HP iPAQ 914c Business Messenger review

With the release of the BlackBerry Bold last week and the excellent Nokia E71 before that, other manufacturers of email phones are going to have their work cut out to keep up. It’s easy enough, it seems, to cram in the features these days, but both RIM and Nokia manage to combine that feat with excellent ergonomics, design, ease of use and battery life.

HP iPAQ 914c Business Messenger review

So it was with some trepidation that we tackled HP’s latest effort – the 914c Business Messenger. At first glance it’s very similar to the Bold and E71, with its Qwerty keyboard and candybar form factor. And it’s rammed with about as many features as those two devices as well.

It has tri-band HSDPA for fast mobile broadband connection speeds of up to 3.6 or 7.2Mbps, it has built-in Wi-Fi (802.11bg), an assisted GPS receiver and Bluetooth 2.0. It has a three-megapixel camera on its rear with an LED flash and portrait mirror. It even has similar styling cues to the BlackBerry Bold, with attractive strips of silver running, like the frets on an electric guitar, between each row of keys on the keyboard and chrome trim wrapping the front edge.

But elsewhere the 914c has about as much in common with the Nokia and RIM handsets as chalk has with cheese. It’s a much larger device than the E71 and heavier than both: and that extra weight makes a surprisingly big difference to how pocketable it feels. Its more angular corners don’t help, while the garish blue characters on some of the keys off-set some of the HP’s more attractive features.

Its keyboard is usable, and before using the Bold we’d have given it a big thumbs-up. The rounded keys are relatively easy to hit without striking neighbouring buttons and it has dedicated keys for the full stop and comma, plus a pair of useful shortcut keys above it for quick access to your email and calendar. But it simply can’t compete with the Bold’s class-leading keypad, which is the best we’ve used on any mobile phone.

The screen is good too. At a standard 320 x 240 resolution it’s not particularly special. Further investigation reveals, however, that it’s a touchscreen, which does set it apart from both the Nokia and RIM devices.

Again, however, it falls short. It’s not transflective as the E71’s screen is, which means that outside it’s not quite as readable, and neither can it compete with the luxurious display of the Bold. The latter has a higher resolution, is also much easier to read outside and is fantastically colourful and punchy.

Being a Windows Mobile phone doesn’t help either. The HP sports the latest version – 6.1 – but this still looks old-fashioned next to the new whizzy-looking BlackBerryOS 4.6. Some manufacturers, such as HTC, try to get around this issue by adding their own ‘skin’ on top of Windows Mobile’s ugly front end, but there’s nothing like the Touch Diamond’s TouchFlo 3D here.

Version 6.1 doesn’t address the age-old problems with Windows Mobile devices either. The touchscreen here is fiddly to use without a stylus and, annoyingly, you can only hook up to one Exchange Server email account at a time. To be fair, though, Office document compatibility out of the box is excellent: you get full Office Mobile with the ability to read and create Office 2007 documents, plus a PDF viewer. And with a beefy 416MHz processor to power it along, it feels nippier than most Windows Mobile phones we’ve used in the past.

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