Mio 168RS (GPS/PDA combo) review: Mio 168RS (GPS/PDA combo)

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The Good Lots of included accessories; solid battery life; excellent mapping software; compact.

The Bad Still no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth; no synchronization cradle; few significant changes from original model; higher price tag; dull screen.

The Bottom Line Though still a practical PDA/GPS combo, the Mio 168RS offers few compelling improvements over its predecessor.

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5.6 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 5
  • Performance 6

Mio 168RS

We really liked the original Mio 168, a combination Pocket PC/GPS that scored points with its compact design, its excellent mapping software, and its generous accessory bundle. So we had high hopes for its successor, the Mio 168RS. Unfortunately, while it's still a solid PDA/GPS combo, it brings few innovations--indeed, few changes at all--to the table. Mio failed to add Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, bump up the screen resolution, or lower the price. In fact, at $599, the 168RS actually costs more than its predecessor. On the plus side, it boasts a few extra accessories and a slightly updated operating system (Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition). It's not that we don't like it, but we're disappointed by the higher price and the skimpy improvements.

Physically identical to its predecessor, the Mio 168RS sports compact, pocket-friendly proportions, save for the GPS antenna, which continues to add a 0.3-inch bump to the back when folded down. We remain impressed by how slim (4.4 by 2.7 by 0.6 inches) and light (5.4 ounces) this device is; that said, we're disappointed by its cumbersome four-way joystick and 2.5mm headphone jack, which doesn't accommodate standard connectors. At least Mio supplies compatible earbuds, which should satisfy most listeners. While Mio continues to be generous with accessories, one item that remains absent is a synchronization cradle. The 168RS includes only a USB cable, so if you want a cradle, you'll have to purchase it separately for $39.99. Thankfully, Mio has improved the design of its suction-cup windshield mount; it holds the PDA much more securely, though it still wobbles too much in some vehicles. The included cigarette-lighter charger means you'll never run out of power while traveling.

Mio packs plenty of accessories with the 168RS, including a protective case and a car charger.

We had also hoped for a VGA screen, but the Mio 168RS retains its 320x240-pixel resolution and displays 65,000 colors. Curiously, the screen looked rather grainy and washed out compared to that of our old Mio 168--a step down in quality. It's not any better outdoors, either; we found visibility difficult even on cloudy days.

Like its predecessor, the Mio 168RS comes with a 300MHz Intel XScale processor, 32MB of ROM, and 64MB of SDRAM. Though we're eager for a faster processor and more RAM, Mio provides added storage in the form of a 256MB MMC memory card. You even get a USB SD/MMC reader for your PC, but because it's a USB 1.1 device, it doesn't necessarily speed up map downloads. You can just as easily copy maps to the card when it's inserted into the PDA.

Mio updated the PDA's operating system to Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, which means you not only get Pocket versions of Word, Excel, and Windows Media Player, but you now have support for Landscape mode and other minor improvements. Mio also throws in a few worthwhile extras, including eMenu, a tab-based program launcher, and eBackup, a rudimentary backup program.

As a navigation device, the Mio 168RS continues to excel. We had an easy time carving out maps to install from the desktop Mio Map software and an equally easy time routing to addresses in our PDA contact list. As before, you can choose between 2D, 3D, and bird's-eye views of your map. You also get text- and voice-guided directions, auto route recalculation if you veer off course, and a healthy points-of-interest database. For a full description of the mapping and navigation capabilities, check out our review of the original Mio 168.

With the Mio 168RS's expansion slot, just load up a memory card with maps, then hit the streets.

One area that needed improvement was the antenna, which had difficulty locking onto GPS signals in high-rise downtown environments. According to a company representative, the Mio 168RS's antenna picks up signals faster and does a better job overcoming interference. Unfortunately, we didn't find this to be true in our real-world tests. In San Francisco, the Mio 168RS took about two minutes from a cold start to lock on to the required satellites and get a signal; subsequent starts required about 45 seconds or less. We also lost the signal as we drove between tall buildings and through tunnels. That said, this is a common problem with GPS devices, and the Mio 168RS always provided accurate and clear driving directions and got us back on track when we veered off course.

The 168RS performed well on CNET Labs' performance tests, more than holding its own against other 300MHz Pocket PCs such as the Mio 168 and the Navman PiN. Its overall hardware performance and graphics tests scores were slightly better than the Mio 168's and the Navman PiN's, and its ActiveSync index and battery life were significantly better.

In our battery tests, where we looped a video clip and set the screen brightness to 50 percent, the Mio 168RS ran for an average of 4.31 hours before running out of juice--a full hour more than the original Mio 168. It's important to remember that the device will run for much longer under normal operating conditions. What's more, the inclusion of a car charger makes battery life a nonissue where navigation is concerned.

CNET Labs technician Jeffrey Fuchs contributed to the performance analysis.

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