Garmin iQue M5 Review

Introduction

The M5 is another of the Que series products from Garmin. It consists of a Garmin designed Pocket PC PDA with a built in GPS receiver. The product includes the PDA itself, a full set of US maps, a vehicle mount, and software for the PDA functions. The power cord for the vehicle mount is permanently attached to the vehicle cradle. It contains an amplified speaker with a volume control for voice prompts. The GPS software is very similar to the previously released cfQue for the Pocket PC and the iQue 3600 product for the Palm. Click on the links for my reviews of both of those products. The M5 is the Pocket PC equivalent of the Palm based iQue 3600. Because of the similarity of the two products I will be comparing them in this review.

This review includes the latest update available from Garmin. This update brings the software to version 2.5. Garmin starts releases with 2.0 and works up from there. The latest version of the iQue 3600 at the time of this review is release 3, equivalent to 2.3. Garmin has released 2.6 which attempts to solve some performance issues that are raised in this review. Unfortunately the re-calculation time is still not corrected in my opinion. It is longer than I would like.

The M5 joins the earlier cfQue in offering a GPS solution for Pocket PC users. The cfQue is a PDA addon while the M5 includes the PDA. Another Pocket PC solution from Garmin is a Bluetooth unit called the GPS-10. All have similar functionality but due to the close connection on the M5 between the GPS and PDA hardware and software this unit offers the best integration. For example it works with the built in contact database for waypoint storage and routing destinations.

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The GPS Map screen

The screen shown to the right is a snapshot of the M5 screen. It illustrates that the screen display can be customized. The default screen looks very much like the screen on the Palm except that the resolution of the screen is lower since the Pocket PC screen is 240 x 320 pixels vs. 320 x 480 on the iQue 3600. In addition the screen is a bit smaller, 3.5" diagonal vs. 3.8" on the Palm. In practice the screen display is still quite readable. In addition the lower resolution forced Garmin to make icons that you can actually see. Garmin has a tendency to misuse resolution to make things too small in some cases as they have done with POI's on the iQue 3600. The higher resolution of the Palm version will occasionally make a difference in the smoothness of roads shown on the map display.

This screen appears when you press the Que hardware button which is in the lower right hand area of the PDA. It shows a typical map display that appears when you are using the GPS but not using the routing features of the product. The black triangle shows the GPS position and the rest of the display scrolls and rotates as necessary to keep the current position near the bottom center of the screen. If you tap the Compass arrow in the upper left corner you can switch the display to North up if you wish. The GPS position will then be shown in the center of the map screen. Tapping it again will return to the direction up display.

The lower left corner shows the map scale. This can be tapped to bring up a menu to change the scale the display up or down. The large round cursor hardware button can also be used to zoom in or out. None of the other hardware buttons have any effect on the GPS software which is too bad. Instead, most GPS functions are reached reach by tapping icons from the command bar at the bottom of the screen. The command bar includes the main Menu which can be used to reach all of the navigation commands and a few icons for rapid access to certain commands. These include, from left to right:

The customization of the text display on this screen shows that the altitude display can be added to the top line of the displayed text. The screen shot is from 2.4 where the altitude did not fit in the display box. This has been corrected in 2.5. The data available is fully customizable with lots of display choices and even text size choices. This version of the Que software is newer version than that which is currently available on the Palm unit which doesn't provide for this kind of customization. Hopefully Garmin will release a new version for the Palm to match the Pocket PC version.

Tap and hold in the text area at the top of the screen brings up a customization menu choice (a menu with only one choice). Tapping the choice will bring up a form with colors, mapping, and routing tabs. While this display is on the screen you can customize the values of the data in each of the display boxes.

Note that the background color for the menu can be set differently for day and night but you can only set it for the color being displayed. You will have to go to another menu and temporarily select day and then night to set it for both. Using transparency increases clutter but certainly provides more visible map data. You can have white text or black with a white line (except the arrow which is almost impossible to see) for the night screen.

The turn arrow is a custom feature not available on the Palm version. It generally points directly to the next turn until you are close and then performs the bent arrow turn indication.

The PDA

The PDA portion of the Garmin unit is an excellent implementation of a Pocket PC. It has most of the features you would expect of this platform. It includes the Pocket PC 2003 Mobile Windows Second Edition (SE) operating system which is the latest available from Microsoft. This runs on a 416 MHz X-Scale processor with a color display. The display seems to have graphic hardware assistance as it provides excellent support for movies. I used the Beta Player benchmark to test the screen display which could achieve a whopping 3X performance on standard video movies with QVGA resolution and stereo sound.

The included software is based on the Microsoft Premium edition and includes all of the PIM (contacts, todo, personal calendar) functions as well as Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Pocket Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Microsoft Reader for ebooks, and more. With the integrated GPS software safely tucked away in ROM the full RAM memory of 64Meg is available for user programs. In addition there is 16 Meg of ROM available as a safe place to save data that won't get lost even the battery ran down completely. There is also support for an SD card. Generally this will be where the maps are stored as there is no dedicated map storage space. The SD slot does support I/O devices as well.

The title bar on the PDA matches the standard PPC title bar except for the additional Satellite status entry. This icon can be tapped to reveal a unique Garmin menu called System Status. This menu can be used to look at or change various pieces of information. It also shows all of the running programs. You can switch to any of the running programs by tapping on the line showing its name. Tap and hold will bring up a menu so that you can kill the program if you wish. This provides a needed task manager not found on all Pocket PC implementations.

The icon itself shows the condition of your GPS connection at all times that the title bar is being displayed. You can use this menu to reach the full GPS status screen but this is more difficult in practice that the method used on the palm version.

Garmin also added Bluetooth hardware so that this unit can be part of a small network or talk to other Bluetooth devices. You could even use it to connect to activesync. You could hook it to a Bluetooth cellphone and browse the Internet. It is not used for the GPS.

There is an SD card slot and it does support I/O devices but you will need it mostly for maps. Of course you could also save a little room for songs on the included mp3 player.

The GPS

The GPS works ok. I like the adjustable antenna. Flipping the antenna open can turn the unit on automatically. This is also a provision for an external antenna. The GPS screen is show on the left. It shows all of the data that is directly computed by the GPS itself as part of the GPS solution. For some reason that I do not understand they took the same screen as the iQue 3600 and then arbitrarily reordered the data display. I prefer the order in the 3600. The GPS screen does have a night mode.

The satellite positions are shown in the circle on the left along with the position of the sun and moon. While there is no compass in this unit you can use the position of the sun and moon to create a crude compass by just rotating the unit until the sun or moon is in the right place in the sky. When moving, this display will orient itself to the correct position.

The accuracy is within the specifications of 50 feet 95% of the time and if you have favorable satellite geometry it usually within 30 feet of the correct spot. With WAAS enabled and being received the accuracy is about twice as good. I found that generally the altitude read slightly lower than the readings on my iQue 3600. I am not sure who is right but my iQue tended to be closer to what I estimated the correct altitude to be. It did vary a lot but my feeling was that the M5 showed about 10 to 20 feet lower. In the 2.5 release this offset seems to be correct.

The GPS uses Garmin protocol internally but provides NMEA data on COM2. This feature means that third party applications that run on the Pocket PC will easily be able to take advantage of the M5 GPS integration. Unfortunately this update seems to be a low priority and if the GPS is busy updates can be fairly far apart (several seconds). Turning off WAAS will reduce this time delay. WAAS is generally not needed when doing vehicle navigation.

I took this unit to Cusco, Peru and tried to use it. Even with initialization it was very sluggish at obtaining a fix. The altitude at Cusco is over 11,000 feet and the unit really had a difficult time with this. I also had an emap along and it had no trouble at all. The M5 would indicate a 2D fix with altitude clearly changes albeit very slowly and 5 satellites in the fix. It took many minutes to finally climb to the 11,000 foot level after a considerable time to get the fix. After I returned home I noticed that several cases the M5 would show 2D fixes when it should have a 3D one.

There is a GPS strength display on the top title screen which is always visible. For some stupid reason they have chose to use 2 bars for both 2D and 3D fixes so a display that could be useful is compromised. It should show 3 bars for a 3D fix and then use 4 bars for stronger fix. This is not a cell phone.

The GPS Navigation Software

The map screen shown at the left shows the unit navigating a route. The top road of data includes the speed, distance to the next turn, time to the next turn (replaced in this figure with Altitude, and ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival). An extra field has been added to the second line that provides an arrow showing the direction to the next turn. As you get close to the turn it will show the direction of the turn.

User Interface

The user interface on the M5 is mostly controlled by tapping the screen menu items. Tapping the map screen brings up a panel that allows you to scroll around and inspect items shown on the map. Tapping a back arrow on the panel returns to standard navigation. A few notes on the user interface include:

Routing

Maps

Installation

Installation follows the steps of Active Sync install and setup like every other PPC. It hooks to outlook and provides additional ability to install maps. The installation CD also contains the extra basemaps.

There is a cradle for syncing purposes on you pc and the ac adapter contains a connector on it to allow charging without the cradle.

Car installation uses the provided suction cup mount. I found that in my car mount placed the unit too far away. I managed to bend it into a triangle and suction cup it to a plate I was using for a different GPS. This actually worked pretty well. After a few months the suction cup got fussy and no longer wanted to remain stuck to anything for more than a day or two. I finally dismantled the mount and my cfQue mount and adapted it for use with the Garmin bean bag. That works.

The cable for power also has a speaker with a volume control that provides ample voice power for messages.

Upgrade

Garmin provides a special executable to do the upgrades. You have to run the tool twice. The first time it installs the drivers and then you have to run it a second time to perform the upgrade. Once you realize this the upgrade works smoothly.

Performance

This product is feature rich and performance slow. It is the slowest router I have seen on a PDA. Re-routes will often take so long you may miss the next turn. It seems to me that Garmin must be relegating the entire GPS functions to the co-processor which is only running at 48 MHz. They need to send the routes to the faster processor if this is what they are doing. Navigation can be accomplished fairly well although the messages are a bit behind the iQue 3600. They are closer on 2.5 that they were in the 2.4 version.

There is an NMEA capability so that 3rd party applications can run on this unit but the speed cannot always keep up with a 2 second update interval. The extra overhead in the waypoint format being used to store locations in the contact list can slow down sync as well. The iQue 3X00 is more efficient at contact storage. The M5 contact GPS values are ascii but are not in Lat/Lon format so they are the worst of both worlds, inefficient and not user friendly.

One positive performance item is the screen. It is quite bright even in sunlight. The battery life is also excellent for a PDA at more that 7 hours.

I occasionally get messages about losing GPS reception out of the clear blue sky. These are false messages in that there is no drop in satellite reception and it instantly recovers. I think this may be related to the other performance issues.

Starting the GPS software after an exit or soft-reset can also take a very long period of time while it assembles the maps.

Final thoughts

This could have been far and away the best PDA with a GPS in the market place. Garmin has dropped the ball with it performance. It you don't mind waiting for routes and reroutes the features are excellent.

The PDA is quite good and offers the latest features from Microsoft. It is missing the e-book reader but you can download this from the Microsoft web site.

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Questions?

Contact Dale DePriest

Revisions
2005/07 Initial version
2006/07 revised to answer some questions asked by users.