There is a scene in the movie Other People’s Money where Danny DeVito’s character makes a speech to take over an old line company. During the speech, he says that at one time, there must have been a dozen companies making buggy whips, and that the last company to do so, probably, “Made the best damn buggy whip you ever saw.” But, he points out, how would you have liked to have been a shareholder in that company.
The ASUS A626 reminds me of this scene because it is actually a pretty snappy little device, but it really doesn’t seem to fit in the world of smarter mobile phones. Let’s start off by saying that the ASUS is NOT a phone. That’s right, you cannot make phone calls on it. (Well, you can, but we’ll get to that in a minute.) Instead, the ASUS A626 is a straight PDA. A really great PDA, but a PDA none the less. A buddy of mine carries this thing around with him everywhere, and I finally got my hands on it to give it the once over. By the way, this guy runs a very sophisticated server center so we aren’t talking about someone afraid of technology. We are talking about someone who hates others, especially the media, to tell him what kind of technology is cool.
The A26 is made to stand out and it does a great job of doing so. It has a real stainless steel case and a bright, glare free, 3.5" screen that for the most part you use in landscape mode. It comes with a joystick type button for navigation and pointing. It runs Windows Mobile 5, so it is a bit out of date on that front, but there are plenty of PDAs and cell phones out there doing worse.
It weighs nothing. The manufacturer says 158g. As an American, I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I know it seemed really light in my hand.
What makes my buddy refuse to part with it is that it has those features the phone manufactures seem to have decided that nobody wants any more. For starters, it supports WiFi 802.11g. That means that it connects at 54 Mbps to your home wireless network. If you’re sitting on the couch watching TV but you want to be checking in on your email, or in the case of data center manager, various alerts and temperature readings, you can do it WAY FASTER than on even the fastest mobile phone networks. The A626 doesn’t download just the headers of your email, or wait for you to give it the go ahead to download images. With those kinds of speeds why bother? The A626 treats email the same way your laptop or PC does, as no big deal.
It also means that every coffee shop, bookstore, business center, and dozens of other locations are your “mobile” network. Sure, there is no Internet browsing while you are sailing along I-25, but then again, should you be looking at the Internet at 80 MPH? My friend always says, “I don’t go to out to the sticks much, so how long do you think it takes me to find a wireless hotspot?”
He’s got a point. Even more so when you pair it up with Skype to make your calls over the Internet. (He also has a cell phone, a small one that just does phone calls.) Thanks to another forgotten feature, integrated front speakers (that’s right, two of them) and microphone (not just phone mouthpiece and weak speaker phone speaker), you can even use it for conference calls, or to play videos or music without headphones. This is apparently really important in a humming data center at 3:30 am when you are waiting for an overseas phone call but don’t have anything else to do until the call comes in. (Headphones would have to be turned up loud enough to not hear the phone ringing.)
Like most technology gurus, he has the thing loaded up with software and utilities to do just what he needs them to do and he knows how to fire them up and run them to get what he needs in just a few seconds without hardly reading the screen. During our talk, he shows me TV shows (streaming over the Internet), shows me this month’s issue of Wired (and a couple of less family friendly periodicals), courtesy of some site on the Internet he knows. Basically, everything he could want in the way of video, audio, books or magazines are at this fingertips. Oh, and in the middle of a sentence, when his phone/pager ’thingy’ chirps, he stops talking to me, flips the A626 around to face him, and in less than 90 seconds has determined the issue, shot an email to the client about the resolution, and fired off a text message to the operator with instructions on what to do. Not bad for a device who’s days are numbered.The A626 has a way to double as a wireless remote for all of those projectors that support such things. It also supports Bluetooth 2.0 so you are in luck if that route works to connect to either the projector or an attached computer. Theoretically, you could load your presentation on this thing and impress your clients when you whip it out and start presenting without hooking up a laptop. That is, of course, if they have the right kind of projector.
Windows Mobile means it has all the standards, including Mobile Office, so it is handy in those situations where you need to read or tweak a document real quick on the go. Also, it syncs up with Microsoft Outlook or your other Windows Mobile based contact manager.
Compared to all the plastic covered phones and PDAs out there this one looks serious and powerful, just the kind of gadget that you might think all the “insiders” are using that no one else knows about. It looks that way, but it really isn’t. The guts aren’t any more powerful than your higher end smartphones, and while the screen is nice, it isn’t considerably better to overcome its short falls. While the WiFi support is great, I don’t share the enthusiasm for “finding” a network every time I need something. Sure, I’d like the option of using WiFi (I’m looking at you cell phone manufacturers), but having a network everywhere is far better. Besides, speed and power aren’t all that great on the device either.
A decent device for a small segment of users. If you keep thinking you wish your cell phone had real speakers, or you wish you could use WiFi without having to lug your laptop around, then this might be a solid solution for you. Otherwise, stick to the phone and laptop combo for now.
2 Stars out of 5 Stars