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Asus A730/A730W Pocket PC

Little known VGA Pocket PC from Asus deserves more attention

Right upfront I have to say that it isn't easy to place the Asus A730 Pocket PC. On the one hand, the techno wizards at Asus in Taiwan are among our very most favorite people in the world for their ability to crank out amazing, high quality stuff in so many fields. On the other hand, they never seem to forget that motherboards are really their bread and butter, and whatever else they make has a tendency to sort of be available, but not quite.

The MyPal A730, for example, should by all practical standards be a megahit. After the enigmatic Toshiba e800, it was the second Pocket PC with a full VGA display to (kind of) hit the streets well over a year ago. And unlike the big Toshiba, which was a bit of a one-trick pony, the A730 was, and is, a thoroughly exciting design. So why, over a year later, it still languishes on the sidelines as a marginally available product is beyond us. Heck, the thing is so good that Fujitsu resells it as the Pocket Loox v70 in Japan, for crying out loud.

So at the danger of whetting your appetite for a product that you may never be able to get, here's a description of the Asus A730 and the more powerful A730W model.

The 730 is an amazingly small and compact Pocket PC with a full 480x640 LCD. That alone would place it at the head of the pack and in such lofty company as the iPAQ hx4700 and the Dell Axim X50v, both of which the A730 predates. However, that's not all. Asus also gave this device a rather decent 1.3 megapixel digital camera, and that in a body that's no larger than the very compact Dell and quite a bit smaller than the big iPAQ. We're talking a little box measuring 4.6 x 2.9 x 0.67 inches, and weighing just six ounces. The screen measures 3.7 inches diagonally--the same as the one Dell uses, but smaller than the HP's peerless 4-incher.

Unlike earlier MyPals, the A730 has a state-of-the-art Intel PXA270 processor running at 520MHz. That's a step behind the 624MHz versions used by HP and Dell, but plenty fast enough. There are technical two versions of the A730. They are largely identical, but the base model has 64MB of RAM and just Bluetooth whereas the A730W has 128MB of RAM, Bluetooth and 802.1 lb WiFi, and even a USB host port. MobilePlanet sells the base model for $499 and the A730W for just $70 more, so picking this one is a no-brainer.

Despite its small size, the multi-talented MyPal comes with both a Secure Digital and a Compact Flash slot. About the only thing that's underwhelming is the wimpy 1,100 mAH battery. Spring for the 1,800 mAH optional pack.

If you're one of the few who has prior experience with older MyPals, this one is different. It's as if Asus all of a sudden un the secrets of good industrial design. Whereas older Asus PDAs looked a bit heavy and clumsy, the A730 is sleek and elegant. The unit has a clean design with fashionably rounded edges. All materials feel just right to the touch. Even the back of the unit is all nice and smooth and you initially wonder if the battery pack is really user replaceable. Thankfully it is. But to get to it you essentially take off the entire backside of the device.

The A730W isn't without quirks. If you go looking for the stylus in the place where every other PDA has its stylus, none there. Asus decided to place the stylus garage at the bottom of the device. You get used to it.

If you didn't know the A730W had a built-in camera, you'd never find it. All you can see is a tiny lens in the back and next to it one of those tiny mirrors so you can take self portraits and such. There's also a cam button on the left side, where earlier Pocket PCs used to have those annoying "record" buttons. As for the camera itself, megapixels are a moving target and 1.3mp ain't what it used to be. However, it is nice to be able to take 1280x960 pictures, espe since the picture quality is several notches above that of your typical smartphone camera. We're not talking dedicated digital camera quality here, but good enough for the occasional snapshot. There's also a workable 352x288 movie mode. Four imaging apps handle all aspects of the camera mode.

What it all boils down to is that the VGA Asus deserves better than being a wallflower. It has a terrific display, is powerful enough, has an integrated camera, nice software support, both Blue-tooth and WiFi, both SD and CF

card slots and a good amount of RAM. Sure, there are a couple of little glitches and battery life should be better, but this is a terrific device that can more than hold its own. -Kirk Linsky