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HP’s iPAQ Named Best Handheld

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Three-time Datamation Product of the Year 2004 winner Hewlett-Packard Co. took the mobile category by storm, with more votes than the other three finalists combined.

Readers gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to HP’s powerful business-class iPAQ 5550 series. With 128 Megabytes of RAM and a 400MHz Intel processor, these nifty little handhelds come ready to work.

”We don’t think it’s a good product. We think it’s a great product,” says Tom Richards, manager of business applications delivery for $550 million Simpson Strong-Tie Co., a maker of timber connectors in Dublin, Calif.

Prior to receiving the iPAQ Pocket PCs, Strong-Tie’s 110 salespeople used to tote notebook computers to the five to seven customers they visit each day. The company’s customers range from the largest home improvement retailers to lumber yards and construction sites. These rugged environments proved to be unfriendly to the laptops. Dust got into the machines and they were cumbersome to lug around the building sites.

Salespeople stopped using them.

And it became a problem. Not having ready access to literature and contact information wasn’t helping the sales process any. ”Our sales guys were falling behind,” says Richards.

After six months spent evaluating 12 different state-of-the-art handheld devices, Simpson String-Tie opted to buy iPAQ Pocket PCs — the h5550 series — for its entire sales staff.

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”With a 400MHz processor and 128 megs of RAM, you essentially have a notebook in the palm of your hand,” says Richards. ”They could take these on job sites with wood bits and sawdust flying around. It didn’t matter. They have e-mail, calendar, contacts right in their hand. The 5550 was a homerun.”

The 5550’s hefty RAM was particularly important, as Richards wanted to give the sales folks wireless access to the Pivotal call-reporting application on their handhelds. After seeing that the 5550 could handle the Pivotal application with ease, Richards had his team rewrite the application to run on the iPAQ.

”Our sales people can now target new markets and handle problems daily,” he says. ”None of our competitors can even come close to that.”

The iPAQ 5550’s integrated Wi-Fi support was another big plus for Simpson Strong-Tie, as many of the company’s customers have 802.11 wireless access points. This model also comes with support for the Bluetooth wireless protocol.

With a street price of more than $600 per unit, this iPAQ Pocket PC is too expensive for causal use. The second place winner in the mobile category, the PalmOne Inc. Tungsten T2, comes in at a much more palatable $300 or so.

At that price you don’t get the robust business features for which the iPAQ 5550 is deservedly famous. For example, the Tungsten T2’s 32MB of RAM and 144MHz Texas Instruments OMAP1510 processor don’t stack up to the HP iPAQ 5550’s. But the sleek design, integrated Bluetooth support and high-quality screen are all worthy of praise.

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