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Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N520

  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Compact, with built-in GPS receiver
  • 54Mbps 802.11g Wi-Fi
  • all-in-one software and hardware bundle
  • long battery life

Cons

  • Lacks Bluetooth
  • some navigation glitches during testing

Fujitsu Siemens' range of Pocket LOOX Windows Mobile handhelds has recently been augmented by the N series, which includes a built-in GPS receiver and version 5 of the Navigon Mobile Navigator route-planning software. There are two configurations: The N500 and the N520. The N500 has less memory (64MB as opposed to 128MB) and lacks Wi-Fi, while both models lack Bluetooth. We tested the fully featured Pocket LOOX N520.

Design

The Pocket LOOX N520 resembles its predecessor in the LOOX range, the 720, although overall the N520 is a shade smaller and lighter at 11.6cm by 7.1cm by 1.4cm and 160g. The slate grey and silver colouring of the earlier model remains intact, as does the quartet of application shortcut buttons -- a pair on either side of the navigation button.

The navigation button sits proud of its neighbours and feels comfortable to use. The shortcut buttons to its left take you to the calendar and contacts applications; the right-hand buttons go to the Windows Mobile today screen and launch the Navigon software. As usual, you can configure these buttons to launch other applications if you prefer, with separate settings available for long and short presses. When the Pocket LOOX N520 is powered up, the icons on these buttons are pleasingly underlit in blue.

The right edge of the N520 is devoid of any connectors or buttons, while the left edge houses the infrared port, microphone and one button. A short press on this button starts the built-in voice notes software, while a longer press fires up FSC SpeedMenu, a software add-on provided by Fujutsu Siemens (of which more later).

The top of the N520 houses an SD card slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack and the bay for the stylus, which is long but not particularly well weighted. At bottom is the reset hole and connector for docking and mains power. The 1,200mAh Li-ion battery is removable.

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Fujitsu Siemens has hidden the N520's SiRFStar III GPS receiver inside the device. The makes for an smoothly styled piece of kit which, lacking the giveaway of a fold-out antenna, looks just like an ordinary Pocket PC.

Along with the Pocket LOOX N520 itself, Fujitsu Siemens provides mains power and USB docking cables plus a slipcase; for in-vehicle navigation use, you get a cigarette lighter power cable and a sucker-style windshield mount. The latter is less sophisticated in design than some we have seen, but it does a reasonable job. You also get the Navigon Mobile Navigator software.

Features

The Pocket LOOX N520 is powered by Intel’s PXA 270 processor running at 312MHz (as is its N500 sibling). You can set the processor to run in ‘turbo’, ‘standard’, ‘power saving’ or ‘automatic’ modes. Remember, though, that the faster you allow the processor to run, the shorter the battery life.

Our review model had 64MB of RAM and 128MB of flash ROM. After installing the Navigon software and doing a soft reset we were left with 68.5MB of storage capacity. The 256MB SD card on which the Navigon software is supplied provided a further 113MB of free space.

The 240-by-320 pixel screen is as large as the device will allow at 3.5in. across the diagonal, and the picture is clear and bright. But Windows Mobile 5.0 supports screen resolutions up to 480 by 640, and a higher resolution would add greater clarity -- particularly important in a GPS navigation system.

Fujitsu Siemens provides an array of utilities to augment the standard Windows Mobile 5.0 bundle. These include a keylock that's easily invoked with a tap on the Today screen to prevent accidental key or screen presses -- you double-tap the screen to disable it. The FSC SpeedMenu tool mentioned earlier provides easy access to system tools, switching the screen between portrait and landscape orientation, and is called up by a press of the button on the left-hand side. There is also a replacement for the Windows Mobile voice recorder.

Wi-Fi is provided in the shape of 54Mbps 802.11g, which is a rarity on handhelds, and a feature we're not convinced is required. Certainly, we never have any trouble completing wireless tasks using an 11Mpbs 802.11b connection. Bluetooth is not built in, which is a pity.

The Navigon Mobile Navigator software comes with maps for the UK and Ireland. We found its system for entering addresses rather painful. You first need to enter either a town or a postcode (you can’t start with a street name); postcode navigation only works to four digits, and can you only enter a street name and house number with a town or postcode in place.

During trips we found the on-screen information plentiful and spoken instructions clear. The constant use of the word 'please' was mildly irritating, but we were impressed with the quality of the instructions, which were handled especially well whenever we had to negotiate two junctions in quick succession. Not only were both 'next turn' graphics delivered at the same time, but the spoken instructions were delivered together too, making it easier to negotiate the manoeuvre.

There is a lot of detailed information available on-screen during a trip. You can see, for example, the current time, your speed, distance to next turn, height above sea level, direction and speed of travel and a mini-diagram of what to expect at the next junction.

Performance

In our tests, the Navigon Mobile Navigator software delivered a mixed experience. Once up and running, it worked fine, getting us from A to B perfectly well. But the user interface could be improved, and there are a couple of important performance issues.

Every the Pocket LOOX N520 was switched on from cold, it took an age for the GPS receiver and the Navigon software to provide a fix on our location. Once we had a fix, the N520 could be moved around -- including right into the main body of the car -- with no noticeable signal degredation.

Hopefully this glitch will be swiftly rectified, along with another issue: the arrow showing our position would sometimes, and for no reason, mark us as parallel to the road we were on for a while, and then sort itself out and mark the position correctly.

Fujitsu Siemens does not give a battery life estimate on its specifications for the Pocket LOOX N520. It is powered when used in a vehicle, so we tested it using our usual method of looping MP3 playback with the screen forced to stay on. We set the processor to work in ‘automatic’ mode for this test. Under these conditions, the N520 delivered 7 hours and 45 minutes of both battery life and music, which is very respectable.

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