Because you hate to compromise — on anything — Hewlett-Packard bundles almost everything you could possibly want in a handheld into the iPaq Pocket PC h4350. The result, predictably, looks a little glued-together, but that’s the price of having it all — you just can’t fit it into a neat little package.

The h4350 resembles its sister product, the h4150, with the addition of a dark-gray keyboard grafted, Frankenstein-like, onto the bottom of its silver casing. This tiny QWERTY keyboard is usable provided your thumbs aren’t too large. As soon as you press a key, a blue backlight causes the letters on each key to glow. We found the light actually impeded readability, particularly since the keys aren’t evenly illuminated.

Four silver function buttons provide direct access to the calendar, contact list, e-mail, and iTask, a task-switching applet for iPaqs. A five-way navigation button in the middle protrudes a bit, reducing (but not entirely eliminating) the possibility that you’ll accidentally hit the adjacent T and Y keys. The h4350’s transflective color LED screen is vivid and bright in all conditions. And while it’s not the largest screen in our roundup, its 320 x 240 pixels are sufficient for clear, readable text, and its 65,536 colors are adequate for displaying photos or videos.

Like other Pocket PCs, the h4350 synchronizes only with Microsoft Outlook on your desktop or notebook computer. If you’re a Mac user, you need Pocket Mac Pro (see review on page 76); if you use organizers other than Outlook, you need third-party sync software, such as Pumatech’s Intellisync.

A button on the left edge of the h4350 lets you take instant voice memos. The recording quality is quite decent, considering the small size of the microphone built into the h4350’s top edge. But be careful: If you put the iPaq into a shoulder bag or purse without a carrying case, it’s easy for this button to bump against other things and start recording accidentally. The h4350 can play MP3 and WMA audio files as well as ASF video files. With a headphone, the sound is good — for a PDA — though it’s short on volume and bass response.

The h4350 includes support for both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (802.11b). The included iPaq Wireless application lets you turn either networking option on or off with a single click, although this app occasionally hung up, requiring a soft reboot. When Bluetooth is turned on, a status light next to the power button blinks blue; it blinks green to indicate that Wi-Fi is active. In case these connectivity options aren’t enough, the h4350 also supports infrared links.

Under the hood, the 400MHz XScale processor gives the h4350 impressive computing power, with fast CPU, file system, graphics, and ActiveSync performance. Of the Pocket PCs we benchmarked, only the iPaq h4150 was faster. It’s snappy and responsive, applications are quick to launch, and switching between applications happens almost instantaneously, although there was an occasional delay when turning off the handheld. The h4350 has 64MB of RAM, of which 55MB are available for use. And if you need more, you can plug a Secure Digital card into the provided slot.

The h4350’s increased length gives it room for a larger, longer-lasting lithium-ion battery — 1,560mAh — which delivered an impressive seven hours and 24 minutes of battery life in our tests. This battery is removable, so you can replace it with an even bigger 3,600mAh battery ($120) if you need more juice.

These features are overkill if all you want is a basic organizer, and there are definitely better-looking PDAs out there. But the h4350’s speedy performance, varied networking options, and long battery life make it a good choice for a corridor warrior who needs to stay connected and informed while roaming the office — or while at the local coffee shop. -Dylan Tweney

HP iPaq Pocket PC h4350
Weight: 5.8 ounces
Size: 5 x 2.9 x 0.5 inches
Specs: 400MHz XScale processor; 64MB of RAM; 3.5-inch 320 x 240-pixel color TFT; 802.11b; Bluetooth; infrared; SD card slot; thumb keyboard; replaceable lithium-ion battery; Windows Mobile 2003

Rating: * * * *

Link: HP iPaq Pocket PC h4350

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