The Folding Society

Portable Paraphernalia - the sorry story of the Compaq iPAQ

On paper, the Compaq iPAQ probably looks the best specified of the new Pocket PCs - the palmtop machines using the Windows CE operating system. On this basis, I bought one, but unfortunately it has failed to live up to expectations. For details, read on ...

I've relied on portable computers and handheld PDAs for my diary, address book etc for over 15 years now. Key requirements for these applications intuitive operation, ease of use, speed and reliability. Although some of the nearly 20 machines I have used in that time have been idiosyncratic, they have generally worked well - otherwise I would not have used them. True, the software on the Atari Portfolio crashed with alarming frequency, but provided you stored the data on a memory card, rather than internal memory, nothing got lost. Psions and Palms in particular have been extremely reliable from the hardware point of view, and very easy and convenient to use. The Psion's internal operating system is outstandingly reliable and stable, and Palm's PC synchronisation is equally praiseworthy. None of these machines that I have owned have ever suffered a catastrophic hardware failure. More recently, the Hewlett Packard Jornada 430 with the Windows CE operating system has been slightly disappointing, rather brick like, with a screen that has become very badly scratched in normal use, and the Microsoft operating system has required quite frequent resets. Nevertheless, it's been completely reliable from a hardware point of view.

But then in mid November 2000 I got a Compaq iPAQ H3630 ... It didn't get a lot of use in November, December and January, mainly because I was setting it up to run the way I wanted it, and getting software for it - quite a lot of the software I had run on the Jornada and wanted to use on the iPAQ was not initially available for the ARM processor used by the iPAQ. Finally, in mid February 2001 I started using it seriously. It lasted until mid March, when on the morning of Thursday 15th I turned it on, and was confronted by flickering vertical bars and a mirror imaged display. Pressing the case would alter things, but not fix the problem. The machine had been working satisfactorily the previous day, when I was trying to configure it for different ISP accounts, and had only been carried upstairs in between. After some fiddling around, resetting etc it became evident that this was a hardware problem, and it would have to go back. As reported in FSN 72, I contacted the suppliers, MicroWarehouse, who put me on to Compaq. As I had to go out to work on Friday and Monday, I asked for collection on the following Tuesday, but later the same day DHL, the carriers, contacted me and arranged to collect it on the same (Thursday) afternoon. The following Thursday evening the machine was returned by a neighbour - it had been delivered to them instead due to incorrect addressing of the parcel by the Compaq repairers. I hastily unpacked it, and set about trying to restore the data - I had done a backup only the day before the problem, and I was expecting to have no problems. Two hours later, I still had not managed to restore the data - however I set the machine up, it reported

"Restore cannot be completed successfully. The selected backup file was created from a different type of mobile device. For more information about possible causes and solutions to this error message, check Help".

The help screens suggest that this can happen either if a different type of machine is used (HPC instead of Pocket PC, for example), or if the regional settings are different. Why the regional settings must be the same before you can do a reset is both a mystery and very illogical, especially as there is no way of inspecting the regional settings in the backup file to ensure that you have them the same. Anyway, about this point it became evident that the machine was very sick - pixels were flickering all over the screen, and the screen became gradually fainter, eventually fading out entirely. At about 8.15am on Friday I rang Compaq again, and arranged for the machine to be returned a second time - as it had not been fixed properly the first time, they promised to expedite things. I also asked about the backup problem, and was told I need to set up a full partnership under another machine name. I must say that I thought this was one of the many things I had tried, but duely noted this, and while waiting to be contacted to arrange the time of collection of the machine, I experimented again with restoring in this way, albeit with a very faint and flickering screen. Restore still failed in exactly the same way. Surfing through Compaq's and Microsoft's web site failed to disclose much information about the restore operation, and nothing to indicate what I might be doing wrong, or how I could confirm the regional settings which had applied at the time of the backup. Eventually I gave up, and waited for email confirmation of collection, and a message from the carriers. Come 5.00pm, I was still waiting ...

By Monday lunchtime, I still had not received email or any other contact, so I rang Compaq again - at this time of day this meant an interminable wait to be put through to someone. All they did was confirm that the return note had been put into the computer, and they promised to send an acceleration note. So to Tuesday evening, and still no emailed confirmation/return note and no message about collection from the carriers. However, in the meantime I had trawled the Compaq Support Forum (postings by owners) and found in the section on Operating System software several recent reports from owners who had returned machines for service, and had got them back with new ROMs which prevented loading backup files. All were asking urgently for a solution from Compaq, but no solution had been posted. At least my problems, which had resulted in 3 wasted hours, were now explained, even if there was no solution. As the machine was faulty anyway, the urgency of a solution to this backup and restore problems was not so serious in my case!

Eventually I rang Compaq again on Wednesday morning, and they gave me the necessary information for me to be able to contact DHL to arrange collection. Now I have to wait to see if the machine will work when (if?) I eventually get it back, and if I I will be able to restore all the programs and data on it. I'm not sure it matters all that much, as I have lost all faith in the machine, its software and the support provided by Compaq. 

The Compaq iPAQ is very pretty, and on paper its features look attractive, but there are some design, manufacturing and service support problems which for me make it quite unfit for the purpose for which it is sold. At around 500 pounds with accessories, it is an unacceptably expensive paperweight. If my experience is anything to go by, I could not recommend it in future to anyone else, and I find it difficult to envisage that I would ever buy anything made by Compaq ever again in the future.

7 April 2001 - Return of the iPAQ

The iPAQ finally came back repaired on Wednesday 4th April. It was correctly addressed this time, but thee was no response to my enquiry about how to restore the data and programs following the ROM change (I had even sent a CD with the backup on it, which was returned with the iPAQ. I manually reloaded all the programs and resynched the machine, a process which took about 2 1/2 hours as I could not use the restore feature. I've decided to give it another chance, rather than abandon it and revert to one of my other, reliable, machines, and so far it's been behaving itself.

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Last updated: 7 April 2001