March 6, 2013


The G60 was born from a relationship between Taiwanese hardware manufacturer Asus and GPS navigation specialist Garmin.

It was their first pro-navigation phone that had a nicely designed interface and did the navigation bit well. But unfortunately there were severe flaws that made it unworthy of justifying that high Rs. 30,000 price tag. It was our sincere hope back then that they would port that beautiful interface with the backing of Google's Android OS. Unfortunately, the next phone we got to test was the M10. Other than the phone's decent navigation capability, it was of no good use, thanks to its horrid touch response and the aging Windows Mobile 6.5 OS.

Today, we test out the third model that the collaboration has launched, the A10. Powered by Android 2.1, this phone, on paper at least, has a fairly healthy feature-set, with Garmin's trademark navigation functionality built right in. So, how is the A10 as a phone? Let's check it out.

Design and Build

After using the previous two Asus-Garmin phones, we expected this phone to have a good build quality as well. And sure enough, just like the other two, the A10 too is a well built handset. The moment you hold it in your hand, you get this great feeling of solidity. It is a decent looking phone too; the commonly seen metallic rim around the edges adds to the appeal. The back cover in comparison appears a little cheapie. Like every other touchscreen phone, you'll have to live with fingerprints being smudged all over the front face.

Although it is not as thin as the HTC Wildfire, the overall dimensions are pretty good and it fits the pocket without feeling too heavy.

There are three touch-sensitive buttons right below the screen that fortunately are backlit, thus you don't have to take hunt for them in the dark, like you would have to in some others. The screen is a TFT capacitive panel measuring at 3.2 inches and sporting an HVGA (320 x 480 pixel) resolution screen. Content is displayed well on the screen; readability is good and colors appear natural. The screen brightness and touch response are pretty good too. The display is fairly readable in sunlight, but that's also because of the smart UI enhancements, which we'll look into a little later.

There's a microUSB port and a car-dock attachment port to the left, volume controls to the right, power button to the top. It is unfortunate to see phone makers imitating the iPhone and not adding a real camera shutter button on the phone. There's a rather small looking camera sensor at the back with a linear speaker strip next to it. Another camera related disappointment with the A10 is the lack of an LED flash, which, after testing countless phones, we believe is a necessity in every camera phone. 

Overall, there isn't much to complain with the build and aesthetics of the phone; it is pretty decent on all counts here.

User Interface

The Asus-Garmin A10 ran Android 2.1 when we tested it. With Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) around the corner, it wouldn't be too long before everybody starts tagging 2.1 as 'ancient'. But we'd say 2.1 is at least better than some mid-range Androids that are still stuck on Android 1.6!

The UI isn't completely transformed beyond recognition like HTC's Sense UI enhancement, but it is rather subtly touched here and there. Garmin shows its enriched user experience prowess, which it must have learnt with all those years of making navigation devices. Since this is a pro-navigation phone, it takes precedence, as you have this soft-key on the homescreen that'll directly take you to the Navigation widget.

There you can quickly tap a location name, browse through contacts, browse places near to you, or view the map. There are a couple of nifty widgets that Garmin has added; one is the call management shortcut widget that sits at the top. You also have a "Recently used apps" widget, which was quite handy during our usage.

The first and foremost UI enhancement is the auto color adjustment according to the time of day. So the phone automatically changes the background color of all menus to a dark shade after sunset and to a pale white shade in the morning to improve readability. Certain things like the Settings menu are redesigned with proper sections (the original Android menu ought to have had it). Then there are these nifty pre-installed apps that we've liked even on previous Asus-Garmin phones.

The Flight Status app can quickly look up departures and arrivals from city to city. Converter not only shows differences in standards of measurements but even currency. The weather app shows current weather according to not just the city but the area of the city you're in right now (according to your location via A-GPS).

The slightly redesigned keyboard is fairly comfy to type on. Probably not as good at the auto-correction in HTC's Sense UI custom keyboard (which we deem to be the best till date), but decent overall. Reading webpages was easy, thanks to the fair HVGA resolution. But scrolling through desktop-suited websites was slow, which marred the experience somewhat.

Otherwise, it's pretty much the Android 2.1 that many of you may already know. The typical Google services like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube etc. all are there and working just fine. The A10 is powered by a 600 MHz processor and a seemingly generous 512MB RAM (according to their website). In actual usage, while it did run fairly smooth a lot of times, there were a few times where there was a noticeable lag. The most irritating one was while increasing or decreasing music volume, which led to tiny skips between playback. However, the processor was able to play a standard-def DivX encoded video well by using a third party app.

Now, lets get to the USP of this phone - the navigation. The A-GPS had a very quick lock onto our location a few seconds after we opened the app. The map detail is pretty good in terms of Points of Interests. For instance, you can instantly pull up nearby hospitals, restaurants, petrol pumps etc. During our testing, the information given to us was fairly accurate. The way the map is represented is a bit clunky; in our opinion Google Maps has a much cleaner way of map representation. Also, gestures like pinch-to-zoom or even panning was not smooth. Turn-by-turn navigation worked well in our usage in the city of Mumbai and on an inter-state tour as well. There was a time when it navigated us slightly erroneously in interior parts of Maharashtra, but it was a one-off case.

So, what's the major difference between Google Maps and the Garmin's pre-installed one? First, Garmin supports turn-by-turn navigation in India, which Google Maps as of today does not. Second, Google Maps loads all the data off the mobile internet connection you're on. Garmin has map data on the device's memory itself, thus possibly saving on your phone bills (especially when you're abroad or where mobile internet is expensive). Both have detailed maps overall, both have a "Nearby Places" type listings. One thing to note, turn by turn navigation could come to Google Maps eventually in India as well (for free).

As a phone, the Asus-Garmin A10 is a fair performer. Network coverage was decent most of the times, and while we feel the clarity of the voice via the earpiece could have been a tad better, the more than adequate volume somewhat made up for that.  

The bundled earphones are just about acceptable in terms of audio quality. While they may suffice for the average joe, an audio connoisseur might want to replace them for a better sounding pair (which is very much possible, thanks to the 3.5mm jack).

The onboard 5 megapixel camera takes decent, natural color toned snaps in sufficient lighting. There's Tap to focus, although the focusing is even and not exactly on the area you tapped. Videos were recorded with a very slight lag. But what's more disappointing is the video resolution, which is at a yesteryear QVGA (or 320 x 240 pixels). Thus, videos look a little pixillated on screen when viewed later. Overall, the A10 didn't really dazzle us in the multi-media department.

The battery life was pretty decent as well. It lasted me two full days with light usage of making two-three hours of phone-calls, sending receiving text messages and checking Facebook/Twitter updates via the home-screen widgets. On heavy usage, it should last for at least a day - which is a standard for most touchscreen phones these days. Using GPS (or even Wi-fi) can really drain the battery life. Being a pro-navigation phone, one would expect heavy usage of GPS. But the ideal scenario is when you'd be driving in your own car with a car attachment that'll keep charging the phone. If you are unable to do so, then unfortunately, using this phone as a navigation device is going to suck the phone dry of power.

Price and Verdict

The Asus-Garmin A10 sells for Rs. 18,990. This is expensive when compared to the sub-15k Android phone segment that is populating wildly in recent times. But they could justify that price with all the pro-navigation software they provide with the device. Now that isn't entirely fair, as there is no car kit in the bundle, this isn't a complete navigation package out of the box. At that price, we strongly believe a car kit should have made its way into the bundle, and not as a separately sold accessory. 

Comparing spec-to-spec, this phone is no different from the recently launched Motorola Quench XT3 or even the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X8; except for the better 5 megapixel autofocus camera. But the Quench XT3 sells a lot lower for Rs. 12,300 and the SE XPERIA X8 a little more than that at Rs. 14,000.

The Asus-Garmin A10 is a pretty decent phone to use overall; with nothing majorly working against its favor. But you'll have to ask yourself one question; how important is navigation to you? Since you do get Google Maps bundled with every Android phone, the Garmin's package just extends the already existing functionality. If they bundle the car kit in the package (or drop the price to around Rs. 15,000), we wouldn't mind recommending the A10. But if you want to buy a phone right now and navigation isn't very important in your checklist, then there are cheaper phones mentioned above that will serve your needs. 



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