The hardware isn’t much to write home about, however. This is a quad band phone with GPRS and EDGE but disappointingly there’s no 3G. You get a SiRFStarIII GPS receiver for navigation and Bluetooth, but no Wi-Fi. Physically it’s disappointing too. It is relatively compact for a smartphone at 60 x 95 x 21mm, which is good, but its plasticky exterior finish makes it feel rather cheap and doesn’t look as if it would resist scratches and abrasions too well. Fortunately, you do get a decent case that’ll protect the screen when you put it away in your bag or pocket.
Otherwise, it’s standard PDA/smartphone fare. Below the 320 x 420 resolution screen is the usual panel of navigation buttons: two soft buttons, plus pick up and hang up buttons lie on the outside of the panel. In the middle are three shortcut keys: one for the launcher software, another for direct access to the MioMap software and the remaining ‘home’ button returns you to the phone’s Today screen. The latter is actually a duplication of what the hang-up button normally does, but at least with Windows Mobile you can customise the key and give it a more useful function. Slightly irritatingly, there’s no key to activate the Start menu, though.
Around the edges of the A501 you’ll find a clickable joystick, a shutter release for the onboard two megapixel camera (usefully equipped with a flash and self portrait mirror), a socket for attaching an external GPS aerial, a volume rocker, mini-USB input for charging and synchronisation purposes, and a slot for SD or MMC memory cards, though this is occupied with a 1GB card for the maps and MioMap software. The stylus stows away in the top right hand corner.
The navigation side of things, as I’ve pointed out before in reviews of Mio navigation devices, is excellent. Mio’s maps are very easy to read, the audio instructions are clear and all the functions you’d expect from a mid-range sat-nav system are present and correct, including compatibility with external TMC traffic information aerials. The software is organised in a rather strange way, which can make finding your way around confusing at first, but it’s easy to get used to over time.