Getting lost just got a lot harder. Garmin has started shipping its long-awaited iQue 3600, a Palm-based organizer with an integrated Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver. Load up your maps and connect to a few satellites--you are found. Though the device lacks some of the software found on high-end Palm handhelds and could have better battery life, the iQue proved itself an all-around capable PDA and a top-notch copilot.
For a handheld with a GPS receiver and a large, 320x480-pixel display, the iQue is relatively light and compact, weighing 5.2 ounces and measuring 2.8 by 5 by 0.8 inches. The depth tapers slightly to about 0.5 inches, making the device a bit more pocketable.
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|Though pretty large for a PDA, the iQue makes up for its size with a roomy screen.|
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|A little wedgy: The iQue is thick at the top but tapers toward the bottom.|
The protective cover of most handhelds attaches to the top of the device, but on the iQue, the attachment moves to the bottom and gives its standard position to the flip-up GPS receiver. To start satellite acquisition, you turn on the unit and pop open the antenna, whose hinge lets you choose the best angle for reception.
The Palm launch and scroll buttons below the display are standard, but one of them is mapped (no pun intended) to switch between the GPS map-related screens. You zoom in and out of maps with the scrollwheel, and the Escape key lets you exit an application. Those two controls are on the left side, which is handy when your stylus hand is occupied.
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|Navigation options: The jog dial is great for zooming in on maps, and the Escape button backs you out of apps.|
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|The cradle is a bit heavy, but you can recharge the device without it.|
The iQue comes with a sturdy but heavy syncing cradle and an AC adapter, whose outlet prongs fold in to save space. We also appreciated the little AC jack on the bottom of the device, which enables you to leave the cradle at home when you travel. Another plus: the inclusion of the Palm Universal Connector on the bottom of the iQue provides for compatibility with a whole host of existing Palm add-ons, such as keyboards, adapters and sync cables.
Though Palm and Sony have moved to Intel and Texas Instruments chips, Garmin stuck with the traditional Motorola option for the iQue. But at 200MHz, the DragonBall MXL ARM 9 processor is no relic, and the iQue's Palm OS 5.2.1 and 32MB of RAM are similarly up-to-date. Additional storage--a must if you want to load large maps--is available via the Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard (SD/MMC) slot.
Clearly, the iQue's main attraction is its built-in GPS receiver, which takes advantage of the FAA and Department of Transportation's wide-area augmentation system (WAAS) to increase the accuracy of the GPS plotting. With 12 channels, this Garmin can connect to up to 12 satellites simultaneously, though only 4 are required for a 3D location fix. As we mentioned, the receiver flips up, and you can adjust the antenna to get the best reception.
To complement the receiver, Garmin provides a two-disc set of extensive maps. MapSource's detailed City Select North America 5.0 covers the United States and parts of Canada, including streets, parks, and waterways. Beyond simple navigation, the software also offers traffic directions and restrictions, as well as more than 5 million points of interest. You can install all the maps on your computer (they take up about 1.8GB) and download just what you need to your handheld. You can't load third-party maps such as Rand McNally StreetFinder.
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|Write on: The 320x480-pixel display has a virtual-Graffiti area.|
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|One for the road: You'll probably need spacious SD or MMC media to store your detailed maps.|
The iQue comes with a large software collection for use with the GPS and the maps. The programs are well integrated with the address-book and even date-book databases. When you select a contact's address in QueRoutes, the iQue will plot a course to that location. You can also attach a destination to a calendar entry to give yourself directions to your next meeting. Other applications let you plan trips stop by stop, record your route, calculate distances and travel times, and find points of interest such as banks, restaurants, theaters, and lodging.
In stark contrast to the powerful mapping tools, the iQue's other Palm programs are sparse. Aside from a decent audio application/MP3 player and the PowerOne calculator, the software CD contains little more than Palm Desktop 4.1, Palm Reader, and some third-party demos.
The iQue has a speedy 200MHz processor to handle the resource-intensive tasks of map zooming and redrawing. Nevertheless, the device paused occasionally while redrawing some complex urban areas. Palm OS 5.2.1 enables support for more system RAM; we suggest you supplement the internal 32MB with a 128MB SD card to make sure you have room for your maps.
Like Sony's larger CLIEs, the iQue has a spacious 320x480-pixel transflective screen that can produce 65,536 colors. We thought the display looked great indoors with the backlight on; map detail was crisp and clear down to the smallest icons. Viewing in direct sunlight with the backlight off returned similarly pleasing results and saved some juice--just don't blind yourself by holding the iQue at the wrong angle. Sound was also good and loud enough for listening to tunes comfortably even in the noisiest environments.
Looking good: Though slightly less colorful than a CLIE's screen, the iQue's display is bright and sharp.
The iQue was a bit poky getting its first satellite fix, taking about four minutes. Reconnecting was substantially faster at a minute or less when our location was open to the sky. The unit clung tenaciously to its signal as we schlepped around the San Francisco Bay Area, disconnecting only when we tarried too long under an overpass or between skyscrapers.
The iQue is also adept at calculating and giving directions. A smooth female voice announces how many miles you are from an upcoming turn, then repeats the turn command when you get within a few hundred feet. Though the screen tells you street names, the voice understandably doesn't: imagine a computer trying to pronounce Gough, Duboce, and Guerrero. If you stray off course, the iQue quickly finds a new route with which to guide you.
Unfortunately, the iQue has a glaring weakness: battery life. The gluttonous display and GPS receiver quickly sap power. For our test, we ran a movie in Kinoma Player with the screen brightness at 50 percent. After 2 hours, 11 minutes, the low-battery warning appeared, and the backlight automatically dimmed to about 10 percent. The device completely ran out of steam at the 3-hour mark. Performance will be a bit better with the GPS receiver as long as you minimize backlight use: one charge got us approximately 3 hours, 45 minutes of intermittent GPS activity. The iQue also has a battery-saving mode, in which the unit syncs with satellites as little as possible.