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Intermec Model 70

Speedy slimline monochrome Pocket PC (May 2001 issue)

Every once in a while even the intrepid editorial team here at Pen Computing Magazine gets blind-sided by the introduction of a new device that we've never heard of.

That's what happened when I ran into Intermec's Mike Colwell at the recent Mobile Insights 2001 Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Mike asked me what I thought of their new Intermec Model 70. I first thought he was referring to Intermec's ruggedized 700 Series of Pocket PCs, but when he casually pulled out the Model 70 it was clearly a device I had not seen, nor heard of, before. Its overall shape reminded me a bit of the old Philips Nino, the button diamond on the front looked like that of earlier Everex models, and there was also a bit of a resemblance to the now discontinued Compaq Aero 1550 Pocket PC. Mike, never one to beat around the bush, revealed the Model 70's heritage with a simple, "It's made by HTC." HTC, of course, happens to be the Taiwanese company that made the Everex Freestyle, its Trogon cousins, all of Compaq's palm-size and Pocket PCs, and a number of other PDA designs that never made it to the US market. Mystery solved.

Why would Intermec introduce a device such as the Model 70? The answer is simple. Though Intermec is engaged in vertical markets and most of its hardware is rugged, the company recognized that a lot of its customers need inexpensive, lightweight, non-rugged devices for use in trailers, field offices, and so on. Those customers may feel more comfortable buying from a company they know and trust rather than from, say, CompUSA. The Model 70 falls into this category. Unlike the ruggedized Casio EG-80/800, and the even tougher Casio IT-70/700, the Intermec Model 70 is basically just a standard consumer market Pocket PC. It measures 3.1 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches--virtually identical to the now defunct Compaq Aero 1550--and weighs just under six ounces. It is slimmer and lighter than most PDAs and will fit anywhere.

A look inside the matte-gray plastic housing reveals the Intermec Model 70 as what might have been the next generation Compaq Aero 1550. In other words, but for the intrigue of international OEM deals, this device--and not the iPAQ 3150 we reviewed in our last issue--could have been the new monochrome PDA offering from Compaq. The overall layout and design of the Model 70 motherboard and controls is almost identical to that of the older Compaq Aero 1500 Series. Battery, CF card slot, docking connector, and many other components of the devices are identically placed. Some parts have been rearranged to make the newer device easier to assemble. Backup battery and speaker locations, for example, have been switched so that the backside of the new device no longer dangles by a speaker wire as the old one did. Like the "Compaq," the new Intermec device has a removable daughterboard with an Intel Flash ROM chip, making OS upgrades literally a snap. I know this is likely more than you wanted to know about the innards of the Model 70, but for us it was nice to see how HTC used a successful existing design, thought it through, and made it even better.

The big difference between the two is that the old Aero 1550 ran on a rather anemic 70MHz NEC VR4111 CPU whereas the Intermec Model 70 is powered by a 206 MHz Intel StrongARM SA-1110 processor, the same as in the Compaq iPAQ and an increasing number of new PDA designs. As a result, the Model 70's average benchmarks are triple that of the Aero 1550 and generally on par with the iPAQ 3650. The Model 70 scored an impressive average of 54.89 SquareMark in bSQUARE's Analyzer benchmark suite, just a hair short of the iPAQ's 55.46. Due to its simpler graphics subsystem the Model 70 actually outperformed the iPAQ in the Graphstone test, but that was offset by a lower Dhrystone (integer) performance. What it amounts to is that the Intermec Model 70 is one of the quickest PDAs you can buy at any price.

In terms of ergonomics, the Model 70 is a very handy device. Due to its slimline design, it doesn't feel like a brick in your pocket. The slightly curved Nino-esque body fits well into the palm of your hand. And unlike the iPAQ or the HP Jornada 540 series, the Model 70 retains the traditional rocker and action buttons along the left side of the device in addition to five application buttons on the front. Four of the application buttons, arranged in a four-leaf clover pattern, bring up Tasks, Contacts, Notes, and Calendar. A fifth button mimics a desktop or notebook keyboard's "Windows" key and brings up the Start menu. Interestingly, you can turn on the Model 70 with either a button on the left or a yellow one on the front. The one on the front also turns on and off the back light.

In the connectivity department, the model 70 has something that the mighty iPAQ does not: a CompactFlash slot. This means that you do not need an optional sleeve to use a CF Card modem, Ethernet adapter, or storage card. A big plus. Don't plan on using an IMB MicroDrive or one of those high capacity Type II CF cards, though. The Model 70, like the HP Jornada, can only accommodate standard CF Cards and not the thicker Type II format. Connecting and synchronizing with a desktop or notebook computer is either via the IR port located on the right top of the device, or through the Model 70's dock. The dock itself resembles that of the Compaq 1550 (which actually fits into the Model 70's dock). It is well designed, cradles the Model 70 well, and always made a good, solid connection. Our unit came with a serial connection. Intermec says that a USB version of the dock is available as well.

Power is provided by a 700mAH Lithium-Ion battery. The old Aero 1500 was supposed to run up to 14 hours on its 600mAH pack whereas I rarely get more than six hours from the color iPAQ's 950mAH battery. Expect around 10 hours from the 70.

How about the screen? Once you get used to the lack of color the Model 70's monochrome screen is crisp and clear. It is okay indoors and very good outdoors, but doesn't quite provide the contrast of class-leading mono screens like, for example, that of the Palm V. The Palm's screen provides true black text on very light-green background. The Model 70's screen is more like dark green text over a light green background.

Overall, the Model 70 Pocket PC is a fast, handy (albeit pricey) Pocket PC that once again demonstrates Intermec's willingness to tap a variety of Asian vendors to bring its customers a wealth of different mobile computing devices such as the Sharp-made Intermec 6642 Windows 98 pen tablet and the Intermec 6651 Windows CE Handheld PC. It will be of interest both to existing Intermec customers as well as those in the market for a fast monochrome Pocket PC.

Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

Processor Intel StrongARM SA-110 206MHz
OS Windows CE 3.0
Memory 16MB RAM, 16MB ROM
Display 16-gray backlit transmissive LCD
Digitizer Pressure-sensitive panel
Storage Internal RAM, CF storage card
Size 3.1 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
Weight 5.9 oz
Power 700 mAH Li-Polymer (up to 10 hours)
Interface Serial or USB, Irda 1.1
Options CF card and PC Card expansion sleeves
Price US$399 (varies with quantity and equipment
Contact Intermec www.intermec.com