- Review Price: £290.00
Asus is probably best know for its laptop offerings, but the Taiwanese giant is nothing if not prolific and has its fingers in about as many technology industry pies as you can think of, from motherboards to servers. It has also been active in the highly competitive mobile devices space and now we have its latest smartphone, the P526, in for review.
It runs on the latest version of Microsoft’s mobile platform – Windows Mobile 6 Professional – and as smartphones go, it’s a bit of a looker. There’s no glossy black plastic, candy red backlit keys, heat-sensitive keys or funky, ‘innovative’ design. It is, however, one of the slimmer smartphones around at just 16mm, it’s very light at 115g, its grey plastic chassis is chrome-trimmed and it even comes with a smart grey leatherette case to protect the screen, and the overall effect is very pleasing on the eye. It’s smart but unassuming, a bit like a well-tailored suit.
It’s hardly surprising to find that there’s no QWERTY keyboard here given how slim the P526 is. Instead there’s a number pad under the screen, and the one here is an excellent example. The buttons have a slightly curved profile and are separated from each other making it exceptionally easy to dial numbers manually, and there are a few other nice touches to the control system too. Apart from the usual Windows soft keys and pick-up/hang-up combination there are also short cut buttons for the Windows Start menu and one to activate the Voice Commander software. Below the pick-up key is a button that is initially designated as a quick application launch key, but can be reassigned as a task switch button, allowing you to cycle quickly through open applications.
The good news continues. Along the right hand edge, alongside a memory expansion slot for microSD cards and the trigger button for the two megapixel digital camera, is a dedicated lock switch. It has long been a pet hate of mine with Windows Mobile that in order to lock and unlock the keys and touchscreen on most devices, you have to prod a couple of tiny on-screen buttons. It’s not my idea of sensible user interface design. With the P526, however, that’s a thing of the past. Just flick the switch and it’s locked; flick it again and it’s unlocked. I wish more phones would do something similar.
On the left edge of the phone is more usefulness, this time in the shape of a clickable scroller wheel for whizzing up and down lists of programs and contacts. Not only this, but Asus has also added a small close button just next to it, meaning you can operate the phone one-handed much more easily than most other Windows Mobile based devices. The software it runs on is right up to date too with Windows Mobile 6 Professional installed out of the box and, to the usual line-up of software suspects, Asus has added a launcher app, a call filter, the afore-mentioned Voice Commander and Remote Presenter, which allows you to control presentations on your laptop via Bluetooth.
The P526’s standout feature, however, is its SiRF Star III GPS receiver, which allows you to download and install a myriad of sat-nav software, from Wayfinder to TomTom. This works well, getting a satellite lock quickly and holding it well. As it stands, though, the P526 comes with no GPS software at all out of the box. I liked the 2.6in 240 x 320 screen too. It’s bright and clear, though it can be difficult to read in very bright sunshine.
It’s a shame that the rest of the specifications are not so impressive. The P526 is a quad band phone, which means you can use it pretty much anywhere your travels take you. It has GPRS and EDGE, and Bluetooth as any self-respecting business phone like this should have, plus infrared. However, faster Internet speeds on the move are beyond it as there’s no 3G or Wi-Fi for hotspot connection.
The processor and memory allocation are also disappointing. The better PDA phones, such as HTC’s brilliant P4550, come with a 400MHz processor but the P526’s CPU is half the speed at 200MHz. Most of the time, this difference isn’t noticeable but the phone does take a while to start up from cold and occasionally, while launching applications and flipping from one screen to another, that pesky ‘egg-timer’ occasionally shows its ugly face. If you want more than the meagre 128MB of flash memory on offer (around 48MB free after a couple of day’s use) for storing photos, video and music, you’ll have to add your own microSD card. And transferring media files is tedious thanks to the slow USB 1.1 connection.
Battery life is okay but nothing to write home about. I managed to get around one-and-a-half to two days of low-intensity use from the P526’s 1300mAh lithium ion battery, which isn’t as good as, for example, the HTC P4550, which will go for two to three days on the same sort of load. And bear in mind, if you want to employ the P526 as an MP3 player, that figure will drop significantly. It’s good to see that the bundled headset/headphones combo is better than average.
The Asus P526 ticks plenty of smartphone boxes. It runs on the latest version of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform, it’s slim, and the design – while not iPhone sexy – is smart with some intelligent touches. You also get a decent GPS receiver for your money.
It may be worth a look if you want a number pad rather than a keyboard, but its basic specifications and battery life, however, bring things down to earth with a resounding bump. No 3G, Wi-Fi and a less-than-impressive processor put it out of contention for a place in our list of favourite smartphones, positioning it well behind the HTC P4550 in the smartphone pecking order.
Score in detail
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