Experiencing Garmin-Asus A10


Overview

Garmin-Asus A10 is an Android smartphone, small and slim enough to fit well on my hand and in my pocket.   The design of the phone is elegant and beautiful. The front panel is dark and shiny with the three standard Android buttons – back, home, and menu – subtly concealed.  Wrap around the phone is what appears as shiny dark metal neatly designed and transit to the back of the phone is made of a different material, with a non-slip feel.   A10 scores high in the form factor.  At the time of this writing, A10 is loaded with Android 2.1.   The platform looks so much better than the older version 1.6.   Unique to this phone (and brand), it comes with a professional navigation system and a home screen that makes it easy to make phone calls.  Many times, this is overlooked.  A phone – smart or not – is still a phone for making calls.   For those who are going to use this wireless phone as a GPS navigation system while driving, do get the car kit as well (in some countries, the car kit may have been bundled with the phone).   You can attach the power directly into the car kit.   Whenever you plug the phone into the car kit, it gets charged without the need to fumble with the wire connection.  I find it very handy.   I would suggest to Garmin-Asus to consider integrating the car kit with the sound system as well.   Because I play music through the phone these days while I am on the road.  Right now, I need to reattach the cable to the sound input jack every time I enter my car.

The battery life is acceptable.   I disable background data and auto-sync.  And I do not turn on wi-fi unnecessarily.   With one full charge, the phone can easily last a day.   A10 comes with a 5.2-megapixel camera with no flash.   If I may pick on one thing to critic, that would be the missing notification indicator on the front panel that is commonly found in other phone models.  As of now, I cannot tell if I have a missed call or an incoming message when I am away from my phone unless I switch on the home screen and check.   So, if Garmin-Asus is reading this, the notification indicator should be on your improvement priority list.

A10 is retailing at S$598 without contract.  If purchased from authorized dealers in Singapore, the phone comes with a car kit.

Home Screen

If you are new to Garmin-Asus Android phones, the home screen looks something like the picture on the left.  It is functional, built with making phone calls and navigation in mind.   You can easily access the call history, dial pad, contact list, and favorite contacts via the icons on the top of the screen.  Underneath these icons are the buttons to quickly get to the missed calls and your voice mail.   At the bottom left is the phone icon, which has the exact function as the top leftmost icon.  This is odd.   I suppose some may find it more intuitive to hit the green “make a call” button instead choosing one of the icons on top.   The bottom right icon is to switch the phone to navigation mode.   The navigation system works while you are driving, or walking.  It must be the new Android platform.   The animation and the user interface is so much more pleasing to the eyes, compares to the previous version that I have used.  Home screens can be personalized.   And I prefer to put my frequently accessed applications on the first home screen, as you can see (technically this is the second home screen with the first being reserved for navigation purposes).

A10’s touch screen is supported by the capacitive technology.   I am still trying to get used to not able to tap the phone with my fingernails, like other phones I use.   Looks like the world is heading capacitive.   How do girls with long fingernails cope with this kind of touch screen technology?   I wonder.   But then again, the roads are not made for the high heels either.

Navigation

The GPS navigation system offered by A10 is a world apart from the rest of the phone models I have used and reviewed.   It works like a professional GPS navigator device, albeit a much smaller screen.  During the review period, I have used it daily while I drive.   In normal days, such a device would be a nice-to-have, a good information provider.  But last week was nothing but ordinary.  I had the genuine need to visit places that I was not familiar with.  Searching for locations is a breeze.  As far as GPS signal is concerned, it is accurate, responsive, and reliable.   The navigation is a combination of voice and real time display of the map in 3D.  The moment I miss a turn, the route is recalculated.  When navigation is activated on the highway, at crucial junctions, a photo-like image is shown with the route clearly marked.  I turn the map on even when I do not need to be navigated and use the car kit to charge the phone while I am at it.   Also, on the highway, A10 acts as a virtual real time confirmation signboard (which in Singapore, that is very much lacking) to remind me what are the upcoming exits and the distance to reach them.   In the evening, the A10 automatically switches to night mode (in fact, the entire phone switches to night mode).  Interestingly, A10 does not come with the GPS-A technology like some brands do.  Assisted GPS (GPS-A) would help to locate based on cell locations even when the GPS signal is lost.  That, is on paper.  In real life though, A10’s GPS works better than any GPS-A phones I have seen, in terms of signal reliability.

Another good reason to keep the map switched on is the speed limit information.   OK. Not many drivers want to be reminded of the speed limit. And at times, I lose track of what the limit is, especially when I join a main road.  The accuracy of the A10 is amazing.   The other day, I was driving on ECP, it showed 70 km/h when I passed the speed camera area.  Then it showed 80 km/h and then 90 km/h as I headed east.   For those who live in Singapore, that distance between that 80 and 90 signboard is short, and ridiculous (200 meters and 9 seconds apart).   Still the A10 is able to switch the speed limit at a reasonably precise moment.   I am impressed.  The moment I exit the highway, the speed limit drops to 50.   And then back to 70 when I join the main road.

The navigation system also shows the speed you are currently traveling at. It turns red when the speed limit is exceeded.  I happen to think that a non-intrusive speeding reminder encourages better driving behavior, even though you and I know that we hate to be monitored.   The navigator works almost perfectly except on cruising speed, at 90 km/h, it is perpetually 5 to 6 km/h lower then the reading from my speedometer.   I am unsure which one is incorrect.   It looks as though my speedometer makes me think that I am traveling faster than I really am.  Or the A10 is trying to be more forgiving.  Perhaps Garmin-Asus has decided that most people seldom stick to the speed limit in exactitude.  And drivers would ignore the speed warning sign if it is perpetually red. I do not know.

If I may make one suggestion to the navigation system, it would be the knowledge of where our ERP gantries are and helps us to reroute in order to avoid paying for tolls.  That should not be that hard given the phone’s accuracy.  Simply consider those roads as blocked.  Below is the map in night mode.

Text Input

Avid readers of mine may recall how I dislike virtual keyboards.  I still don’t like to use them.   Having said that (not sure if it is due to a new Android software upgrade), the A10 virtual keyboard is easier to use compares to other Android phone models.   The virtual keys seem to be further apart, less likely for me to hit the wrong ones.  Cynthia confirms that with me.  It is still quite a challenge to type out a long text with a phone of this size.   But less frustrating for sure.

Music Player

I happen to have skipped the mp3 player era and dive straight to playing music from my phone.   After trying out a few Android phones, I begin to suspect that the added background noise during the playback of music is due to the Android platform, and nothing to do with circuitry.   This noise is evident when a track is stopped, in a quiet environment.  It lasts for about 3 seconds, and then total silence.  I wonder why.   That aside, from the sound quality point of view, A10 is superb.   It has enough oomph to power my car stereo.   In this version of the music player, there is track repeat, music repeat, and managing playlists is a breeze.  Album art also works.   Transferring music is a simple drag-and-drop from my Windows Explorer via the USB 2.0 connection.  You would have thought: Aren’t these basic stuffs that need not to be mentioned? I have worked with quite a few phone models.   You would be surprised on what works, what doesn’t.   What I find missing on the A10 though is a mean to flip through the album arts in order to locate my music.  It is much faster and easier to find my music by pictures rather than album titles or artist names.

Other Random Points

I am not going to write another article on the Android applications.  There are tons out there.  I use a few good ones and am happy with what I have.  The built-in browser is noteworthy for special mention.  It supports pinch zoom, finally.  It is something I can live without, but delighted to live with.  There is a seamless integration from the browser to YouTube.  But it does not play Flash though.  So, there are still some other phone brands that do a better job with Flash.  I was hoping that in this new version, the alarm would work when the phone is switched off.  It still does not.  And I am looking forward to seeing a bigger version of A10, one that comes with a screen size that rivals its competitors.

Unlike other phone brands that I have used for years, Garmin-Asus is new to me.   Hence, while I can vouch for what the phone offers, I cannot say much about the hardware reliability as yet.

Conclusion

Garmin-Asus A10 is an elegant and slim Android phone bundled with a professional navigation system.   Even if you are not in navigation, it is a good Android phone to have.   Because of the smaller screen size (and hence a longer battery life), you probably use it for its mobility rather than some intense text messaging or web browsing.

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