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Asus MyPal A636 GPS PDA

Neither fish nor fowl?

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Review Low-end GPS satellite navigation systems fall into two categories: PDAs with bundled route-planning kit, and dedicated navigation devices. Asus' MyPal A636 falls between the two: it's a Windows Mobile 5.0 device, incorporating Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, so it has all the hallmarks of an up-to-date PDA. But the hardware has clearly been designed with GPS in mind rather than accessing personal information, so it looks like a dedicated unit.

Asus MyPal A636 GPS PDA

Out of the box, the A636 makes for a chunky PDA. It's not large but it is thicker than many PocketPCs I've looked at. It has a solid feel. Nor is it unattractive to look at. The thickness arises from the fold-out 5 x 5cm GPS antenna, which also swivels so you can always get it facing skywards in whatever orientation you hold the machine. Stowed, the antenna is almost flush with the back of the device, so it fits smoothly into pockets and cases.

Below the GPS antenna is the battery cover protecting the removable 3.7V, 1300mAh power cell. The left-hand side of the A636 is bare but for an infra-red port - the right-hand side is entirely feature-free. The top of the unit sports a recessed power key and, despite the PDA's girth, a slot for an SD IO card rather than the CompactFlash slot you might expect it to sport. The unit's base has a rubber bung-covered headphone socket, a proprietary power and data connector, and a reset button.

The front of the unit is dominated by the 3.5in, 240 x 320, 65,536-colour LCD above three circles - respectively a speaker grille, a five-way navigation control and a circularly arranged array of four application buttons. The layout, while not unattractive, is about as far from the PDA 'standard' as you get, and far more like the multi-button control array sported by dedicated GPS systems like the Bluemedia BM6830. Indeed, the icons on the controls are all oriented along the device's major axis, inviting you to hold the unit not like a PDA but in landscape mode, like a dedicated GPS device.

As I said, though, this is a fully-featured Windows Mobile machine, with Bluetooth 1.2 to allow it to be connected wirelessly to a mobile phone, and 802.11b Wi-Fi for broadband links. Both wireless systems are activated by taskbar icons on the Today screen. After activating the Wi-Fi adaptor, you can use Asus' own Wi-Fi Manager utility to scan for hotspots and connect to them. I had no trouble talking to the office's WEP-shielded base-station.

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