What price would you put on a product working first time from setup to switch-on, and its drivers not interfering with your PC's normal operation? For the flagship PDA in HP's iPAQ Range, it's around £450 (online/street price).

It's a lavish package underneath the silver casing. The brain and heart of the device is a 400MHz Intel Xscale CPU. Both Wireless LAN and Bluetooth standards are supported- a rarity- and 128MB RAM keeps performance speedy. The backup battery sits behind the main rechargeable cell to maintain system settings and help preserve data- 17MB from the machine's 48MB flash ROM can be used to store your data if you're far from a synchronised PC to upload it. You can expand using SD or MMC memory cards, but anything above that's an added option.

Biometric security lets you set your fingerprint as proof of identification. Once locked, people could look at the data but couldn't hack into your PDA to change it. The buttons below the screen area are programmable but their default shortcuts straight into the Contacts, calendar and email screen work well enough. An iTask button lets you cycle these choices and access some of the deeper functions as well as record notes.

For £450 it's not all work without play. Pocket editions of Microsoft (MS) apps now count MSN Messenger and Windows Media Player among their number for chat, streaming music and film trailers respectively. Anything remotely counting as fun will of course sap battery life, as will the employment of headphones or the optional Plantronics headset to keep your music private. Replacement batteries start from £50 if you're a real power user and the standard power-saving measures kept the unit going for three to four hours. If solely used for work, powering up and then down to make the occasional amendment to a file, then this could stretch further (HP rate it at 12 hours without the WLAN/Bluetooth) but will vary for individuals. In other words if you want a would-be Walkman, get another battery. Even though the TFT hardly gives Sony a run for its money, killing the lights and deliberately working in the dark at night was made easy by the powerful backlight.

Verdict

Some users won't need all of these features. They can opt for the smaller and more portable iPAQ 2210 instead. The 5550 is money-no-object PDA luxury for either hard-pressed businessmen starting from scratch (as some old Compaq-branded extras won't fully work with the new generation) or for the gadget-mad with money to burn. The final bonus thrown into the package is the two-year unit warranty, with the full 12 months on the battery so it's not just seen as a consumable. As with all portable items however, this warranty is return to base so suitable backup would still need to be arranged.


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