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Below the screen are the navigational toggle and four programmable application buttons that default to the usual functions: Today, Calendar, Contacts, and To-Do. Serious gamers, however, will want to steer clear of this model because of the raised Select button in the center of the toggle, which we frequently pressed by accident while trying to navigate up or down.
On the left side below the power control is a button marked with a camera icon. Strangely, our review unit arrived with that button programmed to operate the voice recorder. This proved an insignificant problem, though, as the button was easy to reprogram. Along the top of the device are the headphone jack, the IR port, and a slot for CompactFlash and SDIO/MMC expansion cards. The back of the handheld houses a speaker, a camera lens, and a small mirror for self-portraits. The A730 features a 1,100mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which users can replace by sliding off the back cover.
We had one major gripe about the A730's design. The stylus resides in a slot on the bottom of the handheld, which proved both inconvenient and unnatural. We often used the device when it was in the cradle, but to get at the stylus, we first needed to lift up the PDA. As a consolation, a stylus holder is built into the cradle. Aside from the desktop synchronization cradle, other extras in the box include a travel charger and a protective case.
Designed with the business user in mind, the Asus MyPal A730 has a 520MHz Intel PXA 270 processor and 64MB of RAM. Though only 48MB are user accessible (for storing files and applications and providing processor headroom), the A730 has both SDIO/MMC and CompactFlash expansion slots, so you have plenty of room to grow. And although the device has built-in Bluetooth support, we were disappointed by its lack of Wi-Fi, which is quickly becoming the norm for PDAs in this price range. We used the SanDisk 256MB Wi-Fi SD combination card when testing the A730, and it worked seamlessly. You can also use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functions simultaneously.
Of course, the A730's standout feature is its VGA screen, which has twice the resolution of those on most Pocket PCs. The difference is quite noticeable, even when looking at raw text. Microsoft has updated the OS with a bevy of visual improvements, including new icons, onscreen keyboard buttons, and graphical touches such as more smoothly rounded corners and gradients that take advantage of the increased resolution.
Mixing a little work and pleasure, Asus includes a 1.3-megapixel digital camera that snapped surprisingly good still shots at resolutions up to 1,280x960. But its video abilities were perhaps even more impressive. The A730 can record MPEG-4 videos with audio at resolutions of up to 352x288 pixels. Asus also built in a small flash--a feature that we always want with PDA cameras. Unfortunately, the flash was so dim that it was pretty much useless. Still, the camera worked better than most in dimly lit environments.
The A730 also has a snazzy-looking and full-featured software tool for taking, editing, and viewing still photos and videos. The application is complemented by Windows Mobile 2003 SE's ability to rotate the display to landscape view.
Aside from the photo-editing app, the A730 offers Windows Mobile 2003 SE's standard applications, such as Pocket versions of Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, and Windows Media Player 9.0. It doesn't have much in the way of extra software, though. Asus Launcher lets you quickly launch frequently used applications, and Asus Backup protects your data. There are also two games (Solitaire and Jawbreaker) and a few demos on the companion CD.
With the new Dell Axim X30 series setting an ever-higher bar for Pocket PC performance, the Asus MyPal A730 fell short of our expectations. Equipped with the latest 520MHz Intel PXA270 processor, the A730 performed slightly below the midlevel Axim X30, which has only a 312MHz chip. This was largely due to Asus's new and improved visual interface, which offers gorgeous 3D icons and other graphical touches. The new look, however, takes a toll on video performance, decreasing the A730's overall score. Nevertheless, the A730 was plenty fast and exhibited great responsiveness, even when we had multiple applications open simultaneously.
The A730's VGA screen was extraordinarily crisp and beautiful, which more than made up for its relatively mediocre video performance. In short, if you intend to play 3D games on this device, your games will look great but run sluggishly. But if you intend to use the PDA for only general organizing purposes, you will have nothing to complain about. All your contacts, numbers, and dates will look absolutely gorgeous.
There's no free lunch, though. The PDA's gorgeous display resulted in slightly disappointing battery life. In CNET Labs' drain test, where we repeatedly play a video clip with sound and backlight at high and all wireless functions turned off, the battery lasted only 3 hours, 9 minutes. In the same test, the Dell Axim lasted more than an hour longer. Since our drain test was designed to deplete the cell as soon as possible, you'll get more mileage out of your battery under normal use.
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs project leader Dong Van Ngo.