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PDA with GPS Reviews

Garmin iQue 3600 Palm OS PDA with GPS

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Nov. 13, 2003, by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief and Tong Zhang, GPS guru and Senior Editor

GPS accessories for PDAs have been quite popular for the past few years. Now Garmin, a well known GPS manufacturer has introduced the first PDA with an integrated GPS. The iQue 3600 runs Palm OS 5, has a high res + 320 x 480 color display, an SD slot and 32 megs of RAM. Not a bad PDA to say the least, and at $589 list price, it's no more expensive than what you'd spend for a similar high end PDA plus an accessory GPS. In the years since the iQue 3600 was first released, Garmin has released a Pocket PC version, the iQue M5, and Mitac came out with the Mio 168 Pocket PC with GPS.

Garmin iQue 3600
Back of Garmin iQue

 

Design and Ergonomics

The iQue is a mid to large size PDA and is similar in size to the Sony Clié NX series Palm OS PDAs. Like the NX models, it has a 3.8" display and is slightly thicker at the top. The GPS antenna, a flip-up slab, sits flush against the top rear section of the PDA and you'll flip it up when using the GPS. The casing is made of plastic and has a slightly bronze metallic finish. The stylus has good weight and thickness, and to get to the reset pin, you'll unscrew the top end of the stylus. The iQue comes with a very attractive and slim modern looking weighted USB cradle.

Since the antenna flips up at the top end, the included snap-on rigid black leather cover mounts to the bottom edge of the unit via two metal wires. This means it will rest on top of your hand when you use it, or you can swing it back against the back of the PDA and hold it in place using your hand.

The SD slot is located on the top edge of the PDA, as are the headphone jack, IR window and the optional external antenna connector. The power button is located on the top edge above the LCD, and just below it to the left is the mic. The Garmin iQue has the standard 4 application launcher buttons surrounding the up/down controls. The record button, jog dial and escape buttons are located on the left side.

This is the first non-Palm brand PDA to use Palm's universal connector, which is located on the bottom edge. This means you can use accessories such as keyboards designed for Palm brand PDAs with universal connectors. While Palm' own universal connector PDAs don't have power jacks (power is provided only through the connector), the Garmin thankfully does have a separate power jack, so you can charge the unit in its cradle or by plugging the compact power supply directly into the PDA.

 

side view of Garmin iQue

Above: side view with antenna extended

 

 

Deals and Shopping

 

 

 

 

Horsepower

The Garmin iQue 3600 has a 200 MHz ARM processor, which is quite powerful and competitive with other high end Palm OS PDAs. All programs ran quickly and smoothly on the Garmin. The Garmin runs a customized version of Palm OS 5.2.1, and we updated ours with the most recent 5.2.1r2 (as of Nov 10, 2003 ) upgrade available from Garmin's web site.

The iQue has 32 megs of RAM, with 22.8 megs available to the user. That's a decent amount of space, but you'll likely want to add an SD memory card if you plan to install a good deal of map data. The Garmin does have an SD slot that supports memory cards, but it doesn't have SDIO, which means SD networking cards won't work.

Display

The Garmin has a 320 x 480 3.8" transflective display, which matches the Sony Clié NX73V, NX80V and NZ90 specs. The display is crisp and has decent color saturation, however it doesn't match these Cliés or the high res + Palm Tungsten T3 for brightness and color saturation. That said, the display is certainly bright enough for most folks, and can be seen outdoors. Like the Sonys and the Tungsten T3, the Garmin has a virtual Graffiti area, which means you can collapse the Graffiti area when running apps that run full screen.

Though there are a good number of 3rd party Palm OS applications available that support 320 x 480 resolution, those run only in 320 x 320 mode on the Garmin. We tried a few high res + games and Documents To Go 6, but those didn't run full screen on the iQue. Garmin's own GPS applications and the built-in Palm OS apps such as calendar, address book and memos do run full screen.

MP3 and Voice Notes

The Garmin iQue has a built-in stereo MP3 player, front and rear firing speakers, and a standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Garmin's QueAudio is included with the PDA and it's a basic player with stop, pause, fast forward and volume controls. It has a shuffle feature but isn't skinnable. You'll need to store MP3s on an expansion card, but given the relatively large size of MP3 files and the low cost of SD cards, this shouldn't be a huge problem for most users.

The PDA has QueVoice, a voice recorder which records at decent quality, and has a record button on the upper left side which you must press and hold to initiate recording. Recordings are saved in WAV format and you can save files to either internal memory or to a memory card, if present. You can optionally use compression with QueVoice to create smaller files (compression is turned on by default).

Battery Life

The iQue 3600 has a non-user replaceable Lithium Ion battery. Battery life isn't all that we hoped for, especially when using the GPS. Count on no more than 3 hours per charge when using the GPS (more likely 2 hours), and do buy the accessory cigarette lighter charger for road trips. When not using the GPS, battery life still isn't stellar compared to some other high end Palms, but it should make it through the day on a single charge. Thankfully, the Garmin does recharge quickly (and sync quickly too) like Palm brand PDAs.

Software Bundle

The Garmin iQue 3600 comes with built-in GPS applications (see GPS section, below) and an enhanced find function that allows you to do a regular Palm OS search or search for a variety of location based items such as addresses, points of interest and more. Garmin has enhanced the Palm OS launcher by adding a handy taskar that shows battery charge, GPS signal level, and has quick launch icons for the home screen, brightness, volume level and GPS navigation apps. You'll also get Graffiti 2 handwriting recognition, which is included in Palm OS 5.2 and higher, as well as PowerOne Personal calculator and Palm Reader. There are no other bundled full versions of 3rd party software, which is disappointing for a high end PDA in this price range.

The iQue 3600 comes with desktop software to sync the unit with Windows but not Mac OS. Fortunately for Mac users, Mark/Space has a version of MissingSync available for the iQue which will allow you to sync your Mac and Garmin PDA. It does not however support map generation on the Mac because Garmin's mapping software runs only on Windows, so you'd need to generate maps on a PC or run Virtual PC on your Mac. If you're a PC using with a prior Palm Desktop installation, you will need to install Garmin's version which is customized to facilitate map syncing, as well as voice note and photo syncing.

GPS

About the Map Data

Garmin licensed the NAVTECH map data which is one of the most detailed and updated map sources. The North America map bundle includes street-level maps and hightway data of the US as well as selected metro areas of Canada. The street-level maps and database from NAVTECH include a large number 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 also they have a unique approach to collecting hands-on data in real time. NAVTECH has over 100 field offices staffed with over 400 analysts and engineers who drive everyday to collect data and feed it daily to the live database. NAVTECH uses up to 150 data 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, and more. So the data you get from the NAVTECH database is not only updated frequently but is the most complete in terms of road and traffic conditions. If you wish to sample the map data, you can use MapQuest.com since it also uses the map data provided by NAVTECH.

Garmin also offers maps for Europe and Asia. However the iQue 3600 does not support NMEA protocol.

Navigation and Map Installation

The iQue 3600 comes with map and POI data on 2 CDs. The desktop installation was not as smooth and friendly as other GPS installations. It asks you to swap CDs constantly even though I was only installing the program files and maps for one region. I haven’t experienced this kind of disk swap madness since the early 1990’s. The US maps are divided into 13 regions to keep the map file size under 200MB. The program files which you must install along with the map files for a region take about 689MB.

To install the maps onto your Garmin, click on Map Install in your Palm Desktop application. You can search by the City name and choose that City map to install to either to internal memory or the SD card. Simply HotSync once done and you’re ready to go. When I tried searching for and installing maps of the San Francisco Bay Area, I got maps for an ever larger area, but still the file size for that map was reasonably small.

 

QueGPS

When you are ready to fire up the GPS receiver, flip open the built-in GPS antenna on the Garmin. Click on the QueGPS icon on your Palm and you will see a GPS interface. The GPS receiver will start searching for satellites and a small animated icon indicating the search will appear on the task bar at the bottom of the screen. The Garmin takes about 2 minutes to get a 2D fix and 4 minutes to get a 3D fix in the initial start. That’s quite a slow fix compared to other add-on GPS receivers, but once the cold start is done, warm starts take only about 15-20 seconds. It consistently tracks 3-5 satellites with 10 in view. The GPS interface gives you a view into all the info the receiver is tracking: your current location, GPS Satellite locations, Sun and Moon location, Date and Time, as well speed, elevation and accuracy info. There is also a bar chart that shows GPS signal strength and Differential Navigation with WAAS enabled. If you wish to learn more about WAAS, read our GPS FAQ. The Garmin does have WAAS support, but you will need to turn it on.

Creating Routes and Driving with Garmin

Once you have maps installed and have gotten a satellite fix you can map out your routes and get detailed driving directions. There are several built-in applications that will help you map out routes quickly.

The QueMap application will display your current location on the map. You can easily drag the map image with your stylus to scroll the map, or hit the waypoint icon to create waypoints. The zoom level of the map is displayed with the number of miles to the center of your location. QueMap offers many operations to customize your map view including text sizes, detail level, display map types including Topo, Marine, Cities and more.

To create routes you must have destinations. QueFind provides many ways for you to find your destinations. It breaks the POI database down into categories and adds search functions for Intersections, Address book, Cities, Waypoints and more. QueFind makes the search for a destination extremely easy and pretty much all the locations you have input or downloaded can be searched here. Once you have found a destination, you can mark it as waypoint, display it on the map or calculate the route. If you include multiple waypoints in your trip, you can view and edit these waypoints in QueFind as well. Be aware: if your waypoint is in your Address book, by deleting the waypoint, your Contact will be deleted in the Address as well!

Once you have the destination, hit Route To and you’ll see the route calculation from your current location to the destination. Garmin does not offer reverse track, which means on your way back you will need to re-enter destinations. You will have choices of selecting the Shortest route or the Fastest route, avoiding highways or toll booths and more in your route calculation as well as Detour and recalculating routes. The routes I tested are mostly accurate with minor glitches, such as it thought that I had gone off course when in fact I was right on the course indicated by the map route. If you do get off the planned route, the Garmin will recalculate the route for you.

There are long lists of preferences in setting up the Guidance system, from voice guidance to alarms. This helps the driver to follow the route directions easily. While you have an active route, you can launch the QueTurns to display turn-by-turn driving directions. The QueTurns has a text based direction view with icons to show turns and time and mileage indications, a pop-up map where you click on a certain turn to show the zoomed map and text directions only for the next turn. If this doesn't provide you with enough info, you can launch QueTrip to see the data for the entire trip such as the distance you’ve traveled on this trip, current speed and traveling data on all your trips. The only big issue I experienced was in the Map view. While the map view serves as a good guidance tool with color-coded route indication, the map itself doesn't move or update with your location. The triangle that shows where you are on the route map will indeed go off the map once you've pass the area the map displays, and you have to manually drag the map to follow your movement.

screen shot

Above: the Garmin apps available using the Find function

screen shot

The voice guidance seems on target. Along with the voice guidance before a turn, you will also see the pop-up map showing the next turn and text directions. Garmin has modified the system sound menu to include voice guidance options including volume controls, and the speaker volume is loud and easy to hear when driving.

Conclusion

GPS: The GPS related application bundle is the signature of the Garmin iQue 3600. While these applications provide a wide variety of functions to help GPS users map out routes and follow directions, they seem scattered, not streamlined. You often find yourself going into different applications from planning a trip to finishing the trip. While the navigation software is integrated with Palm apps and Palm OS nicely, the Garmin Que application series lack integration within.

The GPS has a great portability thanks to the folding design, and it gets decent signal strength. It doesn’t come with an external mouse GPS for getting a stronger signal while driving, but you can buy an optional external antenna that plugs into a port on the iQue.

Garmin made a great choice with the MapSource City Select map bundle. The POI database is very extensive and updated regularly.

PDA: A very nice screen, though not as good as high end Sonys or the Palm Tungsten T3. Attractive design and finish. Battery life could be better, and do count on buying the optional car charger. Garmin's high res + graphics are different from Palm's and Sony's, so current high res + software won't run full screen unless 3rd party software developers release a Garmin-friendly version.

www.garmin.com

List price: $589 US

Shopping: Where to Buy

 

Specs:

Display: Backlit, high res 320 x 480 pixel color transflective display with 16 bit, 65,000 colors.

Performance: 200 MHz ARM processor. 32 megs of RAM, 22.8 megs available to the user. Flash upgradeable ROM for OS.

Size: 2.8"W x 5"H x .8".

Audio: Built in speaker, voice recorder, 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. MP3 capable, with RealOne as the included player. Supports alarm sounds and LED alerts.

Expansion: 1 SD slot (doesn't support SDIO)

Battery: Rechargeable Lithium Ion Polymer.

Software: Palm OS 5.2.1 customized by Garmin. Included are the usual suite of Palm applications, including Contacts, Calendar, Clock, Tasks, Memo Pad, Calculator, Palm Reader and Graffiti 2 handwriting recognition. GPS applications built into PDA and MapSource City Select mapping software (US & Canada for US models, Europe for European models) included. Garmin Palm Desktop 4.1 for Windows. Intellisync Lite for syncing to Outlook.

Modem / Wireless: No modem included.

 

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