With the rising popularity of route planning software, it was only ever a matter of time before some company or another came up with the wheeze of putting route planning features into a PDA. The company thatâ€™s got there first is Garmin, a route planning and GPS specialist, and it has chosen to build on the Palm platform.
Garminâ€™s central achievement with the iQUE 3600 is the integration of a GPS receiver into the PDA hardware, without adding greatly to either size or weight. To activate the receiver you flip out a panel on the back of the casing thatâ€™s slightly larger than a CompactFlash card. The system starts scanning, and before you know it, has worked out where you are and located you on the built in base map. You are now ready to start using the navigation features.
These come as a set of applications which offer pretty comprehensive facilities for tracking your progress along, routes. The base map for general route planning is included in ROM, and if you want more detail you can install from a provided CD which offers data on various European cities (including full coverage for the UK, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden Italy and Austria, and partial coverage of a number of others. Check the Garmin website, for the full details). As is the norm for this kind of thing, the maps include places of interest, places to stay, hospitals and so on. This data can take up quite a lot of space, so higher capacity SD cards might be one of your first add-on purchases.
Garminâ€™s built in software is up to activities like provision of voice instructions, route saving, and locating particular places and features. Garmin has even thought about integration with the Palm address book, and it is possible to navigate to addresses in the system â€“ provided the appropriate map is installed, of course.
The iQUE 3600 is based on a capable enough processor from Motorola â€“ not the fastest in the box of those available, but it performed well enough for us. The 22MB of available RAM is more than you get on some Palm PDAs, less than on others. The 320 x 480 screen, with its software driven Graffiti area, makes the most of available space for displaying maps. Thereâ€™s also a clever icon-based toolbar available when the Graffiti area is not displayed that provides quick access to key navigation and other functions. Finally thereâ€™s a battery life icon and GPS status reporting.
This is all pretty positive stuff, but some things do let this PDA down. Garmin has not thought outside the box in terms of customer need. While the mapping software is strong there isnâ€™t much of a software bundle addressing wider interests. The ROM includes an MP3 player and voicenotes recorder, but thatâ€™s it. You can always buy more software if you want it, but the other let-downs are more significant: the absence of SDIO support, and relatively poor battery life. Our standard benchmark for Palm PDAs, BatteryBench, reported battery life of three hours seven minutes, but this was with the GPS system turned off. Experience in the field suggested that a car power adaptor will be required for all but the shortest round trips.
Garminâ€™s starting point for the iQUE 3600 was undoubtedly to cram route planning and GPS capability into a standard sized PDA case, and this it has definitely achieved. Itâ€™s far easier to use than alternatives with external (wired or wireless) GPS receivers. But this device does fall down as an all-rounder on a number of fronts. The absence of SDIO support is particularly glaring, as is the relatively poor battery life.