Powering the handheld
What may limit the ability to enter large quantities of text on the PH is not the keyboard, but the battery. Even Bsquare suggests using the mains adaptor whenever possible. The screen's backlight can be set to dim after a period of inactivity, but keeping it on - which you need to do while using the device - the 1900mAh battery will run flat in just a few hours. Voice calls and GPRS links will reduce it further. Beyond a certain level, the PH will shut down the GSM radio. So don't do what I did: spend two hours typing only to find that you can't email the document because there's insufficient power to activate the wireless link.
That said, the PH last as long in the field as some of the smart phones I've tried, such as Nokia's 6600 and Siemens' SX1. I found that the Treo 600's battery lasts longer, though that's probably because of its more aggressive backlight-killing settings. These devices are far more likely to be used for voice than the PH. Indeed, it's hard to see anyone using the Bsquare box as a phone, even though it allows you to do so. The keyboard slider also holds the PH's microphone and speaker. The latter's too crackly at high volume settings, so most users will opt for the bundled headset, which includes its own volume control and a switch to flip between stereo mode for music playback and mono/mic for phone calls. Bsquare also bundles a rather natty leather case.
In fact, I expect most PH users who make a good number of calls each day will keep a separate handset. Alas, the PH has no inherent Bluetooth support - though you can add it using the SD IO slot - so there's no way to dial contacts across devices. Wi-Fi can be added in the same way, but I look forward to the day when both wireless technologies are integrated into the device.
It's tempting to see the Power Handheld being squeezed out by notebooks on one side and PDAs/smart phones on the other. But mobile computing isn't a one-size fits all market, and there's room for a variety of form-factors. Bsquare's device does meet the need of users who want a portable data terminal that can offer a less crammed display and text entry system than a PDA or smartphone yet can offer such a laptop-like experience without the weight.
However, it doesn't come cheap. Vodafone is offering the device for between £170 and £400, depending on the tariff you choose, which limits it to big business. Those prices aren't unreasonable, but they can be hard to justify when a subsidised Treo can be had for £50.
But the experience the two devices offer is very different, and for heavy-duty email work, the PH is by far the easiest to use, thanks to its bigger keyboard. For web browsing and document creation it's the superior solution. What it lacks is the portability and voice-friendliness of the other machine.
But if you're looking for a lighter, more mobile alternative to a laptop, the Power Handheld, with that gorgeous VGA screen and Windows XP look'n'feel, is hard to beat. The palmtop is back. ®
|Vodafone/Bsquare Power Handheld|
|Pros||— Superb 640 x 480 display
— Compact yet usable stowable keyboard
— Integrated GSM/GPRS wireless connectivity
— Not a friendly voice phone
— No integrated Bluetooth or Wi-Fi
|Price||£170-400 plus Vodafone airtime contract|
|More info||The Bsquare web site|
Visit The Reg's Review Channel for more hardware coverage.