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HP IPAQ HW6500

Overview 09/30/2005 (Updated, Updates in RED)
The HP IPAQ HW6500 series Mobile Messenger is one of the better, if not the best smart phone on the market today.  While this phone is the most advanced smart phone on the market today, the HTC made Wizard, HTC Appache, HTC Universal, Blackberry 8700, LG9800, Treo 670 and Motorola Q may change all of that before the HW6700 hits the streets. HP will need to be quick and nimble to keep up with the competition.  This is a daunting challenge for a large corporation often driven more by internal politics than external market forces.  Add WM5 and fix the few other nits and the HW6500/6700 will be competitive.  To see what other reviewers have to say go to hereJust two months later, and the new HTC devices are hitting the streets and provide a serious challenge to the HW6500.  Especially, since HP has announced that the product is a dead-end product with no upgrade future in store.

 I have owned this phone since late July and have had an opportunity to use it traveling, at work and at home.  I intentionally waited to write this review to have enough experience with the phone to identify its failings as well as its strengths.  This is not an inexpensive phone to acquire (at least at this time prior to its U.S. introduction and subsidy by a U.S. carrier.  I paid over $700 for the unit from Expansys (www.expansys.com).  I try not to write the traditional review but instead focus on the questions I would have if I were looking at purchasing a unit.  Hence, I donít spend a lot of time on standard features that you can read about anywhere or standard specifications.  My focus is on what works well and what doesnít work so well so you can decide if it will meet your needs.

HW6510 Specifications:

Processor, Operating System and Memory
Operating system installed
Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition Software, Phone Edition,
Pocket Versions of Microsoftģ software are included (Outlook, Word, Excel and Internet Explorer for Pocket PC)
Processor
Intelģ PXA270 Processor 312 MHz
Memory Type
128 MB total memory (64 MB ROM and 64 MB SDRAM), up to 56 MB user available memory including 12 MB iPAQ File Store
Memory slots
SD and Mini SD Slots: support 1-bit SDIO and 4-bit SD/MMC type memory standard
Included/Pre-installed Software
Operating system applications: Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Voice Recorder, Notes, Pocket Word Pocket Excel, Pocket Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player 10, Inbox, Microsoft Reader, File Explorer, VPN Client, Infrared Beaming, Volume control
Software Included
HP exclusive applications: iPAQ Wireless, GSM/GPRS Settings Manager, GPS Navigation from TomTom products, HP Profiles, MMS Composer, Bluetooth Manager, iPAQ File Store, iPAQ Backup, HP Image Zone for Pocket PC
System features
Dimensions, Metric description
7.1 x 2.1 x 11.8 cm
Weight, Metric description
165 g
Display
3.0" transflective TFT QVGA, 64K colours, LED backlight
Wireless Technologies description
Integrated quad band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, Bluetooth, IrDA
Expansion Slot
SD Slot: supports 1-bit SDIO and 4-bit SD/MMC type memory standard
Power Features
Battery: removable/rechargeable 1200 mAh Lithium-Ion (user changeable), optional extended 1800 mAh
Power Requirements
AC Power - AC Input: 100~240 Vac, 50/60 Hz, AC Input Current: 0.3 Aac max, Output Voltage: 5Vdc (typical), Output Current: 2A (typical)
Mouse/Pointing Device description
Touch-sensitive display for stylus or fingertip
Keyboard description
Integrated keyboard
External I/O Ports
Integrated IrDA (SIR), USB 1.1 Client, Serial RS232
Internal Audio
Integrated microphone, receiver, speaker and one 2.5 mm stereo headphone Jack, MP3 stereo (through headphone Jack)
Warranty
One-year parts and labour in most regions, 90 days technical support for software in most regions. Additional offers may vary by region
Box Content
Removable/rechargeable battery, removable flip cover, stereo earbud style headset with 2.5 mm jack, AC adapter, charger adapter USB desktop synchronisation cradle, stylus, belt case, Getting Started Guide, How Do IÖ? Guide and HP iPAQ Pocket PC Companion CD
Ergonomic features
4 programmable application quick-launch buttons, 5-way navigation joystick, touch-sensitive display for stylus or fingertip, voice record button, microphone and speaker
Operating Temperature Range
0 to 40į C
Storage Temperature Range
-20 to 60į C
Operating Humidity Range
90% RH

Add 1.3M pixel camera for 6515.

 

Results

While there are some unique features in the 6500 series it is the combination of features that separate the 6500 series from other smartphones in the market.  The combination consists of:

  1. Built in keyboard
  2. Built in GPS receiver
  3. Square screen
  4. Expanded Bluetooth 1.2
  5. Relatively small physical size (Relative to 6300 series or XDA series)
  6. Quad band with EDGE
  7. Dual memory slots both SD and Mini-SD

 Phone Performance - To me, a smart phone that does not work well as a phone is an over priced, over weight PDA.  I am always amazed at how many manufacturers donít get this.  As a result, this is the first thing I evaluate and look for.  It is the one MAJOR shortcoming I find in the Blackberry line of smart phones.  We all know that there are high quality phone chip sets because we all have experience using good cell phones that work well as cell phones.  It seems that many smart phone manufacturers either ignore that fact, think that is the place to cut corners so they can squeeze a lousy camera on the phone or just donít care.  There are at least three aspects that make a phone good.  How well it receives and locks on to a signal, how clear and clean the audio is and the volume achievable for the audio (ability to hear it in a loud and noisy environment like an airport).  The radio receiver/transmitter, the D to A and A to D components, the audio amplifier, the speakers and microphone all determine this ability.  So how does the 6500 fare?  The radio appears to be very good at locking on a signal and holding it.  In actual use I have only had it drop a call once.  Where it dropped the call, is an area that is very dead, signal wise, and every phone I have has dropped the signal at that location.  Call clarity is also excellent with no background noise, hissing, crackling or pops and only with a very weak signal does the audio break up.  It can sometimes be difficult to ascertain when you do have an audio problem whether it is your unit, the other personís cell phone, a weak signal or the headset being used by the other party.  My comments are based on calls to a land line phone so that I can eliminate as many of these other variables as possible.  Volume is where this unit falls down.  Both earpiece and speakerphone speaker volume need to be capable of greater levels.  In a quiet room they are more than adequate but in a noisy environment you will strain to hear the other party.  Of course, this leads you to shout because when we canít hear we tend to assume the other party canít hear us.  My suspicion is that the problem is a software issue that may be fixed in a subsequent release.  I say this because the volume of the media player playback and Mapopolis software directions produces is more than adequate.  The speakerphone speaker being in the back of the unit doesnít help either.  On a scale of zero to ten I would rate the phone a seven and if they improve the audio I would up it to a nine.  I am dropping my rating to a 6.5 for several reasons.  Among them, is the fact that it has now been 2 months since the phone was released and not a single fix or upgrade for any of its deficiencies has been forthcoming from HP.  In fact, just the opposite with HP finally confirming that it will not be releasing an upgrade to WM5 (that might have solved some of its problems).

 Having a quad band phone means you can use it almost anywhere in the world but for us U.S. users having EDGE really makes the wireless connectivity a viable and usable function.  Web pages load pretty quickly (I consistently saw between 105kb to 135kb) throughput.  This puts it ahead of 1XRTT but behind EV-DO.  The browser actually becomes functional and usable.  I was amazed that I could load my PKI certificate and use web mail with its frames from this device.  Downloads are pretty quick too.

 I use Microsoftís Voice Command with the unit and with the exception of not being able to use VC through the Bluetooth headset; I find it works very well for dialing the contacts in my phone book or digit dialing.  I also tried Fonix and found equally good results.  I stayed with VC because of its caller ID voice announcement.  Since I often carry the unit in a case on my belt, not having to take the unit out to know who is calling is a real plus.  Then, I use a Bluetooth headset to answer the call.  The Inability to initiate a voice command over the Bluetooth headset and interact with Voice Command or any of the alternatives is another reason for my downgrading of the unit.  It is too large and cumbersome to have to take the unit out of the holster every time you want to make a call and have to hold a brick to your head.

 The keyboard, while better than the keyboard on the Treo 600 (maybe even the Treo 650 though I donít have as much experience with it) falls far short of the keyboard on the Blackberries (72XX, 75XX and 77XX series).  Blackberry keys form a frown rather than a smile.  This causes the upper right and left keys to be closer to the thumbs rather than further away.  The Blackberry keys are shaped more like tear drops than circles thus making it easier for thumb contact to a single key and the lettering and numbering is larger and bold faced making it easier to read the keys.  Finally the backlighting is better on the Blackberries because the blue light is very hard on the eyes.  The blue function characters are almost unreadable.  Having said all of that, the unit can be typed on and once you get use to its deficiencies you can type at a reasonable speed for short messages.  I would not like to type a long email with them.  The poor integration of the keyboard with the OS contributes to making it more difficult to use than a Blackberryís.  A double space after the end of a sentence doesnít automatically add a period and capitalize the first word.  Holding a key down doesnít cause it to become upper case.  However, it will insert an apostrophe into a contraction.   It will not convert shorthand abbreviations into the spelled out word.  When you are in numeric fields in a form it doesnít automatically put the keys into numeric lock and you canít hold down a number key when in phone mode to get a long tone (like holding 1 to get voice mail).  Windows Mobile 5 (WM5) is supposed to address many of these issues.

Contents of box with some extras to make it more usable (Leather Case, Nylon Case, Extra Stylus, SD Memory, Screen Protectors, Mini USB cable)

 The square 240x240 screen is bright and large enough to be readable under almost any conditions from inside to bright sunlight.  While a higher resolution would be nicer to get more on a page, I found the 240x240 adequate to the task with fonts appearing relatively smooth (not like 320x320) but good enough for work usage, photo viewing and web browsing.  My one big gripe with the screen is that HP removed from the software the ability to rotate the screen.  Iím sure that they thought, ďThe screen is square so we donít need to be able to rotate it.Ē  However, if you want to use the unit on its side in a stand like the Think Outside keyboard you need to be able to rotate the screen.  If I had purchased the HP Bluetooth keyboard this might not have been an issue since the stand on the HP unit would probably support the unit vertically just fine.  The Think Outside stand does not hold the unit adequately except in the sideways position.  Compared to the screen on a Blackberry 7100t it looks gigantic.  It is also more readable under a variety of lighting conditions.  I finally found a third party software application that makes it possible to rotate the screen or see a virtual 240x320 screen for those applications that don't support the 240x240 format.  The application is NYDITOT and it works very well but uses up your memory when it should have this capability built in.

Bluetooth on this unit shines in all but two areas.  There are profiles for headset, headphones, hands free, ActiveSync, serial, file transfer, information exchange, personal network server, Dial-up networking server, and keyboard.  The hands free profile using a Bluetooth headset is the best I have seen.  Pairing is quick and easy and the sound quality and volume are great!  I tested this with three different headsets, the Flamingo, the Plantronics M3000 and the Plantronics V510.  All work exceptionally well on range, sound quality and volume.  The functional limitations such as controlling volume from the handset (doesnít work) are problems related to Windows Mobile 2003 SE.  The basic functions such as answer call, end call and control volume from the headset all work perfectly.  Active Sync via Bluetooth also works very well although getting it set up can be a little tricky.  By the way, I conducted all tests using ActiveSync 4.0 developers release available on the Microsoft web site.  As I understand it, version 3.8 has a limitation on the serial ports it can use whereas 4.0 does not appear to have that limitation.  The Bluetooth keyboard from Think Outside works very well with the built in software (minus the ability to assign special keys).  It is quick and a key press materializes almost instantly on the screen.  I did not type ahead of it ( a faster better typist might).  The software that comes with the keyboard and the latest version on their web site does not work on the unit.  I tested using the keyboard and ActiveSync and the headset all at the same time and it worked with no problem.  It did fail to work 100% on my Lexus RX330 (2005).  It pairs up without a hitch but when you go to make a call there is a loud squeal that emanates from the speakers until the call connects.  Once connected it works fine except it never shows the signal strength on the dash display.

With two memory slots it has more than adequate storage and expandability.  While it lacks built in WiFi, you can easily add the capability via an SD or mini-SD card.  True, it does stick out to the right and isnít as desirable as an internal unit.  On the other hand, WiFi radios tend to suck up power and that has to be a consideration.  Iím not sure how many people would use that feature although I read all of the complaints if a device doesnít have that.  I must be missing something.  When I am at home or in the office I prefer to do my Internet work from a real computer with a large screen, full keyboard and mouse.  I can connect via Bluetooth ActivSync to my Internet and use the higher performance of my home internet connection if I really needed it.  With EDGE I have adequate connectivity for most of what I do on the road with a browser in a small screen.  I suspect it will be adequate for most users and while WiFi for Skype usage may be nice to have it isnít a deal killer in my book.  I know many of you will disagree with that assessment.

 The built in GPS receiver is a real plus.  This is the first unit to offer this feature and it works very well.  The nice thing is you can use it with software other than the Tom-Tom software shipped on the unit.  Sadly, this company has got to have the worst support I have seen.  First, there is no phone number to call.  Second, it is pure torture to send an email to the company as you must jump through more hoops than a government bureaucracy.  Finally, it takes them forever to respond with nothing.  It is saddled with activation keys for maps and other such nonsense.  For U.S. customers it is a night mare to be avoided.  Maps are priced at ridiculous amounts and are for such small areas that it takes at least a dozen maps to get around an area like Los Angeles .  Fortunately, there are other navigation packages available that work well with the unit.  I tired Mapopolis and it works very well.  I compared my handheld maps tracking and display to my unit in the Lexus and they were right together.  The handheld doesnít lock on to the satellites as quickly but it is pretty quick with the built in helper software.  Whether the U.S. version will include Tom-Tom or some other application is not known at this time.  Tom-Tom version 4 is preloaded into the extended ROM and automatically installs after a hard reboot.  I only performed a limited test initially on the GPS and subsequently I have found the unit does not perform as well as I originally thought.  With TomTom I had noticed a severe lag between the display and my actual position and I attributed this to TomTom however when I later tested it with Mapopolis I didn't see the lag.  More testing has shown me that I was mistaken and the lag is still there though not quite as acute.  Acquiring the satellites is not very quick and can be painfully slow at times.  In a plane the lag is really visible yet my Garmin handheld is dead on.

 The extended ROM in the unit is 12MB and there is an additional 12MB or ROM called IPAQ file storage available to the user.  I bring this up because the unit comes with applications that load themselves automatically after a hard reset and these applications reside in extended ROM.   It is significant that this unit is built by HTC.  The reason is that a major hack site (XDA-Developers.com) exists that provide many tools to hack HTC built devices.  For example, there are tools to edit the extended ROM, save/backup the extended ROM to an SD card and convert the extended ROM to a single large user ROM space.  Playing with the ROM in any way is not for the inexperienced user and there is always the risk that you will render your unit into a paper weight so PROCEED WITH GREAT CAUTION.  Backup, backup, backup your ROM before you do anything to it so you have a chance to recover if you make a mistake.  What I have done is to use the extended ROM as a means of auto installing applications I want to have after a hard reset.  I also removed Tom-Tom and a few other applications that I donít use.  The best source of information on hacks for this device is www.davesipaq.com.  This web site is full of good information on the 6500 series as well as other IPAQ handhelds. Here is the link to the extended ROM editor information and here is the info for "big ROM'.

 Applications, there are still many applications that do not work at all or do not work right because they lack support for the square screen.  Again the forum at davesipaq is the best source of this information.  This is a rapidly changing situation as many software companies are changing their products to support the 6500.

 You will note that I did not mention the camera, a 1.3 Mega-pixel unit.  The reason is two fold.  I did not purchase the 6515 (the unit with the camera) but purchased the 6510 (camera less).  And, I have not tested it myself; however, reviews on the forum tend to give it pretty bad marks.  I canít take a camera phone into work so I donít purchase phones with a camera if I have a choice.  There are times when it would have been handy.  Given the small increase in price, if you are allowed it I would purchase it, otherwise it isnít a big loss.

 Battery Life is only what I would call adequate with the normal battery a 1,200 ma unit.  It will last through a day but needs to be recharged daily if you are a heavy user of polling email and Bluetooth like I am.  However, there is a 1550ma battery available from Lion that works really well and gives you that extra charge the unit needs.  It is the same physical size (perhaps slightly thicker but hardly noticeable) and fits in where the standard battery goes without a problem.  You then have closer to two days of charge available before you must put it on the charger.  I only use the 1550 now and carry the original as a spare for an emergency.  I highly recommend it and HP should make it their standard.

 The plastic holster that comes with the unit is a real pain and a poor design.  It sticks you in the side and it is tricky to remove the unit without risking dropping it.  I have now tried the HP vertical nylon holster the HP horizontal leather holster.  I am not crazy about either one but both are better than the plastic one that comes with the unit.  I find the vertical holster is the easier to remove the handset but is thicker than it needs to be and is not very attractive.  It says geek instead of professional.  The leather holster is nicer looking but much harder to remove the handset and it too is thicker than I would like.  Both add too much bulk to the unit.  I hope the new holster from Krusell is thinner.  I have owned their cases in the past and I love the nice thin but close fit they provide.

Conclusion

Overall, I would have to give this unit a solid 8.5 rating.  That isnít to say it isnít without its problems.  What follows is a summary of my findings of problems: My updated rating is to down rate the unit to a 6.5 which is a DON'T BUY.  If you like the form factor and don't mind dealing with a company that would treat its customers this way, wait for the HW6700.  None of the issues addressed below have been addressed by HP and it appears to this reviewer that they don't intend to address them.  This is an expensive unit to purchase when it is a dead end unit with no possibility of its being upgraded in the future.  MS is known to quickly lose interest in supporting an OS once a new version has been published (if you doubt this look for patches and updates for Windows Mobile 2002 in the last year).  HP has shown itself to not be very interested in supporting a customer once they have made a purchase by providing one excuse after another why they can't upgrade the product.  Fortunately for U.S. customers waiting to buy their unit from Cingular they will know these facts in advance and can use their money on better products like the HTC Wizard that should be available around the same time the HW6500 series is released.  The very least HP should have done is to offer to replace HW6500s with the new HW6700 once it is available so that users would not feel abandoned.  There has been a great deal of discussion on Daves IPAQ about this issue.


1. No way to rotate the screen despite running Windows Mobile 2003 SE. At first blush this may not appear to be a problem; however, for users of Bluetooth keyboards it is since it does not permit the device to be used sideways. In the case of the Think Outside keyboard this is the only way to hold the device securely, especially on an airplane. Given that this is a capability of both WM2003 SE and WM5 it would seem that this could easily be added back in a ROM upgrade.
2. No built in DUN support. The CD directs you to their web site to download a Bluetooth DUN but it is not there. Both a USB and Bluetooth DUN capability would be highly desirable. The USB has the added advantage that it keeps the unit charged while providing Internet access to a laptop. This problem appears to be an easy problem to resolve as well.  There is a work around Bluetooth DUN patch that works available on the forum at davesipaq.
3. No support for directing system audio to the Bluetooth headset profile.  The problem is that this may be what is preventing the use of a Bluetooth headset for voice dialing with applications like MS Voice Command 1.5 and Fonix. The latter appears to provide this capability on other handsets running WME 2003SE and there is reference to support as an option in one of the help files but it is missing from this device.
4. A problem with Active sync versions 3.8 and 4.0. The unit will hang trying to make a connection if the GPRS connection is on. It will launch the GPRS connection and if the user does not cancel it, it will never complete connecting. I have never observed this behavior with Active sync and any other device before. This appears to be a bug that needs to be fixed.  This problem appears to be related to the fact that many of the cradles shipped with the units appear to be defective.  My cradle finally quit after about a week of strange and unpredictable behavior.  Using the USB mini cable I purchased separately solved the strange sync problems and since I received a replacement cradle all has been working well.  Just know that there is a good chance you will have to have the cradle replaced.
5. Earpiece and speaker volume are inadequate for noisy environments. Both need substantial improvement in volume level. For a comparison of what it should be compare it to an LG 4500. This may be fixable via a firmware change since the volume with media player appears to be adequate. It is only in the phone mode that it is too low even at max volume.
6. Ability to run processor at higher speeds. The unit seems to pause and hang every now and then. A faster processor might resolve this issue. The user should be able to trade off battery life for performance. (Iím not sure if the processor is capable of greater speed but most users seem to think it is.)
7. Change the key shape and make them more easily readable. The backlight and color combinations make the keys difficult to read. This needs to be changed for the future. A better example of how the keyboard should be done, look at Blackberryís or the new Motorola Qís keyboards.
8. The unit will pair with the Lexus RX330 Bluetooth hands free unit but it does not work properly and just makes a terrible screeching noise when you try and use it. It doesnít show antenna signal strength either. I understand that there are problems with the BMW X5 as well though I donít have first hand experience with it.
9. Support for voice dial over Bluetooth and the ability to control headset volume from the handheld are both missing from the unit.
10. Improve Tom-Tomís software support or find a better supplier for GPS software. The free map is pathetic in that it covers such a small area it is almost worthless. Periodically, it asks for a registration code yet none was provided with the software. Maps, while not currently available for the
U.S. are way over priced and broken into too small a geographic area. Tom-Tomís customer support and process to reach them is a cruel joke on the customer.
11. Make Windows
Mobile 5 available for the unit: The sooner the better.
12. Blackberry connect client and support.
13. Occasionally I and other users are getting the following error message: ď
The Bluetooth Radio failed to turn ON due to insufficient driver memory available. You must perform a normal reset before you can turn ON the Bluetooth Radio.Ē  Iím not sure what the fix is for this problem since there is adequate memory available when it shows up.

 Finally, there is no word from HP as to whether they will offer MS WM5 for this device.  While it lacks 128mb of ROM, there are plenty of devices that will be running WM5 with 64MB ROM.   I seriously hope HP offers it.  (We now know HP will not offer an upgrade path for the HW6500 so it should be avoided like the plague!)  The 6700 series has been announced but no official release date for it has been announced.  It will give up a slot for built in WiFi and have a 128MB of ROM to support WM5.  Supposedly it will ship with WM5.  HP will be facing some very stiff competition in the next 3-6 months and will need to get lean and more flexible if they are to survive the competition.  In particular, the new HTC Wizard in both the GSM and CDMA versions appear to be headed to market in the October time frame.  These devices will come with WM5, a slide out keyboard, a larger screen and size comparable to the 6500/6700 series.  The keyboard having a horizontal lay out will be larger and easier to use and the large landscape screen will offer a better user experience.  The larger HTC universal is also destined to enter the market very soon.  While this unit is larger and heavier it will have the rotating screen, higher resolution and many more features.  Last but not least is the Motorola Q which is slightly smaller in width and half as thick running WM5 Smartphone and including a scroll wheel ala Blackberry.  That is a lot of competition in a market that canít support that many products until prices come down.  The last place a new product wants to compete is on price.  I hope HP addresses the shortcomings and grabs sufficient market share to stay in the game.  (I have just ordered a PPC-6700 HTC Apache for evaluation and will be able to provide a comparison soon.)

My Post on Dave's IPAQ:

The facts speak for themselves:
1. The company (HP) released on the world minus U.S.A. a product that it knew would be obsolete in less than 6 months
2. The company provides a variety of flimsy reasons why the product is obsolete and can't be upgraded
3. Other products with similar specifications (ROM/RAM) Processor, processor speed provide upgrade software or will provide upgrade software to WM5 (ETEN, and other HTC products, most older than the 6500)
4. The company delays aswering the questions posed about upgrade paths for several months while allowing rumors to surface (including from HP sources) that an upgrade would be made available thus allowing eager buyers to make purchases based on optimistic hopes
5. The company has failed to address a single issue since the product was released knowing full well that there were issues and problems

While I have purchased COMPAQ computers and notebooks in the past, this is my first HP purchase and it illustrates to me that they are not really preparred to market to consumers. A large corporate customer purchasing thousands of units or spending big dollars on major iron would get proper attention but a lowly consumer buying a single unit gets no attention. It will take more than the 6700 to move me back to purchasing another HP device. I used to have more respect for the company when I worked with their test equipment. No wonder Agilent was spun off. The printer division is the last vestibule of a once great company and I have heard that it is in trouble as a division. There was a time when all my printers were HP printers. Today, I only own one, my fax machine, having replaced my color printer with a Xerox Phaser 860, my photo printer with an Epson and my inkjet with a Cannon printer. If HP continues down this path, when my fax dies I will replace it with a Brother or someone elses.

A good example of HP's disdain for their customers is reflected in the fact that you never see an HP employee posting on this site to help HP customers and even on the HP forum on their own web site there are few responses from HP employees (official or otherwise).

While HP's behavior may be technically legal, I believe it is blatantly unethical, therefore, the only thing I as a consumer can do is vote with my wallet to move on. I will be adding many of these comments to my review on my own web site as a warning to other prospective buyers.

 

 

 

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