Garmin iQue 3000 GPS PDA Review

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Garmin’s iQue 3000 is an attempt to entice users with the prospect of combining GPS-guided navigation and Palm OS organizer functions into a single device. We’ve examined it to see how well things turned out.

Design & Construction

The casing is a heavy-duty gray plastic that reminds me of the old Palm III series. It’s bland to the point of being like plain oatmeal, but durable, and doesn’t feel bad in the hand. It’s got a sense of toughness about it, like you could haul the thing around and never have to worry about breaking it.

While it’s primarily designed for auto navigation, I think it would do reasonably well for hiking, too.

Antenna deployed 90 degrees back.

Curiously, unlike almost all other devices on the market, the iQue 3000 doesn’t have a proper 5-way directional pad. Instead, it has a simple up/down rocker button, akin to the buttons on the old style Sony devices, or Palm models before they adopted one-handed navigation.

Instead of having a latch that releases the GPS antenna, as on previous units from this company, the 3000 simply has a recess where you can stick your finger in any pry up the antenna. Deploying the antenna still automatically launches the GPS software.

Antenna deployed 180 degrees up.

As you’d expect for a device designed for automotive navigation, the iQue 3000 comes with a suction-cup windshield mount for holding the device while you drive. Nothing too fancy, not even a full cradle to set the device into, just a basic clip-on design with a short flexible mount. There’s also an adhesive panel in the box if you want to mount it on a dashboard or the like.

iQue in auto mounting bracket.

 

Hardware

Processor: 200 MHz ARM9
Operating System: Palm OS Garnet 5.2.1
Display: 3.0 inch, 320 x 320 pixel transmissive/reflective LCD
Memory: 32 MB RAM; 32 MB ROM; included 128 or 256 MB expansion card
Size & Weight: 4.7 inches long x 2.8 inches wide x 0.7 inches thick (antenna retracted); 5.2 ounces
Expansion:

Single microSD/Transflash slot

Docking USB cable; Automotive mounting bracket
Communication:

Serial infrared port

Audio: Internal speaker; 3.5 mm headphone jack
Battery: Internal lithium-ion rechargeable battery
Input: Up/down key; 4 remappable application buttons; touchscreen
Other: Internal 12-channel GPS receiver with WAAS; MCX connector for external antenna (optional)

 

Processor

The iQue 3000 shares the same 200 MHz processor that drove its Palm-powered predecessors, the 3600 and 3200. While not the most advanced or potent processor, it’s more than capable of handling the GPS nav software and most other things that one could conceivably throw at it.

Operating System

The iQue runs on Palm OS 5.2, rather than the OS 5.4 that’s used by Palm, Inc. and most other manufacturers. The differences between 5.2 and 5.4 are minimal, so you need not worry about not having the latest version. If anything, 5.2 retains more compatibility with existing programs.

The iQue does lack, however, the many hacks and extensions that Palm, Inc. has worked into its devices. No one-handed navigation, no Today screen, none of the other various refinements that have been introduced over the last few years. It’s pure Palm OS 5, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective.

Display

The iQue’s 320 x 320 pixel display isn’t the most stunning in the world. It does colors quite well, but tends to have a bit of a yellowish tint to its whites. This doesn’t really affect navigation or organizational use, but might be a concern if you wanted to keep photos on it.

Memory

The iQue comes with 32 MB of memory, not a huge amount even for a Palm OS device, but sufficient for most people’s needs. The device also includes, out of the box, a memory card, saving the end user the labor of trying to track down a compatible card themselves. The U.S. version comes with a 128 MB card, while the European iQue ships with a 256 MB card.

Size & Weight

The iQue is far from slim, but then it’s not really supposed to be. Durability is a bigger concern, and not many people are really going to be pocketing this PDA.

Expansion

For reasons passing well beyond human comprehension, Garmin decided that with the 3000 model they would abandon their standard SDIO slot in favor of a microSD slot. If you’ve never seen a microSD card in person before, words don’t do it justice. It’s about the thickness of a human fingernail and the area of an M&M. Handling it, I felt that if I took a deep breath I’d risk inhaling the thing. To give you an idea, this photo compares the size of a MicroSD card, a standard GSM SIM card, and a U.S. quarter dollar.

Top to bottom: MicroSD card, GSM SIM card, quarter dollar.

I can’t get behind the use of a microSD card. They may be fine for cell phones and ultra-miniature MP3 players, but in a device this size there’s little excuse for using them. With SD card prices falling as swiftly as they are, it’s silly to force your customers to use a more expensive format with less capacity. Unless you’re Sony, in which case it’s company policy. Furthermore, the use of the microSD card makes it difficult to use the iQue as a car stereo component since MP3s are bulky and even a 1 GB microSD card is quite expensive.

Docking

Not much to say here. The iQue uses a simple mini-USB plug, increasingly popular for low-end devices and some smartphones. It makes sync cables easy to come by, at least. Unlike many other mini-USB devices, the iQue doesn’t use the same plug for power, so you can’t charge directly from the USB port or a USB power supply.

Bottom of iQue 3000, showing USB port, DC jack, and flip cover attachments.

Communication

iQue 3000 communication skills: none. It has no built-in communications channels except infrared and USB, and with only a microSD slot you’re never going to be able to add any either. While you may not care if your primary application is for navigation there are a variety of connected applications that can enhance basic GPS nav usage, such as weather forecasts and traffic reporting. Without any active communication the 3000 is limited to only what you can download from a synced PC.

Audio

Not much to say here, either. The 3000 features basic audio functions, consisting of a 3.5 mm headphone jack and an internal amplified speaker. The latter is plenty loud enough to make spoken directions or audio alerts heard in even a busy automotive environment, so it’s well suited to its navigation tasks.

Battery

The iQue’s battery life isn’t stellar. With the GPS receiver running it only averages about 3-4 hours. In some ways, though, the iQue’s battery life is entirely a secondary factor. It’s designed to be used while plugged in for large periods of time, and only be used for assorted PIM functions while away from a power plug. If you plug it in while driving, chances are that you’ll never notice the battery life at all.

GPS

The 3000, like most of Garmin’s previous devices, is based on their own GPS chipset rather than the more common SiRF chips used in other devices. The net result of this is that the iQue 3000 won’t hold as good of a lock as a SiRF II- or III-based Bluetooth device, particularly in heavily obstructed areas like cities.

To test reception sensitivity, I activated the iQue’s GPS module inside the upstairs floor of my house. My SiRF II-based Bluetooth unit has always been able to get a good lock even through the roof, but the iQue couldn’t, not even given several hours of trying. Of course, most people don’t need GPS navigation to get around their house, but this test was and is indicative of potential difficulty locking onto a signal through a dense tree canopy or in an area overshadowed by tall buildings.

Since I’d have to drive for an hour to find any tall buildings, I took the iQue out into the wild woodlands to see how it held up. While it maintained a lock most of the time, the signal was considerably less stable than the SiRF-based equivalent. Several times it dropped out and reconnected, while the comparison device never blinked.

The GPS module supports WAAS, the Wide-Area Augmentation System used to provide improved GPS accuracy in North America, as well as the equivalent EGNOS system for Europe. These systems are designed to increase GPS accuracy to around 6 feet While it’s primary benefit is to aviation, it also aids land navigation, particularly things like hiking.

The maps for the 3000 are based on Navteq software and information, and are akin to what you get with other Garmin devices, or various packages for Windows Mobile and laptop PCs. Navteq maps are used by Google, and are sold under the brands iGuidance, PrymeNav, and others. It’s a fairly standard system, with all the options that one has come to expect out of a handheld GPS navigator: 2D and 3D map modes, automatic routing and rerouting, missed turn re-computation, the whole nine point seven two yards. There’s points of interest, major roads, minor roads — plus the occasional error, since no information is perfect.

There’s nothing really stunning about the GPS system on the iQue. It’s robust and fairly well designed, but it doesn’t stand out from other similar systems to such a degree as to justify the premium that you pay in money and in lost features.

Conclusion

A decent but not extraordinary GPS-oriented handheld, the main draw of the iQue 3000 is that it’s simple and durable. If you require GPS on hand all the time, plus basic organization and PDA functions, this might make sense. For most people, though, the 3000 has little to no benefit over a Bluetooth GPS receiver and separate handheld.

The Tungsten E2 and a SiRF III-based Bluetooth GPS would give you better performance with a lower price, while a Dell Axim or Palm TX and Bluetooth receiver would provide greater functionality and features for an equivalent cost.

 

Pros:

  • Integrated GPS
  • Rugged design

Cons:

  • Not based on SiRF GPS chip
  • High price
  • Bland features

Bottom Line:

A one and a half trick pony which may work for a few folks, but isn’t going to set the world on fire.


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