Mio 168 review: Mio 168

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The Good Compact; excellent mapping software; includes car mount and charger; MMC/SDIO slot.

The Bad Problems acquiring signal in cities; no way to adjust volume within mapping program; windshield mount too wobbly; no synchronization cradle; no removable battery.

The Bottom Line The Mio 168 hits a couple of roadblocks in the city but still drives off with a winning PDA/GPS combo.

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7.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6

Review summary

The Palm OS-based Garmin iQue 3600 proved the value of packing a GPS receiver into a PDA. Now Mitac's Mio 168 shows us again, this time on the Windows Mobile platform. The Mio 168 costs $500 and is more compact than the iQue, while still helping you get from point A to point B with accuracy and ease. It hits a few bumps in the road, but it's a good solution for anyone who craves navigation and organization in a single device. However, if you want a more business-centric device with wireless connectivity, check out the Mio 558, which comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The shiny, silver Mitac Mio 168 is remarkably compact, carrying only a hair more girth than the superslim HP iPaq H1940 and significantly less than the Garmin iQue 3600. At 4.4 by 2.7 by 0.6 inches, the 5.2-ounce Mio has no trouble riding shotgun, whether clipped to a belt or slipped into a pocket. The only downside is the rear bump caused by the GPS antenna, which adds another 0.3 inch of thickness when folded down. In contrast, the iQue stores its antenna flush inside its case, but it's still a larger PDA overall.

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Get out of town with the travel-friendly Mio 168.

Everything else about the Mio 168 is fairly standard in terms of PDA design, from its 3.5-inch, 65,000-color screen to its four application buttons, three of which arrive preprogrammed to launch GPS app, though you can change them back to their PDA defaults. A five-way joystick handles scrolling and navigation, but it's too small to give the Mitac a gaming edge.

There's a Secure Digital Input Output/MultiMediaCard (SDIO/MMC) slot and an infrared port on top of the unit as well as recessed power and voice-record buttons on the left side. Like most Pocket PCs, the Mio has a built-in speaker and microphone (located on the front of the device) complemented by a headphone jack. But the latter accepts only 2.5mm plugs, so you'll have to use Mitac's fairly decent included earbuds or buy an adapter for your favorite headphones.

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Leave the paper trail at home and store your maps on an SD card.

The Mio's battery isn't removable, which is disappointing from a PDA standpoint but not as critical for in-car GPS operation since Mitac supplies a cigarette-lighter power adapter. With no reserve power, it will retain memory for a minimum of 72 hours after low-battery shutdown. We're more disappointed by the lack of a desktop cradle. Mitac bundles a synchronization cable with the Mio 168, but a desktop cradle must be purchased separately (the price hadn't been determined by press time). The Mitac Mio 168 has a 300MHz Intel XScale PXA255 processor, 32MB of ROM, and 64MB of SDRAM. You're left with about 53MB of available memory out of the box, even though the preinstalled programs reside in the ROM. You'll still want a spacious SD card for storing maps, which range in size from 36MB for a state such as Michigan to 210MB for a seven-state region. You can also cut maps into smaller chunks using the desktop software if you're short on memory.

The Mio 168 uses a SiRF chipset to lock on to GPS satellites, and you'll need a minimum of three satellites to determine your actual position. However, that's of no great use without the maps, which is why the Mitac comes with a two-CD set of mapping software.

The desktop Mio Map Console application, which includes street-level cartography for the United States and Canada, allows you to cut maps and load them onto your Mio 168 or SD card. Mio Map uses data from the NavTech map source, which offers updated information on address ranges, one-way roads, turn restrictions, and more.

Better still is Mio Map itself, the navigation program that comes installed on the 168. It provides real-time turn-by-turn navigation, complete with verbal and visual prompts, automatic rerouting, and a huge points-of-interest database. You can route to any address in your contact list using fewer steps than with the Garmin iQue 3600. For example, the Garmin requires you to designate a contact as a Location before it provides a map. In contrast, Mio Map provides a shortcut to your contacts list, and after you select an address, it will either give directions based on your current location or let you plot out a driving route. The software will even alert you when you're speeding (with limits based on NavTech data), though its verbal warnings get old fast if you tend to drive at the legal rate. You can disable this function through the Alerts Settings menu. We particularly like Mio Map's choice of 2D, 3D, and bird's-eye views; the last two are ideal for getting the lay of the land.

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With its included windshield mount, the Mio 168 has no problem riding shotgun.
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You are here: Get the lay of the land with Mio Map.

In addition to Mio Map, the Mio comes with Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC and its corresponding suite of Pocket apps: Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Reader, Pictures, and so on. Mitac also throws in a few worthwhile extras, including a tab-based program launcher (eMenu), a battery-optimization utility, and rudimentary backup program (eBackup). You can't make backups to ROM with eBackup, but the app supports memory cards.

Although Mitac doesn't supply a carrying case or a screen cover (you can purchase them from Mitac, but prices were undetermined at posting time), the Mio 168 comes with a bendable mounting arm that suctions easily and securely to your car's windshield. However, a dashboard or vent mount might be a better option. In one car, the Mio 168 wobbled noticeably while we were driving, making it effectively unreadable on bumpy roads. The effect was less pronounced in a smooth-riding SUV, but it still proved annoying. Mitac says it will offer vent and dashboard mounts in the future as optional accessories.
The Mio 168 performed decently in CNET Labs' tests. It topped the chart in CPU and ActiveSync performance among the midrange Pocket PCs equipped with Intel's 300MHz processor. On the other hand, the Mio's graphics performance wasn't as impressive, making it more of a personal organizer than a multimedia player or a gaming device.

In our battery-drain tests, where we let the device run a video clip repeatedly at 50 percent brightness until the battery dies, the Mio lasted a disappointing 3.32 hours, less than the Dell Axim X3 and Toshiba e400. Mitac says the handheld's battery should last up to 5.5 hours with the backlight at 50 percent and GPS in full power mode. In informal tests, however, under normal PDA use, the Mio 168 lasted about 10 hours.

The main story here, of course, is the GPS functionality. We tested it in San Francisco and Michigan with mixed results. As we drove around San Francisco, the Mio 168 had trouble locking on to a signal. We often got a voice alert saying, "Signal too low. Check antenna," and it took a few minutes to latch on to a signal. This may have been largely due to the number of buildings blocking the satellite transmission, but if you're lost in the city, you still need a more reliable product. On the open road, however, in both San Francisco and Michigan, the 168 proved an excellent navigational tool. Mio Map is refreshingly easy to use, and it's extremely quick at looking up addresses and calculating routes. We selected a destination 120 miles away, and Mio Map plotted it within a few seconds.

The Mio 168's transflective display is bright and colorful, but it's no friend of the outdoors. When driving during daylight hours, we found it hard to read. We resolved the problem by switching the backlight to its lowest setting. At least we had no trouble hearing the Mio; its verbal driving directions came through loud and clear. It was so loud, in fact, that we had to venture into the Windows Mobile settings to lower the volume. Mio Map lacks--but sorely needs--a volume control within the program. After we adjusted the volume, the pleasant female voice provided us with real-time directions and even replotted our route when we veered off course.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs project leader Dong Van Ngo.