The Windows CE-based Mio 136 ($499) is the latest addition to the company's line of handheld GPS products, but unlike the more robust , it's not a PDA. Instead, the ultraportable Mio 136 is a dedicated navigation system that can be used anywhere as long as you have a clear view of the sky, and it pulls double duty as an MP3 player. Yet while this extra functionality is nice, it doesn't make up for the Mio 136's lagging performance, compared with that of the similarly featured Garmin Quest. We would rather shell out the extra $100 and buy the Quest over the Mio 136 for a more consistent and solid navigation device. Don't let its PDA-like form factor fool you. The Mio 136 is a full-featured GPS system and an MP3 player. At 4.7 by 2.8 by 0.6 inches and 5.6 ounces, the Mio 136 also has the advantage of being compact enough to carry while traveling on foot. Its attractive silver chassis houses a 3.5-inch color TFT LCD with a 320x240-pixel resolution. The touch screen is responsive (a stylus is included), and the display is bright but can be difficult to read in direct sunlight. We recommend using the large map font in order to make the street names more readable.
Six small, backlit function buttons sitting to the right of the LCD let you zoom in and out, return to the main menu, power up the unit, and access the system settings and navigation screens. There's also a four-way rocker switch for panning the map and selecting menu items without using the stylus. An SD/MMC card slot is located on the left side, while a volume control, a headphone jack, and a stylus holder are on the right. The lower bezel holds the power-supply jack and a USB port, and a flip-up antenna is on the back. There is also a jack for connecting an optional external antenna ($35) for better satellite reception.
The Mio 136 comes with a vehicle-mounting apparatus that uses double-backed adhesive tape to attach to your car's dashboard, which means it can be installed only once. In addition, the adhesive needs a smooth surface to maintain a strong bond, so if your dashboard is textured, you'll have to use two screws (included) to install the mount. We prefer a removable suction-cup mount similar to those included with the and the units. Other goodies in the box include an AC adapter, a 12-volt vehicle power adapter, a carrying case and strap, and a quick-start guide.Powered by a 300MHz Intel PXA255 XScale processor and Microsoft's WinCE.Net operating system, the Mio 136 provides voice- and text-guided directions with 2D and 3D (bird's-eye) map views. To complement its 32MB of internal memory, the Mio 136 comes with a blank 256MB MMC (MultiMediaCard) memory card. You'll have to use the included pocket-size USB card reader and a PC to upload the Mio's detailed maps of North America, included on a two-CD set. The Mio's points-of-interest (POI) database includes more than a million banks, restaurants, airports, and museums, to name a few, as well as detailed descriptions and phone numbers. We particularly like the inclusion of subway-stop locations--a handy tool for getting around big cities.
To choose a destination map, click a specific region from the Mio Map program. During our testing, we selected region USA5, which includes compressed maps for the eastern corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., and requires 218MB of memory (it took approximately six minutes to transfer). You'll need a few extra memory cards for long-range trips or if you want to listen to music when in MP3 mode. A third CD contains an online user manual and Microsoft's ActiveSync program for transferring files directly to the Mio 136, and there's a USB-driver CD if you want to connect the device to your PC via the included USB cable.
The Mio 136 can create routes on the fly using addresses, POI, previous destinations, or saved favorite waypoints, or you can tap a point on the map and the Mio will calculate a route from your current position. You can also use the trip planner to create routes while offline, to tell the unit to avoid certain roads that may be under construction or bogged down with rush-hour traffic, and to record your trip and play it back later.
When it's not being used as a navigational aid, the Mio 136 plays your favorite MP3 and WAV music files in random or sequential order. The player supports MP3 playlists and includes a built-in equalizer with 17 presets. The included earbud-style headphones sounded good at low to midrange volume levels but became distorted when we cranked the volume way up.The Mio 136's performance was disappointing, compared with that of the competition; more importantly, it could make the difference between an enjoyable trip and a frustrating one. The first time we fired up the Mio 136, we waited 3.5 minutes to acquire a 3D fix (four satellites); subsequent tries took less than a minute. While we drove around Long Island, New York, the unit's performance was inconsistent. We experienced occasional signal loss despite having a clear view of the sky. Every so often, our position on the map was incorrect, showing our location on the wrong street. In upper Manhattan, the Mio 136 managed to hold a 3D fix during a walk through and around Central Park, but it faltered as we got closer to the midtown area, where tall buildings wreak havoc on most GPS receivers. On several occasions we had to stop walking to regain a satellite fix, and there were times when our location was off by a city block. We got similar results while driving through the city. That said, the voice-guided directions were accurate, and the autorouting function did a fine job getting us back on track whenever we veered off course. The Mio 136's lithium-ion battery gave us 4 hours of juice before it was time to recharge, a good 11 hours short of the Garmin Quest's battery life.