Forgive us for having little faith when we first heard about the Garmin-Asus A50, but it's not like we had the best experience with Garmin-Asus' first GPS-smartphone hybrid, the Nuvifone G60 for AT&T. It worked fine as a GPS device, but failed horribly as a smartphone, so that didn't exactly leave us with the best impression. However, we saw signs of improvement when we got some hands-on time with the A50 at Mobile World Congress. At the time, Garmin said it wasn't sure that the model would make its way to the States, but lucky forT-Mobile customers, the A50, renamed the Garminfone, is headed to the carrier on June 9 for $199.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate.
We say lucky because the Garminfone is the complete package, succeeding where the Nuvifone failed. Now running on the Android platform and sporting a sexier design, the Garminfone works both as a capable smartphone and navigator. It may not have the mass appeal of the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G Slide, but for those who spend a lot of time on the road, whether it's driving to business meetings or to and from their kids' soccer practices, the Garminfone is definitely worth a look.
Looks don't count for everything, but they do count for something and the Garmin Nuvifone G60 didn't make a very good impression with its blocky, drab design. Fortunately, that isn't the case with the Garminfone, which sports a sleeker, sexier frame. At 4.57 inches tall by 2.46 inches wide by 0.49 inch thick and 4.9 ounces, it's much more manageable as a cell phone but still big enough to work as a navigator. The device also has a solid construction and a soft-touch finish on back to give it a nonslippery texture when held in the hand.
On front, you get a 3.5-inch, HVGA (320x480 pixels) capacitive touch screen. Admittedly, we would have liked to see a slightly bigger display, but it's still large enough that we had no problems viewing maps while driving. It's also vibrant and clear and was still viewable in daylight. In addition to pinch-to-zoom support, the display has a proximity sensor and built-in accelerometer, and we're happy to report that the screen is much more responsive than the Nuvifone's. The screen orientation changed within a couple of seconds of rotating the phone, and it never froze during our review period.
The touch screen also performed well during our tests. It was responsive, and we had no problems selecting items or scrolling through lists. That said, we thought there was slight lag when using the onscreen keyboard. The layout of the keyboard was spacious enough that we could type with some speed, but there was a slight delay from the time we touched a key to the time the letter appeared on screen, so we had to continually go back and check for any spelling errors.
Below the display, there are four touch-sensitive buttons--home, menu, phone, and back--and a four-way D-pad, which all work well. On the right spine, there's a volume rocker and camera activation/capture button. The power button sits on top of the device; a Micro-USB port is on bottom for charging and syncing the phone. Last but not least, the camera is located on back.
T-Mobile packages the Garminfone with a healthy set of accessories, including an AC adapter, a car charger, a car mount (windshield and dash), a 2GB microSD card, a USB cable, a wired headset, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check out cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The Garminfone now runs Android 1.6, but Garmin chose to stick with is proprietary user interface, which isn't a bad thing since it's quite easy to use. The main home screen is split into two parts, with the phone and navigation apps prominently displayed on the left and on the right; there's also a customizable bar that allows you to scroll through your favorite apps. The latter also features a small tab that you can tap, which then expands to reveal the full main menu of apps. From here, you can also drag and drop icons into the aforementioned favorite apps bar.
Though it seems you only get one home screen, there is a widget app in the main menu that presents you with five home screens that can be personalized with various widgets and shortcuts. Alternatively, you can do a long press of the home key, which brings up the same option. It's handy for accessing your wireless manager and viewing any upcoming appointments, but other times, we found it just as quick to launch the appropriate app from our favorites tray.
In all, Garmin's UI may not be as sophisticated as HTC Sense, but it works. You can launch your e-mail or address book and know how to access information and perform basic actions, without being overwhelmed with too many options, so there's something to be said about Garmin's straightforward approach. Also, the Garminfone just feels much more like a complete device in that the UI is consistent throughout the whole phone, and the features are well integrated with each other (e.g., navigation functions are worked into the contacts page). It's such a stark and welcome contrast to the Nuvifone.