One thing we loved about the last Garmin-Asus Android phone we reviewed was its budget price tag. Unfortunately, the A50 doesn't share this trait with the A10; in fact at AU$49 per month on a two-year contract, the A50 competes directly with the likes of the HTC Desire and Samsung Galaxy S. Can its built-in maps save it from mediocre comparisons?
Like the Volvo it's likely to reside in, the Garmin-Asus A50 is a smartphone whose designers have prioritised function over form. Its plastic chassis lacks the polish of today's high-end smartphone finishes, but we find we still quite like what we see. Its curved battery cover is ergonomic and its soft-touch plastic is nice to hold. The 3.5-inch screen seems adequate for day-to-day use and for its dual-role as in-car navigation assistant. In fact, the only element of the design that we really dislike is the capacitive touch buttons below the screen, which can be tricky to avoid, especially when holding the phone on its side.
The A50 comes with a decent range of in-car accessories in its sales package, including a plastic windscreen mount and a cigarette-lighter charging adapter. For standard charging you'll use a mini-USB port on the base of the device, but once attached to the mount charging is deferred to a side-positioned proprietary port, much like a stand-alone GPS unit.
Garmin includes a dedicated camera key alongside the standard volume rocker, but the 3-megapixel camera on the rear lacks the support of a flash for low-light situations. Garmin wisely includes 4GB of on-board memory, though you'll only have access to about 3GB of this memory with the rest taken up by the pre-installed maps.
Baby, drive my car
Not surprisingly, the standout feature in this smartphone is the Garmin mapping software featuring turn-by-turn directions with street name notifications. Not only do these maps stand head and shoulders above other mapping solutions found on smartphones, but it also supersedes many stand-alone GPS alternatives thanks to the built-in speakerphone and web-assisted travel data. The combination of a phone, web connectivity and maps is a potent mix for anyone who does business from the comfort of their cars.
The home-screen user-interface (UI) design leans towards the mapping component of this unit. Of the three large home-screen icons, two of them take you to the maps. Once there, you can easily punch in a new destination or search points of interest for good food, entertainment, cheap petrol or a vast range of other items.