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Garmin iQue M review: Garmin iQue M

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The Good No larger than most standalone PDAs; excellent navigation capabilities; Bluetooth; vibrating alarms; includes windshield mount and car charger.

The Bad Expensive; screen is hard to see outdoors; no jog dial; no Wi-Fi; average battery life.

The Bottom Line Thanks to excellent navigation software, the iQue M5 ranks among the best GPS/PDA combos we've seen--but it's too expensive.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Intro

In creating the iQue M5, Garmin didn't reinvent the wheel so much as clone it. The company's latest GPS/PDA combo is a dead ringer for its previous effort, the Palm OS-based iQue 3600. So what's the difference? The M5 runs Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, which may increase its appeal among business users. It also offers a brighter screen and improved address-book integration over the iQue 3600, and it features better navigation software than its competitors, the Mitac Mio 168 and the Navman PiN. However, the M5's battery life could be better, and we'd gladly trade its Bluetooth radio for Wi-Fi. But the real issue is price; at $750, the unit costs significantly more than other GPS-equipped PDAs. Unless you can get the boss to foot the bill, you may want to consider a more affordable solution. When its bottom-mounted leather screen cover is flipped up, the Garmin iQue M5 could easily be mistaken for its Palm OS cousin, the iQue 3600. The two devices look almost identical, though the 3600 has a screen that's about 15 percent larger (3.8 inches vs. 3.5 inches diagonally). Even so, the M5 weighs a hair more at 5.9 ounces but sports the same dimensions of 2.8 by 5.0 by 0.8 inches. We like the way its fold-down GPS antenna closes flush inside the case, unlike the awkwardly protruding and bulky antennas found on the Mitac Mio 168 and the Navman PiN.


Flippin' awesome: The M5 features a flip-up antenna for GPS signals; it also stores flush inside the case for a neat package.

In most other respects, the M5 represents typical Pocket PC design. Four application buttons (Calendar, Contacts, Inbox, and Que) span the area below the screen, along with a five-way control pad. Along the left side, you'll find only the voice-record button. Garmin chooses not to include the 3600's jog dial, a regrettable decision since it's a convenient way of navigating through menus and zooming in and out of maps. The usual suspects can be found along the top: a headphone jack, an IR port, and an SDIO/MMC slot. Should you need to attach a patch antenna (not included) for better GPS reception, there's a connector covered by a rubberized flap on the right side of the M5. The aforementioned GPS antenna resides on the back of the device, and to its right, there's a small slide lever that releases it. There's a little Reset button on the back, and as always, we appreciate the user-replaceable battery.

Although the M5's 3.5-inch, 320x240-pixel transflective screen displays 64,000 colors and is plenty bright indoors--quite a bit brighter, incidentally, than the iQue 3600's screen--sunlight is not its friend. We found the display fairly difficult to read outdoors, even on a cloudy day; take note if you plan to use the M5 while on foot. That said, it's acceptable when you're in a car, where ambient light is somewhat diminished.


Mission control: The M5 comes with your standard navigation toggle and shortcut keys, including one to access your maps.

Garmin supplies both a USB synchronization cradle/charger and a suction-cup windshield mount. The latter includes a cigarette-light charger that has its own speaker so that navigation instructions can be heard loud and clear. At first, we had trouble seating the M5 in the two cradles, but for some reason, it got easier with time. We liked the sturdy design of the windshield mount, which lets you easily position the M5. We also appreciated the inclusion of a travel adapter for the AC charger; no cradle is required for hotel-room power.

As a Pocket PC, the Garmin iQue M5 doesn't venture too far outside the norm. It's powered by a 416MHz Intel PXA272 XScale processor, 64MB of ROM, and 64MB of RAM. Alas, the built-in applications leave only 30.5MB of RAM for extra programs, so plan on buying a roomy SD memory card--you'll need one for map data anyway. On a positive note, Garmin allocates 15MB of "safe storage" for backing up data that can survive a hard reset. In terms of software, the PDA includes the usual Windows Mobile 2003 SE applications, plus Garmin's GPS-specific Que programs. The only noteworthy extra is Sprite Backup, a handy utility for making backups to a memory card.


Leave the paper trail at home. Fill up a memory card with maps and hit the open road.

Aside from the advantages of having native support for Windows apps (Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, and so on), business users will appreciate the presence of a vibrating-alarm feature, something we haven't seen on many Pocket PCs. The M5 also features a Bluetooth radio, which is somewhat ironic given that one of the most popular PDA uses for Bluetooth is linking to a GPS receiver--obviously not necessary here. We would have liked to see the addition of integrated Wi-Fi.

Garmin's snazzy software installer makes it easy to load Outlook 2002, ActiveSync, and MapSource City Select. However, as with the Palm version, the latter requires you to plod through a rather lengthy installation and registration process. We recommend loading all the map data (which includes the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico) from the get-go to avoid repeating these hassles later on. On the other hand, if all you need is base-map data--major highways, waterways, and the like--you can skip MapSource altogether; the M5 has a built-in base map of North America, South America, and Puerto Rico.

Though it may be a fairly ordinary PDA, the M5 is an extraordinary GPS device. It offers a bounty of desirable navigation features, all wrapped in an easy-to-learn, icon-based interface. Just about every feature can be accessed by repeatedly pressing the Que button, which cycles through Garmin's QueMap, QueTrip, QueFind, and QueRoutes screens. (If you've already plotted a destination, a QueTurns screen is added to the mix, showing a MapQuest-like text description of the route.)


No need to stop for directions--Garmin's handy QueMap software plots the course and keeps you on track.

QueMap is the map itself, which includes a handy toolbar along the bottom for quick access to some of the aforementioned screens. By far, the best feature here is Where Am I, which displays your current latitude and longitude, the nearest address and major intersections, and an option to add the locale to your My Locations list. We also like the pop-up slider for adjusting map detail and adding/removing points of interest (POI). As for the actual maps, they're attractive and easy to read, though the relatively small size of the M5's screen could prove frustrating to those with less than perfect eyesight.

The M5 integrates with your address book much better than the iQue 3600. Just tap any entry, select Que from the fly-out menu, and click Route To It. Presto--you're on your way. The Garmin also features an excellent address lookup utility, and it's even better at finding categorical POI such as restaurants, gas stations, and the like. You can easily search by name, proximity to current location, proximity to the route destination, and other criteria.

Other GPS amenities include a route-to-home option; user-selectable avoidance features for staying off, say, unpaved roads; distance-based detour plotting for those times when you encounter a sign that says something to the effect of, "Road construction next 5 miles;" and a power-saving standby mode that dims the screen while keeping navigation active (nice for when you need to use your vehicle's cigarette lighter for other purposes).

In CNET Labs' tests, the Garmin iQue M5 offered very good performance. While we've seen faster systems overall, this was the quickest unit we've yet tested with Intel's 416MHz PXA272 XScale processor; to date, it's the fifth-speediest Pocket PC we've reviewed. Its performance was only a few points less than that of the HP iPaq hx4700, which sports a faster 624MHz Intel PXA270 processor. We noticed, however, that like many Pocket PCs, the M5 slowed down considerably when running multiple programs. We had to manually close some apps to restore the device's otherwise preppy operation.

The Garmin iQue M5 offered decent battery life. While playing a looped video clip with wireless off and the backlight set to high, the system lasted 4.4 hours. This was nowhere near the best battery life we've seen, but it was still a respectable score. Plus, since our drain tests are designed to zap power as fast as possible, you'll get more mileage out of your handheld with normal use.

As a GPS device, the iQue M5 performed like a champ. It consistently gave us accurate driving directions and spot-on navigation. It also proved sufficiently speedy; in an informal test, we clocked its cold-start satellite lock at around 40 seconds, beating the company's claim of 45 seconds. It's quick to calculate routes, too, usually taking no more than about 10 seconds to compute a typical crosstown path. We found Garmin's map data reasonably current, though the POI database seemed out of date by at least a year.

CNET Labs assistant manager Eric Franklin contributed to the performance analysis.

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