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ASUS MyPal A716 Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PC with WiFi and Bluetooth

Posted June 3, 2004 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

You won't find too many PDAs with both WiFi and Bluetooth built in: the higher end Dell Axim X30 models, HP iPAQ 4150, iPAQ 5555 and Sony Clié UX50 are currently your only choices. The ASUS MyPal A716 not only offers dual wireless but it ups the ante with its CF slot. Yes, you can buy a CF sleeve for the iPAQ 5555, but that's an expensive package, with the handheld alone selling for $650 and the sleeve adding another $50 or more. The A716 in contrast lists for only $450 with street prices even lower.

The A716 is a power-user's Pocket PC with great benchmarks, a 400 MHz processor, 64 megs of RAM, dual expansion slots and dual wireless. It has a large battery that offers very good run times, and that battery is user replaceable. Though ASUS isn't a household name for PDAs (they're a well-respected motherboard manufacturer and make the slick S5Ne ultralight notebook we reviewed here), they're starting to make their presence known in the US. Later this year they'll even offer a VGA Pocket PC running Windows Mobile 2003 SE. And they'll be offering a free upgrade to Windows Mobile 2003 SE for the A716 on their web site soon.

ASUS A716 Pocket PC
ASUS A716

 

Design and Ergonomics

The ASUS A716 is a large Pocket PC that's close to the size of the iPAQ 5555 and Toshiba e805. But it's hard to pack all those features, especially the large CF slot in a tiny package. The WiFi antenna is mounted on the top right side of the unit and protrudes about 1/2". You'll find the standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack as well as the CF and SD card slots on the top edge. The ASUS MyPal A620 was popular with gamers thanks to its great graphics benchmarks and gamer-friendly buttons, and the A716 should also appeal thanks to ergonomic buttons and directional pad. The four application buttons are large and easy to press, while the circular d-pad moves fluidly in all directions and supports diagonals. The ASUS has enhanced button settings, which allow you to assign an application to a button (as do all Pocket PCs) but also allow you to assign another app or function to the same buttons when they're pressed and held.

The enter button, up/down navigation buttons and IR windows are on the left side while the power jack in on the right. The user replaceable battery is located on the back, and locks in place with a switch on the unit's left side. There's also a backup battery on/off switch located under the battery. The mic is located on the bottom edge, next to the sync connector. LEDs above the display indicate wireless (the blue LED lights when either WiFi or Bluetooth is turned on), charging status and alarms.

 

 

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In the Box

The MyPal comes with a USB cable, charger, cradle that can charge the unit with the standard or extended battery, a ballistic nylon case with belt clip and a software CD. You can plug the USB cable and charger into the cradle or directly into the Pocket PC.

Horsepower

The ASUS has an Intel XScale PXA255 processor running at 400 MHz. That's the standard processor used by high end Pocket PCs in 2003 into 2004. It's a fast performer, and as you can see from our benchmarks below, the A716 turns in some very impressive numbers. The unit feels fast and is up to the task of gaming and multimedia playback.

The unit has 64 megs of RAM with 55.79 available to the user. It has 64 megs of NAND Flash memory, 25 of which is available as persistent storage (the data in NAND will survive a hard reset). That's a healthy amount of memory for a Pocket PC in this price range, and you can expand it using SD and CF storage cards.

Screen, Sound, and Gaming

The ASUS has a 3.5" transflective display capable of displaying over 65,000 colors. This is a gorgeous display that rivals high end iPAQs. It's exceptionally bright, very contrasty and has excellent color saturation with no discernable color bias. I love it!

While sound from the built-in speaker won't wake the dead, it's adequate for alarms and movie playback. Sound quality and volume through the standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack is excellent. The ASUS Settings applet allows you to adjust mic sensitivity (or use auto gain control) and set the recording volume. You can also adjust playback volume, balance, treble and bass settings. That's a more full-featured set of controls than most Pocket PCs offer.

The ASUS A620 has a great reputation as a gaming machine thanks to its very fast CPU and graphics performance and ergonomic buttons. A716 is also a speedy performer, and games played very well with the exception of two. Hexacto Bounty Hunter Pinball doesn't get along with the A716's buttons and is unplayable. Bust 'em was playable, but the game felt a little slow and jerky and the sound didn't work well. Bust 'em 2 did much better and plays well on the A716. Doom fans will be happy to know that gfDoom runs extremely well on the ASUS, as does Blade of Betrayal.

Bluetooth

Like the iPAQs and the wireless Dell Axim X30 models, the A716 uses the Widcomm drivers and Bluetooth stack. That's good news because the software is very user-friendly by Bluetooth standards and quite reliable. To use Bluetooth, simply tap on the Bluetooth icon on the taskbar. To create a new connection you'll use the wizard, which first has you select the type of device before you pair with that device. The ASUS supports the headset profile in addition to the standard profiles found on other Bluetooth enabled Pocket PCs (mobile phone, ActiveSync, Internet access point, other PDAs and more). The iPAQ 5555 and Dell Axim X30 wireless models are the only other Pocket PCs that support Bluetooth headsets, so if that's important to you, you'll should consider the ASUS when shopping for your new PDA.

WiFi

The A716 has built-in WiFi 802.11b wireless Ethernet networking. The WiFi antenna is located on the top right of the unit. While most Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PCs rely on Microsoft's Connection Manager to manage WiFi connections, the A716 comes with a full-featured tool called WiFiME. This is a great bonus since Connection Manager has very few features and has been dumbed down to the point where it's not useful for doing more than making a basic connection to an access point. You can launch WiFiME from the Programs group, or you can access it from the taskbar where it's always resident. Tap in the taskbar house icon to turn the radio on and off, or manage a connection. You'll see a tabbed interface, with IP Config, Wireless, Survey, Profile, Statistics, Power and About tabs. The IP Config tab shows you info about your current connection (DHCP or static, IP address, MAC address, subnet mask, gateway, DNS) and has a Renew button. The Wireless tab shows connection state, base station ID, current channel, data rate, link quality and signal strength. The Survey tab shows access points within range, and provides their names, channel, BSSID and signal strength (it doesn't indicate whether the access points are using WEP). Networking power users will love this utility and even novices will find it helpful for troubleshooting connections. And of course it makes connecting to new access points when traveling much more simple.

 

screen shot

Above, the Bluetooth wizard, below the WiFiME site survey screen.

screen shot

Benchmarks

We've run benchmarks using spb Benchmark. I've compared the Dell Axim X30 312MHz wireless model, iPAQ 5550 , and our ASUS A716. All tests were run with units fresh out of the box with no other software added. All units have Intel XScale processors and run Windows Mobile 2003 (Second Edition, for the Axim). Higher numbers are better (shown in green bold).

Software Bundle

ASUS created a very useful applet called ASUS Settings which allows you to set CPU speed, automatic power savings, specify whether button presses will wake up the unit, set IR to FIR (4Mbps) or SIR (115.2kbps), control audio in and out settings and set screen brightness. This applet is a great time saver since it allows you to adjust many common system settings in one place.

You'll also get a backup application permanently installed in ROM that allows you to back up all data or just PIM data to a storage card or internal NAND flash memory. The MyPal comes with several useful applications on the included CD. Pocket Painter is a very nice painting/drawing program, Presentation DX PowerPoint viewer, MoneyTracer finance manager, RealOne Mobile Player, Engineering calculator and a few games such as Dung Cleaner and Reversi. Since ASUS sells Pocket PCs in Asia, there are also two mapping programs (maps of China, not US), and Monster Chinese and Monster SIP for displaying and inputting Chinese characters on English language Pocket PCs.

Battery Life

The A716 comes with a user replaceable 1500 MAh Lithium Ion battery. That's a large capacity battery that beats out other Pocket PCs' standard batteries. The optional extended 3000 MAh battery is the largest extended battery on the market in terms of capacity. It fits like a sled onto the back of the PDA, increasing its thickness. Battery life depends on your wireless usage. If you don't turn on the wireless features, you should get about 4 hours actual usage per charge, which beats out many Pocket PCs. Some users have reported much better runtimes, but our unit has been around the block a few times, and the battery wasn't new when we received it. We ran our unit on Turbo Mode with Automatic Power Saving turned on. The ASUS Settings applet allows you to set CPU speed to Turbo (400MHz), Standard Mode (300 MHz) or Power Saving Mode (200MHz). Automatic Power Saving Mode can be enabled with any of these speed settings.

Battery life when using WiFi was about 2 hours on average. I would have expected closer to three hours given the battery's capacity and again, that may be our unit's problem. WiFi is usually a big power drain and can reduce run times on Pocket PCs by 50%. Bluetooth uses less power than WiFi, and thus had less impact on battery life.

The unit comes with a standard battery, charger and a cradle. You can plug the charger into the cradle or directly into the PDA so you don't have to bring the cradle with you when traveling. The USB cable can plug into the cradle or directly into the PDA as well.

Conclusion

While the Pocket PC arena has many competing offerings, the ASUS A716 manages to hold its own thanks to dual wireless, a large user replaceable battery and a CF type II slot for GPS, 56k modem, GPRS and CDMA wireless WAN cards, wired Ethernet cards and of course memory. A nice bundle of features at an affordable price.

Pro: Reasonably priced. Fast performer. Has both WiFi and Bluetooth, The WiFi utility is quite powerful and an uncommon feature on Windows Mobile 2003 devices. Bluetooth is user-friendly and supports just about anything you'd want to connect to, including headsets. The battery is user-replaceable, and an extended battery is available. The standard battery has very good capacity and the extended battery packs an amazing amount of juice. Cons: The A716 is a large Pocket PC and is about the size of the iPAQ 5555 and Toshiba e805. If you want something tiny in your Pocket, look elsewhere.

www.asus.com, Suggested list price $450

SPB Benchmark Tests HP iPAQ 5555 400MHz PXA 255 Dell Axim X30 (WM2003 SE) 312Mhz PXA270 ASUS A716 400Mhz PXA255
Spb Benchmark index
1112
1474
1614
CPU index
1874
1673
1777
File system index
1061
1050
1206
Graphics index
527
3916
3958
Platform index
978
1142
1340
Write 1 MB file (KB/sec)
1237
1030
1271
Read 1 MB file (MB/sec)
27.2
28.6
27.2
Copy 1 MB file (KB/sec)
1240
1029
1275
Write 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
773
705
923
Read 10 KB x 100 files (MB/sec)
7.32
9.51
10.4
Copy 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
674
629
819
Directory list of 2000 files (thousands of files/sec)
20.6
19.8
22.6
Internal database read (records/sec)
1435
1280
1524
Graphics test: DDB BitBlt (frames/sec)
51.7
308
308
Graphics test: DIB BitBlt (frames/sec)
23
21.4
27.2
Graphics test: GAPI BitBlt (frames/sec)
54.8
913
727
Pocket Word document open (KB/sec)
37.5
36.1
43.4
Pocket Internet Explorer HTML load (KB/sec)
5.88
6.73
9.3
Pocket Internet Explorer JPEG load (KB/sec)
217
206
240
File Explorer large folder list (files/sec)
544
592
600
Compress 1 MB file using ZIP (KB/sec)
259
230
244
Decompress 1024x768 JPEG file (KB/sec)
609
501
610
Arkaball frames per second (frames/sec)
48
262
240
CPU test: Whetstones MFLOPS (Mop/sec)
0.076
0.059
0.076
CPU test: Whetstones MOPS (Mop/sec)
55.3
43.2
55.4
CPU test: Whetstones MWIPS (Mop/sec)
5.01
3.88
5.02
Memory test: copy 1 MB using memcpy (MB/sec)
107
115
94.6

 

Specs:

Display: transflective TFT color LCD, 65,536 colors, Screen Size Diag: 3.8", Resolution: 240 x 320.

Battery: Lithium Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1500mA. 3000 mA extended battery available for purchase.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA 255 400 MHz processor. 64 megs Flash ROM with 25 megs available for your use, 64 MB built-in RAM (55.79 available).

Size: 5.43" (not including antenna nub) x 3.07" x .69". Weight: 6.95 oz.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 9 included for your MP3 and Windows Media format movie-watching pleasure.

Software: Pocket PC 2003 Premium operating system (aka Windows Mobile 2003). Microsoft Pocket Office suite including Pocket Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, MSN Instant Messenger for Pocket PC, MS Reader and Voice Recorder as well as handwriting recognition. 3rd party software: Pocket Painter, RealPlayer, MoneyTracer, Presentation DX, Engineering Calculator, Dung Cleaner, Reversi, Gobang, Monster Chinese and SIP. ActiveSync 3.7 and Outlook for PCs included.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot, I CF type II slot compatible with type I and type II cards.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b and Bluetooth.

 

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