Back in the days when Windows was everywhere! Up today is a review of the hp5455, a PocketPC developed by hp using Windows Mobile 2003. Come see the platform that allowed us to take all the joys of Windows in our pocket.
Ah, PocketPCs. Back in the 90s, when I was on a plane one day flying down to Melbourne with my mum, I grabbed the inflight magazine and flicked through the pages. It was an Ansett flight, and we were in Business class for a change, and it was awesome. On the back of the magazine was an advertisement for a Windows CE device. Man, how awesome did that look? It wasn’t until much later when I saw one such device in person, at which point it lost its appeal. Much later though I did get a PocketPC, something from Toshiba… an E305 or something? Can’t remember, but it ran Windows Mobile 2003 and it was awesome, for me at least. This was back in 2003 so I felt pretty cool running an OS like that. Then I got a hp5455 a little later on in 2004. This Blast from the Past episode focuses on the little device that consumed my life for a while.
Firstly, the system specs. Originally running PocketPC 2002, my one was upgraded to Windows Mobile 2003. It had a 400Mhz Intel XScale CPU with 64MB of RAM and a 48MB ROM. The display was capable of a res of 240×320. It has an SD card slot, a speaker, 802.11b wireless adapter, microphone, vibrate feature, and Bluetooth. It also happened to have a fingerprint scanner, which frequently didn’t work (hell, most of the ones today still don’t work properly). It also weighed about 206 grams and is a bit larger than my iPhone 4, which just shows how much we’ve advanced. There was also an IR port if I recall but I have no idea where it actually is, probably on the top of the device.
Booting up the thing today took a bit of work on my part… it hasn’t been started for… hmm, maybe 4 years now? The battery was pretty much toast when it was still in active use, so I had to remember how to force it to boot after being off for so long. Battery life has always been shit with this thing though, so no surprises there. As you can see, the main screen looks like a Windows XP desktop without the desktop part; there’s a neat Start menu with Programs and Settings (which was basically Control Panel). Also like Windows there was an additional theme installed called Spiral, which was blue, and which was better than the default green hills theme.
This screenshot shows the Owner Information panel as well as one of the input methods, namely the onscreen keyboard, which works exactly like a normal keyboard; hitting SHIFT would let you access symbols, and I have no idea what CTRL and ALT did, probably keyboard “shortcuts”. There were other methods for input as we’ll see very shortly.
Here we have the start of the Control Panel, showing off all the personalisation options. Probably the coolest aspect are the sounds that were included with it, namely because it has the “classic” MSN Messenger sounds, before all this weird shit was introduced. You know, weird shit that Microsoft thought would be fun to include like huge GUIs and MSN Today. I don’t think any of you need to see much of that, so let’s move on.
Now this is an important screen – the actual system settings! I’ll take you through a few of these, but if you scroll down all you’ll see are Regional Settings, Remove Programs, Screen calibration, and SelfTest which is a diagnostic program. Most of the IPAQs had a healthy market for selling expansion units that fit onto a connector at the base of the unit. I had one of these, which was a keyboard, but it happened to hide away all the other buttons on the face of the device, which wasn’t cool. The iPAQ Audio settings thing was the more interesting one, which basically augmented the device’s onboard speaker, allowing you to boost the bass level and put it into a “power saving” mode. Also microphone gain could be adjusted. Did it do anything useful? I don’t remember.
This is what I wanted to show you – Memory settings! Notice the slider? Basically you had to balance the RAM between storage and “programs”, so pretty much the RAM both held programs and acted as RAM for running programs, or something I’m not too good with how it all worked anymore. But basically that’s what happened, you had to slide it around to try to get the most storage and most possible RAM available for program use, because some programs needed a minimum amount to run. Also programs could stay resident in memory, and unlike the iPhone’s pseudo multitasking, on WM2003 they’d continue to use resources, which was a pain. Especially with apps like this:
I’m not entirely sure what’s happened here… this program called iTask is supposed to be like a task manager, but it seems to have frozen in place while Inbox is running in the background. After this I managed to get it to go away, but now it doesn’t launch at all. Like Windows on the desktop, Windows on the handhelds has problems too, and this is one example. Alright, let’s move on.
Oh look, here’s a calculator app! Probably works okay, I can’t really remember. Very basic. Also seems to have some weird currency conversion thing but it only shows a bunch of random currencies from Europe, so I have no idea how it works.
This is the PocketPC version of Windows Explorer, showing all of the stuff on the device. Works pretty much the same as on the desktop. Down the bottom are some icons for accessing the device (on the left) and the SD card slot (on the far right). In the middle is access to the non-volatile memory on the device, which was quite small and was supposed to be used for backing up data. Given that it appears that absolutely nothing was ever backed up, I somehow doubt that it worked. But it seems that when I was in highschool I still had my priorities in order, because I did manage to copy this:
Doom! With the DOOM2 WAD! Does it work?
You bet it does! Fully functional Doom port which could even launch PWADs. It had skins for user input but I always used the keyboard skin, because I could enter cheats. Playing without them was pretty difficult; the tiny D-PAD was pretty dodgy and the hardware buttons were hard to use, and remember this was one of those mechanical touchscreens, so it wasn’t that accurate either. Still, it’s DOOM(!) and it was in my pocket, which was a big thing then. There were lots of games for this thing, including a basic flight simulator, a Battlefield 1942 clone, and Quake. Of course the iPad/iPhone lineup trumps this, but remember this thing wasn’t designed for gaming, but it still pushed quite a few polygons.
Incidentally I did find the iPAQ Backup app and realised that it doesn’t back up EVERYTHING automatically, just PIM stuff (contacts and appointments). Well, with that in mind, let’s see if I ever put anything in (or if it actually worked).
Yeah, it did. There are 3 people there, one of them is me, and the other one is a mystery to me. Well, whatever. I suspect somebody else was playing with this thing and that’s what the app decided to backup.
Here’s the appointment screen for the calendar app. This isn’t exciting by itself but it’s demonstrating me trying to ender some text into the “Block Letter Recogniser” input method. Back in the days when PalmPilots were the one and only major systems (the Newton doesn’t count) they had silkscreens for input, which required input using a special kind of handwriting. WM2003 also allowed you to use this method. Each character was distinct and therefore errors in recognition were reduced, but it was still pretty dodgy and hard to use. Also remind me to pick a bar or something. Notice how I’m using a DS stylus to operate the device. This is because the original stylus, which was a lot sharper and could be used to push the tiny reset button (which needed to be done about 3 times every week or so, for some reason), happened to snap at the tip leaving a very sharp metal point exposed. I don’t remember how it snapped off. I also had one that had a little LED light on it. Not sure why that was useful given the screen has a backlight?
Here’s the inbox section! I’d love to show you how it works, but it doesn’t want to work, so I can’t. Just imagine it filled with email and I’m sure you get the idea. Also it could sync with your desktop through the ActiveSync program, allowing you to transfer mail from your desktop client (usually Outlook) to the device, and vice versa if you had outgoing mail to send. It also frequently screwed up and froze, but that’s not a big surprise.
Here’s the Notes application demonstrating the use of the “Letter Recogniser”. Basically you just wrote things in your own, lower case handwriting, and it’d turn them into letters. Generally this one worked okay and I used it the most out of all of them, but it did get things wrong every so often. The little tape recorder icon down the bottom was used for recoding a voice memo.
Wow, just what you always wanted – Internet Explorer in your pocket! If I had my way, I’d show you what the Internet of Today(tm?) looked like on this device, but the 802.11b adapter doens’t play nice with anything that broadcasts in mixed modes. Unfortunately, even when on “b only” mode, this thing still won’t connect. Instead, I have to show you this – some sort of advertisement for “Pocket MSN!” which was displayed in the Programs screen. Note that despite what it says, this service is neither new nor available. See how it proudly displays MSN Messenger and Hotmail? Let’s check out that MSN app now!
Oh, that’s right, we can’t do that because this thing is so old that it won’t connect, either to my network or to the Messenger service itself. Sorry. I can tell you that when Messenger 4.7 and 5 was all the rage (well, 5 always was a piece of shit so maybe just 4 then) this was actually a pretty decent mobile version. It worked really well so long as you didn’t want to keep track of more than one conversation. I can’t recall if it worked in the background, but I’m pretty sure it did and would flash up notifications in the “tray” area at the top of the screen.
So here is Pocket Word, a mobile version of Microsoft Word. The blue text I’ve scrawled across the screen is the final input method, Transcriber. Basically in Transcriber mode, you’d just write normally across the screen, and it’d do its best to figure out what you’d written. As shown below, this time it didn’t do too badly. Note that drawing a line like I did was actually a silly thing to do and entirely unsupported, but it had a go at it anyway. Transcriber also had a training and correction app to better adjust to your handwriting. In terms of features… well, it’s no iWork or MobileOffice or whatever you use on the iPad, but for those days it wasn’t too bad:
That’s about the limit of what it could do, but it might have also supported images being displayed. It also had a spell checker, word count, email feature, and a few other little things. It would export them in Pocket Word format, which was easily used by the desktop version of Word, or you could save it directly into 97/2000 DOC format, or even RTF or plain text.
And this one here is Pocket Excel. I didn’t really use this one all that much but from what I remember it was a fairly decent port of Excel, supporting formulas and other stuff. I think it even supported charts. Of course the main problem with it is the screen size; it’s way too small to be of much use.
Finally there was a media player, a mobile version of Windows Media Player. Generally it wasn’t a bad mobile version; it played a few different file types and generally did a decent job at performance. Of course unless you had a big SD card and were happy with “unwatchable compression” settings, watching an actual movie on this thing was pretty much impossible (practically I mean, not technically). Also the battery probably wouldn’t last that long, and this thing got awful hot to hold. The above shot shows the player “playing” the introductory movie… except it never actually did that, it just displayed a black screen and played the audio. I’ve noticed this behaviour is common to all the Windows Media Player iterations, so I’m going to go ahead and say that it functions identically to the desktop versions, even today!
Was the device particularly useful for me? Not really. Battery life was abysmal, it was slow, it’d lock up a lot, when the battery failed it lost all its data, and SD cards weren’t that cheap back when so it didn’t have much storage. It was good, but not great. The main thing to remember is that back then there wasn’t much else like it, and for the time it was a good OS. It was pretty much like the desktop version of Windows in your pocket, and the Windows Mobile devices were superior in some ways to the Palm devices. Of course everything has changed now thanks to the iPad and iPhone, and with flash memory creeping into computers like with the latest Macbook Air refresh, the barriers are starting to break down between mobile device and full desktop experience (at least for work). Still, it was great to boot this thing up and see how far we’ve come in about 6 years.