Bill Childers' OmniGo 700LX

An American's review of the HP OmniGo 700LX
by Bill Childers

Like many U.S. palmtop users, my heart beat a little faster when HP announced the release of the 700LX in late 1995. For those not familiar with the unit, it's a modified 200LX with a docking cradle on the lid for a Nokia 21xx series cellphone. "At last!" I thought, "A PDA/Cellphone combo! This thing is gonna be great! Where can I get one?" Alas, my hopes were shattered when I read that the plans to release the 700LX in the U.S. were not definite, due to the fact that the U.S. had not yet adopted the GSM cellular protocol (the only system supported by the 700LX).

Time came and went, and Data Critical announced they would import the 700LX as the HVO1000 in the U.S. However, it would only function in the few area that had GSM coverage. That, and the in-excess of $1000 price tag kept me from even investigating one.

The idea of a palmtop/cellphone kept rattling around in my head, so I purchased a SimpleTech 33.6 communicator (reviewed in these pages) and the corresponding cellphone cable. However, the setup is kinda kludgy, and doesn't lend itself to quick, shoot-from-the-hip wireless communications. I still longed for a 700LX.

I had the privilege of first playing with a 700LX while I was in Ireland. John McGowan (owner of McGowan's Pub, Dublin; see The Palmtop Paper) allowed me to fiddle with his while we ate dinner in his restaurant. I knew then that if the opportunity came up, I'd have to get an OG700LX. About the same time, Pacific Bell announced GSM in my area (the SF Bay Area).

Over a year later, my chance came. A 700LX was for sale on comp.sys.palmtops, and the seller was including the matching Nokia 2190 phone that would work on the U.S. GSM system. I promptly snapped it up, and waited for it to arrive.

Once it arrived, I opened the box like a child on Christmas morning. One of the things I noticed was that the feel of the box and documentation wasn't up to HP's usual look and feel. An examination revealed why: the 700LX was the first product to come out of Singapore that was based on a Corvallis design. So much of the "propaganda" didn't "feel" right. Another thing I noticed right off the bat was the the 700LX was quite a bit heavier than my ol' 200LX, and that the fit and finish wasn't quite as good.

With that, I promptly ran to the nearest Pacific Bell store and activated the 2190 phone. Within minutes, I was truly wireless!! Then I began the painful task of paring down and transferring the configuration of my 32MB 200LX to my 15MB flash card for use in the 2MB 700LX. A couple of useability gripes hit me almost immediately. First, the hinge doesn't have a clutch, like the 200LX. When you open the lid, it flops to the all the way open position. If the phone's docked, the entire case flexes. Kinda scary. And if you are two-thumb-typing while supporting the palmtop in midair, be careful not to tilt the unit so that the lid and phone come crashing down on your pinkies. I did this a couple of times, accompanied by a bit of mild cursing. Second, with the phone docked, the unit's so top-heavy that HP put a little foldout "leg" on the battery cover to give it a little more support. With this folded in, the palmtop flips onto it's back like a beached whale. Not good.

I was willing to forgive these minor issues, after all, now I could use Post/LX from anywhere, with no hassles! And I did... from the couch, from the tub, from the mall, from the airport. In all cases, the 700LX performed well under the wireless data field. I also used the fax capability a bit, which was convienent when I had to get a price quote to a client "right now". Another perk of the unit was its in-ROM support for SMS, which is Short Message Service. This costs an additional $10/mo from PacBell, but it allows you to send and receive short messages and email without using any airtime. A nice feature. I did miss the large RAM of my 200LX, but the wireless feature made up for it because I didn't need to insert a modem, so I could launch WWW/LX from the A: drive.

I used the 700LX for a month, and was quite happy... until I got my first bill from Pacific Bell. It seems that PacBell charges data calls separate from voice calls... and my usage plan for 1000 minutes a month didn't cover that. Of course, I was wirelss-happy for that month, so I had a HUGE bill. I promptly disconnected service, and now I'm back on my ol' 200LX. I'm keeping the 700LX, though, in hopes that GSM service will be billed more fairly. What does the phone company care, if two mouths or two modems are exchanging data? Ah, well...

Bottom line: The 700LX is the last machine that deserves the LX designation from HP. Singapore took a great product, and added wireless capability. Now, if PacBell and other services were priced reasonably. Only use the 700LX if you intend to use data calls only occasionally, or if you've got DEEP pockets. Otherwise, stick to a 200LX-analog cellphone combo. The 200's smaller, more durable-feeling, and analog phone service doesn't care if you are passing voice or data traffic.

Copyright 1999, David Sargeant.
Last Updated 1-24-1999