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HP Jornada 525

Pocket PC functionality at rock-bottom price (May 2001 issue)

At a time where you can a fully-equipped brand-name Pentium III PC, including monitor, for less than $800, it's become a marketing challenge to get people to shell out $500 for a Pocket PC. It isn't, of course, entirely fair to compare a low-end, bare-bones PC with a state-of-the-art, high-end Pocket PC such as a Jornada 545 or a Compaq iPAQ. That's because desktops occupying the same high spot in the technology pecking order as the Jornada and the iPAQ do among PDAs still command prices of $2,000 to over $3,000. Unfortunately, the public compares Pocket PCs to Palms and Handsprings, and from that angle, a $499 Pocket PC is very pricey compared to a basic, yet very cool, $149 Handspring Visor.

Insiders will argue that pricing levels between Pocket PCs and Palms are increasingly overlapping with the introduction of premium-priced Palm OS devices listing for as much as $449. However, while Pocket PC afficionados shudder at the thought of anyone paying almost as much for a Palm product as for a Jornada, Cassiopeia, or iPAQ is inconceivable, consumers don't see it that way. They are snapping up trendy Palm Vs and Handspring Prisms and Edges whereas the Microsoft camp continues to lag behind. As far as we can tell, technological superiority notwithstanding, the public perception is that Pocket PCs are too expensive.

So what is the Pocket PC camp doing about it? We've seen Casio handing offering rebates to EM-500 customers, bringing the price down to $399. Compaq, with demand of it hard-to-find iPAQ flying high saw no such need and instead introduced a pricier-yet 64MB version of the iPAQ. What we expected from HP, to be honest, was an upgraded Jornada with a TFT instead of its somewhat dated passive matrix screen. That remains a necessity, but for now Hewlett Packard decided to address the cost issue with a paired-down version of the Jornada.

Enter the Jornada 525 with a list price of US$349. That is, as of this writing, $100 less than the Handspring Visor Prism and even $50 less than the monochrome Handspring Edge and Sony Clie. For that low price you get a full-fledged Pocket PC that looks every bit as good--or even better--as the $499 Jornada 545. You get the whole list of Pocket PC software--Pocket versions of Word, Excel, Outlook and Internet Explorer, a voice recorder, Microsoft Reader, the Windows Media Player, the Transcriber handwriting recognition engine, MS Money and Pocket Streets, Landware's powerful Omnisolve calculators, and other goodies such as Yahoo Messenger, AudiblePlayer, PhatWare HPC Notes Lite and more. In addition, of course, to the Pocket PC's powerful PIM functionality that is tightly integrated into Microsoft' desktop operating systems. All for US$349.

How did HP do it? They certainly didn't skimp on the outside. The 525's silver housing is elegant to the max. While size and weight haven't changed, a number of subtle design changes make the 525 look tighter and more streamlined. The 525 also shares its 133MHz SH-3 processor with its more expensive siblings, so benchmark performance is almost identical. The CF Card slot is also still there. So here's where HP's beancounters cut to bring the cost down:

Instead of the Jornada 545's ample 32MB or RAM the 525 only has 16. There is no lid (no big deal--you can always buy one in your choice of great colors for under twenty bucks). The serial cradle is optional--no USB for 525 owners. You do, however, get a serial PC connection cable, an AC adapter to charge the Lithium-Ion battery, and a basic case. As for the screen, it's only 256 colors but, side by side, the 525 screen is brighter and its color dithering looks just as good as the 4,096 colors on the 540 series.

The 525 is a very nice device and a terrific Pocket PC value. -

Conrad H. Blcikenstorfer

Processor Hitachi SH3 133MHz
OS Windows CE 3.0
Memory 16MB RAM, 16MB ROM
Display 256 color 240 x 320 pixel DSTN LCD
Digitizer Pressure-sensitive panel
Storage Internal RAM, CF storage card
Size 3.1 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
Weight 7.85 oz
Power Li-Ion (8 hours)
Interface Serial, Irda, stereo audio, mic
Options CF cards, cases, cradle, wireless modem
Price US$349
Contact Hewlett Packard www.hp.com/jornada/