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Palmax z720 – the second GPS Pocket PC (d-Media inView N-911)
After producing its own low-end handheld - Palmax z710, Taiwanese company – Compal decided to continue this business. Today we'll talk about the second PDA of this company in this year - Palmax z720. Long time before Compal produced only ODM-models of PDAs (as well as laptops), for example, for Toshiba. Probably, Compal's production activity under own brand somehow confirms rumors that Toshiba leaves the PDA market.
Palmax z720 has almost the same inside features as z710, the only difference is an integrated GPS receiver. It will be the second Pocket PC on the market with such features. The first Pocket PC with the integrated GPS receiver was MiTAC Mio168. The model became rather interesting according to its price/quality ration. We can also remember Garmin iQue 3600 powered by Palm OS, but it was not widely spread on the market because of overpricing.
The new handheld reminds the previous model from Compal (z710) by design, but it is wider than z710 and has an external antenna. The first question which all those who got acquainted with Palmax z720 always asked was the following: “Is it a communicator?”. In fact, the PDA with an external antenna reminds communicators of the first generation based on Pocket PC. In reality the antenna is necessary to receive satellite signals. The antenna’s location and shape are not typical for the PDA with integrated GPS-modules. In both models - Garmin iQue 3600 and MiTAC Mio168 the antenna is fixed to the backside of the device, it is possible to move it out if you use a satellite receiver.
The device is made of pleasant silver plastic and it makes an impression of metallic surface (traditionally the quality of assembling is very high for Compal). The device fits the hand both in album and portrait display orientation (new version of OS allows to turn the picture). The handheld is not small. It is rather thin but its length and width are not the smallest on the market (120x76x15 mm). The handheld is rather heavy (about 170g.) – it is felt in the pocket of the shirt.
Control elements are not standard, but deserve attention.
Four-directional navigational key is moved to the left. It was made to provide more comfortable work with the device. In this case the thumb of the left hand is successfully lies on it. Other soft keys are located along the wavy line near joystick. The largest key is responsible for switching the satellite receiver. Other keys are standard (calendar, contacts, task manager). Such keys and joystick location is a great advantage while playing games (especially emulators).
There are two LED above the screen: one of them is responsible for charging indication and informs about missed reminders, the other one shows whether GPS-receive is switched on or not. Do you remember that Mio168 doesn’t have GPSindicator at all? It was very difficult to understand whether it works or not. Palmax z720 doesn’t have this problem.
There is one more pleasant surprise on the left side of the device. You can find out there a special key o turn the display. Apart it one can find there a common scroll-key, power on/off key, soft-reset key and IrDA. It would have been much better if the developer put the scroll key a little bit higher. Now it is not very ergonomic, one should change the location of the device in the hand to make the scroll-key more comfortable for using. The right side of the handheld doesn’t have any control elements.
There is a hole for stylus, SD/MMC slot with SDIO support, standard handsfree connector on the top of the handheld. The sound is rather loud if you use a headset; it is comparable with other PDAs. Interface connector and charging connector (including car charger) is placed on the bottom of the handheld. If you examine the backside of the device you can see a GPS-antenna connector, one rubber leg and a battery compartment.
The display is similar to other Pocket PCs. It doesn’t have any peculiairutes among other displays with the resolution of 320x240 pixels. Transflective display (diagonal is 3.5) can show up to 65000 colors, the comfortable view angle is up to 45 degrees. The lowest level of the backlighting allows to work with the PDA in the dark, to read books, for example. The information on the screen is visible in the sunny day, it is faded but remains quite distinguished.
The handheld is equipped with a removable Li-Ion battery of 1050 mAh capacity. The device worked about 10 hours 30 minutes in the mp3-mode before the battery run down. The z720 worked about 6 hours (during 3 hours GPS mode was switched on, 3 more hours were used for books reading) in case of middle frequency of the processor and middle level of the backlighting. If the PDA is presumed to be used mainly in the car, the battery life almost doesn’t have any limits (car charging is used). If you go hiking and take the z720, it is better to use it not very active, only as a GPS-navigator, otherwise you have many chances to return back using usual map.
The PDA is equipped with Intel PXA 263 processor running at a whopping 300 MHz. This model has the same productivity as Palmax Z710. The processor easily starts up and shows good results. The PDA has large RAM (126 Mb of 128 Mb is available for the user), some geographic maps can be downloaded even without using extra memory cards.
To switch on the GPS-receiver just hold the key with a picture of satellite. At the same time any application that you set up beforehand can be loaded. The GPS-signal was not always available for the programs while field tests, but do not forget that we tested a prototype, not commercial sample. This problem will be solved in the final version of the device. When the signal was received, other further functions worked without errors.
During the test we used a navigational program - PalmGIS GPS, it was the only available GPS-program which supported the portrait mode in the new version of Windows Mobile. The device had no peculiarities, the accuracy was about 3.5 meters, dead time was accessible, the same as the other GPS-receivers had (GPS-mouse, GPS in Compact Flash format). The only thing that is worth to speak about is that the signal quality in the car became better when you carry the antenna as close to the window as possible (the PDA was in the holder).
There are three pre-installed programs in the PDA to control GPS. GPS Viewer shows location of the satellites, the date and time, longitude and latitude, speed and direction of moving.
GPS Engine has the same opportunities as GPS Viewer but they are widened. For example, you can see the location on the world map. GPS Utility can be used to set up GPS, all settings can be viewed on one screen.
The handheld is powered by Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Second Edition. The only difference of this version from the old one is an integrated possibility of album mode support. Other features are the same as Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC, more information about it is available in this review (available only in Russia yet). Among extra programs there is a special task manager - ezGO! and DataBackup - a program which allows to make backups. The last application is also rather scarce in features, it allows to make only the main operations.
You can also set up keypad locking and adjust processor's frequency. Such menu item as speed-up display still remains dimmed for me.
Palmax z720 will be announced in a month or two and almost at the same time it will be available in the shops. Retail price of the model will be about $370-400 USD, almost the same as the price of its main rival - MiTAC Mio168. If you compare these two devices (z720 and Mio168) you can make the following conclusions. Palmax z720 has better assembling quality, larger RAM capacity, new version of OS, which is better adjusted for navigation, comparable price and better control system of GPS-receiver (starting with switching on, finishing different pre-installed navigational software settings). But the model from Compal enters the market too late. Unlikely the similar model from Toshiba based on the “platform of z720” will enter the market.
The new z720 is a specialized solutions which will be rivaled with special kits (PDA + GPS), not just PDAs. The model has many alternative solutions – PDA with GPS in Compact Flash or SDIO format, PDA with GPS mouse, a possibility to switch GPS receiver using Bluetooth. The prices will be comparable (all variants except the latter one with bluetooth connection, it is rather expensive now). For example, it is very difficult to understand who is the winner if you take HP iPaq 2210 with CF GPS and Palmax z720.
Published - 14 July 2004
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