Reg Review Mitac launched the first PocketPC with an integrated GPS receiver - the Mio 168 - in Taiwan last November. At the time, the company had no plans to offer the device outside the island and mainlaind China. An odd decision, that, given the growing popularity of cheap GPS systems in Europe. Germany's Medion has come from nowhere to become Europe's third biggest PDA seller during Q4 2003 - all on the back of its PocketPC GPS bundle. That puts it ahead of heavyweights Sony and Dell.
Not one to let such an opportunity by, UK PC supplier Evesham Micros decided to bring the Mio 168 over to the UK and, following Medion's lead, offer it specifically as a low-cost GPS device. The result is a partnership with navigation software provider ALK Technologies, which provides the UK and Ireland street maps and path-finding code Evesham bundles with the hardware.
Mitac's Mio DigiWalker 168, to give the device its full name, is one of the most compact PocketPCs I've seen. Face on, it measures just 11.3 x 7cm, smaller than Viewsonic's V35, which held the record until now. However, the Mio isn't thin, coming in at 1.6cm - and that's before you taking into account of the 0.8cm-thick GPS antenna folded down against the back of the device. The whole lot weighs 147g, which gives it a sturdy rather than heavy feel.
It's comfortable in your hand. If you want to use the Mio as a PDA, you can do so without feeling you've had to compromise on weight or size in order to get the GPS functionality built in.
The 168 contains a standard 3.5in, 16-bit colour display with a 240 x 320 resolution. The viewing angle in both the vertical and horizontal axes is good, but not great, but the backlight is weak. Sitting out in the back garden on an overcast but bright day, I had to squint a little even with the backlight turned up full.
Since you shouldn't be peering at the PDA while you're driving, this might not matter for some folk, but if you plan to use the device for walking or even while cycling, it's worth bearing in mind. Half the point of integrating GPS into the device is to make the rig sufficiently portable for pedestrians. ALK's CoPilot 4 Live software even has a mode for guiding folk on foot, so it's clearly not a package aimed solely at motorists.
The Mio isn't the most powerful PocketPC I've tried, either, running a 300MHz Intel XScale PXA255 processor backed by 64MB of SDRAM and 32MB of ROM. Expansion comes courtesy of an SD/MMC card slot.
In addition to the usual Windows Mobile 2003 applications, Mitac bundles an MP3 player app, back-up and application launcher utilities, a picture viewer, and Mio Utility, which allows you to adjust the 168's clock speed in order to extend battery life or limit it to maintain processor performance. That's handy if you're out walking and away from power points.
Garmin shipped the first PDA with a built-in GPS receiver, the iQue 3600, although that runs the Palm OS. Like the iQue, the Mio's GPS antenna is a flatish unit hinged at the top rear of the device. It latches solidly into place on the back of the PDA, and when released rotates smoothly but with a little resistance. The hinge feels sturdy, and it didn't seem to me the kind to go loose on you.