The Garmin-Asus A50 is a step-up from the entry level Garmin-Asus A10, the A50 Android smartphone has a larger screen and a sleeker design. The A50 doesn't have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and it uses the same processor as the entry-level model.
Aesthetically, the Garmin-Asus A50 smartphone is sleeker and more rounded than its A10 counterpart. The main benefit to the new design is it has created space for the inclusion of a larger 3.5in capacitive touchscreen. The A50 can't claim the latest screen technology; its regular TFT display is inferior to the iPhone 4's IPS "retina display", and it also runs a distant second to the super AMOLED screen of the Samsung Galaxy S, and the regular AMOLED of the HTC Desire. Nonetheless, the Garmin-Asus A50 screen provides reasonable viewing angles and it is relatively bright and clear, although is hard to view in direct sunlight and it is not as responsive to touch as many of its competitors.
Garmin-Asus A50: Navigation and accessories
The Garmin-Asus A50 has four touch sensitive buttons below the display (back, menu, phone and home) located around the five-way navigational pad. Although most of the interaction will involve the phone’s touchscreen, the edges of the navigational pad are too thin and dig into your fingers when pressed. In our tests the touch sensitive keys only illuminated when pressed and they often required more than one touch to activate.
We can happily reveal that Garmin-Asus is generous when it comes to included accessories, providing a USB cable, in-car charger, AC adaptor and headphones in the sales package. A startling omission is that there is a 3.5mm headphone jack, which we feel is an unacceptable oversight for a new Android phone release. Instead the Garmin-Asus A50 uses a mini-USB port rather than the standard micro-USB port that most manufacturers are now adopting. This means you can only use the included headphones that fit the mini-USB port unless you purchase a separate adaptor.
Garmin-Asus A50: Android OS 1.6
The Garmin-Asus A50 runs the older Google Android 1.6 operating but it has created a skin with a unique interface that centres on GPS navigation. The main point of difference between this device and other Android smartphones on the market is that its home screen forgoes live widgets in favour of extra large 'Call', 'Where To' and 'View Map' icons. A right mounted shortcut bar provides access to commonly used functions; the bar can be dragged towards the left side of the screen to open the main menu, and icons can be dragged to and from the shortcut bar.
To access the standard Android widgets, you need to tap an icon that is placed in the shortcut sidebar on the home screen. There are five home screens available to populate, but they're not as easy to access on this device when compared to other Android phones we’ve tested, making them less useful than the widgets found on the HTC Desire and the Samsung Galaxy S. Overall Garmin-Asus' changes to the regular Android menus and icons don't provide any real benefits — in fact the regular Android menus are much more polished. Most users won't be irked by the A50 running the older 1.6 version of Android, but they might find that some newer apps in the Android market are not compatible with this OS.
Garmin-Asus A50: GPS navigation
As expected, the Garmin-Asus A50 possesses excellent GPS navigation capabilities. Based on the same software as Garmin's standalone GPS/Satnav units, the A50 user interface is simple to use and very effective. The map screen is clear and straightforward; other features include a dedicated pedestrian mode, advanced lane guidance with photoReal junction view, the ability to download new safety camera information, live traffic, and a handy save parking spot feature, which automatically saves your location as a parking spot when you remove the A50 from its in-car cradle.
The Garmin-Asus A50 borrows many features from Garmin's net-connected standalone GPS, the nuvi 1690. These features include access to real-time online information, traffic and flight information, weather and fuel prices. The Garmin-Asus A50 also includes the Ciao! friend finder service. This location-based social networking system connects multiple Garmin devices, so it can act as a location tracker and make it easier to find friends, family or workmates.
What the Garmin-Asus A50 does best is integrate these GPS features seamlessly into the phone. As an example, you can easily share your current location via SMS, e-mail and other communications methods. If you are sent an address, a single click will automatically open the navigation function and allow you to choose either walk or drive turn-by-turn navigation methods. This tight integration extends to a number of phone functions including your calendar, contacts and web browser.
We also really liked the use of Android's notifications bar — dragging it down during navigation gives you the option of quickly ending the current route, as well as accessing any saved parking spots. The A50 can navigate to an address directly from your contacts list or to a location from a geotagged photo, and it comes with a lifetime map subscription that provides a free map update four times per year for the life of the device.
In our tests we discovered a few quirks — for example you can't adjust any navigation settings while in the GPS application itself, and the A50's speaker could be louder in all environments, but this was especially noticeable in our in car tests. As mentioned previously, the touch screen sensitivity is hit and miss – and this was apparent when accessing the GPS settings.
Garmin-Asus A50: Other Features
Outside its navigation capabilities, the Garmin-Asus A50 offers the regular features and functions of Android 1.6, including the Android Market for third-party apps, an excellent notifications taskbar and automatic and seamless synchronisation with Google services. Unfortunately, you can't save downloaded apps to the microSD card, and Android remains an inferior multimedia platform when compared to the Apple iPhone, although there are many customisable music player applications downloadable from the Android Market. In testing, the Garmin-Asus A50 felt sluggish on occasion, especially when performing basic tasks such as opening and closing applications.
Web browsing on the Garmin-Asus A50 is aided by the inclusion of multitouch technology, meaning you can pinch the screen to zoom in and out. It lacks Flash support though, and when compared to other smartphones, the pinch to zoom function isn't as smooth, and text is not automatically reformatted when zooming. Other features of the Garmin-Asus A50 include a 3-megapixel camera with auto focus (but no flash), a built-in accelerometer, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a digital compass, a healthy 4GB of internal memory plus a microSD card slot.
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