Danger Hiptop2

It's often been remarked that my dad makes the ‘Luddites' look like technology's early adopters. So imagine my surprise when I discovered him playing with the Hiptop2, the nice folk at Danger had blessed with. I'm not sure he had any idea what he was doing, but it was the first time my dad had gone ‘online' in his life, and Danger had enabled him to do it himself.

Danger has been around in the United Stated since 2001 and the original Hiptop was adopted by T-mobile America, becoming the ‘Sidekick'. With Danger's awards cabinet getting boastfully full, they finally have deemed us Europeans worthy of their devices, and I for one am bloody glad.

The Hiptop2 places itself in the same arena as the Handspring Trio, the Blackberry and the Sony Ericsson P900 / P910i. It combines an always-on GPRS e-mail client, with a web browser, tri-band GSM mobile phone, gaming, camera, and instant messenger, all bundled up in an intuitive and innovative body that's only slightly longer and wider and that the Sony Ericsson P910i.

Unlike a number of its competitors, the Hiptop2's dispensed with the touch-sensitive screen, instead going for intelligent navigation and application controls to access the device's functionality. There's a 4-way paddle on the left that also acts as the phone's speaker, this glows various colours to alert the user of various events. On the right you have a Nokia 7110 style roll-wheel, with the call answer/drop, red and green, keys either side. In each of the four corners you have a branded quick-key, for the menu, jump function, cancel and back actions. Rather like flying a helicopter, every action you wish to perform is done by a combination of one or more of these controls. The 240x160 pixel, 16-bit TFT 65,000 colour screen rotates around a patented pivot- point, at the top centre, to reveal a large QWERTY keyboard beneath. A keyboard that is large enough to type on, I might add, unlike the P910i.

When in the menu function you simply move up and down the animated lists with the roll-wheel, which when depressed, selects a function. The web browser is fast and can do 85% of standard functions. Rich media such as Flash or sound files are unsupported and this beta version still did not have JavaScript working, but Danger is working on this. The E-mail system automatically gives you a @danger.com e-mail address and additional mail accounts can be added, with a nifty auto-detection system taking some of the graft out of the setup. Rarely have I had to do so little out-of-the-box configuration of a device to get it working. MS Word files and images can be viewed, when delivered as e-mail attachments, but not Excel or PowerPoint. You can alter the SMTP headers so you can reply from the device with other e-mail addresses. AOL Instant Messenger is also shipped as standard.

Sadly, the Hiptop2 lacks Bluetooth connectivity but it does offer a nifty alternative to help manage your data. Once your device is registered, you are given access to a unique browser-based web account. This account includes appointments, contacts and to do lists, all of which can be synchronised from your main MS Outlook account. Once your data in this account it is then wirelessly placed onto the Hiptop2. The first time you do this the device can slow to a crawl, but it does make data management a doddle. Your account also shows the latest images you have snapped on the Hiptop2's 640 x 480pixel integrated camera, so they are on-hand to view and send without having to plug in any cables.

The mobile phone function takes a little getting used to but covers GSM 900/1800/1900 bands. The battery life is comparatively short, Danger reckons around 24 hours with heavy use of GPRS functions. To dial a number there is a dedicated area of the keypad at least, so you don't have to use the standard numerical top row of the QWERTY. There is only one mobile profile, but this is easily changed, and setting the device to silent is a one-click process. The Hiptop2 also offers SMS but not MMS. Personally I use the latter so little though, I didn't really miss it. Cleverly, Danger has added a wireless-off option, a ‘Flight mode', so you can still play on aircraft, without causing the instrumentation to go all wobbly. Instead of the normal polyphonic ringers, the Hiptop2 offers a 12-voice MIDI synthesiser, meaning you can have a whole host of sound effects, and downloaded samples, as ring tones and alerts. Combine these with the rainbow-light effect under the 4-way pad and you get a rock festival feel when mates call or alarms sound.

Games and applications galore can be downloaded using an onboard catalogue menu, adding, for example, an alarm clock or calculator as well as additional games. The non-expandable memory is not fantastic, with 32Mb of internal RAM and 16 Mb of Flash, but the applications are fast and they work well. Danger highlight the Hiptop2 as future proof and the firmware can be upgraded The observant will note that there is a mini-USB port between the headphone jack and the charging port, but this is for back-up and maintenance, rather than consumer use.

Verdict

Overall the Hiptop2 is one of the best mobile devices I have seen. It has limitations without a doubt. Key faults are lack of JavaScript or rich media viewers on the browser, the inability to read complex documents on the e-mail, the lack of Bluetooth and the short battery life being. To be fair it is still the simplest, most effective and intuitive device I have reviewed to date. Devices like this bring a glimmer to mobile technologies of the future ad show what is round the corner when 3G sorts itself out. I might even get my dad one for Christmas.


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