With all the driving I do, the out-of-town consulting I’ve been doing, and Adam’s reviews of GPS (Global Positioning System) devices, I’ve been tempted by GPS navigation units for a year or two – but they’ve always been too expensive for me to consider. One that caught my eye was Garmin’s iQue – a GPS navigation unit built into a Palm OS handheld, promising either a much more intelligent GPS or a more capable Palm – but it, like the others, was too expensive. Recently, though, Geeks.com had the iQue 3600 refurbished on sale for $300; after a consulting payment, that was close enough to be doable, and after some waffling, I sprang for it.
So far, I’ve used it on one major trip and a fair amount of testing around town, and am overall pleased, though the experience has not been without its warts. By far the biggest one is Garmin’s half-hearted Mac support; although they’ve relented to the extent of posting a Mac OS X version of Palm Desktop that supports the iQue, the map generation software still requires a PC to run. You can work around this fairly painlessly by using Virtual PC, but that’s still a hassle.
The iQue 3600 as a Palm Handheld — The Palm models I’ve used most recently have been a Tungsten T2 and a Tungsten E. The iQue 3600 feels roughly contemporary with these units from a software standpoint – all three run Palm OS 5.2.1, handle input using Graffiti 2 character recognition, and have a high-resolution display. All of my normal Palm software installed and ran on the iQue 3600 without a hitch. Garmin modified several of the standard Palm applications, such as Address Book and Date Book; in all honesty, though, the only difference I noticed outside of a GPS context was the Find feature. Garmin’s Find button takes you to the application QueFind, which includes the standard Palm OS Find feature as one option, along with a variety of "finds" related to the navigation features (such as Waypoints, Cities, or Food and Drink).
The biggest software difference from the T2 and E models is the iQue’s "soft" input area at the bottom section of the 320 by 480 display, which is comprised of active pixels instead of the Tungstens’ silkscreened writing area; the area works much the same as the soft input area of the Tungsten T3, T5, and TX models, though not exactly. For example, on the T5, the on-screen keyboard replaces the writing area when activated; on the iQue 3600, the keyboard pops up in the main display area. However, reader programs like Mobipocket, iSilo, and Plucker recognized and used the extra display space without trouble. When the writing area is minimized, the small control strip left at the bottom of the display displays GPS-related items, versus the Palm’s default buttons.
From a hardware standpoint, the iQue 3600 is also comparable to the T2 or E. In addition to the high-resolution display, the iQue includes an SD/MMC memory slot (though it apparently does not support SDIO cards for Bluetooth or Wi-Fi), a built-in speaker, a headphone jack for audio (Garmin bundles their own audio player instead of the RealOne Player Palm includes), and a recording microphone similar to the T2. It uses the no longer universal Palm Universal Connector of the vintage that came in with the M500 and went out with the T3.
The iQue 3600 has 32 MB of RAM, again comparable to the T2 and E, although only about 10 MB of that is free after installing the included software; this isn’t any particular handicap for me, because I use SD cards for any serious storage (such as ebooks). The main processor is a 200 MHz Motorola Dragonball, instead of the TI OMAP processors used by the T2 and the E, but I didn’t notice any major speed differences; the iQue’s interface response does occasionally feel a bit sluggish when making a lot of screen taps quickly, as with a solitaire game, but applications launch and redraw about as fast (sometimes faster) on it than on the others.
The controls are closer to an older Sony Clie than a Palm; the iQue 3600 uses basic up/down buttons, instead of the five-way navigator used on almost all Palms since the Tungsten T, with a "jog dial" (not an actual rotating dial, just a spring-loaded rocking switch) and an Esc button on the left side of the unit. I’ve been using the five-way navigator for a couple of years now, and find it hard to adjust to up/down plus jog dial; I expect Clie users would have a much easier time of it.
Different controls aside, the iQue 3600’s construction feels about the same as the E’s – plastic case and controls, buttons with a firm click, plus a metal stylus. About the only construction weak point I worry about is the jog dial, but I don’t really use it. The iQue as a whole doesn’t have the heft and solidity of the T2, but it feels perfectly serviceable and should wear well as long as you take reasonable care of it. The iQue is slightly taller and about a third thicker than the E, mostly due to the GPS antenna; the case thins going away from the antenna, and at the bottom is about as thin as the E. I wouldn’t try carrying it in a pants pocket, but I wouldn’t try the E in one either; it should fit fine in most shirt and jacket pockets.
On the whole, I could easily live with the iQue 3600 as my only Palm handheld; the controls are somewhat disappointing compared to newer Palms, but I could get used to them in time. It’s not up to the performance or features standard of the newest high-end models, but it’s perfectly fine for everything I use a Palm for: calendar, address, portable reference for things like serial numbers, and ebooks and simple games to pass the time.
The iQue 3600 as a GPS Navigator — Unlike Palm handhelds, I have very little experience with GPS navigation units; the iQue is the first I’ve used for more than a few minutes. With that understood, I’ve been impressed with it and am very glad to have it.
The iQue’s standout feature as a GPS navigation system is undoubtedly its Palm OS base – both the integration with standard Palm software, and the use of Palm OS applications to handle the GPS navigation features. While a few interface widgets are unique to the Garmin software, by and large the GPS application suite follows Palm OS conventions, making it easy for me to pick it up with minimal reference to the manual. Integration with standard Palm applications ranges from the very useful – a new button in the Address Book takes you straight to the QueFind Address application with the proper fields filled in, and the resulting location is stored with the address – to the mildly helpful (for example, a location can be attached to an appointment in the Date Book, and can then be routed to via GPS navigation). And I can’t help feeling that the use of Palm applications makes the system somewhat more powerful and full-featured than the equivalent stand-alone unit; the tools for searching the map database are one example.
Unfortunately, the integration is not always clear or consistent; I kept banging my head against the navigation system’s route generation. In the various categories of the QueFind application, which searches the map database, you always have a Route To button that creates a route to the selected item. The iQue also lets you create routes using saved locations attached to Address Book or Date Book entries – but there is no Route To button to make this easy or even apparent. Instead, you have to bring up the (normally hidden) menu bar, then select Route To from the Que menu. To be fair, there’s also a method that works the same for both areas: select the item, then tap the Route icon to bring up the Route control panel. A new banner across the top of the control panel reads "Route to <selected item>"; the banner looks like display text and not an interface button, but tapping on it generates a route to the selected item.
Interface quirks are not the biggest issue I have with the iQue, however; that lies with the completeness and accuracy of the underlying map database. The Garmin City Select maps that come with the iQue are from NavTeq, which, according to gpsinformation.org, is the same database used by most built-in car navigation systems, as well as MapQuest and Magellan GPS units.
I understand that it’s not possible to keep up-to-the-minute with new neighborhoods, roads, and the like. However, I really think the iQue should be able to find my mother’s correct address on North Kellogg Street in Galesburg, IL, instead of constantly trying to route me to that street number on South Kellogg Street, when she’s been living in the same place for a decade. Likewise, as often as small restaurants can open and close, I don’t expect the iQue’s listing to be completely up-to-date; however, having an attempt to route me to a restaurant in Jacksonville, IL dump me into a well-established residential area does not inspire confidence. This was using the version of City Select that shipped with the iQue 3600, version 6.02; Garmin’s Web site lists a version 7 update that I’ve ordered, and we’ll see if that is improved at all. I’m still not inclined to excuse the errors I encountered, though; neither location had changed for years, to all appearances. One comment I did see in a couple of places online is that NavTeq started expanding their coverage area in 2001 by including data of lesser reliability, which could be what I ran into.
(As a side note, trying to find map update information on Garmin’s Web site was overly frustrating. Apparently there are two major navigation maps compatible with the iQue 3600 – City Select and City Navigator – as well as specialized topographic and marine maps. However, after close to an hour of shuttling around the Garmin Web site, I could not find a single clear explanation of the difference between City Select and City Navigator, beyond a mention in passing that City Select comes with certain GPS units; in particular, I was hoping to see whether City Navigator would offer improvements that would make it worth buying if I already had City Select. And as Adam noted in his review of the Garmin StreetPilot c330, you get only one free map update from Garmin; update prices range from $50 to $125 otherwise, with most products costing either $50 or $75.)
Since the full detailed map database covering the entire continent would be far too large to fit in the iQue’s internal memory or in most SD cards, the iQue uses a base map covering major highways, combined with detailed street-level navigation maps for specific areas. You generate the street-level map for areas you want using a program called Map Install. Unfortunately, Map Install is Windows-only, integrated into Palm Desktop for Windows; it does run (if slowly) under Virtual PC. The program itself is simple to use, if tedious; a map of the coverage area is divided into (rather oddly delineated) segments, where clicking on a segment adds it to the map you are building. Building a map of any significant size that includes major metropolitan areas is likely to require a lot of scrolling around and/or zooming in and out. Map Install does show the segments you currently include on your map, with sizes listed and a running total at the end – a nice touch when you’re trying to fit a map into a smaller memory card.
After all the complaints above, you may wonder if the iQue is even worth it. Trust me – it is. Adam already described the advantages of a GPS navigation system in his prior articles, and I have at least one more advantage to add.
I tend to be somewhat obsessive about knowing where I am when driving. Even if I know the route I’m taking on a long trip, I’ll still pull out the road atlas frequently to check my progress against the map, unless I’ve driven it often enough to have an instinctive feel for how far I’ve come and how far I have to go. Or, I may know the proper route to a particular location in a city, and the route to a different location, but I want to know how they fit together in relation to each other – especially if there are any odd, winding roads along the way. Having a good GPS navigator satisfies that obsession; I can always look at the map and see where I’m at, how far along the route I am, and zoom and scroll the map to get a picture of my surroundings. I love that.
Despite the integration flaws I mention above, in general I find the iQue easy to use as a GPS navigator. Scrolling can be done easily by tapping and dragging; the up/down buttons give a simple way to zoom in and out, and a pop-up menu lets you select from a broad range of map scales. The iQue does a generally intelligent job of auto-scaling; as you approach a turn on the route, it automatically steps down to lower scales, showing an ever more detailed picture of your change in course, and pops up turn preview dialogs as you approach. The iQue also has voice notification – though as with two of the units Adam reviewed, it’s limited to comments such as "turn left in 500 feet" and does not read street names. I don’t find this to be a particular problem, as the screen displays the full information and is easy for me to read at a glance. Map displays are limited to a 2D top-down view; again, this doesn’t particularly bother me, as I find the clarity of the overhead view easier to decipher at a glance than the 3D displays I’ve seen in screenshots of other GPS units.
Like the units Adam reviewed, the iQue has an automatic re-route feature that takes over when you leave the programmed route; also like what Adam described, it seems overly fond of getting you back on course by turning you around instead of moving you on. (There is an option you can enable to block U-turns, which the iQue mostly honors, but it likes to circle you around the block instead.) A Route Via function allows you to make a list of several destinations to be visited on a trip, with a nice feature that will put them in order to minimize driving time; Route Via can also be used to alter your route manually (to avoid accidents or construction, for example), but it’s not well-suited for this task. I’d prefer an "avoid this spot" feature of some kind; the iQue has a Detour function, which is supposed to bypass the originally selected roads for a distance you specify, but I rarely see it alter the route significantly.
The only other serious complaint I can make about the GPS interface is that the on-screen controls are scaled to Palm OS size, making them hard to hit at arm’s distance, especially without a stylus. When you turn on the GPS circuitry by opening the antenna, a splash screen gives you what appears to be a boilerplate warning about operating the device while driving – and I would take that seriously.
Geeks.com sold the iQue 3600 in a Garmin bundle pack, which adds an automobile mount and power adapter to the iQue’s standard equipment. Instead of a suction cup, the iQue mount uses a flexible rubberized surface meant to sit on top of a dashboard, with four weighted beanbag flaps to help hold it in place, and the cradle attaching on top. This mount worked well for me; I have a relatively flat dashboard and the mount was stable, yet easy to reposition for best viewing. It was also easy to pull it off completely if I wanted a closer look or to hide it at a rest stop. The cradle itself swivels, and has angle adjustments at top and bottom; as long as your dashboard is flat enough to hold the base without sliding off, you should be able to find a comfortable viewing position. The DC adapter includes an amplified speaker (with volume control) that makes it easy to hear voice directions, Palm alarms, or even MP3 music, although the added bulk may be a problem for some people’s 12V lighter sockets. (Music continues to play in the background when the GPS is active, and voice navigation alerts will cut out the Palm sounds for a moment while the voice speaks. However, the speaker sound quality is worse than an AM radio, so I don’t recommend it for in-car listening.)
The iQue can be used as a GPS outside of the car, of course, though the battery life suffers considerably. The GPS antenna is a slab that flips out from the back of the iQue, and can be rotated to several angles; for best reception it needs to stay relatively level to the horizon. I had no trouble with reception outdoors or in the car. I can’t get a good lock-on from inside my office’s building, but surprisingly I could see enough satellites to lock-on in my top-floor apartment. There’s also a socket for an external antenna, though I’m not sure how many people will actually need it.
Overall, I have to give the iQue 3600 a good grade as a GPS; it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough that I’d buy it just to use it as a GPS, without regard to its PDA functionality. Even at the $600 list price, it seems to be as good a product as the first two GPS units Adam reviewed, for significantly less money, and at the $300 I paid for mine, it was a steal.
Using the iQue 3600 with a Mac — And now we come to the real bugaboo, right? Garmin has become semi-notorious among Mac users for its hostility to the Mac; how hard is the iQue to get working with a Mac?
The answer is: surprisingly easy, in fact, when it comes to the PDA side of the equation. Garmin has posted a Mac OS X version of Palm Desktop in its iQue 3600 software update section, dated August 2004; this version installed and ran without problems on an iBook G4 running Mac OS X 10.4.3. If you already own a Palm unit with a version of Palm Desktop installed, however, installing the Garmin version will likely cause problems with your current installation; in that case, you may want to consider a program called PDiQue. PDiQue modifies the property list files Palm Desktop uses to recognize supported machines, so that the iQue 3600 is recognized. I tested it with Palm Desktop 4.2.1 Rev D, the most current version on Palm’s Web site, and it allowed the iQue to HotSync without apparent problems.
Getting an iQue set up as a GPS unit is… considerably harder. PDiQue’s author, Joe Garcia, has a set of notes on using the iQue with a Mac that I found very useful, although they haven’t been updated since 2004. The procedure below is based heavily on his notes, with my own interpolations based on my experiences.
As noted above, the map creation software runs only on Windows. In addition, the initial software install for Windows creates several Palm packages (such as the base map) that need to go on the iQue before you can use it to navigate. Therefore, you need access to either a regular PC or Virtual PC to use the iQue as a GPS navigator. Using Virtual PC is complicated by the fact that you cannot HotSync with it; something that surprised me, as I got my start with Palm products using Virtual PC to HotSync an original Palm Pilot, until the Claris Organizer-based Mac Palm Desktop was released. You can still set up the iQue with nothing but Virtual PC, but the process is more complicated. In a nutshell, you do all the required steps in Virtual PC, up to the point where you’d HotSync; at that point, you instead copy the resulting files from the install folders in Virtual PC to the Mac side, and then HotSync them with the Mac version of Palm Desktop.
Do the initial setup of the Garmin software in Virtual PC; as part of the process, you’ll create a name/user account for your iQue. After the Palm Desktop setup, it will ask you to plug in your iQue to HotSync it; stop the installation at this point.
Go to the Install directory created by Palm Desktop during the setup. (By default, the directory should be something like "C:/Program Files/Palm/[User Last Name followed by first initial]/Install".) You’ll see the initial setup files that need to go on the iQue; copy them to a folder on your Mac. In a normal Virtual PC install, you can do this just by dragging them from the directory window in Virtual PC to a folder on your Mac desktop.
Open HotSync Manager on the Mac, and choose Install Handheld Files from the HotSync menu. Then drag the files you copied to your Mac into the list in the Install Handheld Files dialog.
HotSync your iQue. At the end of the HotSync, you’ll need to reset it.
If you’re going to store your detailed map file on a memory card – and map files grow large enough that you almost have to – you must put a file in your user directory in Windows Palm Desktop so that the Map Install program will know you’re using an SD card. Joe Garcia links to a copy of the file (with somewhat longer directions) at the URL below; the default location for the file should be "C:/Program Files/Palm/[User Last Name followed by first initial]/"
Generate your map with Map Install; be sure to specify the SD card when it asks you for an install location. The newly created map file will be in the "CardInst/Slot-SD/" subdirectory of your user directory; by default, this should be "C:/Program Files/Palm/[User Last Name followed by first initial]/CardInst/Slot-SD/GMAPSUPP.IMG" Copy this file to your Mac, just as you did with the initial setup files.
Launch HotSync Manager and open the Install Handheld Files dialog, again as you did before; this time, after dragging the GMAPSUPP.IMG map file to the install list, click on the Change Destination button to have the map file sent to the Secure Digital Card.
Insert your SD card into the iQue, if you haven’t already, and HotSync again; the map file will be copied to the SD card, which can take a long time.
And now, you’re set to go! If you create new maps in the future (and you undoubtedly will), simply repeat the last three steps: create the map with Map Install, copy the resulting map file to the Mac side, and install it with HotSync Manager.
My New Travelling Companion — As I’ve already said, the iQue 3600 isn’t perfect. It has several minor flaws in the software, and I’ve stumbled over holes in the map database. As a Palm PDA, it’s nice, but the design is definitely showing its age compared to the newer Palm models. It was cutting-edge when it was released but now lags behind the curve to some degree and has gaps in its feature set (like the lack of SDIO support, making it impossible to use an add-on Bluetooth or Wi-Fi card) compared to newer units. And most important – while Garmin has tossed a bone to Mac users by posting a Mac OS X version of Palm Desktop for the iQue, their attitude to Mac users continues to be "Oh, well, if you must, but don’t expect us to help you."
In the end, though, the flaws don’t weigh heavily in the balance for me. Having a full-fledged GPS navigation system for a price I could afford is worth some hassle; having a still quite capable Palm OS handheld included is a bonus. And the synergy between the Palm and GPS sides of the iQue creates a unit that, while blemished, is still greater than the sum of its parts.