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Danger Hiptop 2

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Only the phone app doesn't work smoothly, geared as it is to pulling numbers out of the contact list or dialling via the keyboard. Dialling with the screen closed isn't easy. Selecting the number one-handed with the D-pad is OK, but you still have to click the scroll-wheel and then turn the device through 180 degrees so the speaker's aligned with your ear. All the time, the display remains locked in landscape mode, not the portrait orientation you might expect in a phone. The Hiptop 2 has a speakerphone facility, but while it sounds fine for the user, the sound coming through to the other end was muffled. Danger claim this issue will be fixed in production units destined for Europe.

Danger Hiptop 2

But if the Hiptop 2 makes for a so-so phone, the email, SMS and IM features can't be faulted. In the email client, for instance, there's support for multiple POP and IMAP accounts, and you can set up additional folders to file messages in. Only the lack of post-processing rules and spam filtering is a drawback - but that's likely to be less of an issue for mainstream email users than it is for hardcore emailers like myself. And, frankly, few other - if any - mobile email clients provide those kinds of facilities either.

Web browsing works less successfully. The Hiptop 2's screen is a reasonable size. Pages and images are compressed, and overly complex HTML coding junked before they're sent across the GPRS connection to speed up the download. Danger's proxy servers help too. But while large graphics are scaled to fit the device's display, smaller ones aren't. Why not shrink them equally for a more consistent view? Table columns appear sequentially rather than laterally, so with most sites it can take a lot of scrolling down to get to the information you want. There's no JavaScript support yet, either.

Danger is promising to provide the latter in an update soon, and to improve the look of pages, but it needs to go some way to reach the standard of, say, PalmOne's browsers.

Speaking of updates, Hiptop 2 accepts these over the air and transparently to the user. More cleverly, each device keeps in sync with a back-up store on Danger's servers, usually within seconds of you entering data or receiving a message, whenever that happens. While the device will synchronise with Microsoft Outlook - there's a web interface that allows you to upload files from a few other PIM apps - there's no need to do so, certainly not for back-up. You do it once to get your data on the device, and then never again, Danger believes. Incidentally, the same web interface provides full access to your data when your Hiptop is down or you've left it at home.

Danger Hiptop 2

You can upload contacts from Palm Desktop, Microsoft Outlook Express or Microsoft Entourage, but alas not from Mac OS X's own iCal and Address Book, though you could argue that's Apple's fault for not implementing a .txt export option. There's no Mac support for calendar entries.

Danger Hiptop 2

PC users can similarly transfer contacts data from Outlook and Lotus Notes, and calendar info from Outlook or Meeting Maker. Danger will sell you a standalone $20 sync app from PumaTech, but there's no Mac version. Indeed, Danger and T-Mobile appear to be taking an age to authorise Missing Sync developer Mark/Space's Hiptop sync app even though it was completed ten months ago! Linux users are even less well-catered for.

Flaws? Well, there's no MP3 playback, support for memory cards, or Bluetooth, either for PC connectivity or headset support - all features we've come to expect from smart phones. Battery life isn't great, running down in under 48 hours, much less if you make voice calls, so this is one device you will need to charge each night. While the keyboard is great - good quality and perfect for two-thumb typing - it's not suitable for one-hand usage as a Treo 600's might be, but it passes water all over the keypad on RIM's Blackberry 'Charm' (aka the Vodafone 7100v and the T-Mobile 7100t) for usability and speed of text entry, and over traditional SMS keypads.

On the plus side, the hardware is well designed - and well built, by Sharp - and the software suite is excellent. It's hard to think of a better-integrated set of mobile apps, certainly not one focused exclusively on consumers.

Verdict

Yes, the Hiptop 2 has its flaws, but I like it. The colourful 18-30 'yoof' styling doesn't appeal to me personally, but I can see it striking a chord with the kind of people who say 'like', 'radical' and 'dude' a lot. Beyond such window dressing, it's a solid, easy-to-use mobile communicator - weaker on voice, though - that for once really doesn't require a host computer to see it at its best.

The deal breaker or maker is price. When the Hiptop 2 ships in the UK, probably early next year, its success will depend on how far mobile networks are willing to subsidise the hardware and how much they're charging for GPRS bandwidth. The Hiptop 2 generates a lot of network traffic, sucking down email, IMs and web pages, sending back data to the device's mirror on Danger's servers. An unlimited access tariff will be essential, and it's going to have to be attractively priced.

In the US, you can pick up the T-Mobile Sidekick - how that network brands the device - for around $300, with an unlimited GPRS tariff costing you $60 a month with 600 minutes' of bundled voice, or $30 a month with a pay-as-you-call, 2c-a-minute voice. That prices it alongside devices like top-end Blackberries, the Treo 600 and the Sony Ericsson P900, many of which offer more features. And they're all pitched at business users, not consumers. The Hiptop 2 really ought to come in at a more consumer-friendly price. ®

Danger Hiptop 2
 
Rating 75%
 
Pros — Well-designed, well-integrated software; clever auto-backup system; great keyboard; good build quality
 
Cons — Limited sync support; no MP3 playback; no memory card support; no Bluetooth; expensive
 
Price UK: TBA; US: $300 plus network tarriff
 
More info The Danger website

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