Review posted September 13, 2004 by Lisa
Gade, Editor in Chief
Trust me, VGA is a lovely thing to behold, and
ASUS has a winner here. The ASUS A730 was one of the first VGA
Pocket PCs with native support for VGA resolution in the US market,
along with the HP iPAQ 4700 and the Dell
Axim X50v. The venerable and always hard to find Toshiba
e805 was the
first VGA Pocket PC but it ran Windows Mobile 2003 rather than
the 2003 Second Edition (SE) OS. Toshiba offers a free upgrade
to SE now, but has discontinued the e805. What's the big deal with
SE? It adds native support for VGA and features screen rotation
to landscape on the fly. For those of you who are new to Pocket
PCs, all other models have a QVGA (240 x 320) display and don't
rotate to landscape without the help of 3rd party software add-ons
that don't always work ideally.
While the Toshiba e805 was a large Pocket PC,
thanks to its 4" display, wireless radio and dual slots, the
A730 is remarkably compact given the features it packs. It too
has both a CF and SD slot, Bluetooth, a 1.3MP camera and a VGA
screen that's a tad smaller at 3.7". While HP, once the bastion
of Pocket PC style, has moved to less attractively designed iPAQs
with their new Fall 2004 models, the A730 is a beautifully designed
machine that's reminiscent of the iPAQ
4150 and 1945.
ASUS is a well-known motherboard manufacturer,
and has moved into the notebook and Pocket PC arena with their
S5Ne notebook and A620 and A716 Pocket
PCs. The A620 was their first US release in the Fall of 2003, and
its great graphics and gaming performance made it a hit with gamers.
The A716, released this Spring, catered to business users who craved
integrated Bluetooth and WiFi. ASUS told us that they're known
as a quality motherboard manufacturer and are targeting the same
mid to high-end niche with their Pocket PCs. That doesn't mean
the A730 will cost you an arm and a leg: the list price is $499.
It should be available at the end of September 2004, with a model
that adds WiFi following at the end of October.
Features at a Glance
The A730 has a 520MHz Intel XScale processor,
64 megs of RAM, a CF type II slot and an SD slot supporting SDIO,
a 1.3 megapixel camera with flash, a user-replaceable battery,
Bluetooth and USB host capabilities. And of course, it has a 3.7" VGA
display and runs Windows Mobile 2003 SE. To use USB peripherals,
you'll need to get ASUS' accessory cable which connects to the
PDA's sync port and terminates in a standard USB
connector. You can enable and disable USB host in the ASUS System
Settings applet. We did not receive the USB host cable, so we weren't
able to test the A730 with USB peripherals. However, USB mice,
keyboards and mass storage devices such as hard drives and card
readers generally work with Pocket PCs that have USB host capabilities,
while other devices require drivers which are hard to come by for
Pocket PC. If you like the A730 but want WiFi and more RAM, check
out the ASUS A730W which offers these improvements.
The A730 is a very attractive PDA, which is refreshing
given the lack of styling on many recent Pocket PCs. The bottom is curved
and feels good in the hand. The top has a more subtle curve and is capped
with shiny black plastic. The front is matte gray while the side and
back are silver. Despite the plethora of features packed inside, the
A730 is about the same size as the Dell Axim
X30, which is considered a reasonably small Pocket PC. The A730 is
a few millimeters thicker than the X30, but they are quite close in all
Comparing VGA models: The iPAQ hx4700
The A730 and the Dell Axim X30
The top of the A730 with the SD and CF slots and headphone jack.
While other PDAs with user replaceable batteries have
a battery door on the back, the entire rear cover of the A730 slides
off, making for a more unified and attractive design. To unlock and remove
the back cover you'll first use the slider switch on the right side of
the unit. On the rear of the unit you'll find the camera lens, a small
self-portrait mirror, a flash (really a capture light like that used
on the Sony Clie NX80) and the speaker.
You'll find standard Pocket PC controls on the front face: four
application buttons (user-assignable) and a five-way directional pad.
The d-pad has a trapezoidal shape that's easy to use and the buttons
are raised rather than recessed as with the iPAQ 2215, which makes them
good for gaming. You can prevent accidental button presses from turning
on the machine using the ASUS Settings control panel. When Bluetooth
is on, a blue LED located under a very thin clear plastic strip above
the display lights up. The alarm and charging LED is also
located in this strip but on the right.
The CF and SD slots as well as the standard 3.5mm headphone jack are
located on the top. The power and camera launcher buttons are located
on the left side while the back cover lock is located on the right side.
Horsepower and Performance
The ASUS A730 uses the Intel XScale PXA270 processor
which is the latest, greatest processor for PDAs. Prior generation
Pocket PCs ran at 400MHz tops, and the new PXA270 currently tops
out at 624MHz. While Dell offers an X30 at 624MHz as well as 312MHz,
ASUS has chosen the 520Mhz version for their unit. That's a darned
fast clock speed for a PDA and the unit is a fast performer and
even does decently in the graphics department thanks to ASUS' graphics
tweaking just before release. Keep in mind that VGA requires more
graphics processing power and memory, and so the model's benchmarks
and perceived performance are affected. While the now discontinued
Toshiba e805 used a high performance ATI graphics processor with
2 megs of RAM, the A730 doesn't sport fancy graphics hardware.
Still, screen redraws are fast and games and video playback applications
perform very well.
The A730 has 64 megs of RAM with 45.45 megs available
to the user. This is the one spec I'd love to change if I could.
A full 64 megs of RAM is much more useful and several competitors
offer that amount or just a bit less. Still, for a device with
this many features and a relatively low price tag, it's forgivable.
In addition, the ASUS has 19.22 megs of NAND flash storage. NAND
is non-volatile memory that is slower than RAM but survives hard
resets. It's a great place to store backups or apps you can't live
without (but aren't demanding in terms of speed).
ASUS includes a System Settings control panel
applet that allows you to set the processor speed to Turbo, Standard
or Power Saving mode. In addition it has an automatic mode that
does a very good job of matching processor clock speed to the current
We used Spb Benchmark to compare the A730 with
the 624MHz and 312MHz Dell Axim X30 models
running WM2003 SE, and the 400MHz HP iPAQ
5555 which represents the prior top of the line
processor for Pocket PCs. As you'd expect, the 624MHz X30 comes
out on top. The A730, which was in Turbo mode for the test, does
respectably against the other models, including graphics. Since
the ASUS is the only VGA Pocket PC in this comparison benchmark,
and VGA requires more processing power and graphics memory than
does QVGA resolution, these numbers are quite good.
Graphics, Sound and Gaming
As you're no doubt aware by now, the ASUS has a
VGA display that has 640 x 480 pixels while standard QVGA Pocket
PCs have 240 x 320 resolution. That means you'll see a great deal
more on screen, though Microsoft's implementation of VGA,
while attractive and slick, doesn't compress text and graphics as
much as I'd like. However, it is easy on your eyes, and unlike the
Toshiba e805 running a VGA hack, you likely won't suffer eye strain.
Microsoft's new Screen control panel allows you to rotate the display
on the fly from portrait to right handed landscape or left handed
landscape. You can also set the text to one of five sizes. Great
stuff: those of us who are fond of tiny fonts and have great eyes
can have our way, as can those who need larger text.
ASUS A730 (Turbo mode)
HP iPAQ h5550 (2003, 400MHz)
Dell Axim X30 312Mhz
Dell Axim X30 624Mhz
Spb Benchmark index
File system index
Write 1 MB file (KB/sec)
Read 1 MB file (MB/sec)
Copy 1 MB file (KB/sec)
Write 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
KB x 100 files (MB/sec)
Copy 10 KB x 100 files (KB/sec)
Directory list of 2000 files (thousands of
Internal database read (records/sec)
Graphics test: DDB BitBlt (frames/sec)
Graphics test: DIB BitBlt (frames/sec)
Graphics test: GAPI BitBlt (frames/sec)
Pocket Word document open (KB/sec)
Pocket Internet Explorer HTML load (KB/sec)
Pocket Internet Explorer JPEG load (KB/sec)
File Explorer large folder list (files/sec)
Compress 1 MB file using ZIP (KB/sec)
Decompress 1024x768 JPEG file (KB/sec)
Arkaball frames per second (frames/sec)
CPU test: Whetstones MFLOPS (Mop/sec)
CPU test: Whetstones MOPS (Mop/sec)
CPU test: Whetstones MWIPS (Mop/sec)
copy 1 MB using memcpy (MB/sec)
The display is very crisp, contrasty, color-saturated
and has good brightness. It offers a wonderful viewing experience. Below
you'll find examples of Pocket Internet Explorer running in both landscape
and portrait orientation, as well as the Dell X30 in QVGA landscape.
On the ASUS, the Screen control panel font settings were set to smallest
and Pocket IE was also set to use the smallest text size. So this is
as much as you'll be able to squeeze into a Pocket IE screen on a VGA
Pocket PC. All were using the "Default" layout
mode in IE.
A730 in portrait mode.
A730 in landscape mode, font size
set to medium in IE.
The Dell X30 with QVGA display
in landscape, font size set to small in IE.
As you can see, you'll still have to scroll since most
web sites are designed for XGA 1024 x 768 resolution these days, but
you will see a little bit more on screen using a VGA Pocket PC. The layout
also flows better in VGA with less odd rearranging of web page elements.
Since the ASUS has a VGA 640 x 480
resolution display you'll see more on screen compared to a regular
QVGA Pocket PC, but not four times more, even though VGA is four times
higher resolution that QVGA. Why? Microsoft's implementation of VGA is
designed to make the display very attractive and readable rather than
cram true VGA into a small screen. That means those with good or poor
eyes can use a VGA Pocket PC, but if you were hoping to see four times
more on your screen, you'll be disappointed. Note that this is true of
all VGA Pocket PCs running Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, and is
not ASUS specific. If you do have a hankering for true VGA and have excellent
eyes, you can download the free SE_VGA utility which allows you to run
a VGA Pocket PC in standard Microsoft VGA mode, true VGA or QVGA. However,
unless you have excellent eyes, you'll discover why Microsoft didn't
go with a true VGA experience: it's not
easy to see things or read text. Do check out Tweaks2K and the hack listed
site to get individual apps running in true VGA mode. That way
you can run the device in normal (and readable) standard MS VGA mode,
but have certain apps such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, NetFront
3.1 and ebook readers running in true VGA mode.
When running applications that aren't written for VGA,
the OS uses pixel doubling to stretch QVGA screens to fill the entire
display. Microsoft did an excellent job, and pixel doubled apps looked
sharp and ran well.
Want to watch videos on your Pocket PC? The A730 did
very well using PocketTV
Enterprise Edition, turning out 23.61 average fps on "The Chosen" (a
neat BMW flick with Clive Owen) which is a 4:26 minute long, 10 meg MPEG1
file recorded at 320 x 240, 308 kb/s. Similarly, PocketMVP and
the A730 also made for an excellent movie watching experience using the
same test file. Out of 6394 total frames, 6 were dropped and the movie
played at 23.65 fps. PocketMPV is a great free player that handles MPEG1,
AVI, DivX and MP3 formats. Since the unit runs in VGA, you're no longer
limited to 320 x 240 resolution movies, so go burn some high resolution
videos from DVD or other sources and put them on a CF card for viewing
on the A730.
Many games that we tested ran fine on the A730. Keep
in mind that you won't see more stuff on screen when gaming, but rather
will see the same stuff you'd see on a QVGA device unless the developer
has released a VGA version with enhanced graphics. Games will run in
the orientations and resolutions they're coded to support, and the operating
system's resolution and screen orientation setting won't make a game
run high res or landscape unless it was written to do so.
Here are some games we tested:
- PocketQuake did not run. It launched into the main
game window but didn't respond to menu presses and didn't draw game graphics.
Bust 'Em and Bust
'Em 2 ran fine.
- Bejeweled ran fine.
- Metalion 2 ran fine, but the game
ran a bit fast (it doesn't adjust well for CPU speed) and the graphics
are jaggie compared to other 400MHz fast graphics machines like the XDA
II. Try using the Normal CPU setting rather than Turbo when playing
this game for a better game speed.
- Blade of Betrayal ran well.
Hexacto Bounty Hunter Pinball button
assignment didn't work right (seems to be a WM 2003 SE incompatibility).
- Trivial Pursuit ran fine.
- MorphGear ran fine (we tested NES games).
- Age of Empires ran well, though
the graphics aren't quite as stunning when stretched.
- SIM City 2000 ran fine.
Sound through the built-in speaker is good and great
through stereo headphones using the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Internel
speaker volume is good and alarms are easy to hear in rooms with average
noise levels. Like all Pocket PCs, the A730 has an integrated mic for
recording voice notes and can play MP3s using the included Pocket Windows
Media Player or the 3rd party
MP3 player of
The ASUS uses Widcomm's excellent driver software
and Bluetooth Wizard which is powerful and user-friendly. It
walks you through connecting to a variety of devices, from your
ActiveSync partner (if you have a USB Bluetooth adapter installed
on your PC), to mobile phones to access points and headsets and
GPS units. The Bluetooth software is version
1.4.1. I ActiveSync-ed wirelessly, connected to the Red-M Bluetooth
access point for Internet access and, transferred files to other
Bluetooth enabled Pocket PCs. Speeds when ActiveSyncing and surfing
the Net were good, though not as fast as using WiFi, which is
to be expected since WiFi offers greater speeds. I tested the
A730 with the BlueTrek G2 headset and while it paired, no sound
came through on the headset and the ASUS crashed after 30 seconds.
pair successfully and the Logitech had
problems as well.
The A730 is one of the few PDAs to have a
higher than VGA resolution camera. The camera is 1.3 megapixels
and can take photos up to 1280 x 960 resolution and supports
lower resolutions as well. As with most PDAs and phones, the
unit has a CMOS camera. CMOS cameras take decent pictures but
CCD cameras take much better pictures (most consumer digicams
are CCD, while most PDA and phone cameras are CMOS). That said,
the ASUS takes good pictures that are large enough to use on
personal web pages or for emailing to friends, co-workers and
relatives. The ASUS also stands apart because it has a flash,
which is really like the capture light used on the discontinued
Sony Clie NX80. When you turn the flash on, a small light located
just below the lens illuminates until you turn the flash off.
It's handy for close range shots in poorly lit areas, but don't
expect it to light up even a small room.
When you launch the ASUS Camera application
you won't go directly into the image capture application. Instead
you'll see a screen with four applications listed: "soft
(the camera app), "photo viewer", "photo editor" and "photo
album". While these are handy apps and it's nice to have one
place to get to all of them, I would prefer it if pressing the
camera button took me straight into the capture application.
The added step means one might miss those precious
Soft corder has a variety of settings that
will allow you to fine tune your photos. You can select settings
for various ambient lighting situations such as sunny, cloudy,
shade (night) and twilight. You can also manually set brightness,
contrast and exposure using individual sliders. And of course
you can specify where photos are saved and the resolution (1280
x 960, 640 x 480, 352 x 288 and 320 x 240). Soft corder and the
photo management apps ran a bit slowly but were usable.
How good are the A730's photos? They're decent
and are suitable web quality photos. You won't want to print
and frame the ASUS' photos, but the same is true of most PDA
cameras. The camera has problems with low light and very bright
daylight situations and is sensitive to hand movement when capturing
photos. Though it's a 1.3MP camera, some VGA resolution PDA digicams
actually take more light-balanced photos than the A730. The
sample photos below were taken at 1280 x 960 at highest quality
setting. Click on an image to see the full size, unedited original.
Included in ROM are the ASUS camera applications
(image capture, photo viewer, editor and album), a backup program
that can backup all data or just PIM (contacts, calendar, tasks,
notes) data to the NAND flash storage area, or an SD or CF storage
card, and ASUS Launcher which is a customizable program launcher.
Bundled 3rd party software is the same as the ASUS A716: 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 Hong Kong and Taiwan,
not the US), and Monster Chinese and Monster SIP for displaying
and inputting Chinese characters on English language Pocket
The A730 has a user replaceable 1,100 mAh battery,
and an optional 1,800 mAh battery is also available. That's a decent
sized battery for a unit with a fast processor speed and a 3.7"
display. In our tests the unit lasted about 2 hours on a full
charge in a mix of use with brightness set to 66%: access PIM info,
working with Pocket Word and Excel, playing MP3s for 30 minutes,
watching a five minute video, shooting 10 photos and playing games
for an hour. If you have Bluetooth turned on, battery life will
be reduced by about 30 minutes. We tested the unit in Turbo mode,
and Power Saving mode should increase runtimes significantly.
While most PDAs have rear doors that pop open
to reveal the battery, the entire back panel slides off on the
ASUS. This design gives the unit a very clean
look. Slide the locking switch located on the right side of the
unit to release the door. The switch is quite stiff so it won't
accidentally unlock the back panel.
There aren't many VGA Pocket PCs on the market
and your choice boils down to the A730, HP iPAQ 4700 and the Dell
Axim X50v. If you're
in Europe, you can also consider the LOOX 720, which we hear is
a very nice VGA Pocket PC. That said, the ASUS is more affordable,
compact, stylish and has a great feature set. The 1.3MP camera,
fast processor, lovely display and dual slots make it an excellent
choice! If WiFi is your thing, ASUS should have a version of the
A730 that adds WiFi by the end of October. It's a definite winner!
Pro: VGA display that's
bright, sharp and contrasty. Fast processor, user replaceable
battery, 1.3MP camera and Bluetooth. Compact and very attractive.
Dual card slots make the most of expansion. USB host (with
ASUS' $20 accessory cable) capability opens up more expansion
Con: The camera is good
but shots could be more evenly exposed. Look to 3rd party camera
software for improved shot quality and quicker shutter response.
Bluetooth headsets don't play nicely with the A730. So-so battery
life with standard battery.
TFT color LCD, 64K colors. Screen Size Diag: 3.7".
Resolution: VGA, 640 x 480. Supports both portrait
and landscape orientations.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1100 mA. 1800 mA extended battery available for purchase.
XScale PXA 270 520 MHz processor. 64 MB built-in
RAM (45.45 megs available). 48 MB Flash ROM with
19.22 megs available for your use.
x 2.87 x .66 in. Weight: 5.99 oz.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player
9 included for your MP3 pleasure.
Second Edition operating system. 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 3.7.1
and Outlook for PCs included.
SD (Secure Digital) slot supporting
SDIO and one CF type II slot that accepts CF type
I and II cards. Standard SIR IR port (115 Kbps).