Mitac Mio 168 review

4.5 out of 5
£378

For

Powerful PDA with loads of applications and fast acting location system.

Against

Will need an additional memory card added to store all the maps.

The irrepressible urges of modern day Dr. Frankensteins don't always get channelled into the making of botch-stitched yokel-spookers. At times the blending of two totally disassociated things together can result in a creation far in excess of the sum of the parts. The Mitac Mio 168 is a perfect example of one of those creations.

The Mio 168 combined a powerful Pocket PC with a fully integrated Global positioning system all in a device measuring 112m x 70mm and weighting just 147g. Numerology fans will undoubtedly recognise this numerical combination as exactly the same as the very similar to the competitor Naveman's PiN device. In fact, change the shape of the buttons on the front panel the devices are identical in design.

In simple terms, the Mio 168 is a pocket PC device into the back of which somebody has screwed a moveable GPS satellite receiver. The bodywork houses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with an 8-hour life and a 65,000 colour, TFT, 240pixel x 320pixel screen. The pocket PC runs a Windows mobile 2003 operating system and processing power comes from a 300MHz Intel X-scale CPU. Added into this is 64Mb of RAM and 32Mb of ROM. The ROM (Intel Strata Flash) powers the OS leaving the RAM to be used for data storage and some additional applications.

The MS Windows operating system is simple and effective, and offers up all the expected treats to boggle, bemuse and delight. Standard feature include contacts and calendar and with the purchased package you also get software to install MS Outlook 2002 and ActiveSync, on your PC. There are pocket versions of Word and Excel as well as Windows Media Player 9 and a MP3 playback application. Once modems have been configured via IR or connections established through ActiveSync then e-mails can be downloaded and the internet browsed. Interestingly, in the configuration menu for the connectivity setting, Bluetooth is mentioned and even though the device is not pre-enabled out of the box, bolt-ons can be added to the SD / MMC (SDIO compatible) port in the top of the body.

With the PDA aspect understood let's look at the GPS. The reverse of the body houses a sturdy flip-up flat antenna, equivalent in size to 4 first-class stamps. When the GPS function is required this is swung into position to have the flat side angled at the sky. For the technical types out there hardware is a SiRF Chipset and supports a standard NMEA protocol, nice! Satellite acquisition is fast with location being attained within a minute of getting a view of a sky. The Mio 168 will work with any Satellite tracking software that's compatible with MS mobile 2003 and depending on the region in which you purchase the device, the standard software might vary. The most commonly shipped software is Destinator 3, this offers a number of different navigation options that are easy to use and configure. Destinator is predominantly designed to be used in a moving vehicle but will work equally well on foot. Settings can be altered to vary the colour palette of the screen to match driving conditions and maps can be altered from 2D to 3D to Birds-eye views depending on preference.

With the onus on ‘eyes-on-the-road' driving, the device includes verbal warnings that, if desired, be set to be VERY loud, telling you when you make turns. Sadly in order to control the volume of the ‘voice' you have to turn the main volume down for the whole device. Other helpful announcements tell you to ‘drive carefully' and that you are ‘Over speed limit', and will naturally be deactivated as soon as physically possible. The storage of the map data poses an issue, the UK and Ireland Destinator maps come to a cheeky 110Mb, so if you want to keep them all on the device permanently you are going to need to invest in an additional SD / MMC memory card, as without one you are going to be forever moving maps on and off the Mio 168 via your PC desktop. Shop around though, often the preinstalled Destinator bundles include a SD card with them as part of the deal. One word of warning, the on/off switch on the reverse of the device should NOT BE touched. This acts as a hard-reset and will restore the device to the factory defaults, wiping all non-standard software off the device, including the GPS software.

A plethora of accessories come included in the box. These include a travel charger, Sync cable and various tortuous mounting devices to get the Mio168 onto you car dashboard. For the larger vehicles, where the line of sight to the sky and the line to sight to the eye are mutually exclusive, a magnetic extension antenna has even been provided.

Verdict

Overall the Mitac Mio 168 is worth recommending as both a GPS and a PDA. Both sets of aspects are easy to use, intuitive and reliable. Combined together and you have a really useful device. The price makes it a definite alternative to mid-range PDA's and the compact design and long battery life make it a much more practical carry-with solution than lot of the alternative handheld location systems.