HP unveils a pair of IPaq Pocket PCs

Talk about a personal touch: Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) has announced a Pocket PC that offers biometric security through a built-in fingerprint scanner, a first for a mainstream commercial personal digital assistant.

Wednesday, HP unveiled the IPaq Pocket PC H5450, which sports the biometric lock, and the IPaq Pocket PC H1910, the company’s entry in the growing field of budget-priced Pocket PCs. HP plans to launch both units officially at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas next week.

The IPaq Pocket PC H5450’s scanner is a small, thin strip beneath its navigation button. To use the scanner to restrict access to the device, you must first train the included software to recognize the print of at least one of your fingers (HP recommends training it to recognize the prints of two fingers). Once you’ve done so, the print is considered “enrolled,” and you can designate it as either the sole acceptable password or as an alternative to a typed password.

Priced at US$699, the IPaq H5450 offers built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth adapters, a Secure Digital disk slot, and a removable rechargeable battery. It’s powered by a 400-MHz Intel Corp. XScale processor and generously outfitted with 48MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM. And along with the IPaq H1910, it introduces a sleek new design for the IPaq Pocket PC 2002-based line.

While the H5450 targets upscale mobile corporate users, the US$299 H1910 joins a growing number of Pocket PCs intended for a more budget-conscious crowd.

The H1910 is a slim model, and at 4.2 ounces it’s considerably lighter than the 7.3-ounce H5450. It runs on a 200-MHz XScale processor, with 16MB ROM and 64MB of RAM (of which more than half is reserved for the operating system). You get a Secure Digital slot and a removable rechargeable battery, but no built-in Bluetooth or Wi-Fi capability (and of course, no fingerprint scanner).

The H1910 has plenty of competition. For example, ViewSonic’s recently announced V35 Pocket PC, also priced at US$299, uses a 300-MHz XScale CPU and has 32MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM. And the US$349 Dell Axim is being officially launched next week. It includes a 400-MHz XScale processor, 64MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM, and both Secure Digital and CompactFlash slots.