Danger Hiptop 2

Why should business get all the good gadgets?

Reg review Vodafone's massive marketing campaign for its RIM-made 7100v is proof enough that the mobile phone networks believe that businesses are desperate for mobile email and that they think most handsets' SMS-oriented keypads won't hack it. It's not just the networks - PDA vendors on both sides of the Palm OS-Windows Mobile divide are touting email on the move for businesses as a key feature of their products.

But what about consumers? Are they as hungry for mobile messaging - email, SMS, MMS and IM - that they'll opt for a device dedicated to the function? Danger certainly hopes so, and that its Hiptop 2 will win in the UK the support that it has in the US. There it's offered by T-Mobile as the Sidekick 2 and by Suncom as the Hiptop, and by all accounts it has built up a respectable user base in the "hundreds of thousands", according to our sources.

Danger Hiptop 2

On the basis of a couple of weeks spent using the latest generation of the device, it's not hard to see why. The second-generation Hiptop is a more compact device than its predecessor, the better to appeal to phone buyers, and with a button layout designed to make handheld games console users feel right at home. Out of the box, the device presents you with its 3.5in colour display. There are our large buttons in each of the corners, separated on the left by a D-pad that doubles up as the speaker, and, on the right, by a scroll-wheel and call make and break button cluster.

On the back is the VGA digicam with flash and large self-portrait mirror. The right side is home to an earphone jack, power socket and, under a cover, a USB 2.0 port. There are two further console-style buttons on the top of the device, positioned for index-finger usage, and power and volume controls on the base.

Pushing the screen area down from the top right causes it to pivot rapidly round and reveal the Hiptop 2's QWERTY keypad, flipping the on-screen image to maintain the correct orientation as it goes. The opened display is held in place with magnets, and while it feels loose, its hinge seems tough enough to withstand the rigours of frequent use. Not to mention the occasional drop.

You can use either the scroll-wheel or the D-pad to run through the semi-circular collection of application icons served up by the UI, itself styled on Japanese graphic design. There are the usual PIM apps, but the Hiptop's focus is communications, so there's an AOL instant messaging client, web browser, email, SMS and phone apps. Most of them display status information as you scroll past: the number of unread messages received, the number of buddies online, to do list items, the two most recent photos you've taken, that sort of thing. It's an approach that makes it easy to get a quick update without having to launch a series of apps individually or filling up the display's device status line with hundreds of icons.

The UI and apps are all coded in Java, running the device's own OS, radio stack and virtual machine. Danger doesn't make a big deal out the Hiptop's hardware specifications and admits its machine isn't at the cutting edge, but I found it highly responsive. It certainly didn't feel underpowered. It's also well thought out, with a consistency across the applications reminiscent of the classic Mac OS era. Better still, there's a very high level of integration between them all, making it easy, say, to extract sender details out of an email and slot them into a Contacts entry. You can phone someone directly from the IM app, based on their Contacts entry. Incoming messages are flagged at the top of the screen no matter what app you're in.

The top right-hand button on the face of the Hiptop calls up each app's single, hierarchical menu - just scroll down with wheel or D-Pad and click. Dialog boxes are handled likewise. Pressing the bottom left-hand button always brings you to the device's main screen.

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