HP Jornada 548 Color Pocket PC Review

The HP Jornada 548 Color Pocket PC from Hewlett Packard is probably the most overlooked of the current crop of Windows Powered Pocket PC devices. The cloud of hype surrounding the Casio E-115 and the Compaq iPAQ seems to have totally missed the HP which was actually the first Pocket PC available. I’ve already reviewed the Casio E-115 and Compaq iPAQ, so let’s now take a detailed look at the 548.

Hardware Specs:
Operating System: Windows® Powered Pocket PC
Processor: 133 MHz Hitachi SH3 32 bit Processor
Display Type: 240 x 320 Pixel, 12-bit, 4096 color, CSTN LCD
RAM: 32 MB
ROM: 16 MB
Communications Port: Interface with USB cradle (serial cable also included)
Infrared Port: 115 Kbps
CompactFlash Type 1 slot
Audio out: 3.5 mm Stereo
Battery: Lithium-Ion Rechargeable (up to 8hrs of battery life)
Dimensions: 5.2 x 3.1 x 0.6 in (13 x 7.8 x 1.6 cm)
Weight: 9.1 oz. (260 g) including battery

The HP 548 has a nice understated professional look to it. It doesn’t look as flashy as the iPAQ and isn’t as brick-like as the E-115. The casing is actually metal and is a bluish gray color.

The HP is the only Pocket PC with an integrated flip cover. The cover is metal with a plastic lining. The cover can open to two positions, ~90 degrees and then to a locked position of ~110 degrees. Unfortunately, you can not flip the cover all the way around the device like you could with the previous Jornada Palm-size PC. When the flip cover is open, it does not obstruct the IR port, CF card slot or earphone jack. There isn’t any type of catch to hold the cover closed. It uses gravity for that. If you hold the HP upside down, the cover will fall open on its own. You can remove the cover from the PDA if desired.

The flip cover is unique because in addition to protecting the display, it also houses the stylus. The stylus slot is in the middle of the underside (screen side) of the cover. The stylus itself is wide and flat. Sort of like a Popsicle stick. Writing with it is ok, but I don’t really like the feel of the writing tip. It drags a bit across the screen. Inserting and removing the stylus is also a little awkward. Housing the stylus in the flip cover causes the cover to be thicker than it really needs to be. If they would have thought of a different way to hold the stylus, it would have made the unit that much more thinner when the cover was closed.

The unit has a solid well made feel to it. There isn’t any creaking when you squeeze the sides. The PDA is actually the heaviest of all three Pocket PCs (except the iPAQ when the CF sleeve is installed).

.96 in (2.44 cm) at thickest part with cover attached
.88 in (2.24 cm) at thinnest part with cover attached
.71 in (1.80 cm) at thickest part without cover attached
.69 in (1.75 cm) at thinnest part without cover attached

3.07 in (7.80 cm) wide in middle of device
5.17 in (13.12 cm) long in middle of device

2.93 in x 2.25 in (7.44 x 5.72 cm) display.

.580 lbs (263.08 g) with cover attached
.510 lbs (231.33 g) without cover attached

Despite the weight, the unit is comfortable to hold and use. The back sides of the case are rounded a bit and have a rubber grip strip that keep the unit from sliding out of your hand. Of the 3 current Pocket PCs, I actually find the shape and feel of the HP the most desirable.

(iPAQ, HP and Casio stackup with and without HP flip cover)

The color display on the HP is a CSTN type LCD. It is very similar to older laptop computers that had Dual Scan displays. When you view it at any kind of angle other than straight on, the screen washes out or becomes dark. The display is also almost impossible to view outside even on a cloudy day. When the sun shines on it, it becomes almost black. I also noticed that the display is darker when you first turn it on. After a few seconds, it brightens up. Of the three Pocket PCs, the HP has the worst display as far as clarity and brightness. The display is somewhat grainy looking. You can almost see the individual pixels. Shapes also tend to bleed down the display. This bleeding is more noticeable when you’re looking at a screen that has a lot of squares or lines. Although the display was originally advertised as being 16-bit, it is in fact a 12-bit display. So instead of being able to display images using 65,536 colors, the HP 548 can only display 4,096 colors. This mistake was a big whoopsie on HP’s part because people found out after they had bought the units that they didn’t get what they thought they were getting.

Images taken of the screen (indoors, no flash).

Will you be able to tell the difference between 16 and 12 bit? Only if you view digital images and / or use Pocket IE to surf websites that have images on them. Just using the built in apps and most shareware apps you probably won’t notice any difference. Mainly images will have color banding instead of smooth color
transition (depending on the number of colors in an image). It personally doesn’t bother me all that much.

The texture of the screen is slightly paper-like. The screen is hard and does not flex at all when you write on it with a stylus. The screen has more of a texture than the E-115 screen. And the E-115 has more texture than the iPAQ screen. I personally prefer a very slick screen. I don’t care for textured screens because it makes me feel like I’m scratching the screen as I write on it with a stylus.

One cool feature that I wanted to mention is that you can configure the HP 548 (via the HP settings) so that a tap on the screen will power it on. So far, I’ve not been able to tell if activating this feature has any measurable effect on battery life.

The front of the HP 548 is flat with four application buttons and the power button at the bottom. The application buttons are oval shaped and have good tactile feedback when you press them. They are slightly raised above the casing. By default, the buttons will open the HP Home Menu, contact list, calendar and tasks applications when pressed. If you hold down the HP Home Menu button, it will bring up the HP Settings. The HP is the only Pocket PC without a joypad button. This makes playing some games less than easy on this PDA. There is a game button settings application that allows you to change the action of the buttons however. The power button is a recessed long oval button located at the bottom front of the unit. Next to it on the right is the speaker grill.

The external speaker has clear sound and good volume. Comparing it to the Casio E-115 and the iPAQ, I think the HP might be just a bit louder than the Casio and not as loud as the iPAQ. The HP sounds a bit brighter than the Casio and is similar to the iPAQ. I prefer the warmer tones that the Casio puts out. Stereo output is accessed via a standard stereo headphone jack which is on the top right of the device. HP even includes a set of stereo ear buds with the PDA when you buy it. The sound quality is really good for listening to .MP3 files or audio books thru Audible player. The HP’s volume thru the headphones is louder than the Casio by maybe 20% and probably half as loud as the iPAQ at full volume..

The top of the HP 548 also has the IR port and LED indicator / button. The IR port is in a good location… the top of the unit instead of on the side. I found that the IR strength (distance) for the HP was really low. The maximum distance that I could achieve in beaming a contact to a Casio E-115 was only about 15 in (38 cm). If I tried to beam something farther than that, both PDAs would time out before making a connection.

The LED indicator / button is nice and big. It lights amber when the batteries are charging and turns green with the batteries are fully charged. The LED blinks green indicating an alarm or reminder has gone off. What is really cool about the LED is that it is also a button. If an alarm goes off with a sound associated with it, you can silence the alarm by pressing the LED. The LED will still flash until you dismiss the alarm, but the sound will go off. But the best thing about the LED is that you can press and hold it for a sec or two and the screen will turn off while still leaving the unit powered on. This is really great if you like to listen to .MP3 files or Audible content. Turning of the screen will conserve your batteries. Pressing the LED again will turn the screen back on.

The left side of the HP 548 has the microphone, jog dial / action button, and record button. The microphone is conveniently placed at the top of corner of the unit. The record button is recessed but it is sometimes still easy to activate accidentally depending on how you pick up the PDA. Pressing and holding the record button when the unit is off will power on the PDA and start recording until you let go of the button. Recording quality is pretty good depending on the settings that you can change.

The jog dial / action button allows you to scroll up and down thru lists and select an item by pressing in on the button. This makes looking up a name or opening a note pretty easy. Once you select and open a note, you can press the action button again to close it and go back to the list. The button itself has ridges so your thumb doesn’t slip when you use it to scroll up and down. I wish the button was a little stiffer and I rarely use the button due to the fact that I’m left handed.

The back of the PDA has the reset button and the CF card slot. The reset button is nice and large. You can use pretty much anything pointy to activate it. The CF card slot is at the top of the unit and has a thin plastic cover over it. This cover is pretty flimsy and I’m surprised that I haven’t broken it yet. The slot is a Type I card slot. This means that you can’t use the thicker Type II cards such as the IBM Microdrive with this PDA. I tested several of my CF memory cards and they all worked fine.

One other thing that I’d like to note for all you curious hacker types… there are 4 screws on the back of the HP which makes it very easy to take apart. The other Pocket PCs require you to pries them apart. This is also good because you can replace the rechargeable battery if it goes bad (although you would probably have to get the battery directly from Hewlett Packard).

The cradle that comes with the HP is very well made. It is made of metal and is really heavy. It is similar to Palm cradles in that you can just pop in the PDA and pull it out without having to hold on to the cradle. The cradle is also USB which makes hooking it up to your PC pretty easy. If you don’t have USB, HP was kind enough to include a serial cable too! The serial cable doesn’t interface with the cradle though, you have plug it directly into the bottom of the PDA. The power supply that charges the battery in the HP plugs into the USB cable on the cradle or it can plug directly into the bottom of the PDA. The power supply is a worldwide auto-voltage AC adapter.

What about the speed of syncs and transfers using the USB cradle? Well, I’ve heard some complaints that the speed pretty much sucked. Let’s take a look at some speed tests comparing HP USB, HP Serial, Casio Serial and iPAQ USB.

1067KB file transfer 5019KB file transfer
PC to HP 548 via USB Cradle 38sec 2mins 47 sec
PC to HP 548 via Serial Cable 1min 51sec 9mins 33 sec
PC to iPAQ via USB iPAQ Cradle 14.04sec 1min
PC to Casio E-115 via Casio Serial Cradle 2min 32sec 9mins 42 sec
PC to CF card via USB Sandisk CF Card
3sec 11sec

As you can see the HP is quite a bit slower than the iPAQ using the USB cradle. I’m not sure why the iPAQ’s USB transfers are over 2 times faster… Although the speed is slower, it is much faster than using a serial connection. I also didn’t have any problems initiating a connection via USB like I have had with the iPAQ.

Now lets talk about overall system speed. The HP has a 133mhz processor and the Casio E-115 has a 131mhz. Although the HP looks like it would be faster, they are using totally different processors. The Casio uses a MIPS and the HP uses a SH3 processor. How do they compare? The HP is actually noticeably slower than the Casio. The PIM apps (Contacts, Calendar and Tasks) pretty much start up instantly without seeing the timer thingy. Switching between apps is also pretty much
instantaneous. However some of the larger apps (Pocket Excel, Pocket Word) do take longer to start up the first time. And sometimes, the HP seems to bog down to the point where the graphics paint really slowly when switching between apps. This happens most times when I have every application on the unit loaded. It’s possible that the HP might not have as good of memory handling as the Casio. I found that the biggest resource hog on the HP is the Media Player. Trying to
run other programs while this app is running is really a lesson in frustration due to the overall slowdown. Of all three Pocket PCs, the HP does feel the most sluggish.

I would also have to say that after having used an iPAQ, the HP feels really slow. Comparing the system speed to the Casio E-115, I would say that the HP feels about 10% slower.

Battery life appears to be pretty good. The batteries are supposed to yield 8hrs of use from one charge. Since usage is hard to track, I did do a little test. I
listened to .MP3 files thru headphones with the display turned off for a little over an hour. Starting with a fully charged battery. After the hour was up, the
battery gauge showed that I had used about 25%. Charging the batteries seems to take longer than with the Casio and iPAQ although this may just be my imagination.

On to the software side of things. The HP 548 does come with a pretty good bundle of applications. Besides the built in applications standard in ROM on all Pocket PCs (Pocket Word, Pocket IE, Pocket Excel, Pocket Money, etc.) The HP comes with the following additional ROM programs:

OmniSolve Calculator
Full function forms based calculator from Landware. Solve in SAN or RPN modes, Amortization, Interest rate conversions, Date calculations, Investment analysis, Retail-style percentage calculations, Currency conversions, and Unit conversions.

HP Home Menu
Simple application launcher app that is similar to the Casio Launcher app. You only get 2 pages of buttons (total of 21 buttons) that you can assign apps to. There are also hard coded buttons that show the battery status, memory status, launch display settings, and taskswitcher.

HP Task Switcher
Built-in task switcher / task closer app. It just pops up a list of open apps that you can tap on to switch to them. Then if you want to close the apps, you tap on the Close Window option and another list pops up with the same list of open apps and an option to close all. This is kind of redundant. They should have just added the Close all option to the bottom of the first window since there isn’t a way to selectively close apps. You either close them all or close none.

HP Security App
Easy to use security app that lets you pick a 4 digit code that you have to enter in order to get into the HP when you power up. It also allows you to log the login attempts.

HP Backup / Restore App
Simple app that lets you back up all data or PIM data to internal or CF storage. You can also restore all data or PIM data.

HP Game Button Settings App
App that allows you to assign the different hardware buttons to different game functions. For example, you can assign the Home button to LEFT, the Tasks button to RIGHT, and the Action button to FIRE. You can also save different button profiles so that you can load them in for different games.

Other software included on CDrom:

AOL Mail
Send and receive AOL mail via your Pocket PC.

Yahoo! Messenger
Send and receive instant messages with other Yahoo! people online.

Sierra Image Expert CE
View, annotate, and communicate pictures, taken with your digital camera or other sources, on your HP Jornada.

Golf game

Audible Manager and Player
Listen to best-selling audiobooks, newspapers, magazines and more!

Jet Send
Exchange information via infrared, view files, and print to or communicate with millions of JetSend-enabled devices including printers, digital cameras, and
personal digital assistants.

HPC Notes
Powerful notes creator and organizer for the Pocket PC. It allows users to create notes, password-protect them, organize them by type, subject, creation and modification date.

Media Player Files
10 music files of different styles from Charo to Bouncing Souls.

In summary, the HP 548 is a well made Pocket PC that comes with the best assortment of goodies. It has a nice software bundle and is the only Pocket PC that comes with both USB and serial syncing methods. The HP 548 in my opinion has the best form factor of the current Pocket PCs. It is the smallest unit that has a built-in
CompactFlash card slot. It’s just too bad that this PDA is also the slowest and has the worst display of the three. If you could take the iPAQ speed and the Casio screen and transplant them into the HP 548, you would almost have a perfect Pocket PC. As it is, the HP 548 makes a good Pocket PC for people that want the smallest unit with a built in CF card slot and don’t mind less than snappy performance and a 12-bit display.

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4 thoughts on “HP Jornada 548 Color Pocket PC Review”

  1. I had the same cracking noise (but with both players) on my brandnew T|T.

    Turned out just yesterday that something was wrong with the 32Mb Sandisk MMC I used for testing. It’s either too slow or just plain buggy.

    The new 128Mb SD (also a Sandisk) works -> near-CD sound.



  2. I’m not sure, but I think that the crackle was a bit stonger in PTunes than in Auro. Maybe they use different loading routines.

    I also heard/read that Sandisk cards in general are a bit on the slow side when used in Palm devices. Maybe your card is just fast enough for Aero, but too slow for PTunes.

    Just wild guesses, but since my problems were instantly solved when switching to the new card, that’s the first thing I would take a look/listen at. Do you have any other card (different brand) available for testing?


  3. 😀 The latest version of Pocket Tunes (1.6.1) has fixed my snapping sound problem. Yay! Now if they could fix it so that the currently playing song would not skip when the screen turns off or the volume level is adjusted, I’d be 100% happy with it!

    I’ve already deleted Aeroplayer.

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