into vibrate mode), a great feature for meetings and the cinema. Removing the battery cover was more cumbersome than I’d have liked, but one you’re under you can access the SIM card slot, microSD card slot and the battery.

Features
The Qualcomm 7201A (528MHz) processor and 128MB of RAM keep the iPAQ Voice Messenger chugging along nicely, and the speed of the phone overall is actually quite impressive. It zips through menus very quickly and plays various video formats without missing a beat. The 2.4-inch transmissive TFT display (320×240) display with LED backlight is bright and crisp, although once you’ve used an iPhone you’ll never want anything but touchscreen – and at least 3.5 inches!

The handset’s primary benefit is keeping you in touch with the office – and it does a great job. You can easily setup and access e-mail and connect to the Internet thanks to quad-band GSM, tri-band UMTS and HSDPA. Travellers can also connect to the Internet and e-mail where 802.11b/g Wi-Fi is available, as well as find their way on the road with integrated GPS and pre-installed Google Maps. Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR is also included, should you want to use a wireless headset.

The iPAQ Voice Messenger features Microsoft’s Office Outlook Mobile, making synchronising contacts, appointments and tasks a breeze. The device also features up to 8GB of built-in memory to access important Office Mobile files and store favourite photos and music, although there is a microSD slot securely hidden underneath the battery cover for additional storage. Capturing and sharing still images and movies with the 3.1-Megapixel auto focus camera with built-in LED flash is a snap thanks to the dedicated shutter release button, as is altering settings such as resolution, brightness, contrast, and white balance.

More than 20 voice commands are available for hands-free operation. Using a ‘voice reply’ feature, you can reply to e-mail by dictating and sending a voice response, without the need for any typing. You also can listen to e-mail and text messages, navigate through phone and calendar tasks and speak to start applications. Having said that, I’m sure most of you won’t want the embarrassment of talking to a phone and will stick to the traditional menu system.

Conclusion
Busy professionals constantly flooded with communications are always looking for ways to quickly and easily manage them and move on with their day. HP’s iPAQ Voice Messenger is an attractive and small form factor candy bar phone with a solid operating system and snappy processor. And thanks to its strong voice features it gives mobile users an alternative way to manage various types of communications handsfree. Performance was very good, voice quality was superb, and it did a good job of holding onto a connection in weaker signal areas.

Unfortunately, the iPAQ Voice Messenger is not without serious flaws. The keyboard is small, especially for heavy data input, and the touch-sensitive D-pad is a nightmare – sometimes it registers perfectly, but other times it takes multiple goes. As this is the device’s main navigation control, it will infuriate you. The lack of a standard 3.5mm headphone jack is another huge annoyance. HP’s iPAQ Data Messenger would be a better choice for those who prefer a ‘proper’ keypad, but for those wanting a relatively powerful business phone with added smartphone functionality, the iPAQ Voice Messenger is probably worth a look – just make sure you try it before you buy.