Pocket PC's - HP H5550, Sharp Zaurus SL5500 and Pocketop keyboard

This isn't really a comparison as the two models suit different markets. One is a fair bit more expensive than the other as well. And only one of them runs Linux. You don't have the opportunity yet (in Oct 03) to reflash the iPAQ H5550 which runs Windows Pocket PC 2003.

I won't talk too much about the Linux alternatives here as there's quite a long article going up on O'Reilly's website in early November which is a bit of a survey. I'll put the link up here when I've got the URL... and here it is

On the right is the iPAQ H5550. You can see the aerial of the built-in 802.11b and Bluetooth. The Sharp Zaurus SL5500 is a little smaller in screen size but a little larger in length. Under the bottom panel on the right is a thumbboard. The black thing sticking out on the left is the CF 802.11b card which is not supplied with the unit. The small keyboard at the bottom is the infra-red Pocketop.

OK, first up, I love these little things. They do all the things I need a laptop on the road to do, and with a WLAN card they become a little piece of magic. Adding miniature keyboards extends their usefulness if you write longer documents.

First, the iPAQ. The H5550 has built-in 802.11b and Bluetooth. It has a really nice, bright, little 2.26 x 3.02-inch screen and a robust-seeming hard plastic body which looks a little like metal. It has an MMC/SD slot and the input methods are on-screen, including the best handwriting recognition I've come across. It's powered by a 400MHz Intel X-scale processor.

The Pocket PC 2003 operating system and apps make this a unit that is made for the Windows desktop user as that seems to be the only thing it will sync with. In theory you could use 802.11b or Bluetooth to transfer documents. I didn't try Bluetooth but 802.11b is problematical because of the extremely basic nature of the wireless tools. You could add to these but a quick look on the web hasn't shown much (well, anything) that will run on the Pocket PC OS.

On the bottom of the iPAQ is an expansion bay slot to which can be added such things as a CF card slot, microdrive, or even a cell phone built into an expansion card. None of these are supplied as standard and I've never seen the phone expansion anywhere.

The Zaurus SL5500 has a slightly smaller, less bright, front-lit screen and is powered by the 206 MHz StrongARM processor. It is less robust and not quite as nice in the hand for my taste. It has MMC/SD and CF slots as well as a thumbboard. It also has on-screen input including handwriting recognition and a pickboard.

This unit runs embedded Linux even though the makers strategy seems to be to pretend it isn't anything in particular that should offend Windows users. This strategy extends to providing a sync solution with Windows desktops and including in the factory ROM apps that will read and edit Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, and Powerpoint data.

Did I mention it ran Linux? Heh, well, as a result there's a whole heap of things you can do and add.

So who are these for? The iPAQ as it stands is for Windows users that connect to one or two networks at home or at work. It's also for people who only input relatively small amounts of data. The screen is very nice though and when a Linux ROM is available it will be a whole new machine.

The Zaurus is a pretty fair alternative for normal people but really comes into its own when the power and versatility of Linux is used with a bit of adding and a bit of hacking. See the O'Reilly article for more on this. Needless to say, the first hardware add-on should be a CF wifi card.

The little Pocketop keyboard is something that benefits both these machines if you need to write more than a line or two. It is compact and very light and works by infra-red. The iPAQ needs a little adaptor mirror for it to work but the Zaurus needs nothing other than a driver download for the factory ROM.

The IPAQ H5550 is available pretty much worldwide through stockists while the Zaurus SL5500 is available from and in the USA. Pocketop is available worldwide as well, I think.
jlittler at m

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