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Supercharged PDA with GPS really flies

Maps can be viewed in portrait or landscape modes on the M5's color screen.
Maps can be viewed in portrait or landscape modes on the M5's color screen.Garmin Ltd.

How do you make a super PDA even better?  The experts at Garmin have been making PDAs (3200 and 3600) with GPS location services for awhile now. I usually take one along when I go on long trips. But now, Garmin have come up with an improved, supercharged PDA with some big differences.

Previous Garmin PDAs ran on the Palm operating system. The new iQue M5 runs on Microsoft’s Pocket PC - Windows Mobile™ 2003 Second Edition. When you add a speedy 416-MHz Intel® PXA 272 microprocessor, a dedicated 48MHz ARM7 GPS coprocessor, 64 MB of RAM, 64 MB of ROM and 15MB of data back-up protection plus an embedded Bluetooth module what you get is one super PDA.

The best part is that the M5 has all the features Pocket PC owners love in addition to Garmin’s excellent GPS radio. So, in addition to the iQue electronic mapping system, which is available at the flick of a switch, you can also easily synch your names, addresses, appointments, tasks and e-mail between the M5 and a PC using the M5's USB cradle.

One thing that has stayed the same is the size: like its predecessor, the M5 is 2.8 by 5 by 0.8 inches. That’s a good thing. It still fits easily in your pocket or purse and at 5.8 ounces, won't weight it down much, either. There’s a removable 1250mAh lithium polymer rechargeable battery that’s good for anywhere between five and 12 hours depending on how you set the screen's backlight and how much you use the location finding system.

The M5 comes with a clever flip-down screen cover, a metal stylus and an automotive windshield mount with integrated charger and speaker.  In real life, the mount is a bit of a beast, but once you get everything plugged in, it’s easy to use. The mount’s speaker lets you hear driving instructions more clearly than the PDA's small built-in speaker.

The iQue M5 shows major highways, thoroughfares, railways, lakes, rivers and borders within its built-in base map of North and South America and Puerto Rico. The MapSource City Select CD-ROM comes standard so you can download detailed street-level map data, look up more than five million points of interest or just navigate to an address in the United States or Canada. World travelers can also add a European or Pacific Rim base map from the installation CD.

Using the M5’s GPS system is easy. Once outdoors (it doesn’t work inside a building) the antenna on the iQue M5 folds flush with the back of the unit. When you press the antenna release switch it simultaneously powers up the iQue M5, acquires satellites and defaults to the QueMap™ interface. Once the antenna switch is triggered, the M5 prepares to navigate.

I found the M5 to take the same amount of time to find my initial location, but after that it was faster than previous iQue models in almost every way. Following direction changes, re-drawing screen maps while on the move and even voice commands put a lot less stress on the PDA than ever.

The only caveat is that if you want to store base maps on your iQue, you need more than the memory built inside the M5. I found that a 256MB SD card was my minimum for storing locations and maps. A 512MB storage card would be even better.

With the M5 you also get to pay for your thrills -– suggested retail price is $749.99.  It's a lot, but still probably cheaper than buying Pocket PC and Garmin GPS devices separately.

The M5 is compact, speedy and well designed. It's highly recommended.