- Small in size
- integrated GPS
- navigation software and mapping data run from SD card
- Low speaker volume
- No Bluetooth or Wi-Fi
- limited expansion capability
- battery is not removable
Mitac’s Mio 168 is a first for the Pocket PC platform, because it has an integrated GPS receiver. It's not the first handheld of any flavour to take this approach -- that accolade goes to Garmin’s iQue 3600, which runs Palm OS and specialist navigation software from Garmin itself. Mitac’s Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC-based Mio 168 uses ALK’s CoPilot Live navigation software, which is also available as a standalone product for notebooks and Pocket PC handhelds. The Mio 168 is sold by Evesham, among others.
Two things stand out with this handheld. Its overall size and weight are low, the Mio 168 weighing a respectable 147g and measuring 6.9cm wide by 11.2cm deep, and at its maximum 2.4cm high. That rather large depth measurement is due to the Mio 168's second standout feature -- the GPS receiver. This sits on the back of the casing, and swivels upwards on a hinge when required for use. There is little to remark upon as far as the rest of the hardware is concerned. The four application shortcut buttons are located on a pair of rocker-style pads sitting either side of the tiny joypad which is used for directional movement. The whole arrangement is a little close to the bottom of the casing and therefore difficult to use one-handed. There is no scroll wheel. The speaker and microphone are on the far right and left of the casing respectively; and above the 3.5in. TFT screen sit a pair of lights, one to indicate battery charge status and the other for notifications. The left edge is occupied by a power button, headphone connector (2.5mm), record button and clearly labelled reset slot. The top is home to the infrared port, SD card slot and stylus housing. The stylus is the same extensible unit that's used in the Mio 558: it extends to a good length, and is nicely weighted.
The processor is Intel’s PXA255 running at 300MHz, and there is 64MB of RAM, of which 62.82MB is available and can be divided between applications and data. You don’t get any flash memory with this processor, so storage of important information or backups must to go to an SD card or to your PC. None of the software or mapping data required by CoPilot Live needs to occupy any of the RAM, as it's all supplied on, and runs from, an SD card. There is no wireless connectivity beyond infrared, and the aforementioned SD card slot is the only available expansion slot. The GPS receiver has a fitting for connecting a wired antenna, which could prove useful if the in-vehicle location of the Mio 168 does not provide good GPS reception. The device is not supplied with a wired antenna, although it does come with car fixing gear, car and mains power adapters, plus headphones. There is no docking cradle, just a USB cable. Mitac provides a small but potentially useful software bundle. The Mio Utility has tools for slowing the processor to squeeze more life from the battery, includes an ‘auto’ setting, and allows you to run the GPS in ‘trickle mode’, again for battery conservation. This will be most useful when you're using the CoPilot Live software away from a vehicle and its cigarette lighter adapter. You also get Mitac’s eBackup utility, which is adequate for user directed backups but which does not make automatic scheduled or power-low backups; eMenu is an icon driven alternative to the Today screen and which allows you to group applications; E-Viewer can be used to annotate as well as view images; and Mp3Player which enhances Microsoft’s own Media Player by providing a graphic equaliser. Output to the supplied stereo headphones is reasonably good, although the same can’t be said for the built-in mono speaker.
The Mio 168 is average rather than outstanding performer. Battery life, which Mitac quotes at around 12 hours without the GPS enabled, turned out to be 4 hours of continuous MP3 music and a total of 4 hours 25 minutes of life -- rather short of what we might have expected, but in the respectable range. The CoPilot Live navigation software has few frills, and a mixture of strong and weak features. We like the clear on-screen text-based instructions, the ability to pre-plan trips, the ease with which you can set up places like home, work and favourite locations, and the ability to serve walkers as well as vehicle users. The software knows street names as well as road numbers, and uses both for guidance. If only more streets actually had their names and/or numbers at every junction, this would be a great feature for city travelling in particular. On the weaker side are some things that are out of ALK’s hands such as the Mio 168's relatively low speaker volume. We found it particularly difficult to hear spoken directions when driving along motorways, for example. We were disappointed that the software didn't seem to know about the existence of the M6 toll road. Out of date information is a problem readily laid at the feet of the mapping data provider, but one that ALK -- like all navigation software developers -- needs to address in order to deliver perfect routing. There are also one or two things that ALK is directly responsible for. Most notably, the pronunciation of spoken instructions could be improved; also, there isn't the space to get particularly long-winded text instructions on-screen at once – there are only four lines available. This is a pity, as it's precisely the more complex navigation episodes that can benefit most from detailed written instructions. Overall, though, a clear on-screen display and good ease of use make CoPilot Live a solid navigation system, and an integrated GPS receiver is far more convenient than either a wired or Bluetooth alternative. The fewer trailing wires in a vehicle the better, and for walkers and cyclists the same obviously applies. For anyone considering buying both a handheld and a navigation system, the Mio 168 is a usable and reasonably affordable choice. However the it's not the swankiest Pocket PC on the market, and the lack of both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (802.11b) may rankle after a while.