When Matthew Fox and crew became permanently stranded on a remote island, they became an overnight sensation for the ABC network—but for anyone else, getting lost just makes you want to rip up your map and scribble on it. In case Garmin's M5, which we reviewed here, is a little too pricey for you to make it your tool of choice for keeping your map scribble-free, today we look at their new M3 model.
Navigating The Specs
The M3, which shares an almost identical form factor with its big brother the M5, features an Intel PXA271 XScale processor running at 312 MHz (vs 416 MHz in the M5). Also like the M5, the M3 runs the Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition operating system. Its screen is a 320 x 240, 3.5" TFT LCD that can be used in both landscape and portrait modes, displaying up to 64,000 colors. The device also features a dedicated co-processor for its GPS functionality, which is an ARM7 running at 48 MHz. The M3 accepts standard SD memory cards and supports SDIO (although I was unable to get it to work with a SanDisk WiFi card in testing).
Included in the M3's box are a vehicle mount and vehicle charger, as well as a combination sync/charge capable with an AC adaptor. Although the unit has an integrated flip cover, it must be removed to use the sync/charge port at the bottom of the PDA, which reduces the cover's utility for anyone who needs to sync or recharge frequently (isn't that everyone?). The included stylus feels stronger and thicker than average for a PocketPC, making it more comfortable to use. As with the M5, the included City Select North America software CD covers the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
When we looked at the M5, we had some difficulties with the Bluetooth software it provides. The M3 avoids this problem, sort of—it doesn't have Bluetooth. Although Bluetooth is still largely considered a luxury in the Pocket PC world, I was surprised how much I missed it, especially since it is often the only way to exchange files with a computer that isn't running ActiveSync (other than an SD card and card reader).
Similar to the M5, the M3 measures 5.0" by 2.8" by 0.74." Also like the M5, the GPS antenna on the back of the unit flips open so that it is parallel with the floor when operational. (Opening and closing the antenna automatically causes the GPS system to power on and off.) Unlike the M5, however, the battery is not user-replaceable.
The usual SD slot, D-pad, four application buttons, infrared window, charge indicator LED, and power switch are all here, much like the M5, and most other PocketPCs, for that matter. The built-in speaker and voice recorder also survived the journey to the lower-end model. The M3 also features a standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, which may seem like a feature that all Pocket PC buyers should be able to take for granted, but unfortunately, it isn't (HP, are you listening?).
One notable improvement over the M5 involves the "Q" application button for entering Garmin's GPS software: whereas the M5 confused some users with its requirement that you cycle through the various available applications by pressing the button repeatedly, the M3 has a much-needed central application that directs you to the proper area depending on which functionality you request by clicking on the appropriate on-screen button. This makes the software easier to learn than on the M5, making the M3 more attractive to entry-level consumers.
Although the M3's CPU is a bit slower than the M5's, I found the device to be responsive and reasonably speedy, even on heavy-duty tasks like playing large video files in TCPMP. The included on-screen maps also render quickly.
In our benchmarks you'll note that the iQue M5 is the fastest among the trio we tested, with the iQue M3 close behind. The ASUS A636 Pocket PC with integrated GPS yields slower benchmarks because it runs the newer Windows Mobile 5 OS, and Spb Benchmark doesn't yet compensate for the differences between the 2003 and WM5 operating systems.
Although the slower processor and lack of Bluetooth are primarily a disadvantage, they do also have advantages for different kind of power—battery power, of course. Since the M3 uses the same 1250 mAh lithium-ion battery as the M5, the estimate of 5-7 hours of continuous usage per charge is a bit more realistic for the M3 than it may have been for the higher-end model.
However, it seems that the device's designers themselves became a bit "lost" when deciding how much memory to include with the M3. It has the same 64 MB of RAM as the M5, but only 2 MB of "safe storage" ROM available to the user, unlike the M5, which has 15 MB of safe storage. Since this is a Windows Mobile 2003SE device, files can be stored in both ROM and RAM, but with the total amount of space available on the M3, you will most likely be able to store only one major metropolitan area's worth of maps on the device at a time. You can, of course, greatly increase your storage capacity by adding an SD card, but if you're planning on relying on that fact, make sure to factor in the price of buying one or more cards into your purchasing decision.
Where in the World is Garmin and the iQue?
The flagship feature of the M3 is, of course, GPS. Like the M5, the M3 has a 12-channel GPS receiver allowing it to determine your current location. The M3 also provides graphic indicators of the number of satellites in view, as well as your current location and speed. Obtaining a satellite signal (in the pacific northwest) took about two minutes from a cold start, and generally required a direct view of the sky in order to obtain a consistent signal. Although this is normal for GPS units that don't feature a SiRF III chipset (which the M3 doesn't have), your driver is unlikely to be pleased if he/she asks, "Which way should I turn here?" and your response is "Obtaining satellites."
As with the M5, the MapSource software runs on your Windows PC and enables you to simply click on the areas for which you want to transfer maps to your Pocket PC via ActiveSync, after you have unlocked the maps with the included code. The desktop software includes a meter display to indicate how much of your device's memory you will use up based on the maps you've chosen, which is a handy feature since the M3's memory fills up quite quickly (rule of thumb with GPS-enabled PDAs: get an SD card to store those maps). The maps go down to street level and include a wide variety of landmarks and addresses. Not surprisingly, since this is a Windows Mobile device, Mac users, as far as Garmin is concerned, can just (literally) "get lost".
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)
Memory test: copy 1 MB
using memcpy (MB/sec)
Can You Steer Me Now?
Navigation with the M3 is straightforward. You can choose to either just monitor your current position or have the device calculate a route for you and give you directions. Either way, you are shown as a triangle on a map that follows your location. Moreover, the routing software optionally includes voice prompts, and I was impressed at the clarity of the synthesized speech used in these prompts. The map does not allow very much user interaction, probably to discourage users from getting too focused on the M3 while driving, but it is clear and gets the job done.
Overall, the depiction of the map and the phrasing of the directions are pretty self-explanatory—if you can read a paper map and listen to directions from a human, there's not much new to learn here. The only real problem is the difficulty of consistently maintaining a satellite signal. Although the M3's determination of its position was always accurate whenever it was operational, during testing in a vehicle, the device seemed to lose track of the satellite at least once every few minutes, leaving it unable to determine any location. Although the M3 is on par with other, comparable devices in terms of its ability to contact satellites, I think the losses of signal could have been very frustrating if I had really been lost.
Garmin had to make some sacrifices in order to make the M3 less expensive than the M5. Some of these sacrifices, like the slower processor, don't seem to cause any issues at all, and some, like the lower memory, are frustrating but can be solved with add-ons like an SD card. However, the lack of Bluetooth especially stands out as a sacrifice that cannot be worked around easily, and the device also exhibits some additional frustrating flaws that are common to many GPS units rather than being cost-saving measures. Ultimately, if you can handle losing the signal fairly often and not having Bluetooth, then you should be able to work around the other, smaller issues, and you are likely to find the Garmin iQue M3 to be a reliable way to avoid becoming the inspiration for ABC's next hit drama.
Pros: Improved "Q" button functionality; clear voice prompts; high-quality stylus; sturdy vehicle mount; very detailed maps; determines position accurately; more affordable than M5. Cons: Flip cover precludes syncing; low flash memory; no Bluetooth; loses signal rather frequently, though comparable to other devices in this regard.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 9 included for your MP3 pleasure.
Mobile 2003SE Pocket PC operating system.
Microsoft Mobile Office suite including Mobile versions
of Word, Excel, Internet
Explorer, and Outlook. Also, Windows Media Player
9, Solitaire, JawBreaker (game), Voice Recorder
as well as handwriting recognition. Additional applications:
Garmin GPS and mapping software.
ActiveSync 3.8 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included (no Mac syncing software included).
SD (Secure Digital) slot supporting
SDIO and SDIO Now!.