ASUS P565 [Review]


The ASUS P565 is a flagship PDA phone from the company. It runs on Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional and boasts of a powerful 800 MHz processor, the world's fastest for a mobile device along with a VGA resolution touch-screen display. Along with this, it also features GPS, Wi-Fi, and a 3.2 megapixel auto-focus camera, all in a stylishly designed body with a leather-wrapped rear cover. Stick with us as we put this powerhouse through its paces.


Bundle


Asus P565

Battery

Charger

Headset

USB data cable

Phone cover

Software CD

User guide



Design and Construction:

The P565 is designed like a typical PDA phone. On top of the phone, we can see the call speaker along with the video call camera and a notification light to its right. The light blinks green when within network coverage, blue when either GPS, WI-Fi, or Bluetooth is ON, and red when Charging. Below that is the large 2.8" 65k colour VGA (640 x 480) resolution TFT touchscreen display. The display is clearly one of the hallmarks of the phone and makes using it a pleasure.





Below it is the 5-way navigation key in the centre flanked by the Call/End keys at the bottom, with the OK key at the top right-hand side and the Asus AnyTime Launcher key on the left. The AnyTime Launcher acts as a shortcut key for many of the important features of the phone and can be launched anytime to quickly access them. The entire front surface is in glossy black, which makes it a fingerprint magnet.




On the left-hand side of the phone, we can see a GPS transceiver at the top and the volume control keys below it. On the right-hand side is the sliding Hold switch used for disabling the keys and a touchscreen to prevent accidental input, with the camera shutter key at the bottom. On the top is the Power key and the stylus slot and on the bottom side of the phone is the microphone, reset pinhole, and the mini USB port that serves as an input port for the charger, data cable, as well as the headset.






While having a single port for the data cable and the charger is a good idea, since the phone supports USB charging, we would have preferred to have a dedicated 3.5mm headphone jack for connecting our own pair of headphones. As it stands now, you are restricted to using the Asus headset provided, which gives mediocre voice quality, to say the least.



 

On the rear side of the phone, we can see the 3.2 megapixel camera lens. The lens has no cover to protect it, nor a flash for night shots. In fact, there is no mention of the sensor resolution or the presence of an auto-focus mechanism. As is apparent, Asus is sending a clear message here that the camera is just an add-on and not to be taken seriously.


Below the lens is the loudspeaker grille and the leather wrapped battery cover. I would like to mention that although Asus claims that the rear cover is wrapped in real leather, the jury is still undecided on whether it really is leather, as it feels like ordinary plastic with a leather-like pattern on it. I hope I'm wrong on this one because at the price at which this phone sells, pseudo leather is the last thing you'd want instead of the real thing. Thankfully, the cover is easy to remove. However, what I am not thankful about is the fact that the memory card is under the battery, which makes changing cards a major pain.


  
As far as the build quality is concerned, the phone isn't as solidly built as some of the other business phones out there. The phone is completely made of plastic, and it flexes and creaks if pressed; metal would have been a far better choice of material at this price. Compared to this, HTC's phones are far more solid, while Nokia's E-Series phones are comparable to marble or granite as far as solidity is concerned. The phone also feels a bit too wide to be held comfortably, thanks to the large display. The phone is thankfully light.



Keypad:

The P565 has only a handful of keys on its surface, most of them being under the display. These keys are all pretty large and easy to use. What is not appealing though is the sickly pale yellow light coming out of the keys. It does its job of illumination, but make the keys unattractive to look at. Plus, there is a slight leakage of light around the keys, which further reduces their visual appeal. The Volume keys on the left are pretty easy to use, perhaps a bit too easy to use as you constantly find yourself pressing them even when you don't want to. It would've been better if they were a bit more sunken into the casing.

There is a sliding Hold key on the right, but it is not the more convenient spring-loaded type but rather stays in its place after sliding. The camera shutter key is large and convenient and has a two-step action due to the auto-focus mechanism. However, after the initial focus press, the second press to trigger the shutter has to be a bit more forceful and requires more effort than usual, which often ends up making the phone shake as your finger musters up the required strength. All this might sound a bit nit-picky on my part, but I'm sure the customers of this phone would expect a bit more of perfection after paying the amount this phone demands.




Display, UI, and Applications:

The display on the P565 is a 2.8" 65k colour VGA resolution touchscreen display. Due to such high pixel density, the display is incredibly crisp and sharp. The on-screen graphics and icons have a smooth look to them. This becomes even more apparent when I put the HTC Touch 3G alongside, which has 2.8" display size but has 'only' QVGA resolution, i.e., 1/4th of the P565. The sensitivity of the touchscreen was also quite good, wherein one didn't have to put a lot of pressure to register an input on the screen.



All is not rosy though. Having such an enormous number of pixels in such a small area means some of the fonts can look really tiny, which causes a strain to your eyes. Also, some of the applications are not designed with the high resolution display in mind (which inexplicably includes Asus's own AnyTime launcher and the Today app), and thus they get extrapolated to fit the larger display, which makes them look unsightly. Also, the colours were a wee bit pale, and Red looked slightly Orange and Blue looked slightly Gray. Visibility under direct sunlight wasn't too great either.

The P565 runs on Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional. It supports Asus's Glide technology, where you can quickly scroll through lists by simple making a flicking gesture on the screen. The screen then starts scrolling in the desired direction, slows down after a while, and then finally stops. This is similar to the method introduced in the Apple iPhone; however, it must be said that Asus's method is nowhere as smooth and well implemented as the one implemented by Apple. The scrolling doesn't always happen as desired and is a bit haphazard at times, sometimes kicking in when you don't really want it to.




Asus P565 pixel density compared to HTC Touch 3G

Unfortunately, the P565 does not have an accelerometer for rotating the UI, which is rather weird for such an expensive phone. You can, however, manually set the orientation to permanently be in either portrait or landscape mode. On the standby screen, you can have the Asus Today screen. Similar to the HTC TouchFLO system, it presents some information on the standby screen for quick access. It includes a clock, a notification system for calls and messages, a calendar, a weather forecaster, an RSS reader, and the music player. It is fairly convenient. The app is slightly sluggish as you side scroll through its various tabs. You can, however, replace it with other on-screen items that you can choose from the settings.

One of the major highlights of the phone is the 800 MHz Marvell TravorP processor, touted to be the world's fastest for a mobile device. The device gives you an option to adjust the processor speed. You can either run it in economy mode to save battery power, standard mode for regular usage, and turbo mode to unleash full power. While this sounds great on paper and when benchmarking, the benefits of having such a powerful processor under the hood doesn't always translate into real world usage. When compared to a HTC Touch 3G, I found the P565 to be only marginally faster, when opening large images or high resolution videos. Still the UI is very fast and makes the phone fun to use. There is no lagging or slowdown, which was a time-honoured bugbear with older smartphones.

The P565 comes with a set of office applications built-in. It includes Excel Mobile, OneNote Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, and Word Mobile for all your office files. It also comes with a PDF viewer and a program to open ZIP files. Then, there is the usual suite of PIM apps such as Contacts, Calendar, Calculator, etc. The Notes application allows you to use the screen as a canvas and draw whatever you want with the stylus. There is also a Meeting Time Planner and a RSS reader. You also have the two standard games found in all Windows Mobile phones, Bubble Breaker and Solitaire.

Of course this being a smartphone running the second-most popular mobile operating system in the world, there is virtually no lack of third-party software available for the P565. Applications, games, themes; you name it, they got it. Only problem is that unlike the revolutionary App Store for the iPhone where all the applications can be found at one place for Windows Mobile (and Symbian), you'll have to hunt around a fair bit to get what you want.

Connectivity, Calling, and Messaging:

The Asus P565 is a GSM Tri-Band (900/1800/1900) handset. The lack of the fourth band is a bit shocking as it would directly affect those who do a lot of international traveling and hence need a Quad band handset to stay in touch. There is also support for HSDPA 2100 with speeds up to 3.5 Mbps along with the slowpokes, GPRS and EDGE Class 10. To further enhance the list of connectivity options, the P565 also has Bluetooth v2.0 with A2DP, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g, and USB v1.1 (sorry, no v2.0). The data transfer speeds over the USB connection are extremely slow, and it would be a better idea to get a memory card reader to transfer large amounts of data.

The signal strength and network reception was good. The call quality, however, wasn't all that great. The speaker volume was a bit low, and there was creaking in the speaker at the maximum volume, which turned out to be an annoyance. The loudspeaker volume also wasn't very high, so while outdoors, it would be difficult to come to know if the phone was ringing. The vibration strength was average.

The Messaging application now supports threaded messaging where back and forth messaging with one person now appears as one conversation in the inbox instead of separate multiple messages. There is no QWERTY keypad on the P565 or any kind of alphanumeric keys for that matter, instead it relies on the on-screen QWERTY keyboard and a handwriting recognition feature. Unfortunately, the on-screen QWERTY is too small to use with fingers, and even with the stylus, it is a hit or miss affair. Unlike the HTC phones, the P565 does not offer multiple on-screen keyboards, and hence, you'll have to do with the standard one provided. The handwriting recognition application is very good and accurate; however, it only recognizes single characters and not full words. Overall, typing on the P565 turned out to be a slow affair with either input methods, and people who want to type fast and who want to type long messages wouldn't really take to the P565.

Music Playback:

The Asus P565 has two music players in it. One is the standard Windows Media Player that is part of the operating system. The other is Asus' own EziMusic player. Both players offer a near similar set of features, except that EziMusic lets you browse albums with their album art in a way that reminds you of the Cover Flow system in the iPhone. Both players support MP3, WMA, and WAV audio formats.

The P565 lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack and we were stuck with the headphones provided by Asus. The headset provided had a slightly different design with protruding speakers and also had a built-in volume control dial. The sound quality of this headset was better than I expected; however, the bass wasn't deep enough for a person to throughly enjoy the music. The phone could be quite loud though. I also tested it with a pair of Bluetooth stereo headsets and got better sound quality than the wired headset.

It must be mentioned that the P565 does not have an FM radio. Now the jury is still out on whether this feature is really important, but not having it in such an expensive phone is still shocking.

Camera:

As I pointed out before, the camera on the P565 is apparently just an add-on rather than an important feature. A 3.2 megapixel CMOS sensor with auto-focus but with no flash or lens cover hardly suits a phone in this price range. The camera app includes the resolution setting, scene mode (normal, burst, night), self timer, macro mode, white balance, sharpness, and colour settings. The on-screen icons are large and finger friendly. The good thing is that the camera application automatically boosts the display brightness when started, regardless of the main display setting, to make it more visible in daylight.

 
The quality of the camera pictures was pretty decent. They were sharp and had good detail. The noise was also under control. However, the colours weren't always correct. Also, the focusing mechanism would take its own sweet time, especially with the macro shots. The camera app can only be started by pressing and holding the camera's shutter key, and the startup time was fairly long. The camera takes a full 5 seconds to start up, and 5 more seconds from pressing the shutter key to the captured image getting previewed on screen.


The camera records videos in QVGA resolution at 24 FPS. The low resolution and the odd frame rate means the P565 won't be a serious tool for recording videos.

Images and Videos:

The P565 has two image viewers; one is the built-in Windows Pictures and Videos, and the second is the Asus EziPhoto. Both are pretty much the same except that EziPhoto has some transition effects in-between images. No matter which software you prefer, viewing images on the P565 is a fun experience thanks to the high resolution display and the powerful processor. Whether it is opening of images or zooming into them, the powerful processor makes it look like a piece of cake, even for high resolution images. Plus, for high resolution images, even at 100% zoom, you can still see a large part of the image all at once on the screen (for a lower resolution display, you could've only seen a small portion at a time).

As for the video, you could play it on the Windows Media Player. It supports MPEG4 in QVGA resolution (320 x 240) at 30 FPS. I tried playing some VGA clips, but they looked choppy on the WMP. However, when I installed CorePlayer and tried to play the file on it, it worked beautifully. Videos look great on the large display.

Web Browsing:

The Asus P565 comes with the Internet Explorer Mobile. You can either browse on Wi-Fi, HSDPA, or GPRS/EDGE. The browser is pretty basic in functionality and does not compare to the likes of the Opera Mobile. Page loading speed isn't much. You can flick scroll thanks to Asus's Glide technology. However, as mentioned before, the scrolling is a bit erratic. Switching over to Opera Mobile, the browsing experience improved tremendously.

The new 9.5 Beta version of Opera is a terrific browser and has been optimized for finger scrolling with large on-screen items and has really smooth flick scrolling similar to the iPhone's Safari Mobile. Page loading speeds are right up there with the best and makes even the browsing of image-heavy sites a pleasure. It also has tabbed browsing and a download manager. It is highly recommended that you get this browser no matter which Windows Mobile phone you buy.

GPS Navigation:

The Asus P565 has a built-in GPS receiver with SiRF StarIII chipset. The GPS antenna is removable and you can attach an external receiver as well. There is no GPS maps software built in in the phone similar to the Nokia GPS-enabled handsets. You have to use Google Maps navigation, which is good enough for pointing out your position even if you are moving around in your car. What it does not have is a turn-by-turn voice guidance system. The problem with the GPS system is that it takes a long time to have a lock-on on the satellites, so long that it made me wonder whether the feature works or not. Once started, however, it works fairly well even inside a car.


Battery Life

The phone has an 800 MHz processor, VGA resolution display, 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth, and a 1300 mAh battery to power it all. To be honest, I never expected the P565 to give good battery life. Unfortunately, after using the handset, my fears came true. The phone struggles to stay alive for one full day after charging it once, especially when you use it the way it is supposed to be used, like using the Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, messaging feature, and of course attending to phone calls (it's a phone after all!). If you use it miserly to save on battery power, you'll be completely missing the point of buying this phone.

Verdict:

The Asus P565 is a likable old chap. In the few days I used the phone, I really came to like it. It looks good and has a wonderful display and a fast processor that makes light work of no matter what you throw at it. But when you factor the stratospheric price into the equation, all the goodwill that it generates vanishes. The Asus P565 costs a staggering Rs. 35,000. It isn't that we haven't seen expensive phones before, but some of them were at least worth their high price.

In P565 there is no Quad band support, the build quality isn't what you'd call sturdy, there is no 3.5mm headphone jack, the camera is only 3.2 megapixel, there is no FM radio, and the battery life is woefully inadequate. What further exacerbates matters is the poor bundle the phone comes with, which does not even include a memory card or a spare stylus. At a price where you would expect everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, Asus has revealed a very tight-fisted approach to adding features.

In the end, I would just suggest that you get the HTC Touch Diamond, which does 95% of what the P565 does at 70% of the cost. Or, if you just have to throw around some cash in the vicinity of 35 grand for a phone running Windows Mobile, then there is the Samsung Omnia with a much bigger display and a better camera or the HTC Touch Pro with a full QWERTY keypad. Or, if you'd like to give Symbian a chance, then there is the Samsung INNOV8.

As you can see, there are plenty of good alternatives available. So I can't really see many, or rather any, reason to get the P565 instead.