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Mio A701

  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Relatively small for a device with both an integrated mobile phone and a GPS receiver
  • some well thought-out user interface elements
  • available with and without navigation software

Cons

  • Lacks Wi-Fi and infrared
  • Postcode navigation is not seven-digit
  • battery life could be longer

Handhelds are convenient platforms for GPS navigation, and the current trend is for manufacturers to build the GPS receiver into the device, rather than rely on an external unit. This provides an even more convenient solution: there's no need to pair the handheld with a Bluetooth GPS receiver or fiddle with wired connections; you avoid separate charge cables and regimes; and you don't have to find in-vehicle locations for two devices. When such a device also accommodates a mobile phone, the result can be presented as the ultimate business traveller’s solution. This is the claim for the Windows Mobile 5.0-based Mio A701, which costs £449 (inc. VAT) with Mio Map navigation software and European maps, and £379 (inc. VAT) without the navigation software/map bundle.

Design

The Mio A701 is slightly taller than the average small-format connected Pocket PC thanks to its built-in GPS receiver, whose antenna is located above the screen. It's also thicker than many similar devices, such as the i-mate JAMin and Orange SPV M600. Although these differences are small (the A701 measures 11.7cm by 5.9cm by 2.2cm and weighs 150g), they do mean that the Mio A701 feels a little large both for the pocket and when held to the ear to make voice calls.

Styled in silver and shiny black, the Mio A701 looks distinctive, although it follows the general Pocket PC design, with buttons below the screen and dotted around the sides. The buttons beneath the screen are separated by a small, round navigation key; Call and End buttons form the top button pair, while beneath them there's a button that starts the Windows Media Player, and another that starts your navigation software.

The flash memory slot, which accommodates SD and MultiMedia Cards, is located on the right-hand side, as its more usual spot on the top edge is occupied by the GPS antenna. The slot is covered by a rubber protector, which looks susceptible to breaking off. The right-hand side also houses the reset button, a 2.5mm headset connector and a button for starting the built-in 1.3 megapixel camera.

The left edge houses a volume rocker, while the bottom edge is home to the mini USB mains power and docking connector. On the back is the lens for the built-in camera, a self portrait mirror and a speaker. To access the mobile phone's SIM slot, you need to open the case and remove the battery.

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In the box you get a mains power adapter and a USB cable for PC connectivity, a stereo headset, a belt-clip-style carrying case and printed quick-start documentation. The only detailed manual is on one of the three bundled CDs.

If you have chosen the version of the Mio A701 with navigation software, the second CD contains a backup copy of the software and map data (which comes on a 512MB SD card); the third CD has Microsoft's ActiveSync software. Mio also includes a cigarette lighter power cable, and a swan-neck-style windshield mount. This comes in two sections, which are easy to fit together. Flexibility is provided by a ball joint: the swan-neck itself is very stiff.

Features

Intel’s 520MHz PXA 270 provides the processing power for the Mio A701. A utility is provided that lets you change the processor speed depending on your battery life requirements. We left this on the ‘auto’ setting during testing, but there are three other settings that trade off performance against battery consumption. The integrated mobile phone is a tri-band GSM/GPRS unit.

Despite the headline figures of 128MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM, internal storage memory is at something of a premium on this device. After a hard reset, we had just over 34MB of storage memory free; after installing the provided Mio Map software this was reduced to a shade under 25MB. You will probably need to expand this with memory cards if you want to install more applications or store a significant amount of data. If you choose a version of the A701 with navigation software, the maps are provided on an SD card, which should have some free storage capacity.

The 2.7in. 320-by-240-pixel screen is sharp and bright, and Mio’s own-brand Today screen, which uses white text on a black background, lends things a distinctive look. This screen has large icons, four of which you can set as application shortcuts by choosing from a list; the fifth icon takes you to the Mio Menu, a graphical application chooser. If you use the Today screen to view upcoming appointments or tasks, you'll almost certainly need to use the vertical scrollbar that appears when information extends off the screen.

A further row of five very small icons to the bottom right of Mio's Today screen allow you to flip between landscape and portrait formats, see the battery charge level, control the built-in Bluetooth 1.2 module, jump to the memory settings area (to close running applications) and download the Ephemeris data that allows the SiRFStar III GPS chipset to fix your position faster. This needs to be downloaded over the air at regular intervals, but is not required for the receiver to function.

Most of the software Mio adds to the standard Windows Mobile 5.0 bundle utilises the A701's GPS capabilities. For example Location Call can be set up to send an emergency text message to pre-defined recipients that includes your latitude and longitude coordinates. It does not require any navigation software to be installed, and is invoked simply by holding down the volume-down button for six seconds.

The camera software is well implemented. You start the camera running by holding down the button on the bottom right edge. One of the softmenu keys allows you to choose the image resolution (120x120, 240x320, 480x640, 768x1024, 1024x1280), set up to 8x zoom, switch between burst, timer and normal modes, and change the brightness of the captured image. The White Balance settings are automatic. Other changes such as image quality and a setting to run a slide show when the A701 is connected to a PC, require a little more effort to configure.

The Mio Map software is a version of Navigon, which in the past we have not found particularly intuitive or easy to use. Things have not improved. When trips were underway we had little trouble, but entering destinations is unnecessarily troublesome. In particular, when entering an address as a destination point, you have to start with either a town or a postcode, or data from a contact saved to the Windows Mobile contacts database.

Postcode finding runs to just four digits rather than the full seven, so you can’t simply enter the postcode and then a building number -- you have to enter a street name too, which rather defeats the purpose of using postcodes in the first place. Working with stored contacts proved patchy, too: if the information is not saved precisely as Mio Map likes it, the software won’t find the address.

All this is a pity, because once destinations are entered and navigation begins, Mio Map performs well. There's plenty of on-screen information, and we like the way you can tap a small icon at the top right of the screen to turn on and off a bank of additional icons that provide access to features such as switching between 2D and 3D modes and getting a bird’s eye view of your entire trip. Spoken instructions are clear and precise, and often indicate the road number you need to take, which is helpful.

The software includes a ‘linear distance mode’, which calculates a route in a straight line and does not provide driving instructions. Instead, a compass is overlaid onto the map to indicate if you are travelling in the right direction. This may function as a pedestrian or cyclist’s mode in some situations, although it will depend on the nature of the terrain.

Performance

The Mio Map software is a mixed bag. It can be difficult to set up destination points, but during trips the software performed well. Integration with the Windows Mobile 5.0 contacts database is a real plus in theory, but in practice the accuracy of destination-finding is patchy.

The integrated phone worked well, and it was easy to use the A701 in handsfree mode while it was directing us on a trip.

Mio estimates four hours of talk time for the A701. Our battery test, as usual, involved forcing the screen to stay on and playing MP3 music as loud as possible for as long as possible. In this case we got six-and-a-half hours of battery life and music, which is far from outstanding but certainly acceptable.

Overall the Mio A701 is a decent GSM/GPRS/GPS handheld with some nice features, although it does lack Wi-Fi. We aren’t the biggest fans of Mio Map, but you can buy the A701 without the navigation software and install something else if you like.

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