HP iPAQ 612c: chunky… and far from funky

The smartphone Holy Grail used to be a handset with HSDPA 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and GPS built in but in the last six months these have become the standard set of features for high-end mobiles. That’s a shame for HP as it’s the main thing that the iPAQ 612c Business Navigator has going for it.

The first thing you notice about HP’s latest iPAQ smartphone is that it’s far from compact. It’s actually the chunkiest mobile we’ve reviewed in a while measuring nearly 2cm wide and weighing in at a portly 145g. It could probably get away with its plus-size figure if it at least had a pretty face but there too it’s out of luck. The iPAQ 612c looks dated and generic with an unfashionably-retro blue backlight on the keypad a flashing green LED to indicate phone reception (very early 2000) and a 2.8-in screen that’s recessed from the surrounding bezel.

The iPAQ 612c’s width is similar to the Palm Treo Pro’s but instead of a full QWERTY keyboard HP has opted for a 12-key number pad that’s flanked on either side by system buttons. The standard soft key Windows OK and call buttons are all included on the keypad and there’s also a screen orientation changer Enter key and clear and power buttons. The keys are a little stiff but they’re large enough to build up a good typing speed when using the built-in xt9 predictive text. We found the keypad’s lack of integration with the operating system annoying – tapping on any text field would always bring up the on-screen software keyboard unnecessarily.

As for the navigation pad HP has incorporated a ‘smart navigation touch wheel’ that sits as a ridge on top of the number pad; brushing your finger over it in a circular motion lets you scroll through items on-screen but we found it too finicky to be useful – using the touchscreen or the jogwheel on the left is a better way to navigate.

Those with a thirst for the cutting edge will be disappointed to find the iPAQ 612c doesn’t come with the latest 6.1 version of Windows Mobile 6 Professional. The main things introduced in 6.1 are threaded text messaging (which groups your SMS messages by sender) and a zoom function in Internet Explorer for navigating through desktop-formatted pages (similar to the Mini Map feature in Nokia’s Series 60 browser). The latter is the least of the iPAQ 612c’s web browser worries though – Internet Explorer Mobile only offers basic Javascript support and things like tabbed browsing and YouTube streaming can only be achieved with third-party software.

Past iPAQ handhelds with GPS have been blessed with the excellent TomTom navigation software but the iPAQ 612c only comes with the freeware Google Maps application. HP hasn’t added much extra software to the 612 apart from the HP PhotoSmart Mobile software and a simple RingTones program for adding MP3s MIDs WAVs and WMA files as ringtones. The standard email client is more than adequate for business use though with support for most account types (including push notifications over Exchange ActiveSync) and the ability to render rich text and HTML formatting.

We found call quality on the iPAQ 612c to be largely average but weak volume on both the earpiece and the external speaker means you’ll struggle to hear people on the other line and hear the phone ringing when you’re not in a quiet environment. Sitting it on a table is even worse as it muffles the volume on the rear-mounted speaker considerably.

HP’s iPAQ used to be the premier brand for Windows Mobile handhelds but it’s no coincidence that when it’s ODM HTC branched out to push its own line of portables HP’s designs began to look stale and clunky. We’ve high hopes that iPAQs will eventually make a triumphant return to the smartphone stage but when faced off against some stiff competition it’s clear that the 612c Business Navigator won’t be the one that makes it happen.