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ASUS MyPal A636

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Reviewed Feb. 6, 2006 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief and Tong Zhang, Senior Editor

Page 2. Continued from Page 1

GPS

The ASUS A636 has a built-in GPS receiver. When you need to turn on the receiver, flip the GPS receiver panel open and swivel it so that the receiver plate is parallel to the sky. The ASUS uses the latest SiRF III GPS chipset that has some significant improvements over the last generation chipsets. The major features that this chipset provides for GPS receivers are high sensitivity, lower power consumption and fast time to fix speed. In fact, the SiRF III chipset has been re-architectured to have the equivalent to more than 200K correlators as opposed to the old sequential search process that contains only a few hundred to a few thousand correlators. The result is your GPS receiver becomes much more sensitive and can get a good signal even under dense foliage, downtown high-rise buildings and indoors in many cases which was not achievable with past generations of GPS receivers. Another benefit of having a higher performance chipset is that your GPS will have a faster time to fix, especially time to first fix (TTFF) speed. Using the SiRF III chipset, the ASUS A636 GPS took roughly 40 seconds to get a fix the first time we turned on the receiver. The warm/hot starts took only a few seconds. The GPS also has SBA support that includes both WAAS stations in the US and the EGNOS stations in Europe. The 20-channel ASUS GPS receiver tracks 9 satellites consistently and gets strong signal strength from 8 of them. If you still find the satellite signal strength low in your car, you can use an external antenna and plug it into the connector under a door on the ASUS GPS receiver panel.

To launch the GPS application, go to Destinator app and tap on the satellite symbol on the lower right corner in the map view or up top on the GPS Status icon in the Destinator Settings screen. The GPS interface will show your current longitude, latitude, altitude and velocity info as well as a graph that shows the number of satellites the receiver is tracking and their signal strength.

Map Installation

The ASUS A636 bundles Destinator PN navigation software and NAVTEQ map data and POIs (Points of Interest). The SD card that’s included with the ASUS A636 has the Destinator navigation software and some map data pre-loaded. Plug in the SD card and the Destinator application will automatically install. Even though the maps are pre-loaded, they rarely comes in the way you would like it to be. To cut the current maps or create your own maps, you will need to install the Destinator map console on your PC from the Destinator CDs included in your ASUS A636 package. The continental US maps come in 6 geographical groups, the largest group is the Pacific Mountain which comes in 236MB and the smallest group is the South Atlantic plus Alabama which is 172MB. In addition to the continental US, you will also get maps of Canada and Hawaii along with USA Roads which is a great roadway map for navigating cross-country trips. Use the Cut Map tool in the Destinator Console and crop out the maps you need. The map console can tell you the size of your map data and save them to the My Maps area in the console. You can install the maps to your Pocket PC via ActiveSync (can go into either the internal memory or the memory card) or you can install them onto memory cards via a card reader. The Destinator map console comes in 13 languages.

Destinator PC software

Destinator PN desktop mapping software

 

 

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Navigation On the Go

Even though you can plot courses on the desktop using the map console, the real attraction is of course the real time navigation and guidance on the Pocket PC. Destinator provides tools for you to navigate your routes and customize the guidance system. The tools are grouped into three large groups and you can access these tools by tapping on the car icon in my map view. The first group is Destination group where you will find several options on how you can enter addresses for the route navigation. You can pick any address in your Outlook Contacts database, POIs from the map database, from History or input a new address if the location isn’t stored anywhere. You can also add waypoints in the Trip Planner which is designed for trips with many stops and navigate with certain road restrictions such as avoiding toll roads, etc.. In addition to these methods of inputting destinations, you can also pick a point on your map and set it as a destination.

A636 GPS mapping application screen

map screenshot

Left: the mapping application. Above, map on the A636 screen.

 

In the Options group, you will find tools to customize the visual guidance such as how you wish to see the guidance in turn by turn view, directions view and map view. You can also switch maps if you are planning routes in multiple maps and preview the routes you’ve planned in a simulated demo. The last group of icon-based tools are settings for your maps, GPS Status page, route options (quickest route or shortest route) and visual and voice guidance settings. With the aid of these tools, Destinator makes it easy to quickly find or input an address as your destination and map out the routes. Though there are a lot of menu icons, they are grouped in a logical order and shouldn’t take too long to explore the functions. The Destinator also has a mode for walking along with driving navigation mode.

In our field navigation and driving tests, the ASUS navigated routes in a very efficient way in both Quickest Route and Shortest Route tests, even in confusing on/off ramp with lane merging intersections.

Guidance System

The Destinator PN software on the ASUS A636 offers both visual and voice guidance. Visual guidance includes map view where you can see the map of the area you are in and the route highlighted in easy-to-see lines and your current location. Destinator added a few shortcuts in small icons on the maps view to give you quick access to zoom the map, check GPS satellite stats, switch between 2D and 3D map view, daytime and night time view and turn on Turn-by-Turn directions which shows the street names and direction symbols. You can also turn the map view off and just look at the text-based directions with direction symbols if you find the map view too distracting. The visual guidance is offered in many languages and several skin themes.

The voice guidance is on target. The voice quality through the ASUS speakers is very good and the natural human voice is much better than the stiff digitized voice in older generation navigation systems. By default the voice alerts come on at 500 yards, 200 yards and at the turning points, and you can adjust the distance and the frequency of the voice alerts. You can also choose to select or de-select certain types of voice alerts such as GPS status warnings, speed warnings and more. In our field driving tests, the voice alert comes on at the right distance and volume is loud enough to hear over road noise. The voice guidance comes in five languages including English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

About the NAVTEQ Map Data

Like many GPS packages, the ASUS comes with NAVTEQ map data. NAVTEQ data is one of the most detailed map sources and is usually updated every 6 to 12 months. The street-level maps and database from NAVTEQ usually include millions of POIs (Points of Interest). They not only get the most up-to-date material collected from all levels of government, planning agencies, police and fire departments and aerial photographs, but they also collect first-hand data in real time. NAVTEQ currently has 127 field offices staffed with analysts and engineers who drive every day to collect data and feed it daily to the live database with single global specification. NAVTEQ data now records up to 160 attributes in each road segment that may affect the way you get from one place to another. These road attributes are characteristics of the roads and include road names, address ranges, turn-restrictions, one-way Info, time of day restrictions, speed limits, and more. All these processes and systems ensure precise and robust digital map data and POIs that get updated consistently. You can check out more about NAVTEQ map data by visiting their web site.

Conclusion

Convergence devices generally make concessions. For GPS enabled PDAs this means the PDA portion may be lacking in horsepower, a recent OS revision or wireless connections. The ASUS A636 is one of the first GPS Pocket PCs we've seen that rocks in both departments. The PDA portion's features, power, performance and connectivity are top notch and the GPS hardware is excellent as are the maps. For the price, you're getting an excellent machine, that lacks only in the looks department.

Pro: Great screen, loud and clear sound. Excellent GPS hardware and mapping software. Good performance overall, runs Windows Mobile 5.0, has both Bluetooth 1.2 and WiFi. Bluetooth profile support and software are very good. Car mount and car charger included along with the usual home sync and charging hardware.

Con: It's not small and it ain't pretty.

Price: $599

Web Site: usa.asus.com

Shopping: Where to Buy

 

Specs:

Display: 65K color transflective TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 3.5". Resolution: 240 x 320, supports both portrait and landscape modes.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1300 mA. AC and car chargers included.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA 272 416 MHz processor. 64 MB built-in RAM (58 megs available). 128 MB Flash ROM with 59 megs available for your use as main storage and an additional 26 megs as a "Flash Disk".

Size: 4.8 x 2.88 x .76 inches. Weight: 6.56 ounces.

GPS: SiRF Star III chipset, 20 channels. Destinator PN maps of US and Canada plus Route USA.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Media Player 10 Mobile included for your MP3 and video watching pleasure.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b and Bluetooth 1.2.

Software: Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC operating system. Microsoft Mobile Office suite including Mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint (view only), Internet Explorer, and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, MSN Instant Messenger for Pocket PC, Windows Media Player 10, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker (game), Voice Recorder as well as handwriting recognition. Additional applications: Destinator GPS navigation and mapping software, ASUS Status program, Wireless Manager (WiFi) and Bluetooth Manager (Broadcom). ActiveSync 4 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot supporting SDIO and SDIO Now!. 256 meg memory card included with Destinator application installed.

 

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