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Review of the PDA - Asus MyPal A730. Part 2.

Live pictures

The first part of the review

Camera

Its a matter of discussion whether a camera should come with a PDA. According to the polls from specialized forums and sites the most users don't need a camera with a poor picture quality. However PDA makers believe the opposite and will built cameras to almost all new handhelds except for the low-end segment. Palm Zire 72 became the first Palm OS driven handheld that carries 1-megapixel camera, as for the similar Pocket PC now we have Asus A730.

The camera lens is located at the back panel and has no shutter, but being topped enough it is almost protected from fingerprints.

After launching the camera application you can shoot video using the screen as a viewfinder. The picture delay makes up half a second. Photos are taken at once when you push the trigger but should you move your hand, the picture will be blurred.

Under the viewfinder there are control buttons and most important settings: you can choose the shooting mode (photo or video), set the brightness and digital zoom (to 2x), control the recording (stop, pause, rec, play).

The A730 features have advanced settings. The shooting mode includes the following variants: normal, portrait, scenes, ancient, black & white, negative, special colors blue, red, yellow, green and purple. The white balance settings involve the following modes: auto, daylight lamp, incandescent lamp, daylight. There are also 3 scroll boxes to set contrast, brightness and exposure. Besides you can launch the timer or the series shooting mode.

You can set the place to store the photos and choose any of picture resolutions offered below:

  • 60 x 80
  • 160 x 120
  • 176 x 144
  • 320 x 240
  • 352 x 288
  • 640 x 480
  • 1280 x 960

Now lets pass over to the shooting itself. With the quality of the photos taken the A730 can be compared with Palm Zire 72. As in case with the Palm model the best photos are made in a sunny day on an average distance:

Original photo at 1280 x 960 (JPEG, 267 Kb)

Original photo at 1280 x 960 (JPEG, 271 Kb)

Original photo at 1280 x 960 (JPEG, 158 Kb)

Original photo at 1280 x 960 (JPEG, 143 Kb)

However under an intensive sunlight the photos get too bright:

Original photo at 1280 x 960 (JPEG, 106 Kb)

Original photo at 1280 x 960 (JPEG, 134 Kb)

The camera copes with the marco shoot, though not perfectly:

Original photo at 1280 x 960 (JPEG, 274 Kb)

Original photo at 1280 x 960 (JPEG, 146 Kb)

The portrait mode:

Original photo at 1280 x 960 (JPEG, 166 Kb)

In two words, the camera represents nothing special regarding the picture quality (if compare not only PDA, but also handsets and smartphones): neither better, nor worse. Amazingly it offers rich camera settings.

Lets go to the video settings. The first part is the same as for the photo mode (the shooting mode, white balance, contrast, brightness, exposure). You can set here the timer, launch time in seconds and the length.

Video files are recorded in AVI or 3GPP formats.

The video quality can vary:

  • High (384 kbps )
  • Medium (256 kbps)
  • Low (128 kbps )

The same is for the sound quality:

  • High (12.2 kbps )
  • Medium (7.4 kbps )
  • Low (5.15 kbps )

The video resolution can be set at:

  • 80x64
  • 160x128
  • 176x144
  • 320x240
  • 352x288

Even if you set the highest resolution, the quality received wont do to watch video on a desktop PC or on PDA (the picture looks grainy and jerks).

Example of video clips 352 x 288 (3GPP, 227 Kb)

Other utilities included in Asus Camera (photo viewer, photo album, photo editor) arent that interesting, so we wont stop on them.

Interface

Bluetooth. As weve expected, the new Asus model has WIDCOMM drivers onboard, that means the maximum functionality and stability. Asus A730 didnt show any problems while communicating with the phone SE T630 to enter the Internet, upload photos and got smoothly synchronized via Bluetooth with the notebook. The voice profile is supported it is good for the voice transfer, but if you listen to MP3 files via the wireless Bluetooth headset, you will hardly be satisfied with the quality. The situation should be changed, when the Bluetooth 2.0 standard is adopted, as it will include Music Profile.

Wi-Fi. Initially only the version with Bluetooth will be commercially available, and several months later there will appear the modification with two wireless adapters. The story follows that with Asus A620, when the model without a wireless adapter came first, and later on Asus released Asus A620Bt supporting Bluetooth. For now its not yet clear if two wireless adapters (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) could work simultaneously.

USB. As weve already mentioned the device can be charged via USB. The use of common USB devices (external drivers, keyboards etc.) is an interesting point in the assessment. For this purpose you need a special cable and the drivers for the mobile version of Windows, but no all devices would work. As a matter of fact USB devices can be plugged by that means to Toshiba e800. A friend of mine watches films on the e800: firstly he records them on his iRiver in MPEG4 and then without any converting plays them on the handheld.

Software

When Toshiba e800 appeared only several built-in applications supported VGA mode, the user could switch between VGA and QVGA. Almost at once there were released utilities allowing other applications to function in VGA mode. However the operating system (WM2003) was designed for 320x240 pixel resolution and revealed a great number of problems while dealing with 640x480 resolution: too small system fonts, tiny icons, only a quarter of the screen (top left) for many applications, incorrect work of the starting screen. But thanks to developers and enthusiasts almost all the problems had been gradually solved: video with high resolution, screen rotation, the problem with small fonts (partially). Besides developers of Pocket PC software got the opportunity to adapt their products to high resolution in advance, so they successfully did. All the users of Toshiba e800 looked forward to the next operating system by Microsoft that supported high resolution, and they finally got it

The main innovations of Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition include the support of VGA-mode, the screen rotation (without the reset), adjustment of font size and some other changes. The key point of new Microsoft operating system relates to VGA and the screen rotation. Well publish a separate review of WM2003 Second Edition, as we did with WM2003 (available only in Russian), for the purpose of convenience. Here well shortly deal with it. At the startup we see there are no problems with the size of fonts and icons. Everything looks like on common Pocket PC with QVGA-screen, only the picture is 4 times detailed.

The same way look all the other built-in applications there is nothing fundamentally new, however everything is more beautiful new icons, smooth fonts:

Despite evident advantages the new operating system comes with a serious drawback its the implementation of Pocket IE. The matter is it works like in QVGA mode not placing the whole Internet page on the screen.

Small graphic images get stretched 4 times, thus losing the advantages of high resolution during the Web-surfing. Evidently Microsoft developers thought that otherwise Web-pages would look small. A controversial solution. Mostly for this reason many users of Toshiba e800 returned to the original WM2003. This problem can be partially solved by installing NetFront browser and a special utility, but that way can be used only by those users ready to spend lots of time with the handheld keeping up with the latest updates from forums. Asus A730 initially carries WM2003 SE onboard, and its impossible to install WM2003.

Now we tell our readers about extra programs that are not included in the standard software package of WM2003 SE, there are just few of them.

Asus Camera. Weve mentioned it above; see the corresponding part of the review.

Asus Backup. The program with little settings is designed to backup the data. It copes well with basic functions.

Asus Launcher. Its quite a useless utility with poor capabilities. Its good for the beginners who arent familiar with alternative task managers for Pocket PC.

At the startup screen there is an icon for a quick screen rotation. Its very comfortable you dont need to roam about in the menu to rotate the screen.

In the settings you can choose the processor speed and access the mode of the automatic frequency rate change.

Smart Keeper allows automatic data backup when the battery charge level drops to the critical mark.

Impressions

I liked the handheld for its screen, size and functionality. The existence of Compact Flash here is justified, as you can store films with high resolution, plug CF Wi-Fi cards (for the version with a single wireless adapter) and CF GPS cards.

Asus handhelds were always associated with a strict design, high productivity and a long battery life. The time to change this stereotype seems to come. As for the design it resembles that of HP iPaq. The battery life got shorter because of a power-hungry screen and less capacious battery. If you care much about it, so buy the extended battery. Productivity matters stay open to discussions.

The A730 should take first positions in the lists of devices combining small size and maximum functionality. You can change your Toshiba e800 on Asus A730, only if you need smaller dimensions or both wireless adapters.

For now Asus A730 has been under the production. The version without Wi-Fi should be shipped in July-August, and the version with two wireless adapters would appear in October with the price higher by $50-70. There is still no info on the price for the base model, as it depends mostly on that for iPaq hx4700. Evidently the Asus model will be cheaper, the situation with the iPaq 2210 and Asus A620Bt is to be resumed. Wed say do not expect the novelty listed below $600, by the end of this year the price might drop to $500-550. The HP model will satisfy the early demand for novelties with VGA-screens, and traditionally Asus seems to be a little bit late with the mass shipments to the world market. Most likely these two handhelds by Asus and HP will compete to become the best Pocket PC in the year. Both Asus A730 and HP iPaq hx4700 will find their buyer. Well well get back to compare these models in the review on iPaq.

P.S. Next week well introduce an exclusive review on new PDA by Compal that features lots of interesting things (there is still no info and photos in the Internet, the announcement is planned for the August).

The first part of the review>>

 

Anton Kotov (anton.kotov@mobile-review.com)
Translated by Anja Rytchkova (anja.rytchkova@mobile-review.com)

Published - 28 June 2004

Have something to add?! Write us... eldar@mobile-review.com

 

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