Thursday, Jul. 31, 2008

Asus R300 Handheld Personal Navigator

Remember "Lucky Gold Star," the Korean consumer electronics company that, back in the 1990s made really cheap but clever stuff? And remember how the company quietly cast off its cheapo reputation and, with a name change became the tonier LG Electronics? The same thing could well happen to ASUSTek Computer Inc., a Taiwanese company that produces all manner of consumer electronics that are amazingly clever — and cheap. Take the Asus R300, a device roughly the size of the iPhone, but square rather than rectangular: Your first reaction when you check it out is, what can't this sucker do? A mounting kit makes it easy to use for in-car GPS, for starters. But you can also slide it into your pocket, and get directions in pedestrian, bike and even bus mode.

It's also an "entertainment hub" and can carry photos, music files, even videos on board as well as in external Micro SD cards. It's got Bluetooth and an embedded FM transmitter, which lets you not only pipe directions through your car stereo, you can field phone calls via the R300, too. There's also a light sensor that automatically adjusts the screen brightness to compensate for available light. Not too shabby, and a real bargain at the price (which is about a third of what you'd pay for better-known brands.)

List price: $299

Josh Quittner