Review of the Compaq iPaq 3800 Series: H3830, H3835, H3850, H3870, H3875

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iPaq Specifications

The iPaq 3800 series comes in these model numbers in the U.S.: the 3830, 3835, 3850, 3870 and 3875. Except for three variables, they are all entirely the same. The three variables are the amount of SDRAM the unit comes with, whether the unit support Bluetooth, and the packaging. Retail packaging comes in a shiny printed box, whereas commercial packaging comes in a brown cardboard box.

Model Dependent Specifications

Model Memory Bluetooth Packaging SKU
3830 32MB SDRAM No Bluetooth U.S. Commercial Packaging SKU 230396-001
3835 64MB SDRAM No Bluetooth U.S. Retail Packaging SKU 230397-002
3850 64MB SDRAM No Bluetooth U.S. Commercial Packaging SKU 230397-001
3870 64MB SDRAM Bluetooth U.S. Commercial Packaging SKU 230398-001
3875 64MB SDRAM Bluetooth U.S. Retail Packaging SKU 230398-002

Model Independent Specifications

Feature Spec
CPU Intel StrongARM SA1100 206Mhz processor 32-bit RISC
ROM 32MB Flash
Memory Slot Secure Digital (SD)
Infrared Port IrDA standard, 115 Kb per second
Display Color Reflective thin film transistor (TFT) LCD touchscreen color
Display Lighting Frontlight
Viewable Image Size 2.26" x 3.02" (5.7 cm x 7.7 cm)
Resolution 240 x 320 x 64K colors
Dot Pitch .24 mm
Battery 1400 mAh Rechargable Li-Ion
Operating System Microsoft Pocket PC 2002
Navigation Buttons Five-way joystick buttons– up, down, left, right and push
Activation Buttons 5 customizable application launch buttons, including one-touch instant-record button
Speaker Yes
Microphone Yes
Headphone Jack Stereo standard 3.5mm
Alarm Settings 4
Warranty 1-year limited / Optional CarePAQ available for Next Business Day replacement (additional charge)
Unit Dimensions  (H x W x D) 5.3 x 3.3 x 0.6 in / 13.4 x 8.4 x 1.6 cm
Unit weight 6.5 oz/0.18 kg (including battery)
Input Methods Handwriting recognition, soft keyboard, character recognition, voice recorder, inking
Light Sensor Yes
Active Bluetooth Indicator Yes
Cradle Interfaces Connector Yes
Cable connects to PC USB or Serial
DC Jack connector for AC Adapter  
Operating Temperature 32° to 104°F/0° to 40°C
Operating Humidity 10% to 90%
Regulatory Marks Electrical FCC Class B, VCCI, CE, C-Tick, Safety CE Marking, C-UL, NOM

Cradle Features

Syncs using either USB or Serial connection
Stylus Holder 2 holes on left and right front
Stabilizing Arm Release Button Arms engage the sides of Pocket PC when no Expansion Pack is in use

Software included in Windows for Pocket PC 2002

Microsoft Windows for Pocket PC 2002
Microsoft ActiveSync 3.5
Voice Recorder
Pocket Word (with Spell Checker)
Pocket Excel
Pocket Internet Explorer
Windows Media Player 8 (MP3, audio and video streaming)
Inbox (with Spell Checker for email)
Microsoft Reader (eBooks)
File Explorer
MSN Messenger
Terminal Services Client
VPN Client
Server Sync client
Infrared Beaming

Compaq Exclusive Applications

(These are the extras that Compaq put in ROM)

iPAQ Task Manager
Utilities for Backup/Restore to Memory Card
Self Test
Auto Run
Align Screen
Expansion pack
File Explorer
Microphone Automatic Gain Control (AGC)
Power Status
Sounds Memory
iPAQ File Store

Applications on companion CD-ROM

IBM Via Voice Voice Command and Control of PIM applications (Calendar, Contacts, Inbox)
iPresenter PowerPoint convertor for Pocket PC
Dashboard (enhanced Today Screen application that shows 2 days appointments, program launcher)
Data Encryption Package (link)
Jeode Java Virtual Machine
Quick View Plus
Audible Manager and Audible Player (Service plan required to download and play Audible content- link)
Wordlogic Predictive Keyboard
StarTap (trial version)
Xcellenet Device Management Agent
Sega Game Pack
Vegas Game Pack
Compaq Wireless LAN Drivers
Eletel Messaging Software
iPAQ Reference Guide on PDF and eBook
Interactive device demo
Peacemaker Pro application on 230297-002 and 230398-002 (NA Retail)

Microsoft Components on Compaq CD-ROM

Microsoft ActiveSync 3.5 (Desktop device synchronization)
Connection Wizard
Microsoft Money for Pocket PC (Desktop version required for synchronization between desktop and Pocket PC-link)
Pocket Streets (Desktop version of MapPoint 2002, Streets and Trips 2002 or AutoRote 2002 download Pocket PC 2002 update-link)
Outlook 2002
Internet Explorer 6.0 (for desktop-link)
Windows Media Player 8.0 for Pocket PC and 7.1 for desktop)
Microsoft Reader (for the PC)
Microsoft Reader Activation Pack (link to activate device and download free content)
Microsoft Reader eBooks (selection of free books for the Pocket PC)
AvantGo (link)
MSN Mobile (link)

NOTE: Programs could vary based on SKU. Some programs could require link to various websites.

Web site to update components: Support Files

Review of the Hardware by Xoc

The Compaq iPaq 3850 and 3870 are my first PDAs, so I don't have any comparitive experience. However, if you are looking for a shirt-pocket computer, this is a good place to start.

The iPaq 38xx comes in a sleek little unit. There is a plastic protective case that it slides into with a transparent front cover to protect it. The flap on the unit can be changed to open to the right instead of the left, for left-handed operators. The stylus has a holder in the top right of the unit. It releases by pushing in on it.

Overall, the case is nicely engineered. It easily fits in a small hand. The case is esthetically pleasing to the eye. It is brushed aluminum that feels cool to the skin. I sometimes wonder whether it will show wear marks over the long haul, but I haven't noticed any so far.

One of the first things you notice about the iPaq is the bright color screen. 64K color, frontlit. The screen size is 240x320, so one quarter of the smallest screen resolution you would typically find on a desktop machine, and far, far smaller than most screen resolutions you'd find people using today. Still, the interface is clear and readable.

The plastic covering the screen could potentially get scratched. I strongly suggest getting the screen protectors that are available after-market. These are adhesive, slightly rubbery clear plastic protectors that you lay down over the screen. They are sized to exactly fit the iPaq screen. You carefully smooth it on with something like a credit card. The ones I got come in a package of 12, presumably to be replaced once a month. Smoothing them on without bubbles is a challenge.

There are miscellaneous controls around the perimeter of the iPaq. On the front right is the on/off button. A firm press on this will turn on or off the iPaq. It is slightly recessed, to prevent accidental activation.

In the upper left is a button, that when pressed instantly starts recording from the microphone. You can record for as long as you have memory left. Expect it to consume about 10 kilobytes a second.

On the lower front, are four buttons. A configuration dialog will allow you to map those four buttons to activate individual programs. By default, they map to the calendar, the contacts, the email inbox, and a Compaq provided manager program called iTask. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any way to map the buttons when a given program is running. It would be really handy to be able to map a hardware button to a software button inside an application. Maybe there is a way a third party app could do that.

There is a five-way oval joystick button in the lower middle. You can rock it left, right, up, and down, as well as press down in the middle. Inside programs, you can use these for scrolling around. I have found that the center press button, though, is difficult to activate correctly, as you frequently press just a little off-center and rock it to one of the other directions. You do get a satisfying click feeling when a button activates. The positive feedback helps.

On the front top are two lights. The right light is a orange light that usually indicates the charge state. If it is solidly on the unit if fully charged. If it is blinking, it is still charging. The alarm function that Compaq supplies is also able to flash the light. There is also a blue light on the left. However, it is only hooked up on the 3870 and 3875 units, as it indicates that the bluetooth radio is on. Since the radio is a significant power drain, you don't want it on when it isn't being used.

There is a light sensor near the bluetooth light. I have found it to be nearly useless. If you put the iPaq into the mode to respond to the light sensor and adjust the frontlight, the calibration seems to be off. The frontlight never seems to be bright or dark enough with the light sensor on. I instead turn off the light sensor and set the level to be at the lowest level on battery and the brightest level when powered. Even the lowest level is plenty bright. I've used the iPaq screen as a flashlight on several occasions, even at this lowest setting.

The iPaq has a speaker. It doesn't have any bass, but is adequate to play back voice at a moderate volume when fully cranked. The volume is set in software. There is a standard mini-jack at the top of the unit, symetrically opposite the pen storage hole. With a set of earphones, the playback is quite good to my admittedly uncritical ears. You can download MP3 recordings into the iPaq and use it to replace walkman type devices.

In the middle top is a SD slot. This format is not as popular as the more common CF format, but it is smaller. There are 128MB SD memory cards that you can plug into the slot. To use a CF slot, you must attach the iPaq to an expansion pack. Hopefully things like 802.11b devices will get smaller and come in SD format eventually, but for now memory seems to be the main thing you'd use that slot for. There is a plastic filler when you don't have a SD card in place

On the bottom is a small hole. This is the soft-reset hole that essentially reboots the machine. You can press in the hole with the tip of the stylus. There is also a contortionistic thing you can do to perform a hard-reset. If you do that, the iPaq is returned to factory prestine condition, with everything erased. Any time you install a significant software upgrade, you will need to soft-reset the iPaq. Also, if the iPaq hangs (which unfortunately it seems to do a fair amount), this hole comes to the rescue and returns the machine to your control.

The bottom of the unit also has two connectors. The smaller of the two connects to the cradle. The larger one connects to expansion packs.

The cradle is well designed for sitting on the desktop. It leaves the iPaq upright where you can see it. There are two holes on the front that can hold styluses. There is a button on the back center that causes two little plastic pieces to spring up in the cradle slot. This allows you to cradle the iPaq without having the cover or expansion pack installed. When you slide the iPaq with an expansion pack or protective cover into the cradle, it pushes these back down until they click in a locked postion. The cradle has a connector to a standard wall-wart power module. It also has a connector to either the serial or USB port. A little adapter on the PC side of the wire changes it from USB to serial. The connector between the cradle and the iPaq is a tongue that slides into a slot on the cradle. It seems like it is the end of a circuit board inside the iPaq. This looks a little fragile, like it could break off if undue pressure were applied to it, such as if you jammed it onto the cradle at an odd angle, so be careful how you slide it into the cradle.

The cradle is too big and oddly shaped to travel with. I found a travel cable after-market that is much better. It connects to the cradle connector. Two settings on the cable allow you to either sync to a laptop, or recharge the iPaq using the 5 volts that USB puts out. For some reason you can't do both at the same time, so while you are syncing the battery is draining. This cable saves having to carry the cradle and wall-wart on trips. The price was quite cheap.

Operating the iPaq

The iPaq boots the PocketPC 2002 operating system. This is a version of Microsoft Windows designed for PDAs. After calibrating the pen and running through a small tutorial, the iPaq is ready for use. Considering that the entire operating system is maintained in memory, and that the CPU is just waking up when the power on button is pressed, it seems to take an inordinately long time (a couple seconds) to get to the state where it is ready to accept input. You can configure the Pocket Windows to prompt for a password on bootup.

The ActiveSync program that syncs with the PC seems to work well. The one exception is that if you wind up having to do a cold reset of the iPaq, restoring it to factory condition, the PC side of things gets confused and thinks that you are trying to sync a different PDA from the one that you reset. Getting rid of the previous entries so that I can name the iPaq the same as what I named it before required some extensive registry editing.

It comes with a fair range of software including Pocket versions of Word and Excel. Neither of these is really adequate for producing extensive new documents, but are okay for making minor edits to documents downloaded from the PC.

Much of the software is designed to hook to Microsoft Outlook on the PC. Outlook 2002 is included in the box. Email, contacts, calendar, and notes are synced between the PC and the iPaq. Unfortunately, Outlook 2002 has a really stupid registration policy. After a hard disk crash, I had to reinstall it. Since it had already been installed on the previous hard disk, its copy protect scheme refused to register it without calling Microsoft. Hopefully Microsoft will realize that this scheme is braindead and discontinue it at some point in the future.

Other software includes a calculator, file explorer, Pocket Internet Explorer, Microsoft Reader, MSN Messenger, and Windows Media Player. The Pocket Internet Explorer reports that it is IE version 2.0 to web sites, and does not support Cascading Style Sheets. Otherwise, it seems to work fairly well on a variety of web sites.

The standard interface for Pocket Windows can be replaced with an aftermarket tool called the WIS Bar. The makes the interface much nicer.


There are a variety of sleeves that the iPaq. There are one and two slot PC Card (PCMCIA) slots. Each come with an adapter that allows CF cards to be inserted into the PC Card slot. The adapters also contain an additional rechargable battery, since PC Cards tend to draw a lot of power. The one slot adapter is much nicer looking and easier to hold than the two slot version, so if you don't need to use two cards simultaneously, I recommend getting the one-slot model. A LED on the side indicates whether it is charging.