Review posted Jan. 1, 2005 by Lisa Gade,
Editor in Chief
Power users rejoice: the feature-packed
A730W has every
feature you can pack into a Pocket PC except a mobile phone.
This VGA device has WiFi, Bluetooth, a 520MHz XScale processor,
1.3 megapixel camera, dual expansion slots and a user replaceable
battery. Impressive. Does this top of the line ASUS live up to
its feature set? Read on!
The A730W arrives on the heel of the
A730 which we reviewed in September 2004. The units are identical
in most respects, using the same casing and having many of the
same features. Thus our reviews of the two units share some editorial
text. The A730W adds WiFi (that's what the "W" stands for), has
128 megs of RAM rather than 64 and thanks to firmware improvements
does a bit better on benchmarks and camera performance.
A Look at the VGA Pocket PCs
2004 was the year of the VGA Pocket PC,
and that's a good thing. Standard Pocket PC resolution was stuck
at QVGA (240 x 320) resolution for many years. In theory VGA
Pocket PCs let you see up to four times as much on screen, though
most of the built in applications such as Word and Excel aren't
yet VGA optimized so you won't see 4x more on screen. VGA models
have support for both landscape and portrait modes thanks to
the Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition OS. The A730 and A730W
compete with the HP
iPAQ hx4700 and Dell Axim X50v in
While the HP and Dell models have a faster
624MHz processor, they lack the ASUS' integrated megapixel digital
camera. If you're a photo buff, the AUS should be on your short
list thanks to the camera and VGA display which is perfect for
viewing photos. Despite the difference in processor speed, the
A730W manages to fare well against its 624MHz rivals, having
an overall higher benchmark score than the Dell (due to the X50v's
weak GAPI graphics numbers) but bested by the hx4700.
ASUS and X50v have very similar form factors and are very close
in size, while the HP is larger and more angular. Both the
X50v and ASUS have a 3.7" transflective color display, while
the HP has a 4" transflective display that's easier on the eyes
but makes for a noticeably larger unit. The ASUS and Dell have
plastic casings, while the HP is all metal. The ASUS A730W is
priced right at $569, which is a bit more than the Dell but you
do get the camera, two batteries in the box and a USB host cable.
Speaking of USB host, the ASUS A730 models are the only VGA Pocket
PCs that offer it. So if you have a hankering to use USB mice,
keyboards and mass storage devices, the ASUS will please you.
The A730W has a 520MHz Intel XScale processor, 128
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, WiFi
802.11b 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
use the included USB host 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.
In the box you'll find the PDA, stylus, two Lithium
Ion batteries, a charger, cradle, USB host cable, software CD, manual
and a horizontal case with belt clip.
Design and Ergonomics
The A730W 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 dark gray while the sides
and back are silver. Despite the plethora of features packed inside,
the A730W is by no means a large Pocket PC, being a little smaller than
the X50v and a tiny bit narrower than the HP hx2750.
While other PDAs with user replaceable batteries have
a battery door on the back, the entire plastic rear cover of the A730W
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 WiFi or Bluetooth
are 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 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
Horsepower and Performance
The ASUS A730W 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 and HP offer 624MHz VGA Pocket PCs, ASUS has chosen the 520Mhz
version for their unit. That's still a very fast clock speed for a PDA
and the unit is a fast performer that does well against the competition,
particularly the X50v, despite its lower clock speed. ASUS tweaked the
firmware to get even better performance than we saw in the A730 and does
decently in the graphics department for a VGA Pocket PC. In fact, the
ASUS is as responsive as the HP and a bit faster than the Dell in everyday
operations such as opening windows and menus.
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 HP has an ATI graphics processor with dedicated video
RAM, the A730 doesn't sport fancy graphics hardware. Still, screen
redraws are fast and games and video playback applications perform
very well and seem on par with the HP. The Dell X50v has very impressive
graphics hardware, but doesn't do well on standard GAPI performance
and tests. That's because its graphics processor, the Intel 2700G,
isn't optimized for GAPI (which most Pocket PC apps, including
games, use for graphics) but rather for Open GL which isn't commonly
used on Pocket PCs yet.
The A730W has 128 megs of RAM with 107.43
megs available to the user. This is the maximum amount of RAM
that you'll find on a Pocket PC, and beats out the Dell and HP
VGA offerings which have 64 megs of RAM. For those of you who
are new to Pocket PCs, RAM is used for program execution (like
RAM in your PC) and for application and file storage (like the
hard drive on your PC). 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 task. For best battery life when not playing intensive
games or videos, set the processor speed to Standard.
We used Spb Benchmark to compare the A730W
with the 624MHz Dell Axim
X50v and HP iPAQ hx4700 VGA
models running WM2003 SE, and the ASUS
A730 model (before the recent
firmware update which improves speed a bit). The HP hx4700 comes
out on top. The A730W, which was in Turbo mode for the test,
does respectably against the other models, including graphics.
The numbers are truly impressive given the slower clock speed
on the A730W and its lack of a separate graphics processor. Good
ASUS A730W (520MHz, subject of this review)
ASUS A730 (520MHz, VGA, no WiFi)
Dell Axim X50v (624MHz,Max
HP iPAQ hx4700 (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
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)
test: copy 1 MB using memcpy (MB/sec)
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 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.
The screen is very bright and sharp, making photo viewing
and movie watching a real pleasure. Perceived graphics performance is
good in portrait mode, with occasional refresh slowdowns in landscape
mode (all current VGA Pocket PCs are a bit slower in landscape mode,
with the HP doing best).
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 A730W,
like the A730, did very well using PocketTV
Enterprise Edition, turning out 23.69 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. 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 A730W. The A730W runs Windows Media Player 9 rather
than 10 which means it won't stretch QVGA movies to full screen. If you
have a library of QVGA (320 x 240) WMA or ASF files you'd like to play
full screen, download the excellent free BetaPlayer which
can play those formats full screen.
Many games that we tested ran fine on the A730W. 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:
- Bust 'Em and Bust
'Em 2 ran fine.
- Warfare Inc. ran well.
- 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 QVGA Pocket PCs due to pixel doubling. Try
using the Normal CPU setting rather than Turbo when playing this game for
a better game speed.
- Blade of Betrayal ran well.
- 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. Internal
speaker volume is good and alarms are easy to hear in rooms with average
noise levels. Like all Pocket PCs, the A730W 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 your choice.
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, 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 used the Audiovox
SMT5600 MS Smartphone
as a wireless modem 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.
The ASUS has integrated WiFi 802.11b wireless networking
which worked flawlessly in our tests connecting to public access points
and our office access point using WEP encryption. The device has good
range and maintains reliable connections. You can turn on WiFi and manage
your connection using the icon in the taskbar. Connection management
features include general connection information such as status, current
SSID, encryption status and signal strength in both dBm and bar graph
format. Site Survey allows you to see access points in range and shows
their names, channels, signal strength and BSSIDs. IP info gives you
all your current IP info, as you'd expect: IP address, DNS servers, gateway,
MAC address, DHCP and more. If you select the Configure WiFi item from
the taskbar icon's popup menu, the device will run the Windows Mobile
Connection Manager included in the OS. The Connection Manager gets you
started connecting to access points and is standard on all Windows Mobile
2003 and newer operating systems. The ASUS doesn't come with VPN software,
but the standard Windows Mobile OS does offer support for Certificates,
802.1x, WEP encryption (open, shared, WPA and WPA-PSK).
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 a bright white
LED light. 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 corder" (the camera/video
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 moments.
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.
The ASUS can shoot video as well, and offers separate
quality settings for audio and video. It can shoot videos up to 352 x
288 resolution with audio and also supports lower resolutions. You can
record videos in AVI or 3GP format.
How good are the 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 there
is a 1 second delay after pressing the shutter button before the photo
is actually captured (you'll hear an audible shutter sound so you'll
know when it's safe to move your hand). Colors tend to be over saturated
(the sky in our outdoor photo below wasn't that blue nor was the walkway
that colorful or rose-tinted) and indoor shots are dark compared to many
other integrated cameras. The sample photos below were taken at 1280
x 960 at highest quality setting. Click on an image to see the full size,
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, ASUS SmartKeeper which can backup your PDA automatically
when the battery level gets low, and ASUS Launcher which is a customizable
program launcher. Bundled 3rd party software is the same as the
ASUS A730: 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 PCs.
The A730W has an SD slot supporting SDIO and
a CF slot that's compatible with type I and type II cards. In addition,
you have Bluetooth and IR for further expansion. The USB host feature
works well with keyboards, mice and USB mass storage devices. We
tested USB keyboards, mice, an Iomega Zip 750 drive, a USB thumb
flash drive and a four slot card reader and all worked! We tried
a USB CDROM drive but that didn't work. In general, mice, keyboards
and flash drives will work. For other devices you'll likely need
a driver and USB drivers for Pocket PCs are scarce.
The A730W has a user replaceable
1,100 mAh battery, and two batteries are included in the box. An
optional 1,800 mAh battery is also available for separate purchase.
1100 mA is a small capacity battery for a unit with a fast processor
speed, WiFi 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 60%: 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. Standby time wasn't terribly impressive either,
with the unit losing 10% charge per day (standby means the unit
is not used at all).
We tested the unit in Turbo mode for the results
above, but found that Standard mode increased battery life about
25% while still offering good performance. Certainly if you're
using WiFi which drains the battery significantly, you'll want
to avoid Turbo mode. Using Turbo mode with Automatic power savings
checked, we surfed the web using Pocket IE for 85 minutes before
hitting the 30% power remaining warning. In Standard mode (also
with Auto power savings enabled) we got 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Even by VGA Pocket PC standards, these runtimes aren't very good.
WiFi (when turned on) and the 128 megs of RAM are power hungry,
and that is likely why HP and Dell went with 64 megs of RAM and
a larger helping of ROM in their VGA offerings. RAM must be powered
at all times (even when the unit is turned off) in order to preserve
the contents of memory. In contrast, flash ROM does not require
power. But our complaints about battery life are ameliorated
by the inclusion of a second 1100 mA battery in the box. We do
wish that the cradle had a slot to charge that second battery though.
Instead, you'll need to swap batteries in and out of the PDA to
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
Looking for every feature in the book and a VGA
display? Then the ASUS A730W is for you. The device is powerful,
has lots of RAM, great expandability thanks to the dual slots and
USB host which is a rarity on PDAs. The 1.3MP camera takes decent
photos and videos. Certainly it's a lot of PDA for the price.
Pro: Compact by VGA Pocket
PC standards, attractive styling. VGA display that's bright,
sharp and contrasty. Fast processor, user replaceable battery,
1.3MP camera, WiFi and Bluetooth.
Dual card slots make the most of expansion. USB host with cable
included opens up more expansion possibilities.
Two batteries included.
Con: Battery life
is so-so, but the included second battery certainly helps!
Cradle can't charge that second battery however, so you'll
need to swap batteries into the PDA to charge them. The camera
is good, but could handle low light better.
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 capacity, and two are included in the box. 1800
mA extended battery available for separate purchase.
XScale PXA 270 520 MHz processor. 128 MB built-in
RAM (107.43 megs available). 48 MB Flash ROM with
19.22 megs available for your use.
x 2.87 x .66 in. Weight: 5.99 ounces. 117.5mm x
72.8mm x 16.9mm (L x W x H). 170 grams.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player
9 included for your MP3 pleasure.
Bluetooth and WiFi 802.11b.
Mobile 2003 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. ASUS and 3rd party software: SmartKeeper, 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).
In the Box:PDA,
two styli, two Lithium Ion batteries, a charger,
cradle, USB host cable, software CD, manual and a
horizontal case with belt clip.