We are reader supported. External links may earn us a commission.

Reviews

Asus MyPal A636 GPS-Enabled Pocket PC

By Adam Z. Lein January 23, 2006, 12:00 am

INTRODUCTION

A number of manufacturers have begun releasing Windows Mobile Pocket PCs targeted at the GPS Navigation market. These devices usually include a built in GPS receiver and bundled navigation software. The nice thing about these types of Pocket PCs is they often cost less than a stand-alone or in-car GPS Navigation system... and they've got many more features. The downside is that they may be a bit too complicated for the average user. The Asus A636 is the first of such Pocket PC Mobile Navigators running on Windows Mobile 5.0. We'll take a thorough look at the execution of this combination. Read on for the review!

POCKETNOW VIDEO OF THE DAY

WHAT'S HOT

The Asus A636 has a 416Mhz Intel XScale processor, 3.5" QVGA screen, 128Mb Flash ROM (60Mb + 25Mb partition user accessible), 64Mb RAM, built in SiRF StarIII GPS with 25mm antenna, SDIO slot, Bluetooth 1.2, and WiFi 802.11b. It's also bundled with Destinator Pocket Navigator 5 and a 256Mb SD card containing an auto-installer for the software.

( all images link to higher resolution )

Device (no cover)

Size (inches)

Weight (grams | ounces)

Asus A636

4.80" x 2.88" x 0.76"

186 | 6.56

i-mate K-JAM

4.25" x 2.28" x 0.93"

160 | 5.64

i-mate PDA2k

4.92" x 2.81" x 0.71" 210 | 7.40

i-mate JAM

4.18" x 2.31" x 0.68"

150 | 5.30

Dell Axim X51v

4.70" x 2.90" x 0.70"

175 | 6.20

Dell Axim X3i /

X30

4.60" x 3.21" x 0.58"

138 | 4.80

HP iPAQ hx4700

5.17" x 3.03" x 0.59"

187 | 6.60

HP iPAQ rx3715

4.50" x 2.80" x 0.64"

158 | 5.57

HP iPAQ rz1715

4.48" x 2.75" x 0.53"

120 | 4.23

HP iPAQ h6315

4.68" x 2.95" x 0.73"

190 | 6.70

HP iPAQ h2215

4.57" x 2.95" x 0.63"

142 | 5.01

HP iPAQ hx2755

4.71" x 3.01 " x 0.65"

164 | 5.80

HP iPAQ h5450

5.43" x 3.30" x 0.63"

206 | 7.26

THE DEVICE

Let's take a closer look at the device itself. The Asus A636 also comes with a USB cable adapter with power plug, a car cigarette lighter adapter, an AC adapter, windshield mounting arm, cradle for mounting arm, software CD and manual.

The PDA's design is a bit retro. Most Pocket PCs these days have a more hidden speaker, yet on the Asus A636, you've got a big circular speaker grill that echoes back to the boom boxes of the 80's. This is intended to emphasis the high quality speaker that was used here. In the center you see the directional pad along with the action button. When you're in Destinator PN, the icons represent

The bottom of the device is where you'll find the reset button, the proprietary sync USB port, and the 3.5mm headset jack covered with a rubber flap.

On the right side you'll see the hinge for the GPS antenna and the infrared port.

The top of the device is where you'll find the SD slot, power button, and stylus silo.

The left side is a set of grooves. There are notches in these grooves that will make the device snap securely into it's car-mounting cradle.

On the back of the device you'll see how the GPS antenna opens and rotates. There's also the battery cover and a switch labeled "hold." The hold switch locks down the device and shuts of the screen so that it can't be used. This is a nice feature for keeping the device in the car as a navigation system since you don't have to shut off the GPS software. If you use the power switch while the GPS software is running, it will have to be restarted when you turn the device back on. The hold button can also be used to get optimized battery life while listening to Windows Media Player (up to 18 hours).

One potential problem with the GPS antenna on the back is when you snap it down into place, the image on the screen gets distorted as if there was pressure on the liquid crystals from behind. I'm not sure if that could eventually damage the screen, but it's kind of scary.

The suction-based windshield mount and cradle is very sturdy, and has an interesting side-holding design. There's a ball swivel where the cradle attaches to the mount arm which lets you position the cradle in any way you want. The cradle also has a power adapter plug so that you can keep the Asus A636 charged at all times. It does not have an audio-out port however, so you'll have to use the built in speaker instead of your car stereo. That also means you won't be able to listen to MP3s in Media Player at the same time.

Regarding size, the Asus A636 (second from bottom) is nothing special. It's about average in all dimensions compared to other 3.5" screen sized PPCs.

INTEGRATED SOFTWARE

The Asus A636 includes a 256Mb SD card with the Destinator software and map data preloaded. There are also a few minor modifications to the Windows Mobile 5.0 base set of applications.

In the Settings tab there's a "Wakeup Source" control panel that lets you choose which items can make the device wake up from standby mode.

The Mode Switcher settings dialog gives you some options for the added "Mode Switcher" application which you can access via a hardware key. The Display Settings tab lets you choose which applications or functions you can load quickly from the Mode Switcher.

Pressing the Mode Switcher hardware button gives you quick access to a number of applications.

There's a nifty "Asus Status" application in the system tray that gives you quick access to various status-related items in your Pocket PC...

...which can be customized to some degree.

The WiFi manager is pretty basic. The "Link to" menu items actually bring you to those native system control panels.

The Asus A636 uses the Widcomm Bluetooth stack and does support the A2DP high quality stereo audio profile.

There's an Audio control panel that gives you some nice settings not normally found in Windows Mobile devices.

In the Power Control panel you have some options for setting the speed of the CPU.

There's a control panel that allows you to change the settings for the USB interface.

Destinator PN

The Asus A636 comes with a modified version of the Destinator Pocket Navigator 5 software. It's not bundled in the ROM, but rather on the included SD card which will auto-install when inserted.

The map view shows a lot of icons on the sides that are hard to understand. They're transparent though, so you can still see the map underneath. Another nifty feature is that green arrow changes its pointy-ness depending on how fast your going. For example in the above screen shot, you can tell I'm not moving because the bottom of the arrow is flat. Another cool thing is that the shadow there is based on the current time of day and my location on the Earth. That's right, it calculates the angle of my shadow!

The second icon down from the top left corner toggles between display modes. Here we are in the 2D night mode. The icon actually indicates the mode that you WILL switch to if you press it... not the current view mode like you would expect.

Here we are in the 3D daylight view mode.

And this is the 3D night view mode.

The two icons on the lower left corner of the screen toggle between showing different types of information in those two transparent bands next to them. I don't have time to learn what the icons mean while driving, so I'll just keep tapping them until they show the information I'm looking for. These icons also represent the type of information that will be displayed when you press them, NOT the type of information currently being displayed.

When you're moving, most of the icons become even more transparent. That Compass-like icon on the left shows which direction is North. It functions like a button, but pressing it doesn't seem to do anything. The little red part just points North all the time.

If you've set a destination, your recommended route shows up as a blue and white line. How do you enter a destination, you ask? You have to press the little car button underneath the compass.

When you have a destination set, some other options become available as more info bars which you can show and hide.

If it's time for you to make a turn soon, Destinator will show a big arrow for the direction you're going to turn. Notice how my map has disappeared again. One thing that's not easily toggle-able is the info band on the top. You turn this on by pressing the button in the upper left corner, but tapping that area again brings you to the following screen.

Now, how do you get back to the map screen from here? I don't know. The "Show" button shows you the selected turn. You would think the "Cancel" button would get you back to where you want to be, but actually it cancels the whole trip and will stop directing you. Anyway, this screen lists all the turns on your trip, and you can select certain areas to avoid as well.

Getting back to entering a destination: after you figure out how to press the little car button on the map screen, the above screen will show up. The buttons are selectable with the D-Pad, but the two side-arrow buttons on the bottom are not. They are not mapped to the Windows Mobile soft keys as you might expect either. You have to press those with your finger.

The interface for entering an address is a bit confusing. That button in the upper left, just below the left arrow. It looks like a house with an arrow. That button lets you toggle between which type of data you'd like to start searching by. Right now it's set as City first. Once you select a city, you tap the "Street" text at the top to select a street in that City and so forth. When you finish, you have to press the "Navigate" button at the bottom left.

The History buttons gives you quick access to places you've already entered.

The Contacts button lets you select an address from you Contacts database. I really dislike the keyboard interface here. If you pause too long between taps for accessing a specific letter, it starts over from the beginning of the set. It might be okay if it was T9 predictive text input, but it isn't.

The POI button gives you a number of categories for points of interest.

The Trip planner lets you enter multiple destinations.

On the Destination screen, pressing the right arrow gives you an options screen.

Pressing the right arrow again gives you the Settings screen.

BENCHMARKS

Spb Benchmark from Spb Software House has not been updated for use with Windows Mobile 5.0, which includes many changes for increased performance and battery life, we can only compare Windows Mobile 5.0 devices to other Windows Mobile 5.0 devices.

In real life, the Asus A636 does have decent performance and tends to handle multi-tasking operations better than the imate K-JAM, yet lacks the graphics performance and speed of the Dell X51v.

BATTERY We tested the 1,300 mAh battery on 50% backlight during normal usage with GPS on. The battery lasted for about 8 hours 23 minutes in that scenario. With zero utilization and 50% backlight the device lasted 16 hours 24 min. With video playback, the battery lasted 2 hours 55 min. During normal usage, there is certainly an excellent increase in battery life for an Intel processor based Pocket PC.

HELP SUPPORT

While the Asus website can be large and unwieldy in terms of navigation, there is an excellent

download section for updating your device. A new ROM version has already been posted here. A nice thing about Asus's method of upgrading the ROM is that it can be done by launching a file downloaded to the SD card. That means you don't have to search for that USB sync cable if you've got an SD card reader. There are also plenty of other support options available on

their website.

BUGS AND WISHES

One issue with the Asus A636 is that the Destinator PN GPS navigation software that comes with it can become a bit slower if you're using map sets that are larger than 100Mb. While it's still usable, the best way to optimize the speed is to use a bunch of smaller maps by cutting up the data using the Destinator Console software. There's also a USA streets map set that can be used to link all of your smaller map sets together for traveling longer distances. One other problem I had was if you're in a parking lot that's pretty far from the street, Destinator might not be able to create a route to your destination because the origin is "not drivable." Destinator is scheduled to release a new version of the mapping software in the second quarter of 2006 and Asus is hoping to provide a free upgrade for users who have already purchased an a636 device.

I wish the car mount and dock would have an audio-out port so that the device could be used as an audio player for the car as well as a navigation system. Right now you can only hear Destinator's voice prompts through the little speaker on the front.

PURCHASING

The Asus A636 can be found at couple of online retailers right now. At Expansys and MobilePlanet you can get it for $599.95. It includes a 256Mb SD card and a set of CDs that include the Destinator software and maps of North America.

Pros

  • Built in SirfSTAR III GPS receiver
  • Windcomm Bluetooth stack with A2DP
  • Great battery life
  • Included windshield mounting system
  • USB settings options

Cons

  • No dedicated soft-keys
  • Car mount doesn't have audio out port
  • Proprietary sync cable
  • No VGA screen
  • No built-in TMC support

OVERALL IMPRESSION

Overall, the Asus A636 is an excellent multi-use device for in-car navigation. While the form factor isn't exactly innovative, the large screen is good for viewing maps while driving. A VGA screen would have been nicer, but would have also made the price prohibitive and the battery life dismal.

Search

Latest Articles

iOS

Here's how the Apple iPod changed the world in 21 years

iPod was an industry-changing device at its time, and it had a massive impact on modern smartphones, and the way we listen to music. We take a last look at the now-discontinued Apple iPod and the history it leaves behind.

By Roland Udvarlaki May 11, 2022, 10:00 am
iOS

How to use Mic Modes in VOIP and FaceTime Calls

This guide will go over the steps you need to follow to activate one of the available Mic Mode settings on Apple Devices to begin using the feature and improve your calling experience.

By Aryan Suren May 10, 2022, 10:00 am
Phones

This iPhone 14 feature might urge users to upgrade

Until now, it appeared that iPhone 14 would only be a minor upgrade over the iPhone 13 series. However, a new leak suggests that the iPhone 14 will come with one feature that might urge users to upgrade.

By Sanuj Bhatia May 9, 2022, 5:00 am