Brighthand Reviews the Garmin iQue 3600

by Reads (135,886)

Garmin iQue 3600 The Garmin iQue 3600 handheld is one of the most unique Palm Powered devices available, thanks to its built-in Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver. And it has a few other surprises as well, including the ability to play MP3 files, so you can have your music on the go and never get lost at the same time. Still, as with every other PDA on the market today, it’s not quite perfect.

Form

The iQue 3600 is relatively small and lightweight; especially considering it has a built-in GPS receiver. It measures 2.8″ wide, 5″ tall, and 0.8″ thick — a bit narrower, longer, and thicker than a Palm Tungsten C, and much larger than a Palm m515. Still, it’s comfortable to hold and easily fits in a jacket pocket.

The case is silver-colored plastic with a bronze-ish, brushed-aluminum finish. There’s minor creaking when you twist the case, but otherwise it seems solidly built.

Garmin iQue 3600 On the front of the device (click on image at right for larger view) are a power switch and charging LED, four application launch buttons, and up and down scroll buttons. The application launch buttons have good tactile feedback, and the scroll buttons are slightly indented, qualities that make it good for game playing. Tiny holes for the audio speaker surround the scroll buttons. Also, near the top left is the microphone hole for voice recording.

The top of the unit holds the infrared (IR) port, the Secure Digital (SD) slot (as of this writing, I have been unable to determine if the slot is SDIO capable), the headphone jack, the stylus silo, the external GPS antenna connector, and the hinge for the built-in GPS antenna. The headphone jack takes standard 3.5 mm headphones and supports stereo. The stylus is aluminum with a removable plastic tip and a hidden reset pin in the top. It’s easy to extract from the silo thanks to its protruding, ribbed thumb tab.

The external GPS connector is very small, and is covered by a removable rubber grommet. If you choose to use an external antenna (available at garmin.com), be careful not to lose this little grommet, as it is not attached to the device in any way. The built-in GPS patch antenna rests in a recessed slot on the back of the device. There’s a thumbnail groove to pry up the antenna and you can extend it to any angle, with stops at either 120 degrees or a full 180 degrees (i.e. sticking straight up). The antenna was difficult to open, but once open it was easy to rotate into a variety of positions. It folds back into its slot and requires a sturdy push to click it completely into place.

Garmin iQue 3600

On the left side of the device (see picture above) are two buttons and a rocker switch. The top button is the voice recorder button and the bottom button is the Escape (“Esc”) button, which seems to act as a general-purpose exit button on many dialog boxes. In all applications, the “Esc” button acts the same as tapping the “Home” button found in the virtual Graffiti area, including switching categories in the launcher. The rocker switch seems to work like most others; you can scroll through items and activate them by pressing in on the rocker switch.

Garmin iQue 3600 The iQue 3600 is the first non-Palm branded handheld to use the Palm Universal Connector. Found on the bottom of the unit, the Universal Connector enables it to use many of the peripherals that Palm users enjoy, from folding keyboards to modems, assuming that Palm OS 5 drivers are available. And Garmin has taken it one step further, adding an additional port on one end of its connector that accepts the charger plug (or you can charge through the cradle). Speaking of the charger, it’s one of the smallest ones I’ve ever seen. And it includes folding prongs for easy packing — perfect for traveling.

The iQue 3600 comes with a leather cover that has a metal hinge at the bottom of the device, allowing it to flip over and rest flat against the back of the unit. There’s no fastener for the cover, so it’s easy to flip open with one hand and doesn’t get in the way. However, you’ll need to be careful when closing the GPS antenna on the back of the unit, as it’s easy to forget about the flip cover and pinch it.

Overall the styling is fairly plain, but the device has an excellent range of hardware features and seems sturdy and well built.

Function

Speed. The iQue 3600 contains a Motorola Dragonball MXL ARM9 processor running at 200 megahertz. It runs the Palm OS version 5.2.1.

Memory. 32 megabytes of DRAM.

Multimedia. The iQue has a digital voice recorder and can also play MP3 files in stereo.

The voice recorder is pretty much what you would expect, collecting voice memos into files (either in internal memory or on a Storage card) that you can name and categorize. You can also beam voice memos to other handhelds and, interestingly, add a GPS location to a voice memo. However, there is no voice alarm feature.

One odd thing about the voice recorder is how it handles the Record button. I’m not much for voice memos so maybe it’s just my lack of experience, but you have to push and hold the record button to launch the record and start recording a voice memo. After holding for a few seconds, you can release the button and it will continue to record. Push and release the button again, and the recording is paused, but not terminated and saved. You must push and hold to terminate and save the recording. It took a bit of practice for me, but I suppose you’d get used to it.

The MP3 player is a basic player. (FYI, the RealOne player for the Tungsten and Zire handhelds does not work on this device.) It does not have a playlist feature, but it does have a shuffle function. The sound quality — in full stereo — is quite good, but I’m not an audiophile. Some might complain that the volume doesn’t go high enough. I set the master sound control to maximum in iQue Preferences and set the player’s volume to maximum, and while playback was loud through my headphones it was not unbearable.

Another interesting thing is that the MP3 player supports background playing, so you can work on other things while listening to music. That may seem pretty common to you, but how about this: you can also have your voice driving directions running in the background at the same time as your music. The music volume drops when the voice interrupts with a driving direction (“turn left 100 feet ahead”), and then the music resumes at normal volume. Pretty cool.

Display. The screen is absolutely beautiful. It’s a 320 x 480 transflective display with a virtual Graffiti area, and it measures 2.16″ by 3.24″. The extra screen real estate comes in very useful in the GPS mapping programs. The maps seem large and are very colorful. The backlight has a wide range of settings, from dim (dimmer than the lowest setting on my Tungsten C) to bright. It also has an “off” setting to conserve power. Being transflective, it’s fairly easy to read in direct sunlight, but requires the backlight indoors.

“Virtual Graffiti area” is a term that means the standard silk-screened Graffiti area that exists below the screen on most other Palm devices is absent, replaced with more screen space. This creates a larger viewable area, something that comes in handy when viewing maps. The area at the bottom of the screen has graphics presented on it that looks like the old, silk-screened Graffiti area. This Graffiti area can be removed by tapping a small icon, leaving more screen space for other things, like maps, for instance. If you like virtual Graffiti, you’ll love the iQue. Garmin has juiced-up the VG area with some GPS-specific functions, like a routing icon, and a display that shows the status of the GPS receiver. This status display shows when the receiver is searching for satellite fixes.

Communications. While it does not have any form of integrated wireless, the iQue has a built-in Global Positioning System (GPS). However, it is not NMEA compliant, which means that you can’t use off-the-shelf mapping products like Mapopolis or Street Finder until the developers make special versions for the iQue. (Or maybe some enterprising developer will create a driver that produces NMEA codes so that existing software won’t care.) Having said that, the built-in GPS software is excellent and seems well supported and maintained on the Garmin web site.

Expansion. The iQue has a Secure Digital card slot and, as mentioned earlier, a Universal Connector.

Power. As for battery life, it’s really hard to say. I have not had time to do extensive testing but I did poke and prod the thing over a few days and found the battery drained more rapidly than I would have liked. Keep in mind that I was playing around with the GPS and MP3 player quite a bit. No doubt the GPS receiver eats up a bit of the battery. A 12-volt car adapter is available from Garmin’s web site for $29.99.

Applications. Garmin has added several nice touches to the software on the iQue 3600, but overall I found the software installation process to be buggy and confusing and the third-party software package to be skimpy. (A full version of Documents To Go would have been a nice addition.)

The software comes on three CD ROMs: one for the Palm Desktop (Windows only, Macintosh is not supported) and third-party applications, and two disks containing maps. It’s necessary to load the Garmin version of the Palm Desktop software, since the version I’m running for my Palm Tungsten C did not recognize the iQue. (Windows complained about the new USB device trying to connect.) However, after installing Garmin’s Palm Desktop version, it connected and performed a HotSync operation just fine.

The setup program for the maps seemed buggy. It prompted for disk swaps before it had finished copying files, causing Windows to complain about missing disk volumes. (A little patience and a few retries seemed to resolve the problem.) As for the confusing part, the installation software creates a Garmin folder in your Start Menu, and a Palm Desktop icon on your desktop. That may not seem confusing to you, but when I saw that the Garmin menu only allows you to reinstall or de-install, I was scratching my head for a way to install the detailed maps. After reading the manual, it was clear that the maps may be installed only from within the Palm Desktop application. Go figure.

Garmin has also taken control of the Palm OS Find function. When you tap the Find icon on the iQue, you get a whole list of GPS-enabled find features, including finding a city or a specific address or place, rather than the standard Palm pop-up search box. Of course, a normal text find is also still available. Curiously, the Find Cities function listed about ten “Atlanta” entries, like Atlanta, IL, Atlanta, KS, and Atlanta, ID, but no Atlanta, Georgia. Call me crazy, but I would think that Atlanta GA ought to be on that list. (Makes you wonder how many other quirks exist in its database of locations.)

The Address Book and Date Book have also been enhanced to support GPS functions. For instance, every address can have a location associated with it. Tap on an address that has a location and you can have the device find a route from your current location to that address, and give you voice directions as you drive. The same applies to Date book entries. Suppose you have a meeting downtown at the Hilton Hotel. Your appointment can have the Hilton set as the location. When the alarm goes off to remind you about the meeting, just tap the Route to menu item, hop in your car, and your little pocket device will give you detailed directions so you don’t get lost — and with voice commands so you can keep your eyes on the road.

Garmin iQue 3600

There’s a large selection of GPS-enabled programs pre-installed on the device, such as a trip log, a routing program, and a compass. I found the mapping program to be quite detailed and easy to use, though the map selection process on the desktop was a bit difficult to use. The maps take up lots of memory on the device, so you have to choose your detailed maps carefully. I tried to load the entire metro Atlanta area details onto the device, but there just wasn’t enough room. On the plus side, I noticed only slight delays when the maps were loaded from the SD card instead of internal memory. While my test wasn’t very scientific, I felt the performance was more than adequate. The Maps views allow you to zoom in and out using the scroll buttons on the front of the device or the rocker wheel on the left side. You can also move the map by dragging it across the screen with the stylus. There is a slight delay (less than a second in most cases) when scrolling from one area of a detailed map to another area, caused by loading map files.

Value

If you consider the price of all the separate devices you’d have to buy to meet this device’s specs, $589 is a great price.

Bottom Line

The Garmin iQue 3600 handheld is a cool device. It is relatively small and lightweight for a device that is both a PDA and a GPS. And it doubles as an MP3 player and a voice recorder. However, before you run out and buy one of these devices, remember that it is not NMEA compliant and it does not have integrated wireless networking.


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