Garmin iQue 3600 PDA is also a GPS device

There are PDAs that can play music and video clips. There are PDAs that can make phone calls, and send and receive e-mail. There are even PDAs that can take photos or short movies.

Now, for the first time, there’s a PDA that can determine its location anywhere on Earth by communicating with satellites, display detailed color maps of that location and show a route to a destination of your choice.

This latest twist on the PDA is a $589 model called the iQue 3600. It comes from Garmin, a Kansas-based leader in the market for specialized location-finding devices that rely on the Pentagon’s network of Global Positioning System satellites.

The GPS satellites are used in those expensive built-in automotive navigation systems and in some newer cell phones. For years, makers of GPS gear have tried to merge the satellite technology with the PDA by creating add-on GPS devices. But they were clumsy, bulky and costly.

Garmin has solved those problems. It has done a terrific job of designing a PDA that’s so slim and light and normal-looking that you can’t believe at first glance it’s also a GPS device. The only clue is a small, flat flip-up panel on the back that serves as the antenna for communicating with the satellites. When you flip it up, the GPS radio turns on. When it’s down, the iQue 3600 functions as a very nice regular PDA.

The iQue 3600 is, in all other respects, a standard Palm- compatible PDA. It uses the latest version of the Palm operating system, has all the basic Palm functions, and can even record and play voice memos, and play MP3 music files.

The real wizardry is in the integration of the GPS functionality with the typical Palm PDA. The iQue 3600 manages to make hand-held GPS mapping and routing into a simple function that average consumers can enjoy.

For instance, with the iQue 3600 you can select any address in your address book or calendar and the device will locate it on a map and create a route to it, as long as you have the digital maps for that area installed on the unit.

The iQue has a large, vivid, high-resolution color screen that occupies nearly the whole front of the device.

I have been testing the iQue 3600 in and around my hometown of Washington, D.C., and it lives up to its billing. It’s an excellent product that competes favorably with the navigation systems in my two cars when you use it to guide you on the road.

On several driving trips around the area, I set the iQue on my dashboard, using its very nice $52 optional auto kit, which includes a weighted base, a charger and a speaker. The device routed me accurately to several destinations, displaying color maps and large turn-by-turn diagrams, augmented by oral directions spoken in a female voice.

The iQue is also loaded with information about local points of interest. It found, and mapped, everything from my favorite neighborhood Italian and Chinese restaurants to the White House. I tapped on the out-of-state addresses I had stored for various friends and relatives around the country, and the iQue found and mapped every one accurately — then gave me driving directions.

The iQue 3600 is priced on the high end for a PDA. But as a GPS device, it’s a bargain. Garmin sells a specialized GPS receiver with similar functionality for more than $700 — without any of the Palm PDA functions.

As with any new gadget, however, this one has some drawbacks. Its internal memory is limited, and while it can accept memory expansion cards, it doesn’t come with one. So, even though Garmin gives you a CD containing detailed maps of the whole United States, you can load only a few cities or areas at a time. For the rest of the nation you get only general highway data, not local streets.

Battery life is terrible when using the GPS function. I got less than two hours. With the GPS turned off, battery life is more like that of a normal Palm — a couple of weeks.

It can take as long as five minutes for the iQue to “acquire” a fix on the GPS satellites it requires for accurate location- finding. This process can be frustrating, especially if you’re in a wooded area, or near tall buildings, where it’s difficult for the device to get a clear shot at the horizon. In my tree-laden neighborhood, acquiring the satellites took a long time and drained the battery even faster than usual.

Yet all in all, the Garmin iQue 3600 is a fine product that advances the state of the art in PDAs.

Source: Wall Street Journal