NEC MobilePro 900C (UsedHandhelds.com)
Clinton Fitch | Chief Reviews Editor
One of the first manufactures to step into the Handheld PC world was NEC with their MobilePro line of devices. The "MPs" were quite successful for NEC, especially the 7xx series. The last of the NEC H/PC lineup came in September 2004 with the released of the MobilePro 900c, an updated version of MobilePro 900 released in 2003. With an up-to-date OS level (4.2) and a host of bug fixes from the 900, the 900c may be one of the most stout contenders for the coveted "laptop replacement device" moniker. With a comfortable keyboard, stylish design and peppy performance, the 900c does its job well and remains one of the best H/PCs available today.
The MobilePro 900 and 900c share the same chassis and general look. The dimensions of the 900 series are 9.69" (W) x 5.05" (D) x 1.19" (H) (246.22mm x 128.18mm x 30.25mm) with a weight of 1.8lb (830g) with the standard battery. The standard battery that ships with the 900c provides a run time of approximately 8 hours while the extended battery can provide up to 18 hours of run time. Run times vary based on use and configuration such as PCMCIA or CF cards, backlight and so forth.
The underside of the 900c chassis is simple with two slide locks for the battery, the backup battery compartment, soft reset button and speaker.
On the front of the device is the Compact Flash card slot along with the headset jack, microphone as well as the battery and alarm LED indicators. When you open up the 900c you are provided a 78-key QWERTY keyboard which is quite comfortable to use. With the 900c considerably larger than the Jornada 720, the keys on the keyboard are much larger and, for those with larger hands, much easier to use. Also, on the display panel's lower right corner is where the stylus is stored. The top row of keys on the keyboard are one-touch hotkeys to various applications on the 900c. For example, you can open Excel, Word, Pocket Internet Explorer and other applications by pressing these keys instead of navigating through the Start menu. This is a quick way to save time, especially when working with multiple applications. Further, these keys can be customized to applications you choose instead of the default apps. So if you install SoftMaker's TextMaker as your Word Processor for example, you can have the key normally reserved for Pocket Word to open TextMaker instead.
On the left-hand side of the 900c you will find the v.90 modem jack along with the AC Adapter plug-in, VGA external connector and the Serial connector. For the VGA and Serial connections, you will have to purchase the required cables separately.
On the right-hand side of the device you will find the PCMCIA card slot as well as the USB host and slave connectors. The PCMCIA slot accepts Type II cards and opens the 900c to a wide range of ATA storage cards, WiFi cards and NIC's. For a complete list of PCMCIA cards that will work with the 900c, visit the HPC:Factor Hardware Compatibility List.
Internally the 900c is powered by the Intel XScale PXA255 processor which clocks at 400MHz. The processor runs the ARM v5TE instruction set and sports 32KB of data cache and 32KB of instruction cache. Memory wise, the 900c has 64MB of Flash ROM of which 32MB is user accessible and is non-volatile (your data will not be lost if you remove the battery from your device).
The 900c sports a 64,000 color DSTN HVGA touchscreen display. Natively the screen is capable of display up to 640x240 screen resolution while if an external monitor is used, 800x600 SVGA is support. In order to use an external monitor with the 900c, the optional VGA cable must be used to connect the 900c to the monitor. From a performance perspective, the display is not superior but does a good job. It, like other DSTN screens, is difficult to use outdoors but works well indoors even in brighter rooms.
Core Operating System and Applications
The NEC 900c runs the Windows CE 4.2 .NET Core, essentially the last build made for the Handheld PC platform. Because the processor is ARM based, most applications that will run on the Jornada 7xx series will work on the 900c as well.
Like desktop versions of Windows, the primary adjustments and configurations of the 900c are done in the Control Panel. In the Control Panel, users can discover system information, adjust settings, options, Internet options and so forth. Additionally, users can determine which Firmware version they are running on their 900c with the NEC FirmwareInfo applet. During the life of the 900 and 900c, NEC produced several ROM images for the device based on consumer and enterprise needs. Additionally, NEC produced a true H/PC 2000 image for the device. Knowing the version of Firmware your 900c is important when it comes to troubleshooting and this applet eliminates any guesswork.
Note that UsedHandhelds provided either the Windows CE 4.2 .NET or H/PC 2000 image for the device when you purchase it.
A key feature of the 900c is accessible from the Control Panel - the Storage Manager. Unlike previous generations of Handheld PCs, the 900c has a user accessible area of the ROM on the device. The ROM, Read Only Memory, is where the Windows CE operating system and included applications (such as Word, Internet Explorer, etc) are stored. ROM, as the name implies, is read by the device and is safe from power loss. This is why the OS and applications return to your device automatically when you hard reset it and without a CD or DVD being required.
In contemporary Windows Mobile PocketPC devices, user accessible ROMs are not common place. However the 900c was one of the first to have such an option and real benefit to owners. Now you can store critical data and information in this 32MB area without having to worry about it being lost should you have to hard reset your device. Like a hard disk or storage card, this area of the ROM can be formatted so clear all data from it as well.
Like other Handheld PCs, the 900c is loaded with a full lineup of desktop-like applications and viewers in the ROM image of the device. While there is clearly a difference between the H/PC platform and desktop PCs, Microsoft has attempted to replicate the feel, features and functionality of the applications in the platform to their desktop brethren. However, as time has progressed, some of the applications are lacking by today's standards. An example would be Pocket Internet Explorer in the 900c. PIE, as it is commonly referred to, in the 900c is built on 6.0 build of Internet Explorer. Functionally it works fantastically well with the exception of security. Today, most sites require Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher to assure a secure transaction. While there are some tweaking applications that can "fool" website into interpreting PIE is 5.5 or higher, there is still the underlying security risk.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the desktop applications and those featured in the 900c comes with the Office applications. Instead of full version flavors of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, the 900c comes with viewers of these applications. With viewers, as the name suggests, you can view files used by these applications but you cannot edit them. It is a mystery to me as to why NEC did not include the full versions in the 900c. With a device clearly aimed at the laptop replacement segment of the market, having full versions of the applications seems almost mandatory. Fortunately there is a work around to this problem. SoftMaker produces TextMaker and PlanMaker, a word processor and spreadsheet application respectively, for the 900c while Conduits Technologies produces PocketSlides to edit PowerPoint presentations. If you purchase your 900c from Usedhandelds.com, you have to opportunity to purchase the SoftMaker applications as part of The Great Handheld PC Software & Resource CD. That CD is only $39.00 with purchase - $99.95 without. You can read our review of the CD here at HPC:Factor.
As with other Handheld PCs, the 900c includes the standard Calendar, Inbox and Task applications. These applications can be synchronized with your desktop version of Outlook when using ActiveSync 4.1 or older and Office XP or older. Additionally, Windows Media Player is included as well. The player, based on the 7.0 release of the product, allows you to play WMA files which can be transferred to the device via ActiveSync.
A nice addition to the 900c over other Handheld PCs is the inclusion of a PDF Viewer. PDF viewers are a rare find in the Handheld PC world, often costing $50-60 to have the luxury. Having this included is both a money and time saving feature.
Finally, the 900c comes with a two zone World Clock application. The application allows you to view your own time zone as well as the date and time for any other time zone in the world. This is particularly handy while traveling or, as is the case with Chris and I here at HPC:Factor, when you are working with colleagues in other parts of the world. By using World Clock I can tell at a glance what time it is in the United Kingdom, where Chris lives, compared to my time here in Texas.
As with all of the Handheld PCs, the NEC 900c is out of production sadly. While the Jornada 720 was a work horse in the H/PC market, the 900c was clearly the closer of the two when it came to laptop feel and potential replacement. The size of the keyboard makes it very comfortable to use while the ability to expand with such items as VGA output puts it in a class by itself.
Thankfully the 900c is still available from Usedhandhelds.com. The price is $399 USD (£205 GBP, €293.15, ¥41,000 JPY est.) and includes the battery, AC Adapter, USB cable, a LinkSys WiFi PCMCIA card, the Handheld Resource CD (see HPC:Factor review), 64MB CF card and 1 year warranty. The NEC 900 is $349 USD (£179 GPB, €125 EUD, ¥35,800 JPY est.) with the same package but is built on the H/PC 2000 Operating System.
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Windows 95, 98, Millennium, NT4, 2000, XP
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