Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/04/28/review_mio_a701/

Mio A701 GPS smart phone

SatNav, PDA and GSM phone in one pocket-friendly device

By Lars-Göran Nilsson

Posted in Science, 28th April 2006 12:54 GMT

Review Satellite navigation is a must-have these days. Established brands like TomTom, Garmin, Navman and Magellan are being challenged by a wide range of companies. Mio was early to market with competing products and even its own route-planning software, although until now none of its devices have sported phone features. Enter the Mio A701, a smart phone with a fully integrated GPS receiver...

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The A701 is slightly taller than the Orange SPV M600 we reviewed recently and a sliver thicker. It measures 10.7 x 5.7 x 1.9cm and it weighs in at 149g without a memory card. It might not fit your shirt pocket, but it's small enough to live in a coat pocket without weighing you down.

There are plenty of features besides the internal SiRFstar III GPS receiver - it's hidden in the black bulge in the top left corner. Mio has gone with an Intel Xscale PXA270 processor clocked at 520MHz and paired with 128MB of ROM and 64MB or RAM. Experienced GPS uses might already have figured out that this is far from sufficient space to store maps, so you'll be glad to know that Mio bundles a 512MB SD card in the box.

The screen measures 2.7in and has a native resolution of 240 x 320, although a higher resolution would've been welcomed due to the amount of information that is displayed when you're using it as a navigator. As a phone, it has a tri-band (900/1800/1900MHz) GSM/GPRS pick-up, although support for EDGE is missing.

Bluetooth is part of the package, although only Bluetooth 1.2 not the latest version, 2.0 - not a major problem as it will still work with most Bluetooth accessories.

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A 1.3 megapixel camera is also part of the package, although to be brutally honest it takes some of the worst pictures I've seen from a camera phone. I never have high expectations from a handset's camera but in this case the quality was just appalling, even at the best quality setting and highest resolution. There's a dedicated button for the camera on the right-hand side, but I'd stay away from it if I were you.

The SD card slot, fitted with a protective rubber cover, sits next to the camera button and a 2.5mm audio jack for the supplied stereo hands-free headset. Oddly enough, the stylus is located at the bottom right-hand side corner and it's quite stiff to remove. It's of the telescopic kind which makes it flimsy - not what you want from a stylus. On the bottom of the A701 is a standard mini USB port - which disappointingly only is USB 1.1 rather than 2.0, so it takes a lot longer to transfer data to the A701 than it should. The left-hand side is home to two volume keys and a small notch that holds the handset in place when used with the in-car cradle.

Around the rear is the camera and the much more useful speaker. This is loud enough to provide clear instructions even during high-speed motorway driving, something some other PDA- and phone-based navigation systems have a problem with.

Just above the screen is the earpiece and below the screen are four buttons - Call, Call End/Cancel/Power, Windows Media Player and MioMap - and a five-way navigation control. What it desperately needs are two further buttons under the screen - there's plenty of space for them - to control Windows Mobile 5's soft menus.

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Mio supplies a full set of accessories with the A701, including the aforementioned car cradle with a suction cup arm, an in-car charger, an AC adaptor with UK and EU plugs, a USB cable, a carrying case, an extra stylus and three screen protectors. This is a pretty good bundle and there isn't really anything missing.

I'd suggest you don't leave home without the in-car charger though, as the A701 eats away the battery charge when you're using the GPS unit: don't expect to get more than two or three hours' life out of it in navigation mode.

You can buy the A701 with or without the MioMap 2.0 route-planning and navigation software. It generally works well and is well-suited to the A701, but it's not without its drawbacks. The user interface takes a while to get used to and it is actually quite hard to use on the relatively small screen. The icons just aren't big enough and you have to take the stylus out all the time, something that doesn't work if you want to make a quick adjustment while you're stuck at a traffic light. To be fair to Mio there is a warning message every time you start up the MioMap software that tells you not to operate the device while driving - it's illegal to operate a mobile phone while driving in many countries - but the warning's of limited value when the software forces you to use the stylus so often.

It's not as easy to enter an address in MioMap as it is in, say, TomTom as the postcodes don't quite add up. Several postcodes seem to be different - where I live the second part starts with a 1, but the MioMap software has it down as a 2. There's also no full postcode search, a feature provided by most other navigation apps.

The TeleAtlas maps are fairly detailed, and Mio has added a wide range of places of interest (POIs). However, I didn't find a way to disable unwanted POIs as I'm not, in all honesty, interested in finding every McDonald's or Burger King when I drive around. More useful information includes train stations, underground stations, petrol garages, post offices and ATMs. Many local restaurants, museums and parks are also listed.

What is slightly disappointing, especially considering the fast CPU in the A701, is the slow update speed of the maps when you're browsing them. I have what is considered as a fairly old smart phone, a SonyEricsson P910i, running TomTom and it's quicker at updating the map data than the A701 is.

The maps are shown in a 3D view when driving and the spoken instructions are quite accurate. You can also add voice tags to certain commands. It doesn't feel like the MioMap software always took the shortest route though, as on my way back from the shops, it wanted me to take a much longer route home than the one I normally take. Another oddity: I was driving on the motorway and for no apparent reason the MioMap software randomly announced "Be aware!" There were no junctions coming up or anything else that required my attention.

The MioMap software has several different driving-speed settings, including slow car, normal car, fast car (don't ask me what the difference is, but I guess the last option is for people with Ferraris), motorcycle - an optional motorcycle mount is available - lorry, bike and pedestrian. I found the pedestrian mode quite useful when the wife and I went away walking over Easter.

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However, here another problem showed up. Well, more an oversight, perhaps. Each of the individual country map packs also includes all the major roads of Europe - you can find out more about the different map packs here. If you want more than one map pack on the A701, you therefore have to install the major road pack with each and every additional package, which means a lot of wasted space on your memory card. You could pick up a 1GB SD card fairly cheaply, of course, but it would've been much better if Mio made the major road package available as a separate installation.

Verdict

The Mio A701 disappointed me. I had high hopes that this was going to be a well integrated smart phone satnav solution, but it has too many little flaws. It's by no means unusable, but it needs to be tweaked quite a bit before I'd consider buying one. As the Mio A701 is sold SIM-free it's not going cheap, so expect to pay around £370 without the MioMap software and about £440 with the software included. You might be able to find it for less from some companies that offer it at a discount if you take out an airtime contract, but it will still cost you larger part of £200.

If you desperately want an all-in-one GSM smart phone, PDA and GPS unit, the Mio A701 is worth considering, but it doesn't excel as any of these three devices. It's a real shame Mio didn't spend a little more time on their R&D - with a few tweaks the A701 could've been so much better. ®