Asus MyPal A696

  • Editors' rating
    7.3 Very good
  • $499.00

Pros

  • Large display
  • Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and infrared
  • Plenty of memory

Cons

  • Windows Mobile 5 rather than 6
  • No integrated phone

Asus has been producing Pocket PCs with integrated GPS receivers for some years, and the MyPal A696 is its latest offering in this range. Asus also has a longstanding relationship with Destinator for navigation software, and the combination of a Pocket PC with GPS receiver plus navigation software for £199 (inc. VAT) looks appealing. But is the MyPal A696 a competitor in today's handheld market, where integrated GPS receivers are now commonplace?

Design
The MyPal A696 has a somewhat ‘last generation’ look about it, largely thanks to its size and bulk. Laid flat, the A696's footprint measures 70.8mm wide by 117mm deep, and it's 15.7mm thick. At 165g, it's also heavy by today’s standards. The weight is partly due to the fact that the front casing is mostly made of stainless steel. This should appeal to professionals seeking a robust device, but it does have its downside.

Previous GPS-equipped Asus handhelds featured flip-out antennas, but the SIRFstar III unit used in the MyPal A696 incorporarates its antenna in the main body of the device.

The MyPal A696 has a large screen measuring 3.5in. from corner to corner, making its 320 by 240 pixels easily viewable. However, the current trend is for smaller, slimmer and lighter handhelds, so the trade-off between screen size and device size needs careful consideration. Smaller handhelds with integrated GPS receivers are available.

The front of the A696 carries a navigation key and a suite of four buttons sitting beneath the display. These buttons start the Windows Mobile Voice Notes application, Contacts, Calendar and one of Asus’s bespoke applications, a switcher utility. This can be configured either to switch between open applications or to choose between the Windows Mobile Today screen, Media Player or screen rotation. Whichever of the two options you choose, simply repeatedly pressing the button cycles through the available options.

An SD card slot sits on the upper edge of the casing, while the lower edge houses the infrared port and the reset button. On the left edge is the mini-USB connector that provides mains power and PC connectivity. On the right edge is a hold button and a 3.5mm headset connector.

The Asus MyPal A696 comes with mains and vehicle power adapters, a mini-USB to USB PC connecting cable, a pocket style protective pouch and a swan-neck-style vehicle mount. Our review sample was not provided with the Destinator software, although this will be standard with the shipping product.

Features
The MyPal A696 is powered by an Intel PXA270 processor running at 400MHz. You can fiddle with the CPU settings in order to get it to run faster or slower if power-saving is an issue. As well as specific settings to optimise speed or power, there's an 'auto' setting that adjusts processor speed according to the current workload. The device has 256MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM. After a hard reset, our review sample reported 195MB of free storage memory.

You can expand storage capacity using SD cards, although the card slot will also be required by the Destinator navigation software, so expandable memory will be limited to the unused capacity on the card.

The device runs Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC rather than the newer Windows Mobile 6. As Windows Mobile 6 takes a stronger hold and appears in more devices, its predecessor will increasingly be seen as a second-rate operating system. Having said that, we expect Windows Mobile 5.0 to maintain a market presence for a while yet.

We have noted that the MyPal A696 lacks a built-in phone, which many will see as a drawback. It also lacks a camera, which may actually please business buyers who remain wary of cameras in mobile devices.

As well as infrared, the A696 has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for personal- and local-area wireless connectivity respectively. On the software side, Acer provides the switcher utility noted above, and also Asus Status, which is accessed via an icon on the Today screen. This provides system information such as battery life, available memory and backlight brightness, and lets you adjust settings.

Performance and battery life
We tested battery life by setting the MyPal A696 to play music continuously with the screen forced to stay on. The processor was in 'auto' mode, which causes its clock speed to be adjusted automatically according to the workload. Under these conditions, we got an above-average 8 hours 3 minutes of music and battery life.

Conclusion
The MyPal A696 is some distance from the cutting edge in terms of handheld design and functionality, given that it lacks a phone and runs Windows Mobile 5.0. Nonetheless, its price of £199, which includes Destinator navigation software, may well convince some buyers that it's worth considering.

 

Specifications

Display
Technology TFT active matrix
LCD Technology transflective
Diagonal Size 3.5 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 8.9 cm
Output Type color
Native Resolution 240 x 320
Miscellaneous
Included Handheld Accessories car holder, cigarette lighter adapter, protection bag, stylus
Processor
Processor Intel XScale
Clock Speed 416 MHz
Type XScale
Manufacturer Intel
Memory
RAM 64 MB - SDRAM
Audio
Type speaker(s)
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0 EDR
Networking
Wireless Connectivity Bluetooth 2.0 EDR, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IrDA
Input Device
Type 4-way navigation button, touchscreen
Multimedia
Audio Microphone, speaker
Battery
Technology lithium ion
Capacity 1200 mAh
Header
Brand ASUS
Product Line ASUS MyPal
Model A696
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility PC
Expansion and Connectivity
Expansion Slots 1 x SD Memory Card
Interfaces 1 x headphones
1 x USB
System
Platform Windows
Handheld Type handheld
ROM
Installed Size 256 MB
RAM
Technology SDRAM
Installed Size 64 MB
Card Reader
Supported Flash Memory Cards MultiMediaCard, SD Memory Card
Additional Compatibility SDIO
Audio Output
Type speaker
Audio Input
Type microphone
GPS System
Navigation GPS receiver
Expansion Slots
Type SD Memory Card
Total Qty 1
Interface Provided
Interface USB, headphones
Qty 1
OS Provided
Type Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0
Cable Details
Type USB cable
PDA Software
Type ActiveSync, Calendar, Tasks, Voice Recorder, Contacts, File Explorer, Microsoft Excel Mobile, Microsoft Internet Explorer Mobile, Microsoft Pocket Outlook, Microsoft PowerPoint Mobile, Microsoft Word Mobile, Notes
Power Device
Type power adapter
Nominal Voltage AC 120/230 V
Frequency Required 50/60 Hz
Dimensions & Weight
Width 2.8 in
Depth 0.6 in
Height 4.6 in
Weight 5.82 oz

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