HP have announced two new consumer phones – the iPaq Voice Messenger and the Data Messenger. And we’ve already unboxed the Data Messenger’s. Now read on for our first impressions, as we actually got our grubby fingerprints on the touchscreen…

The HP iPaq Voice Messenger, out mid-November in the UK for £333 SIM-free, is a Windows Mobile 6.1 candy bar phone with 2.4″ QVGA display and 20 keys – using a keyboard layout similar to Blackberry (ie QWERTY with each key handling two letters) with predictive text.

The Data Messenger, out at the end of November in the UK for £399 SIM-free, runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional and features a 2.81″ QVGA touchscreen and slide-out full keyboard like recent HTCs.

Both feature an “optical mouse”, a four way directional control flat plate that pushes in on the front, plus GPS sat-nav, wi-fi, Bluetooth, quad-band GSM and tri-band HSDPA 3.5G data speeds. As well as 3.1 megapixel camera, MicroSD slot up to 8GB and a standard stereo headphone/mic socket.

Enough with the specs though, what is the top-of-the-range Data Messenger like to use?

The key first impression is that HP have looked at HTC’s phones and added a few tiny new tips and tricks – but lost one key advantage HTC has, for the moment – user-friendliness.

Physically, the phone is fairly chunky – 17.4mm deep x 114.5mm long x 57mm wide. And weighty too (160g); it’ll bulge your pocket and no mistake. On the sides there’s a rubber-covered mini-USB power socket and stereo headphone/mic socket as well the usual volume, camera, lock etc. buttons (that are fairly small and fiddly in use).

On the back, the 3.1 MP camera is OK in use, but a bit sluggish and frankly is the weakest feature of the phone – in terms of optics and resolution it just doesn’t cut it against other recently-released smartphones.

Two neat touches do impress externally – the slide-out stylus hides away neatly and is handy for Windows Mobile. And on the top there’s a slider switch that instantly moves you into silent/vibration mode for meetings.

On the front, the touchscreen works fine and there are low-rise answer and end keys, and fairly useless “OK” and Windows Start touch buttons – we’d have rather had more screen space (although that would presumably cost more to make and therefore buy).

Apart from the camera, it’s hard to argue with the phone’s specs. And yes, it does mostly what you’d expect a modern Windows Mobile device to do – push email if you’ve got the Exchange server, backlit key typing, multiple writing entry types etc. But without the skin (yet – see below), the Data Messenger is reliant currently on Windows clunky menus and awkward applications.

That could well change – HP’s older iPaq smartphones have a downloadable skin that vastly improves user-friendliness. And we’re betting it’ll be on the new devices as soon as HP can get it there.

Meanwhile, at least HP does throw in a load of useful extra apps: Office Mobile, Internet Explorer and Opera for browsing, Google Maps, voice command control, PDF viewing and mobile printing etc. And basic usability is solid – with decent battery, call quality etc.

Ultimately, though, this phone falls into the category of well-designed modern smartphone that specs up nice on paper, but can’t hold a candle to an iPhone in terms of user-friendliness. And it’s particularly hobbled on that one until HP implements its own skin to replace Windows front-end.

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