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 . 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 and the . 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.
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.
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.
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.)