Chances are when you hear the name Asus, you think of motherboards and computer components, or the Eee PC laptop, and probably not smartphones. However, the company is hoping to change that with its latest crop of handsets, including the subject of this review: the Asus P527. And while it certainly got our attention, it was for all the wrong reasons.
At first glance, the P527 looks to be a dream with a long laundry list of features--Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi, Windows Mobile 6--and a compact design. Asus also does a nice thing by throwing in a number of helpful utilities and applications for the mobile professional. However, it is simply underpowered and suffers from horribly slow performance. The frustration isn't worth the extras, and it's definitely not worth the $499 unlocked price (plus, we want 3G support, too). If you're willing to drop that kind of cash, you're way better off getting the Nokia N95.
For all the features that it offers, the Asus P527 is an amazingly compact smartphone. It measures 4.4 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep and weighs 4.5 ounces. This makes it look and feel like a regular cell phone, and you'll be able to comfortably slip it into a pants pocket. The overall shape of the P527 reminded us of the Sony Ericsson P1i, but it has a brushed aluminum face that's attractive, and there's a soft-touch finish on the back that makes the handset easy to grip.
On its front is a 2.6-inch diagonal touch screen with a 65,000-color output and 320x240 pixel resolution. In general, text and images are easy to read but the colors tend to wash out in brighter environments. Asus also provides an alternative Asus Launcher screen that aggregates frequently used applications and menus in one place.
Below the display, you'll find a familiar navigation array of two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, a Start menu launcher, an OK button, and a joystick. The latter is fairly small and stiff, so we had a quite a number of mistaken presses. In addition to the alphanumeric keypad, Asus includes a handful of eight other shortcut buttons for one-click access to applications, such as GPS, Bluetooth, Messages, and the voice recorder. We appreciate these keys since Windows Mobile devices aren't exactly the easiest to operate, requiring a lot of menu digging and extra steps.
For easier one-handed operation, the left spine holds a jog wheel/volume rocker and an OK button, while there's a lock switch, a reset hole, a camera activation key, and a microSD/SDHC expansion slot on the right side. On the bottom, you'll find a 2.5mm headset jack and a mini USB port. A power button sits on the top, and the camera and speaker are located on the backside.
The Asus P527 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a soft carrying case, a USB cable, a 2GB microSD card, a pair of earbuds, a vehicle mount, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
As we mentioned earlier, the Asus P527 is a well-stocked smartphone. It runs Windows Mobile 6 Professional Edition, which includes the full Office Mobile Suite for document management, Windows Live integration, and Microsoft Direct Push Technology for real-time e-mail delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. Asus also throws in a number of other utilities, including a business card reader, a meeting planner, an RSS reader, a ZIP manager, and a backup application.
Wireless options aren't lacking with integrated Bluetooth 2.0, Wi-Fi, and GPS. Supported Bluetooth profiles include those for wireless headsets, hands-free kits, and dial-up networking, but sadly, no A2DP love for a stereo Bluetooth headsest. And while we always appreciate the inclusion of Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), we're particularly glad to see it on the P527 since it lacks support for U.S. 3G bands.
To complement the built-in GPS radio, the Asus P527 comes preloaded with several travel and tracking applications. You can record your travel moments in photo and notes with the Asus Travel Log program and then export them to Google Earth. There's also Asus Location Courier and despite an odd name, it's actually a nice safety feature as it gives you the coordinates of your current location, which you can then send to others in case of an emergency or accident. It's also handy if you're planning a meet-up with friends or family.
As for voice features, the Asus P527 offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, voice dialing and commands, smart dialing, three-way calling, and text and multimedia messaging. The phone book is limited only by the available memory (SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts), and each entry can hold multiple numbers and addresses and other information. For caller-ID purposes, you can assign a contact to a category or pair it with one of nine polyphonic ringtones or a photo. There's also something called the Asus CallFilter, which lets you manage incoming calls and block unknown callers.
The P527 is equipped with a 2-megapixel camera with video-recording capabilities. It has an autofocus function, a 2.5x zoom, and a self-timer, but it lacks a flash and self-portrait mirror. For still shots, you have a choice of three scene modes, six image sizes, and three picture qualities. There are white-balance and brightness settings for color adjustment, but accessing these options in camera mode requires you to fish through several layers of menus. Oddly, it's easier to get to these settings in video mode. The P527 can record videos in 3GP or MPEG-4 format and in two sizes (176x144 or 128x96).
Picture quality was OK. Objects had good definition, but we thought the colors were a bit harsh. Recorded videos weren't the best as the picture looked a bit blurry, but fine if for short clips. However, our biggest complaint wasn't about image quality; it was about the performance delays. Everything from camera activation to accessing the various editing options took a long time and led to a very frustrating experience (see Performance for more).
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) Asus P527 in San Francisco using AT&T service, and call quality was fair. There was a slight background hiss on our end, and voices sounded muffled at times, but we were still able to carry on conversations and use our bank's automated voice-response system. Friends didn't have any major complaints. Speakerphone quality was decent as well, though voices sounded garbled at times. We had no problems pairing the P527 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset.
The downfall of the Asus P527 is its general performance. The 200MHz TI OMAP 850 processor simply didn't provide enough horsepower, and we experienced numerous delays when trying to accomplish even the simplest tasks, such as opening an application. We've come to expect some sluggishness from Windows Mobile devices, but the P527 was worse than others. Whether we were trying to use the camera, open documents, or listen to music, it was a waiting game. Plus, on more than one occasion, we thought the system froze, when in actuality it was just slow to process the task. By the end of our testing period, we were pretty fed up with the device.
The Asus P527's 1,300mAh lithium-ion battery is rated for 5 hours of talk time and up to eight days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get an impressive 8.5 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the P527 has a digital SAR rating of 0.84 watt per kilogram.