Garmin iQue M5 Review

by Reads (58,659)

Overview
I had the pleasure to get my hands on the latest PDA/GPS device from Garmin, this time in the Pocket PC flavor.  The iQue M5 is Garmin’s first device that utilizes the Windows Mobile operating system.  They’ve previously released two Palm based devices (iQue 3200 and iQue 3600) that were considered very solid offerings.  They’ve continued the success with the M5, if you’re willing to spend the $630-710 (street).

The M5 runs Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition on top of a 416 MHz Intel PXA 272 Xscale processor and dedicated 48 MHz ARM7 GPS coprocessor.  The device has 64 MB RAM and 64 MB ROM built in with a SD expansion slot.  The display is 3.5″ diagonally with a 320×240 resolution transflective TFT screen.  As far as GPS details, there is a WAAS enabled, 12 parallel channel receiver and an integrated flip-up antenna that can be adjusted for optimal reception.  Garmin has also included integrated Bluetooth.  I’ve included a complete set of specifications later on in the review.

As far as software, the unit ships with Garmin’s MapSource City Select North America mapping software.  The City Select software is a *must* if you want to use any of the find features and route information.  The information in the “base map” installed on the device isn’t sufficient to get very detailed.  The GPS functionality integrates well with the basic PIM functions provided by the Windows Mobile software, allowing you to add a GPS location to a contact or appointment.

The Complete Package

Let’s start at the beginning….

 

The iQue M5 comes with a decent flip cover with a nice hinge mechanism that allows the flap to lie flat on the front or the back of the unit.  The flip cover is easily removed if you find a better option to protect the device.  The M5 has a nice, clean look.  There’s not a lot of “dead space” around the screen.  The buttons are slightly convex with the PIM function icons printed on them.  The shortcut buttons are for the Calendar, Contacts, Pocket Outlook, and QueMap.  There is also the standard d-pad button.  At the top center of the unit is a recessed power button.  Also on the front is the speaker and two LEDs; one to indicate power status and the other to indicate Bluetooth status.  On the left edge of the device is the hardware button to Record.  On the right edge of the device, there is a rubber hatch covering up a connector for an external antenna (Garmin has an additional car antenna that can be connected here).


The bottom of the unit is home to the reset button and Garmin’s USB interface.


The SD slot, infrared port and headphone jack reside on the top of the unit.  This is also where the antenna is attached to the device.


Here’s a view of the back of the unit with the antenna deployed.  When closed, the antenna lies flush with the back of the unit.  The slider switch on the right pops open the antenna just enough that you can use your fingers to adjust it to the right angle.  Also, this button powers up the device and starts the satellite acquisition process.  The rest of the back panel slides off to reveal the user-replaceable battery.  By the way, the stylus compartment is at the left on this rear view.  The stylus is a nice mid-weight stylus that clicks securely into its silo (how much can you really say about a stylus?).


I like the design of the cradle.  The base is a heavy, slightly curved metal place with the plastic cradle mounted securely to it.  The cradle is set up so that you can optionally plug in the AC adapter, if you want, and the USB cable is permanently attached.


A nice feature of the AC adapter is that it can be plugged into either the cradle or the device itself.  If you want to plug the cord into the cradle, there is a short dongle that acts as an adapter between the USB connector and the jack on the cradle (not pictured above).




The last two pieces of hardware in the box are for those who want to use the device in the car.  The suction-mounting bracket for the device functioned well and has 3 points of adjustment to allow for optimal viewing angle.  It also uses a lever/cam to provide suction – no licking and hoping that it will stay up there.  One thing that I wasn’t as excited about was the fact that the cigarette power adapter is permanently attached to the mounting bracket.  It’s not a huge deal, but it would be nice to have the flexibility to leave the mounting bracket “wireless”.  The power adapter itself is nice with a built-in speaker and volume control.  The speaker volume was more than sufficient to hear voice commands over highway noise.

Listed below is a list of specifications from Garmin:
 Operating System: Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition software
 Computing Software: Microsoft Pocket Outlook , Internet Explorer, Word and Excel; Windows Media Player, MSN Messenger Service, Calculator and ActiveSync; Sprite Backup; and BTExplorer
 Integrated Que technology; Garmin GPS and mapping software
 GPS receiver: WAAS enabled, 12 parallel channels
 Integrated flip-up GPS patch antenna can be positioned for optimal reception
 Processor: 416 MHz Intel PXA 272 Xscale processor, dedicated 48 MHz ARM7 GPS coprocessor
 Internal Memory: 64 MB RAM; 64 MB ROM (15 MB safe Storage available)
 Unit size: 2.8″ W x 5″ H x .8″ D (72 x 128 x 19 mm)
 Unit weight: 5.9 oz (166 g)
 Display: 3.5″ diagonal, (89 mm); 320 x 240-pixel, QVGA transflective TFT with 16-bit color display; 64 K colors; bright white LED backlight
 Battery: Removable 1,250-mAh replaceable lithium-polymer battery delivering 5-7 hours of continuous PDA/GPS use
 Audio hardware: Microphone, headphone jack, speaker for voice-guidance commands, MP3 player, and message playback
 Voice recorder for making memos, quick notes, and messages on the fly
 SD expansion slot for flexible memory storage and additional software; SDIO/MMC compatible
 Networking: Bluetooth, IrDA, SDIO, USB
 Vibrating alarm

Finding my way around
I found the GPS software easy to use.  There is definitely a learning process, but lessons are quickly learned.  That being said, let me qualify by saying that I’m not completely new to using a GPS and the Garmin software.  However, I do know that navigating through the different screens is intuitive.  For most people, I would argue that you should use the device before reading the manual.  I think the manual makes it sounds pretty complex, but in reality, it’s just a few taps.

 
When you start up the device with the antenna open, it immediately starts to attempt to acquire satellite signals.  The System Status screen is available by tapping the satellite icon on the top menu bar of the device.  The System Status gives you a quick snapshot of GPS status, backlight status, battery health, memory usage, and a list of running programs.  If you decide to check on the satellite status, you see a graphical display of the number of satellites that the device has acquired, where they are in the sky, and the status of the acquisition process (acquiring, 2D position, or 3D position).

 
 
These 4 screen captures are examples of some of the preferences that can be set by the user. 

 
The QueFind screen is the gateway to, well, finding things.  There are many ways to search, mainly by the categories of the “Points of Interest”.  You can also search by address.  When searching by address, it takes a little bit to get used to how the device performs searches.  For example, if you’d like to find 210 W. 3rd Street, you should enter a “3”, an “r” and a “d” and let the device return possible matches.  It’s not possible to enter “W 3rd” and get a decent result.  In the possible matches that are returned, there will probably be both a 210 E 3rd and a 210 W 3rd.

There are several ways to locate a particular Point of Interest.  You can look “Near Current Route”, “By Name”, “Near Route Destination”, and “Near Other”.  Also, some categories, like Food & Drink, have subcategories, so you can narrow the results to a particular type of cuisine.

 
 
Setting up a route with QueRoute is very straightforward.  Set your begin point, your end point, and edit any “Vias” that you have (stops that you need to make they may not be on the shortest route calculated by the software).  Another nice feature is that you can set “avoidance areas”.  This can be an area or a street that you want the route to avoid.

Once a route is calculated, the device will give you voice instructions (unless you turned the voice commands off).  By default, the map auto-zooms when necessary.  When you get close to a turn, the map will increase the zoom level so that you can see the detail of the intersection.  Also, while the device is “navigating”, you can view the QueTurns page which gives you a list of the upcoming turns and the estimated time to that turn.  If you get stuck in traffic for an hour, then start moving again, you can always tell the device to “recalculate” its route and it will revise the ETA estimates.  If the device is unplugged, the screen will dim until the next turn approaches.

 
Ok, one more spot where having preferences is pretty darn cool.  When navigating a route, the map shows several data fields by default.  If you’d like to change the data that is displayed in any of these boxes, just tap and hold the field to bring up some menus where you can choose the data to be displayed.

GPS & Windows Mobile Working Together
Garmin has done a great job of integrating the utility of a GPS unit into the utility of a PDA and its PIM functionality.  They make it very easy to add GPS coordinates to a contact or appointment.

In Contacts, there is a Que option in the context-sensitive menu that pops up when you use the tap and hold on a contact.  If the contact doesn’t have a set of GPS coordinates, your only option is to “Add to My Locations”.


To set GPS coordinates for a contact, you have several choices.  You can find a location “From Map” where the map is displayed and you pan, zoom and click until you find the right location.  Or, you can find a location “From Find” that brings up the Find tool.  If you have an address set up for the contact, you can use that address to set the GPS location.  In the picture below, the Work Address has been entered for my contact, so I can use that to set the GPS location.


Once you have selected an address/location, the GPS coordinates are inserted into the contact record.


GPS Performance
I found the GPS performance (satellite acquisition and accuracy) to be very good.  I already own a Garmin eTrex Vista and was able to compare the two devices side by side.

The M5 has a much faster acquisition time than my eTrex Vista.  It’s hard to give exact numbers since I can’t tell exactly when the eTrex Vista starts its process.  It seems like it has to do some booting up first before it starts attempting to acquire the satellites. 

Also, the M5 seems to have a much more sensitive antenna.  While sitting in my house, near a window, with the blinds open, I can get a 3D position easily with the M5.  Believe me; this was appreciated, since it would have been a little cold to get screen captures of a GPS device in action outside in February.  However, with my Vista, I can’t get a position at all inside the building. 

I would think that there are a lot of factors that contribute to the great performance of the M5 over the eTrex Vista.  The two units don’t exactly make up an “apples to apples” comparison.  The M5 has a little more processing power, a much different form factor and is simply made for a different purpose than the Vista.  The Vista is made to be used outdoors for hiking, and in my case, marking the good fishing holes on a stream.  In an outdoor unit, battery life is one of the most important concerns (the Vista can run up to 12 hours on a set of AA batteries).

GPS Software for the desktop
The M5 comes bundled with the Garmin City Select North America software (retails around $100).  Also bundled with any device from Garmin is the MapSource software.  This application is installed to your desktop and you can add any number of map sources (City Select, Garmin’s topo products).  The MapSource application is a no frills piece of software that does its job well.  Once everything is installed (MapSource and the City Select maps), it’s just a matter of selecting the maps you need and transferring them to the M5.  To get all of the Greater Cincinnati area, it requires 3 sections of map for a total of about 7MB.  If the M5 is connected via ActiveSync it will be detected by the MapSource software when you’re ready to transfer the maps to the device.  If you have an extra SD Storage card inserted, you can choose to place the maps in the internal memory or the SD card.

If you’ve created routes on the M5, these can be transferred back to your desktop (as well as waypoints and track logs).  If you create a route on the desktop, this can be transferred to the M5.  Learning how to best to use the MapSource software does take a bit of learning and trial and error (or reading the manual), but once you get the hang of it, it’s a breeze.

Battery Performance
I’m sure this is the first paragraph that some of you are reading.  It’s always a big concern when you pack so much functionality into one device.  So, in this device, not only do we have a GPS receiver, but we also have Bluetooth capability.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get too scientific in my battery test.  I turned on the GPS, the Bluetooth, set the screen to the brightest setting (and kept it there).  My battery time, from full charge until the unit powered itself off, was just over 3.5 hours.  This is much less than the advertised “5-7 hours of continuous PDA/GPS use”.  However, since I left the screen brightness at 100% *and* the Bluetooth radio on the whole time, I expected much less in the way of battery life.

Conclusion
I think this is a great device.  When I first saw it, I thought the price was a bit steep.  However, with the inclusion of a $100 set of map data (City Select) and all the accessories you need to navigate, I think it’s a pretty good deal.  Now, if you buy this for the “cool factor”, you might regret the investment.  For those that can make good use of a GPS device and that need a PDA also, this device is a good choice from a leader in the GPS marketplace.  There is nothing lacking in the software, and the hardware is solid.

Pros
– GPS performance
– GPS integration with PIM functionality
– GPS software — routing and finding Points of Interest
– Solid Pocket PC device
– Integrated Bluetooth

Cons
– Some sluggishness when multitasking (like entering a contact while trying to acquire satellites)


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