While best known for its computer components and motherboards, Asus is branching out to all sorts of consumer electronics, including GPS. The Asus R700t is one of its first portable navigation devices, and we must admit we're pleasantly surprised. The slim device is easy to use and features some great navigation tools that aren't commonly found in other PNDs. For example, the R700t shows 3D building renderings on its maps, and it has an embedded traffic receiver. In addition, you get a free lifetime subscription to the Traffic Message Channel. Given all these great features, we were shocked and ultimately disappointed that the system lacked text-to-speech functionality. If Asus adds this technology and fixes some of the performance glitches we experienced during our test period, the company could compete well in this space. The Asus R700t is available now for $325.
At just 3.1 inches high by 5 inches wide by 3.1 inches high by 0.5 inch deep and weighing 7 ounces, the Asus R700t is one of the slimmest portable navigation systems we've seen in a while--quite a feat considering the number of features that are crammed into the device. On front, there's a 4.3-inch touch screen that shows off 65,000 colors at a 480x272-pixel resolution. The display has a light-sensing technology that will automatically optimize the backlighting for your current environment. During our test drives, we didn't have any problems viewing maps and the touch screen was responsive.
The R700t's interface is pretty intuitive with large icons and clear identifications, and we were able to figure out most functions just by playing around with the device. From the main menu, you can choose from the various functionalities of the device--navigation, video player, photo viewer, music player, or phone. Once in the Navigation application, you can choose from two menu options--Advanced and Simple. Advanced gives you a few more routing options and navigation tools, such as a track log, saved routes, and search. If you're new to GPS, you may want start with the Simple mode and then switch to Advanced after you have more experience using the R700t.
There's a microSD expansion slot on the left side while there's a mini USB port and a 2.5mm headphone jack on the right side. On top of the unit, there's a power button but the main power switch is on the bottom. The speaker is located on the back as well as an external antenna jack.
The Asus R700t comes packaged with a car charger, an AC adapter, a USB cable, a pair of earbuds, a vehicle mount (windshield only), a protective carrying case, a 2GB microSD card, desktop software, and reference material. The vehicle mount securely held the unit in place, but like the TomTom GO 930, Asus doesn't include a dashboard disc, which is a problem for California and Minnesota drives since drivers are prohibited in these states to have anything mounted to the windshield.
The Asus R700t has an impressive feature list, though there's one omission that perplexes us (more on this later). To start, the R700t is equipped with a SiRFstarIII GPS receiver and comes preloaded with TeleAtlas maps of North America, including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Canada. Planning a trip can start several ways. You can enter a specific address, coordinates if you know them, select a point of interest, or choose a location from your Favorites or History list.
The R700t can calculate routes in one of four ways--fast, easy, economical, and short--and gives you the option to allow or avoid highways, toll roads, carpool lanes, and so forth. There are also pedestrian, bicycle, taxi, bicycle, and emergency route options. The Asus R700t also has an embedded traffic antenna and comes with a complimentary lifetime subscription to the Traffic Message Channel, and it can provide alternate routes around heavy congestion or accidents. Other standard navigation features include automatic route recalculation, multistop trips, simulated demos, speed alerts, and, of course, text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. Unfortunately, the R700t does not include text-to-speech functionality, which is our biggest beef with the device. For a GPS to have so many advanced and useful features but not text-to-speech, baffles us.
You can view maps in 2D or 3D mode, and with day or night colors. The map screen shows you plenty of data, such as the name of the street you're on, distance to next turn, estimated time of arrival, remaining distance, a compass, signal strength, and more. In addition, the Asus R700t offers 3D building renderings, which is pretty cool to see as it runs you through the route.
The R700t has integrated Bluetooth 2.0, so you can pair with a compatible Bluetooth-enabled cell phone and use it as a hands-free speaker system. Once paired with your handset, you can make calls using the system's onscreen dialpad or if there's a number associated with a point of interest you can dial out directly. Unfortunately, however, you can't transfer your phone's contact list or call history.
Finally, the Asus R700t has multimedia capabilities, including a video and music player and an image viewer. The system supports MP3 and WMA music files and WMV videos. The player itself is fairly basic with just the standard functions--play, forward/rewind, shuffle, and repeat. You can create playlists on the device, and there is a full-screen mode for videos. The image viewer can show JPEG and BMP files. The R700t has 1GB Flash ROM and 64MB RAM. For multimedia files, we recommend using a microSD card; the R700t can accept up to 4GB cards.
As far as general performance, the Asus R700t could be sluggish at times, despite having a 400MHz processor. It takes several minutes for the Navigation application to start up, so don't freak out if you don't see anything happening for a while. Also, there were a couple of times where we had to reset the device after the system froze on us. It only happened twice but still, a little cause for worry.
For our road tests, we took to the streets of San Francisco and from a cold start, it took about three minutes to get a fix on our location under cloudy skies. Subsequent starts were a bit mixed; sometimes satellite acquisition would be instantaneous while at other times, it would take a couple of minutes. Once locked on, the R700t did a good job of tracking our location, and as we noted earlier, it was pretty cool and useful to see the 3D building renderings, as it gives you a more accurate idea of your position with points of reference. We found the POI database to be fairly up to date, though we noticed some missing listings.
We also entered our standard trip from the Marina District to CNET's downtown headquarters. The R700t quickly returned with directions based on the fastest route. The list of turn-by-turn directions were accurate so we headed off on our journey. The voice-guided directions were loud and clear, but again, we missed having the text-to-speech functionality. We also missed several turns to test the route recalculation rate, which was quick but we didn't always necessarily agree with the new route, as some suggestions seemed roundabout to us.
We were also able to successfully pair the R700t with the