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Asus A620Bt: long battery life and fast performance
In 2002 Asus was among the first to introduce a Pocket PC powered by new processor Intel XScale PXA250. The model featured a longer life in the off-line mode (one of the longest due to an optimized power consumption system), tiny dimensions (it was the smallest handheld before the appearance of MiTAC Mio339), aluminum shell and high performance. The device became very popular then. Everybody looked forward to new models in the line. In summer 2003 there had been released the long awaited update – Asus A620. The A620 experienced improvements with the transflective screen and Bluetooth support, but some features got worth scaring away first model users.
The shell is made of plastic and there is no aluminum as in the MyPal A600. But we won’t think of it as a drawback, all recent models come with non-metal shell. As a matter of fact it’s the norm for modern handhelds. Only Sony applies metal insertions in its Hi-End models. Having assessed the plastic quality we found it appropriate. However the shell doesn’t look that expensive as in the latest HP iPaq models (you will not mix it with metal either by touch or by sight). The casing doesn’t creak and there are no backlashes to be seen. Nowadays the given model is the thinnest among handhelds with integrated Compact Flash slot (13.3 mm) due to the absence of SD/MMC slot. But it’s taller and wider against its direct rival – HP iPaq 2210. See the photo to compare dimensions of the A620 with other models. It looks that way side by side with the iPaq 1940 (the smallest Pocket PC today). The dimensions of the A620 are average, you can’t call the handheld big or small.
I found the design too angular, the model lost hardly perceptible smooth lines of the MyPal A600. Many will like it, but not everybody. The angular form affects the comfort use – the handheld doesn’t perfectly fit the hand. Besides the sides lack control elements. The handheld with the CF slot weighs light – just 141 grams. During the tests the device lay in jacket’s pocket and proved almost weightless.
Being a most efficient device the handheld draws attention to its application buttons (these important for those planning to play capacious games and console emulators). Application buttons are good to use, have enough size, respond accurately and proved good in playing dynamic games. They feel more comfortable (due to the size) compared to that in the iPaq 2210. However there are less keys on the front side than in Dell Axim X3i (another PDA featuring high performance), so it will be less convenient to play SNES and Genesis emulators that need more keys (for example, SNES joystick is equipped with 8 buttons).
The device is equipped with a soft navigation pad, a controversial solution. There are just few examples where the soft joystick fits the place: Toshiba e550 and FS Pocket LOOX 600 (you rock the joystick slightly instead of pushing it). The soft joystick fails in most models (the iPaq 5450, MiTAC Mio558). As a rule, hard keys are better implemented (Dell Axim X3, HP iPaq 4150, iPaq 3970, Palm Tungsten T3). The tested model has a kind of an “average” joystick, not “soft” or “hard”. On the one hand, you press the joystick in the direction needed (not deflect it), on the other hand there is no clear response. Surprisingly the joystick proved good in games (less convenient than in the Axim X3, but better than in the iPaq 2210). The integrated speaker is located in the lower right corner, it sounds relatively loud.
On the left side you won’t see a scroll wheel or dictaphone button (compared to the iPaq 2210, its main rival). Note, the MyPal A600 enjoyed the wheel, badly implemented though. Well, use the joystick (not that convenient) to read books or turn the screen at 90° (we did so during tests). On the top there are the CF slot (you can remove its back cover to plug some perpetual equipment), the common 3.5 mm headphone jack and the silo. The stylus is made of plastic and has an average weight. We didn’t come across any difficulties while using it.
At the bottom there is the plug, which connects the handheld to the cradle or the synchronization cable.
The cradle is included in the standard kit. However it looks cheaper now with black plastic and poor design (the title Asus no longer glitters). In all, it docks the handheld firm. As for the case, it has no belt clip and looks very cheap.
The A620 contains a 3.5-inch, transflective TFT display supporting 65K colors. The screen is clear, sharp, and does a good job reproducing colors like that in the iPaq 2210. The brightness level allows you to read with the minimum backlight in the dark.
Compact Flash. The producer didn’t include the SD/MMC slot for the sake of compactness. It’s the only PDA from the recent models that goes without the SD slot. However you can use SD card with the special adapter (you can buy it for some $30). It’s impossible to use two different type cards simultaneously. On the one hand, Compact Flash cards are traditionally less expensive than their SD counterparts, and their maximum memory size is larger. On the other hand, you won’t succeed in using simultaneously a CF GPS extension card and a memory card (to locate large maps that are too heavy for RAM). In all, a single CF is better than a single SD/MMC (though it affects the dimensions) and worse than two slots (you can copy files from one card to another and simultaneously use the card with some perpetual devices).
Bluetooth. As for this wireless standard, we will cut the story short, as the handheld has the standard set of WIDCOMM drivers (common for almost every iPaq model). That is Bluetooth here contains maximum functionality (the transfer of files and contacts, the network profile, Internet connection from the handset, PC synchronization). We had no problems using the A620BT with the Laptop PC and Bluetooth mobile phone. We should mention Bluetooth voice profile that is not set default in some iPaq models (activate it in the register). We tested the handheld with the Sony Ericsson HBH-65 garniture, however we didn’t reveal any positive application of such a bundle. Poor sound won’t do to reproduce music. Well, before the appearance of Bluetooth 2 standard including “music profile” the bundle PDA – Bluetooth hands-free remains just for fun.
The A620BT contains a non-replaceable Li-Ion battery (1300 mAh). At the moment due to the efficient power consumption system the handheld features the longest battery life. Asus claims 19 hours of off-line work. Our tests revealed 15 hours 40 minutes in the mp3 mode on a single charge (files read from the memory card, the screen off, processor in the Power Saving mode)! 17 hours sharp it took to read books with the minimum backlight and without the memory card involved. At the maximum load the A620 lasted 3 hours 40 minutes (full screen brightness, 400 MHz frequency rate, video mode, Bluetooth on). At low screen brightness and Bluetooth off the handheld was good for 4-5 hours playing games (a record figure!). I can’t recall a handheld with the color screen showing higher performance (I mean standard batteries).
The A620BT contains standard 64MB of SDRAM, but only 55 MB of it are usable for programs and data. The integrated nonvolatile memory amounts to 35 MB and is used to back up files and run small applications. The handheld is powered by the Intel XScale PXA255 400 MHz processor. During tests it proved one of the fastest just slightly yielding to FS Pocket LOOX 610 (or Asus A 716), sometimes even outpacing it.
We used the SPB Benchmark package to test the productivity. For this purpose we’ve chosen highly productive models and set the Asus A620 processor in the Advance Performance Enhancement mode.
The myPal A620 is listed second after the LOOX. The difference between them keeps within the statistical error.
The file system index describes Pocket PC file system speed (read/record/move). The A620 slightly breaks away.
The platform index describes total Pocket PC platform speed including the built-in applications (Asus still leading). The results correspond to that of the previous test, as the platform speed depends on the file system speed.
The synchronization speed is the lowest in the range, though the A620 lags from the leader by 26%.
Well, Asus A620 turned to be the leader, though the gap is insignificant, not to mention invisible speed difference. You’ll demand such productivity when playing emulators (PSX or GBA) or capacious 3D games.
As usual we tested graphics with PocketQuake game in the mute mode (turn the sound off by nosound 1 console command leaving other settings on).
I’d say the A620 almost equals the leader. In the Demo 1 it performed a little worse than the Pocket LOOX, in the Demo 2 MyPal outpaces the leader.
Let’s pass over to video tests. We launched several test clips at different intensity (kbps – kilobit per second, DivX 5.03 codec used). Sound got encoded in the mp3 format with 128kbps bitrate. We applied the criteria of dropped frames while playing, the less the better and tested a fragment from the motion picture Cats and Dogs (the fight scene). See the results:
The PDA Asus MyPal A620 looked not that brilliant here, especially after the surprising result after SPB Benchmark test and Pocket Quake.
The handheld runs Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Premium Edition. Read about standard applications for this operating system in the respective review on our site. Extra programs include:
Asus Backup. This is easy program to back up data. It features poor settings compared with similar programs, but it doesn't fail to perform its main functions.
Asus Launcher. This is an alternative program to the task manager, with poor settings it proved almost useless. Only fresh PDA users might use it at the first time.
Asus Settings. Here you can tune extra settings (frequency rate, backlight, microphone sensitivity, button assignment). This is a very useful program as it automatically and intelligently backs up existing system status and data in order to prevent loss when the power level is low.
Today in Russia the handheld costs some $380-400, that’s the same price range as for the iPaq 2210, its main rival. I hesitate to advice on the certain model. The HP model looks more attractive, has smaller size and two slots for extension. The handheld by Asus wins performance tests and enjoys better time of the off-line work. The Pocket LOOX 610 without Wi-Fi can’t compete with the iPaq 2210 or Asus A620bt because of its high price ($460-480) and large dimensions. The junior modification the MyPal A620 (without Bluetooth) listed for $320-340 has no rivals. Perhaps it is the best low-end solution among other Pocket PC.
Published (Russian) – 15 March 2004
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