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A PDA that knows where it is

It’s a Palm PDA! It’s a Garmin GPS handheld! It’s two devices in one! Yes, the iQue 3600 is finally here. Review by Gary Krakow, MSNBC.
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It’s a Palm PDA! It’s a Garmin GPS handheld! It’s two devices in one! Garmin has finally released the iQue 3600, a PDA with integrated Global Positioning System features, and if first impressions are meaningful, this looks like a real winner.

InsertArt(1971451)LET’S START WITH the PDA part. The iQue runs on a 200 MHz ARM processor with Palm OS 5.2 inside. It comes with 32 MB of memory for PDA storage, with a a SD/MMC memory card slot for expanded storage. (More about that in a minute). It has a large (for a Palm) 320 by 480 pixels, 16-bit color screen. The built-in battery is a rechargeable, lithium-ion type and is not user replaceable. There’s also a hinged, flip-down leather screen cover which folds back, out of the way in use.

At 2.8 by 5 by 0.8 inches, the iQue is about the size of other Palm PDAs you’re familiar with. And like any other Palm, it will synch up with your PC and hold your address book, appointments and to-do lists. The iQue also has a built-in MP3 player (speaker and headphone jack included), voice recorder (clever controls on the left side), infrared port and a vibrating alarm.

But the big deal here is the GPS system, which is what Garmin is known for.

This one is a pip! You can use the iQue to query the government’s satellites and tell you exactly where you are, what direction you’re going and how fast you’re doing that. You can also add maps into the memory to show you exactly what the GPS numbers are telling you.

You can install a U.S. base map directly into the PDA’s built-in memory, with major roads, interstates, rivers, lakes, cities and airports displayed.

The iQue also comes with MapSource, a two CD package that includes detailed maps of the United States and parts of North America. (If you buy your iQue in Europe you get European maps instead.) You can choose which very detailed areas you want to carry around with you on you PDA. After choosing all the maps for locations where I’ll be traveling to in the next few weeks, there was too much information to fit inside the iQue’s internal memory. I used a SanDisk 256MB SD card for the maps instead.

Using GPS with the iQue is simple. Just flip up the antenna on the back, click on the screen after reading the warning about trying to input data while driving (never a good idea) and the iQue does its thing. The Graffiti screen disappears and full-screen maps take its place. One to two minutes later, iQue locks in on at least 3 satellites to show you where you are. And that it does.

The first time I tried it a map of lower Manhattan popped right up and once I changed the detail to zoom-in on the situation, a little white triangle showed me exactly where I was standing, what direction I was facing and once I started moving, how fast I was going.

You can also tell iQue where you are and where you’re going and it will map out a route for you, provide you with turn-by-turn directions and then literally tell you where to go and when to turn. A built-in voice provides you with navigation instructions and warnings.

This is all what any good GPS device will do. What makes this device so nice, however, is its integration of PDA and GPS functions.

IQue makes location information available from within your address book or calendar. That means you can not only look up when and where you have to be someplace, but press a button and iQue will figure out exactly where you are and then tell you exactly how to get to your destination. Very cool.

As you might imagine, set up takes some time, what with the three CDs and many steps. I needed a full hour to go through the steps of install/synch/choose maps/install. Apple lovers take heed: iQue comes with PC software only, nothing for Macs.

During my very limited test period, I found the maps themselves to be very detailed, but in my testing neighborhood (Ground Zero in lower Manhattan) the details are somewhat outdated. Most of the restaurants listed on my street or around the corner have moved or gone out of business since 9/11. I know maps like these can never be up-to-date at all times, but I’m hoping that other areas are more frequently checked. At least the maps do not show Trade Center buildings, only a large blank area where they used to stand.

Battery life seems very precious on the iQue. Garmin claims “approximately two weeks standby time or approximately 10 days if used an average of 30 minutes per day with backlight off. Battery life will vary depending upon temperature and individual use patterns.”

In real life, expect two to three hours max if you’re using the GPS features. If you plan to use your iQue in a car, you should consider the optional automobile navigation kit (portable friction mount, 12-volt charger and speaker) for $79.99 and possibly the low-profile, remote automobile antenna for $99.99.

Despite my few misgivings, the iQue is a marvelous combination of PDA and GPS functions in one very small package. On its Web site, Garmin is selling the iQue for $589, a fair price for a modern-day color Palm PDA and a portable Garmin GPS all rolled up in one. If you do a lot of traveling, the iQue could be just what you’re looking for.