You may not recognize the Asus name, but the company is well known for manufacturing motherboards, graphic cards, and other components. Now it has entered the Pocket PC ring with four new models, and the lineup's heavyweight--literally and figuratively--is the Asus MyPal A716. This $450 handheld is an office workhorse with a 400MHz processor, 64MB of memory, dual slots, and integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. But the similarly equipped and identically priced HP is smaller and lighter. And the Toshiba Pocket PC e805 offers more features and performs better, though it is bulky and costs an expensive $600. The Asus MyPal A716 and the Toshiba Pocket PC e805 offer heavyweight features with matching size and heft. The 6.9-ounce Asus measures 5.3 by 3 by 0.7 inches; if not for its antenna nub, which sprouts from the unit's upper right, the two PDAs would have almost the same footprint. Half an inch separates their screens; the A716's falls short at just the standard 3.5 inches. Still, that 240x320-pixel transflective LCD shows 65,536 vibrant colors.
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Make room for the Asus A716--it's a biggie.
The metal Asus A716 feels sturdy in your hands, and its polished finish looks sleek. Anyone who has used a Pocket PC will be instantly familiar with the controls: below the display, four programmable application buttons surround a five-way pad. Adequate spacing reduces the risk of mispresses, and the layout is tried and true, but we find it uninspired. We had hoped that a new player in the U.S. market would shake up the design a bit more. The speaker sits in the lower left, the power key in the upper right. Finally, a long, thin status light lines the top of the face, glowing green during battery charging and blue while Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is on.
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The included cradle keeps the A716 abreast of your PC work.
Up and down menu-navigation keys sit above the programmable Action button on the PDA's left side, where they're easy to access with one hand. Pressing Action can execute commands, launch the program of your choice, or open the Start menu. Below these controls are the infrared port, a tiny hole for soft resets, and the release for the user-replaceable battery.
The top of the A716 is home to the SD and CompactFlash slots, a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, and the stylus. To record voice memos, you speak into the bottom-mounted microphone.
The MyPal ships with a full complement of accessories. Along with a synchronization cradle and a USB cable, you get an AC adapter, but if you use that as a travel charger, its long power cord will leave you in a tangled mess. A protective case also comes in the package.
Aside from the A716's overall size and weight, our only major design complaint is that you can't disable the controls without entering the Settings menu. The absence of a Hold button increases the odds of accidental power-up and battery drainage. For the MyPal A716, Asus threw in everything but the kitchen sink. The PDA has a top-of-the-line 400MHz Intel XScale PXA255 processor, 64MB each of RAM and ROM, and an additional 32MB of flash memory. And integrated SD and CompactFlash slots give the handheld room to grow.
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Running on empty? Don't worry. The A716's battery is user-replaceable.
One of the A716's main selling points is its built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Like other wireless-capable PDAs running Windows Mobile 2003, the MyPal lets you browse the Web; check POP3, IMAP4, and Web-based e-mail accounts; and access your company's network securely via VPN. The included WiFiMe utility configures 802.11b connections.
Those wireless radios drain the PDA's juice, and in any case, being able to swap in backup power wards off data loss, so we're pleased that the A716 comes with a user-replaceable 1,500mAh battery. Asus's optional 3,000mAh cell doubles longevity but increases the unit's size and weight.
The Asus A716 runs the latest Windows Mobile 2003 and includes Pocket PC versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, MSN Messenger, and Windows Media Player. In addition to these staples, the company throws in a couple of its own applications: Asus Launcher quickly calls up frequently used programs, and Asus Backup saves and restores data using a storage card. The specs suggest that the Asus MyPal A716 is a strong performer, and it didn't disappoint during our tests in the CNET Labs. Thanks to its 400MHz Intel XScale PXA255 processor and its healthy memory, this handheld has more than enough oomph for PIM (personal information management) and productivity tasks. In fact, excellent graphics and sound make this device a solid choice for gaming, as well. Overall, the A716's performance fell just short of the Toshiba Pocket PC e805's.
With its good audio quality and its bright, sharp display, the A716 is well suited for music and videos. Just stay inside to watch movies; in sunlight, making out the image on the low-contrast screen is difficult.
Considering the bright LCD and the power-hungry processor, the A716's battery life is solid. In our intensive-drain test, we turned off the wireless modes, set the backlight to a midlevel brightness, and played a movie loop. The MyPal lasted 3.7 hours, about as long as the HP iPaq H4150, which also has integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. But the e805 hung on for 4.5 hours, and both the HP iPaq H4350 and the Dell Axim X5 pushed well past the 6-hour mark. When we ran the Asus through typical usage scenarios, its life span was about 12 hours, which is 7 hours short of the company's rating but still among the longest we've seen.
Both the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios delivered consistent connections over a good range. The A716 finds and hooks up to a hot spot automatically, prompting you to enter an encryption key if necessary. When multiple access points are available, the MyPal latches on to the best signal. Using Bluetooth, we were able to beam pictures and even big MP3 files between a laptop and the Asus without a hitch.