Reg Review Bsquare's pitches its Power Handheld as the next stage in the evolution of wireless computing, but the machine is something of a throwback to the early days of handheld machines. Mobile computing buffs will surely go all misty eyed as they recall the likes of the Poqet PC, the Atari Portfolio, the Olivetti Quaderno, the HP 200LX and all the other gadgets that were dubbed 'palmtops' in the days before Palm. The Power Handheld (PH) is the inheritor of their legacy.
Fortunately for Bsquare, technology has moved on since the late 1980s, and the company's take on that old form-factor is rather more powerful and feature-filled than its predecessors. And, crucially, it's a wireless device, with an integrated GSM/GPRS radio for voice and data communications.
Straight out of the box, the PH looks like a typical PocketPC that's put on a little weight and lost its looks. It's a hefty but not uncomfortable 290g and measures 14 x 8.7 x 2cm. There's a slightly off-centre 4in screen alongside a four-way navigation control with a separate button in the middle. This time, the application activation buttons, of which there are six, are above the display. To its right is the stylus bay; to the left the IrDA port, headset jack, power connector, SIM bay and SD IO slot. On what you might think is the base is the on/off switch and volume controls.
But the PH is no mere Windows Mobile 2003 system. Switch it on and the screen not only reveals itself to be a very slick 640 x 480, 16-bit colour job but one that operates in landscape mode. With the screen the right way round, you're ready to use the keyboard. The lower third of the devices slides out from the device to reveal a mini QWERTY layout spaced to ease two-thumb typing. Imagine a PalmOne Treo 600 stretched to just over twice its usual width and you'll have a good idea of how the PH looks with the keyboard extended.
Comparing the PH to the Treo 600 is apposite. Both are pitched at professionals with a need to read and send emails while they're out and about. But while the PalmOne machine is geared towards people who need something more than a mobile phone but want a handset form factor, the PH comes at the problem from the other direction. Rather than a fat phone, it's a skinny laptop substitute.
Hence the VGA display, big enough, says Bsquare, to give you the kind of screen real estate you'd expect from a PC. Obviously notebook and desktop displays have come on quite a bit from the VGA days, but 640 x 480 remains a good compromise between mobility and resolution.
And it's a very nice screen indeed, presaging what PocketPC manufacturers may yet offer when they get their hands on Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition. At only 4in in the diagonal, it can leave you squinting, but to aid the opthalmically challenged, there's a zoom function. Press the zoom key, located above the navigator control, position the green square over the area of the screen you want magnified, press the button again and up it comes at double the size. You can then scroll around the screen, which remains sensitive to stylus taps.