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Garmin iQue Review

The excellent technology writer David Pogue has a review of Garmin's new GPS-equipped Palm OS device in the New York Times:

Garmin's new iQue 3600 is the first palmtop that is also a G.P.S. receiver -- a remarkable feat, considering that it's no larger than a typical Palm organizer. It runs on the Palm 5.2.1 operating system, meaning that it synchronizes its calendar, address book and to-do list with a Windows PC and can run any of thousands of add-on programs. It comes with both a voice recorder and Documents to Go, a program that lets you view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files when you're on the move.

The iQue's bright color screen (320 by 480 pixels) covers the entire face of the device. This setup lets you hide the Graffiti handwriting area when you've got more important things to look at, like maps. It also shows the letter shapes you're making as you write, as though your inkless stylus actually had ink, which makes it easier to master the Palm alphabet...

The top of the screen identifies your current speed and direction of travel, along with the next turn you're supposed to make ("Turn right on I-95 South"). Better yet -- and safer -- a woman's voice announces from the built-in speaker, "In 400 feet, exit left," or whatever.

Over all, the experience is much like using the $3,000 navigation systems built into the dashboards of expensive cars. Because the iQue also accepts signals from W.A.A.S. (Wide-Area Augmentation System, a supplementary navigation signal broadcast by the Federal Aviation Administration for aircraft use), it's much more accurate than less expensive G.P.S. units...

Over and over again, thoughtful design touches will win you over. The next-turn information appears in huge, white-on-black lettering that's legible from three feet away (that is, the driver's seat). A bottom-mounted flip cover protects the screen from the hazards of your pocket. The car pedestal is rooted to your dashboard by the weight of fabric-covered sandbags instead of adhesive, screws, or anything else that would make it hard to transfer from car to car.

Thanks to the smooth integration of the iQue's two functions -- G.P.S. and Palm organizer -- the whole is indisputably greater than its parts. Even the calendar function is tied in: if you tap in a 7 o'clock dinner meeting at Joe's Organic Pizza, the iQue promptly displays directions.

The iQue goes for about $550 online. The next least expensive G.P.S. receiver with color screen and voice prompts is Garmin's own StreetPilot III, which costs about $675. When you consider that the price of a comparably equipped color Palm (without G.P.S.) is $400, the iQue looks like quite a bargain.

Most people would assume that a G.P.S.-enabled palmtop would appeal primarily to hikers, sailors and campers. But thanks to the iQue's ingenious driving-navigation features and points-of-interest database, it quickly becomes an essential tool for anyone who travels, whether to other cities on business or anywhere at all beyond the local beaten path. Garmin has designed an extremely successful hybrid that is worth the price -- and the taxes.

This is about as good a review as David is likely to give. The iQue sounds like a hit in the making. Now if only it had Bluetooth built in.

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