Review – Garmin iQue 3600 (Palm OS)

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***This review is another attempt by bargainPDA.com to find an effective way to deliver two perspectives in one review. In this case the core review has been written by vike99 with comments added by Brian. Brian’s comments will be clearly marked throughout***


Figure 1. Garmin iQue 3600

So what do you get when you cross a mid-to-high end Palm OS PDA with a Global Positioning System (GPS)? One answer is a surprising new offering from Garmin — the iQue 3600 (price comparison link). While the iQue 3600 does have its flaws, I wouldn’t leave home without it — and neither should you.

Overview

The Garmin iQue 3600 is a solid, well-performing PDA that features a well-integrated GPS receiver and associated software. The iQue3600 features a 200MHz Motorola DragonBall MXL ARM 9 processor, 32MB DRAM (28MB available), and runs Palm OS version 5.2.1. I found this setup to be more than sufficient when running graphic-intensive programs such as movies and mapping software. When it came to storing maps, however, even 28MB went quickly and I recommend getting at least a 128MB SD card to support map storage. With a suggested retail of $589.00 (typical low street price in the $400 range), however, is it really worth it?

If you just picked up a high end PDA and are looking to add GPS, then you might want to consider forking over $100 – $300 for a Sony or Palm GPS add-on kit, or one of the Bluetooth options if that suits you. But even this solution misses out on what the iQue 3600 really provides — a clean and total integration of GPS data with you and your PDA. By ‘clean’ integration, I’m talking about the design of the GPS antenna and how well it folds out of the way when not needed. By ‘total’ integration, I’m talking about the excellent use of the GPS data through Garmin’s ‘Que’ programs that are provided with the iQue 3600. These programs are discussed in detail later in this review. For now, let’s just say that the Que programs have quickly made GPS data an essential part of my life. And I can think of no better way to do this than with the Garmin iQue 3600.

[Brian] I completely agree. The biggest knock on external GPS options is the wad of cables and the extra pieces that can often be clumsy. The fold-out antenna in this model is absolutely perfect, from a design perspective.

But there are some problems with the iQue 3600. Battery life could be improved. Most of my third party software does not yet take advantage of the full 320 x 480 iQue 3600 screen. The third party software applications that are provided in the iQue 3600 package are mainly demo/trial versions. And personally, the unit’s construction reminds me of my old Sony Clie’s — I prefer the more rugged feel of the Palm M-series and Tungsten units. But, even with these drawbacks, the Garmin iQue 3600 has quickly become an indispensable part of my family’s life and I highly recommend it.

The detailed review provided below is everything I have been able to discover after about 3 weeks of exploring the iQue 3600, from my first impressions when opening the box to using the GPS in the field. While I know that there probably are some features I missed, hopefully this review will give you a better idea as to what the iQue 3600 can and can not do for you.


Packaging & Accessories


Figure 2a. Box


Figure 2b. Contents

The iQue 3600 comes packed in a white box that is similar in style, size, and construction of the green boxes used for Sony Clie PDAs. I’ll quickly summarize the box contents and discuss some of the items in detail later in this review. Included in the box, as shown above in Figure 2, are the following:

 One iQue 3600 PDA
 One Black Leather Protective Display Cover
 One Desk Top HotSync/Charging Cradle
 One AC Power/Charge Adapter
 One Garmin Palm Desktop Setup CD
 Map Source Program and Map Installation CDs (2)
 Graffiti 2 Reference Stickers
 Map Source Unlock Code Sheet
 iQue 3600 Quick Reference Guide
 iQue 3600 Setup Guide

The following manuals are also available online or as downloads in Adobe Reader PDF format:

 iQue 3600 Integrated Handheld Operating Instructions
 iQue 3600 Integrated Handheld Que Applications Guide

Accessories currently available for the iQue 3600 direct from Garmin include the following:

 Automotive navigation kit
 Travel Kit
 Serial HotSync Cradle
 USB/Serial Sync Cables
 A/C travel charger
 12-volt power/charging adapter
 External GPS antennas
 Stylus
 Leather case
 Other MapSource software

In addition to the accessories available specifically for the iQue 3600, note that the iQue 3600 uses the Palm Universal Connector (PUC) and hence in theory, should also be able to use Palm accessories that attach via the PUC. While I have not been able to test all Palm accessories, the charging stand and travel charger I use for my Tungsten T work well with the iQue 3600 — very nice cost savings!

[Brian] This is the first PDA not made by Palm to use Palm’s universal connector. I think this was a smart decision by Garmin, reducing the need to product proprietary accessories. And as vike99 said, if you already own a cache of Palm add-ons, you’re that much better off.

Initial Setup

According to the iQue3600 Setup Guide, I should be up and running in 8 easy steps, to include a step that calls for an initial charge of at least one hour. This was not the case for me, perhaps partly due to my inexperience in owning multiple PDAs, but mainly due to bugs in the MapSource installation software. During my first attempted setup, I simply installed the Garmin Palm desktop over my existing Palm desktop and used my existing username. Everything went well until I reached Step 7 where I tried and failed to install and unlock the Detailed Maps from the MapSource CDs. On my second attempt to install the maps, the Map installation wizard told me the maps were already installed (they were not) and installation failed again. After several attempts (to include deleting and reinstalling everything under a new username), I threw in the towel and went looking for some Tech Support at Garmin.

[Brian] I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to running multiple PDAs on a single machine. I cleaned the slate before starting with the Garmin and didn’t have any issues with installing the software. I did find the map install to be a bit confusing, but after the first time, I got the hang of it.

I want to say up front that the Tech Support provided by the people at Garmin is the best I have ever seen. For starters, they offer phone tech support via a 1-800 number. No long-distance charges for me thank you. Secondly, it only took about 3 minutes before I connected with a live person. Third, the tech support guy (“Wade”) spent about 45 minutes as he walked me through the setup process. This included deleting the desktop software, re-installing, and walking me through the programs to make sure everything was ok. While waiting for me to follow his directions, Wade stated that Garmin provides free unlimited tech support for as long as I own the device. Being a fellow iQue3600 owner, we also chatted about his experiences in using the unit. And in case you might be thinking that I got the Golden Treatment as a reviewer – I was not asked to identify myself in any way as other than an owner of an iQue 3600. It was only after my problem was fixed that I told Wade who I was. As far as the source of the problem — best we could tell is the MapSource installation wizard that came with my unit is buggy — see Garmin’s web site for an updated version. Bottom line, outstanding tech support.

Case and Hardware


Figure 3. Front View

My first impression of the iQue 3600 was “German engineering applied to a Sony Clie”. Measuring in at 2.8″(W) x 5″(H) x 0.8″(D) and weighing 5.2 ounces, the iQue3600 is comparable in size & weight to the larger Sony Clie PDAs. In addition, the iQue3600 has a “Sony-esque” metallic finish applied over a plastic case. The case appears durable, though mine does give out a faint “creak” when twisted.

The front of the iQue3600 features four application buttons and up/down scroll buttons along the bottom. Starting from the left side, the application buttons are mapped to the standard Palm OS applications — datebook, address book, and todo list. But the last button is mapped to Garmin’s “Que” programs. More on these later, but repeated pressing of this “Que” button cycles nicely through each Que program. For those of you who are used to the memo program — be advised that you’ll have to do some adjustment to return the memo to an application button. At the top front of the iQue 3600 is the power on/off button with a built-in LED to indicate charging. The small holes shown on either side of the scroll buttons are for the built-in audio speaker.


Figure 4. Top View

The top of the iQue3600 is shown in Figure 4. At the far right is a standard 3mm-headphone jack. An SD/MMC slot is located at top center. Just to the left of this is the infrared (IR) port. Located at the far left is the stylus slot, with an external GPS antenna port that comes covered with a small rubber stopper. Note that this rubber stopper is pretty small and comes off a bit too easily. I’m expecting this to be lost fairly quickly. Last, but not least, the panel located below the SD/MMC slot is the built-in GPS antenna that swings out from the backside – shown here in Figure 4 in its partially extended position.


Figure 5. Back View

Figure 5 shows the back of the iQue3600. Note the small reset hole located at the bottom left. I assume there is a good reason behind the small reset hole. But it would be nice if all PDA reset hole sizes were large enough to accept the front tip of the stylus, like my Tungsten T (TT). Resetting the iQue 3600, like many other PDAs, requires you to either use a paper clip, or the reset pin located by unscrewing the top of the stylus. The built-in GPS antenna is shown here in its stowed position at the top. I’ll talk in detail about the GPS functionality later, but for now note that the GPS antenna is extended via the thumb indent shown to the left of the GPS antenna.


Figure 6. Button Side View

The left side of the iQue3600 (Figure 6) houses a jog-dial, voice recording button, and an escape button. The jog dial functions much like your typical jog dial by allowing you to cycle through selections and then select items within programs without a stylus. I’ve never been a fan of jog-dials but in this case I find it very useful in zooming in and out of maps. The voice recording button mounted above the jog dial activates QueVoice, Garmin’s voice recording program. Press and release the recording button brings up the QueVoice application. To record a voice memo, you then press and hold the record button until you hear a tone sound. To pause during recording, briefly press the record button. Press and hold the record button again until you hear a tone sound to stop recording. It takes a while to get used to this voice recording procedure, especially the press & hold, but I eventually did get the hang of it. Tapping on the escape button, located below the jog dial, returns you to your previous screen.


Figure 7. Bottom View

The bottom of the iQue3600 (Figure 7) provides two very nice features. First of all, the iQue3600 sports the first non-Palm branded PDA to use the Palm Universal Connector (PUC). While I have not checked the compatibility with all available Palm accessories that use the PUC, the iQue3600 charges and syncs well using my Tungsten T desktop charge stand and travel charger. To the right of the PUC is an A/C adapter port to allow one to charge the iQue3600 without the desktop unit — very nice touch for those of us who prefer to travel light.


Figure 8. Stylus Side View

The right side of the iQue3600 (Figure 8) is clear of features except for the stylus extraction knob, which is visible on the upper end of the right side. The iQue3600 stylus can be extracted by lifting up on the ribbed knob located on the topside of the stylus. Stylus extraction was not so easy, however, as to make me worry about it accidentally falling out.


Figure 9. Display Comparison – Zire 71 vs iQue 3600

As mentioned earlier, the iQue 3600 features a full 320 x 480 pixel, 16-bit color display. I found the display offered excellent brightness and crisp colors. The display size can be changed from 320 x 320 to the full 320 x 480 size via an icon located at the far right bottom of the virtual graffiti area. Compared to other PDAs on the market, I found the iQue 3600 display to be comparable with that found on the Zire 71 (see Figure 9) and much better than that found on a Tungsten T (TT).

I did run into problems with the display in general. First of all, I found that many of my third-party programs are not yet able to take advantage of the 320 x 480 display on the iQue 3600. Secondly, setting the backlight to maximum brightness drains the battery much more quickly than I expected — a detailed discussion of this is presented later in this review.

[Brian] The biggest problem I have with the iQue is the screen itself. I found the surface to be “sticky” making it difficult to get into a good rhythm when entering data. I also got regular flickers in the virtual graffiti area which was very distracting.

Global Positioning System (GPS)

The iQue 3600 features a 12-channel (i.e. can use up to 12 GPS satellites at one time) receiver embedded into a slick antenna case mounted on the back of the PDA. Prying open the GPS antenna case using the thumb indent (see Figure 5) activates the GPS. Note that the antenna does not have to be fully opened before the GPS is activated. However, I seemed to experience optimal performance (i.e. quickest satellite lock-on, and best accuracy) with the antenna fully opened and parallel to the ground. Once activated, the GPS receiver will attempt to lock on to the GPS satellite signals — this is indicated by what look like moving yellow search lights in the GPS icon area located at the bottom center of the virtual graffiti area (see bottom of Figure 21). Once the receiver locks on, the moving yellow searchlights disappear.

GPS lock-on requires Line-of-Sight between your receiver and the satellites. Hence, you won’t get a signal inside a building (you still may get a signal when standing next to an external window), in a cave, deep canyon, etc. You also may have trouble when in deep vegetation such as in a forest or jungle. Lock-on times depend also on when you last had GPS lock-on. In my limited experience using the iQue 3600 around urban and rural areas on the Eastern US Coast, I tended to get GPS lock-on anywhere from about 1 to 5 minutes with my unit sitting in the passenger seat of my car.

The iQue 3600 GPS is advertised as being able to use the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) to provide up to 5 times the location accuracy of non-WAAS enabled GPS receivers. I won’t go into the details of WAAS here, but basically it is a form of Differential GPS that is being developed to support the accuracy needed for aviation and is currently available only in the U.S., although other countries are developing similar systems. Even within the U.S., many ground users (especially those in the Northern States) may not be able to benefit from WAAS as natural obstacles can easily block the signals coming from the WAAS satellites orbiting the equator.

One complaint some may find with the iQue 3600 GPS receiver is that it does not comply with National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) standards. This means you can not use other mapping software such as Street Finder with the iQue 3600 GPS. Having used several mapping programs other than QueMap, however, I see no reason why this would be an issue since I find QueMap to be a much better mapping program.

[Brian] I’m not a GPS expert by any means, but I did find initial connection times with the satellites to be comparable to other GPS devices I’ve used in the past. Certainly there will be issues using the GPS in downtown areas, but I found once I had a good signal, the streets and buildings of downtown Cincinnati did not play as much havoc as I thought they would. The mapping software was quite adequate, although local maps appeared to be a few years old, again a common problem.

Included Accessories


Figure 10. Styli Comparison (iQue 3600, Zire 71, TT)

Stylus. The stylus that comes with the iQue3600 compares well in terms of size, feel, and functionality with those of other PDAs on the market. Figure 8 shows a styli comparison between the iQue3600 (far left) with the stock styli from both the Palm Zire 71 (middle) and Tungsten T (far right). As mentioned earlier, the reset pin is located by unscrewing the head of the iQue3600 stylus.

[Brian] The stylus locks into the silo with that notch on the right. This may pose a problem for custom styli manufacturers, so try not to lose the one you get with the unit or you’ll be paying a premium to buy new ones!

 
Figure 11. Desktop Charge/Hotsync Stand

Desktop Charge/Hotsync Stand. Charging and hotsyncing the iQue3600 with your PC is typically conducted with the desktop hotsync/charging stand shown above in Figure 11. The stand itself is a sleek yet sturdy combination of a plastic PDA mount tilted back about 45 degrees and mated to a solid metal desk plate. On the bottom of the desk plate are four rubber bumpers that help keep the unit stationary on a desktop. Compared to other PDA desktop chargers I’ve seen (see figure 12), the iQue3600 desktop stand by itself is well designed both in terms of functionality and visual appeal.

[Brian] I really enjoyed the cradle because of its small footprint on my desk. Compared to Palm’s cradle and some of the giant cradles Sony has crafted, this was the best mix of function and design I’ve seen in a long time.


Figure 12. Desktop Stand Comparison (TT vs iQue 3600)

To hotsync, simply plug in the USB connector to your PC, secure the iQue3600 to the Palm Universal Connector on the stand, and press the hotsync button located at the bottom front middle of the desktop stand. One thing I do not like about the desktop stand is that I find it difficult to install the iQue3600 onto the Palm Universal Connection. Proper installation requires one to lean the PDA back into the stand and then press down to secure the connection. In doing so, I’ve often found it difficult to line up the connection pins on the stand with the PUC port on the iQue3600. The folks at Garmin must have realized this as they include a small diagram describing exactly how to perform what should be a simple operation. 

There are two charging methods available for the iQue3600. The first method is to plug the supplied A/C adapter into the charging stand as shown in Figure 13. The other option is to bypass the desktop stand altogether and plug the A/C adapter straight into iQue3600 using A/C Adapter port located at the bottom of the PDA (see Figure 7).


Figure 13. Attaching A/C Adapter to Desktop Stand

I prefer the second method as it lightens my travel load by allowing me to leave the desktop stand at the office and bring just the A/C adapter with me on the road. And speaking of travelling A/C adapters, the adapter is fairly small (~2.5″ x 1.5″ x 0.7″). In addition, the socket prongs can fold in to minimize packing volume and thus minimize required travel space (see Figure 14).


Figure 14. A/C Adapter Plug
 
Leather Protective Cover. The iQue 3600 also comes with a black leather protective display cover. The cover is attached to metal clips, which in turn are attached to a black plastic bar that can be easily attached/removed from the bottom of the iQue 3600. When attached, the cover provides decent protection to the iQue3600 screen only. The cover can be easily folded back and out of the way behind the iQue3600 and allows full connection to charge/hotsync operations with the desktop stand, as shown in Figure 15.

[Brian] I ditched this flip cover in two minutes. I hated the flip-up design as it constantly opened when I didn’t want it to. Thankfully Covertec had a demo of their new iQue case to me within a week. That review will be up in a few weeks.


Figure 15. Leather Protective Cover

Software

The iQue3600 comes with three groups of applications: the standard Palm OS5 applications (i.e. address, datebook, todo, memo, etc), other 3rd Party applications, and a collection of Garmin “Que” applications. In terms of software, the iQue 3600 is weakest when it comes to the included 3rd party software — there’s not much and those that are provided are mostly demo versions. The 3rd party applications provided for installation with the iQue3600 are listed below; note that those marked with a “**” are demo / trial versions only:

 Astraware Game Pack**
 Dataviz Mail**
 Document to Go**
 SplashWallet**
 StarCaddy**
 Vindigo**
 WorldMate**
 Palm Reader
 Powerone Personal Calculator

[Brian] At this price point I would expect a licensed version of Documents To Go. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most people that buy a high-end PDA with such a large screen would want that software.

The Garmin “Que” programs include programs for playing MP3 files and voice recording, but mainly revolve around using the GPS and maps. It is with these programs that the iQue 3600 applies the GPS data and truly sets itself apart from all other PDAs or stand-alone GPS receivers. A listing of these applications along with a brief description is provided below:

 QueAudio. This is a basic MP3 and WAV file player. I was able to easily install several WAV files onto my SD card (drag files onto the palm desktop and then hot sync). Playing these files was straightforward (tap the play button) and the sound quality compared to the standard sound system found on my low-end laptop.

[Brian] This application is fine for the little things, but users wanting anything more than the very basic functions should pick up one of the very good Palm OS media players.


Figure 16. QueAudio

 QueClock. Another basic program that, as shown below, displays the date and current time for about 2 seconds when activated. QueClock is activated by tapping on the clock icon located at the bottom of the virtual graffiti area.


Figure 17. QueClock

 QueFind. Probably one of the coolest and most useful applications I have ever used. QueFind is like having AAA and the local Yellow Pages in the “palm” of your hand. Starting from the main screen of QueFind (Figure 18), one can easily search for just about anything normally found on a map, and then some. Looking for a nearby pizza parlor? Tap on the “Food & Drink” icon on the QueFind main screen and start writing in ‘pizza’. A typical result is shown on the left-hand side of Figure 19. Note that in this case I was doing a search in a moving car, with a search started from my current location. The result shown shows all pizza establishments near me as well as their general direction from my current location as indicated by the direction arrows. Note that these direction arrows change as I move when my GPS is on. Very cool. Tap the ‘Route To’ button and a route is plotted on a map from my current location to the desired location. This route can be saved and later recalled using QueRoutes.

I can also tap on a desired pizza parlor listing, then the ‘Details’ button, and I am taken to the screen shown on the right side of Figure 19. Here I am given the detailed address and phone number, and a waypoint is placed on the map. The waypoint can be saved for later viewing if I am ever in the area again and in the mood for pizza. In another example, I am at my house and looking for a hotel for the in-laws coming into town next week. After tapping on the ‘Lodging’ icon in the QueFind main screen, I then start typing ‘hotel’ and I get a list of nearby hotels as shown in Figure 20. Note that since I am not moving, the moving arrows are replaced by general direction symbols (E, S, N, W, etc.). Last but not least, I can save the waypoints I find with QueFind as address entries within the default Palm OS address book. These waypoints are identified in the address book entry with a small flag within the address listing. I have noticed some glaring errors in the QueFind database (e.g., Atlanta, KS is listed but Atlanta, GA is not?!) but I use this program so much that at least for now, the errors have not been a real factor.

[Brian] The best part about this program is that I found parks and restaurants that I didn’t even know existed. There’s no doubt that this tool would be invaluable to someone traveling to a new or little known city.


Figure 18. QueFind

    
Figure 19. Pizza Search (Moving)

 
Figure 20. Hotel Search (Stationary)

 QueGPS. QueGPS is activated by tapping the GPS Status Area located at the bottom middle of the iQue 3600 screen, or by cycling through the Que programs with the “Que” button. The QueGPS shows the status of GPS operations in terms of satellite location and signal strength for each GPS satellite. QueGPS also provides positional data, time & date, and the location of the sun and moon. WAAS is also activated here through the Options menu. To do all this, the GPS receiver must first acquire at least three satellites, which is the minimum number needed to generate your location in two dimensions (expressed in terms of latitude and longitude).

While acquiring satellites, as shown in the left-hand side of Figure 21, QueGPS indicates “Acquiring Satellites” and shows the information calculated at the prior GPS initialization. Once at least three satellites have been acquired, QueGPS indicates “2D (or 3D) GPS Location.” The right side of Figure 21 shows a typical screen where at least 4 satellites have been acquired (five in this case) to allow for a 3D (latitude, longitude, and elevation) position estimate. Living in the Mid-Atlantic area, I’ve noticed that the calculated positional accuracy has typically ranged from about 17 — 50 feet, even with WAAS activated. In the three weeks I’ve used this program, I’ve noticed that the speed estimates are close to dead-on (compared to my car’s speedometer). Elevation seems to match fairly well with figures I get off the Internet, except near coastal areas where QueGPS has almost always indicated that I’m well below Sea Level (when I’m not). Despite this minor glitch, I’ve had particular fun watching my speed and elevation while flying — no more looking out the window and guessing my altitude!

[Brian] The obvious drawback of this software, if you’re a moron like me, is seeing just how accurate the speed rating is while doing nearly 100 MPH on your local highway. The iQue does alert you every time you turn it on that it’s ill advised to drive and look at the iQue at the same time. After trying it a few times, I agree.

    
Figure 21. QueGPS

 QueMap. QueMap provides a map that you can use to show your current location, follow your progress while moving, follow a route, or get additional information on places of interest located on a map. To activate QueMap, simply tap the Que Button until QueMap appears as shown in Figure 22. Notice the map changes to a black background at night, compared with the yellow during the day.

 
Figure 22. QueMap (Night – Day)

 QueRoutes. This program works with routes created with QueFind, and provides female voice prompts as you follow a route. Another neat feature of QueRoutes is that it allows you to simulate a driving route, complete with voice prompts.

[Brian] I wouldn’t mind if in future versions of the software, the user was given a few choices for the voice. If you use this a lot, the audio track tends to get stale.

 QueTracks. QueTracks provides a way to save trips for later review. Saved trips include such information as: total distance traveled, start time & date, average speed, and elapsed time of the trip. One way I’ve been using this program, shown below in Figure 23, is to compare my speed, elapsed time, and route for different commuting routes to determine the optimal route. One tap of a button within QueTracks also shows a map with your trip traced out. QueTracks is also handy for recording interesting drives, seldom driven trips, or cross-country treks.


Figure 23. QueTracks

 QueTrip. QueTrip is a trip computer on steroids (see Figure 24). Automatically calculates trip miles, current heading, speed, stopped time, driving time, maximum speed (do not let the cops see this!), average driving speed, and total average speed for the trip (includes stopped time). Hate to sound like a broken record, but very cool.


Figure 24. QueTrip

QueTurns. QueTurns provides a listing of turn directions, much like one of those trip guides from AAA. Note that it is active only after you’ve activated a route (e.g. through QueRoutes). I haven’t played with this program that much, but looks like a winner for next summer’s Road Trip.

QueVoice. QueVoice is your basic voice memo-recording program, with a twist. In addition to recording voice memos, you can assign the memo to map waypoints and addresses in the Palm address book.

[Brian] This is just another great example of how tightly most of the applications are integrated.

 
Figure 25. QueVoice

Maps

My iQue 3600 was shipped with two map CDs — one containing a collection of North American Base Maps, and the other contained City Select Maps for North America. The Base Maps provide low-resolution (i.e. only major roads, landmarks, & boundaries) maps, while the City Select maps are used to present high-resolution maps plus the information used with QueFind. Installation of desired City Select maps requires that you first install the appropriate Base Map (which generally cover several states) onto your PC. This is done using a stand alone Map Unlocking Wizard and the Map Source Unlock Code Sheet (see Packaging & Accessories). Once the desired Base Map is installed, then the desired City Select Maps are easily installed using the Palm Desktop, followed by a hotsync. I think the procedure to install Base Maps can be improved, it’s clunky at best.

Maps, especially the City Select maps, eat up a lot of space — plan on getting at least a 128MB external memory card for map storage. Larger cities tend to be broken down into several City Select maps — the St. Louis MO metro area alone requires 4 City Select maps and about 4MB of space on my iQue 3600. I haven’t tried it yet, but installing all the maps needed for a long drive looks like trouble both in time and memory.

For those travelling outside the country, Garmin’s web site indicates that Base Maps are available for pretty much the entire world. City Select Maps, however, are only available for North America and most of Western Europe. According to Garmin’s tech support staff, the Map Source CDs currently shipping (version 5.0) are expected to remain valid for about a year and a half. At that time, users desiring updated maps will be required to order new Map Source CDs through the mail (downloading is not expected due to the current 2GB of map data contained on these CDs).

Battery Performance

While researching for this review, I found the single major complaint with the iQue 3600 was limited battery life between charges of the Lithium–ion battery, especially when using the GPS. So I decided to investigate. My problem was coming up with tests that would objectively assess the battery performance of the iQue 3600. When it comes to battery performance, obviously operating temperature and humidity are factors. For PDA batteries, screen brightness setting and the type of processing are factors. For the Garmin iQue 3600, others were saying that GPS was a factor. I did not have enough time to test all factors under all possible conditions. Instead, I decided to investigate: 1) the impact GPS has on the iQue 3600 battery life; 2) the impact of screen brightness; and 3) How well the Garmin iQue 3600 battery compares to other PDA batteries under similar conditions. To answer these, I set up two tests: a Comparison Test and a Backlight Test.

Comparison Test. The object of this test was to determine how fast the iQue 3600 lost battery charge as compared to another popular Palm OS PDA — in this case a Palm Tungsten T (TT). The test conditions are as follows:

 Garmin iQue 3600 (new), Tungsten T (6 months old)
 12-hour Charge
 Auto-Off disabled with TealTools 1.20 (http://www.tealpoint.com/)
 Backlight Setting (Low)
 Battery Level Monitored with BattGraph Version 1.5.1 (http://www.mbier.co.at/mbier/Markus-1999/Palm/index.html)
 Load Simulation: Looping common slide show using RescoViewer 1.27.2 (http://www.resco-net.com/palm/)
 Temperature/Humidity: 70 — 80 F / 76%

A few things should be noted before discussing the results, however. First of all, after a full night’s charge the TT battery achieved a maximum charge of 417 mV while the iQue reached 420 mV. To avoid comparing ‘apples with oranges’, the results presented in Figure  26 are presented in terms of % of the initial battery power. Secondly, the warning and critical battery power thresholds are different between the TT and iQue 3600. For the iQue 3600, the warning threshold is 380 mV while the critical threshold is 373 mV. For the TT, the warning and critical threshold values are 372 mV and 369 mV, respectively. Hence, to compare ‘apples — to — apples’ I ran first the iQue 3600 till I received the warning message and then ran the TT for the same amount of time.

The results of this test, expressed in terms of % of maximum battery voltage versus time, are presented in Figure 26. I received the ‘Low Battery Power’ warning on the iQue 3600 after 160 minutes of continuous load. At this time, the iQue 3600 battery still had 380 mV, or 90.7% of its initial potential. At the same time, the TT battery had 379 mV, or 90.9% of its initial power. So no clear winner here and I found the iQue’s battery to perform on par with that of the TT.

 
Figure 26.  Battery Performance Comparison (TT vs iQue 3600)

Backlight Test. The object of this test was to determine the impact of GPS operations and Backlight settings on the performance of the iQue 3600 battery. The test conditions are as follows:

 Garmin iQue 3600 (new)
 12-hour Charge
 Auto-Off disabled with TealTools 1.20
 Backlight Setting (Low, High)
 Battery Level Monitored with BattGraph Version 1.5.1
 Load Simulation: QueGPS while continuously trying to acquire satellites; WAAS enabled, Battery Saver Off
 Temperature/Humidity: 70 — 80 F / 76%

In this test I extended the GPS antenna and activated QueGPS inside my house (to ensure no satellite acquisition for maximum load). I repeated this twice, once with the Backlight set to low, and once with maximum backlight.

The results, plotted in Figure 27, indicate that the backlight has a significant impact on battery life, as expected. With the backlight on maximum, the warning threshold was reached in 55 minutes. With the backlight on low, the warning threshold was reached in 216 minutes.


Figure 27. Backlight Effect on iQue 3600 Battery Performance

Bottom line on the iQue battery — comparable life to that of the TT and the backlight makes a big difference. I’d recommend keeping the backlight at minimum setting when away from power sources. But at the desktop or with the iQue mounted in the car (which is where you’ll really need the extra light anyway) light ’em up.

[Brian] The battery life with GPS on is pretty bad. I didn’t do the scientific work vike99 did, but when I was out Geo Chaching (www.geocaching.com) I was dead in the water after about 90 minutes of continuous usage.
 
Summary

Pros:
 Excellent integration of GPS antenna and data
 Unlimited, free technical support
 Well-designed desktop and travel charger
 Easy-to-install map integration on Palm Desktop
 Uses the Palm Universal Connector

Cons:
 Battery life could be improved
 Small reset button hole
 Limited third-party software support for 320×480 screen
 No wireless capability (other than IR)
 GPS does not comply with NMEA standards
 Occasional errors in the mapping database

Recommended Buy: Yes.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) 

The Bottom Line:
Excellent integration of GPS technology with a mid-to-high end Palm OS PDA justifies the seemingly high price. Excellent, unlimited free technical support. Battery life is poor but not terrible and compares well with other Palm OS PDAs, especially with low backlight. Other than its IR port, the iQue lacks any wireless connectivity (e.g., Bluetooth, WiFi).

[Brian] I’m less enthusiastic about the iQue than vike99, mostly because I very conflicted with this device’s overall package and target market. When I saw it at CES nearly ten months ago, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. But the hardware is not impressive and it falls short compared to other Palm PDAs once you get past the GPS integration. My other struggle is determining the right audience for this unit, which will only make a limited number of people happy.

Without Wireless Options like WiFi or Bluetooth, I doubt the iQue will find itself in many traditional office environments. The fact that the GPS antenna isn’t as strong as stand alone units means it won’t be a favorite by the outdoorsy people either. It may find a niche with people who want to do a little recreational work with GPS, while having all the standard functionality that comes with the Palm OS. But the true benefactors of this technology are those who want an organizer and travel a good deal, like road warrior sales professionals.

Take away the need for high-end audio/video needs, gaming and some of the other non-productivity tools, where the iQue falls short. Add in the GPS tracking, mapping and integration with the rest of the baseline Palm OS applications. The end result is a terrific tool for those who need to know where they are, where they’re going and when they’re going to get there. Oh and by the way, you can easily find a pizza joint on the way, organize your contacts and leverage applications designed for the Palm OS. At current prices, the iQue 3600 might be just the right tool to make life a whole lot easier for these folks.

One last side note, Garmin made almost all of this PDA themselves. It will be at least a year before we see the next iteration, but their internal team promises me a follow-up unit is in the very early planning phases. Garmin did a good job, considering this is their first effort. The GPS integration is very solid, the hardware could use a little help though and the included third-party applications need to be spruced up a bit. All this aside, I’m excited to see what they come out with next and look forward to watching them break through more integration barriers.

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