Asus MyPal A620BT

  • Editors' rating
    7.8 Very good

Pros

  • SmartKeeper backup to Flash ROM
  • integrated Bluetooth
  • very good battery life

Cons

  • Voice recorder button position is a nuisance

Asus has refreshed its MyPal A620 Pocket PC handheld, adding ‘BT’ to its name, building in Bluetooth and providing portion of flash memory to the feature set. If our test results are any indication, the battery has been given a bit of a boost too. The hardware remains unchanged, though, which means that the MyPal A620BT retains the one irritating feature of its predecessor.

Design
Sit the new MyPal A620BT and the old model side by side and you won’t be able to tell the difference, as the hardware is the same. The device is slim and light, its 141g weight being towards the low end of what we’d expect for a Pocket PC. The bottom of the fascia is peppered with two splashes of holes: on the right side these hide the speaker, while the left-hand holes are purely stylistic – presumably to add a symmetrical look. There’s no scroll wheel, but the navigation button feels positive. A CompactFlash card slot is located at the top, and its back cover is removable so you can add hardware that's thicker than the card itself. The power switch is also on the top edge, along with a button that activates the voice recorder. The letter was our main gripe last time around, as we tended to accidentally press it when lifting the hardware in and out of its cradle. Not surprisingly, we had the same experience this time around.

Features
Although the key hardware issue has not been fixed, Asus has beefed up the innards of the MyPal A620BT. The processor remains Intel’s PXA 255 running at 400MHz, but the original 32MB of ROM has been doubled, and the extra 32MB made available to the user as storage space for software, data or backups. Add this to the 55MB of available RAM, and you have a total of 87MB to play with before resorting to CompactFlash memory. The inclusion of Bluetooth we have already noted, and we paired the MyPal A620BT with a SonyEricsson T68 mobile without problems. Asus’s software bundle is limited but useful. There are two backup tools, SmartKeeper and Asus Backup, plus Asus Launcher and Asus Settings. Asus Launcher is a simple graphical application launcher: it's nothing special, but you can set up application categories and it's useful to have it accessible from a shortcut button. Asus Backup allows you to backup and restore of either all data on the device or just PIM information, to either a CF card or the Flash Disk (that is, the 32MB of Flash ROM). SmartKeeper is not treated as an application in its own right, but rather as a system feature. It makes a copy of the system status either to CF or Flash Disk, and can be set to activate automatically if system power becomes low. It would have been nice for these two utilities to be integrated into a single backup application, just to make life a little easier for the user. Asus Settings, which is also a system level feature rather than something residing in the Programs folder, allows you to make various configuration changes such as changing the processor speed to help conserve battery power, set display and audio settings (including fiddling with treble and bass output) and adjust microphone gain control.

Performance
Asus quotes a battery life of up to 19 hours if you set the processor to run in Power Saving mode via Asus Settings. This is the same as was claimed for the MyPal A620, which we found played MP3s for 4 hours and 25 minutes with the processor set to its full speed. The system specifications do not suggest that Asus has changed the cell, but this time around, using the same setting, the test delivered three hours and 23 minutes of music, and a total of 6 hours and 56 minutes of life. Six hours is currently something of a holy grail, so this result is very impressive. The MyPal A620BT is a clever update of an existing machine. Putting more features into the same hardware is a relatively cost-effective option for Asus, were it not for that key ergonomic problem with the original A620, we would be singing the company's praises for delivering a sensible and timely set of upgrades. Even as it is, if you can take care not to depress that voice recorder button accidentally, you may find the MyPal A620BT well worth considering -- especially if long battery life is a major requirement.

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