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Appeared on: Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Arkon DM520


1. Introduction

Arkon produces quality products for PDA and portable devices. Apart from its well known car dashboard PDA holders, Arkon offers a complete docking GPS mounting solution for almost all PDA brands. The package promises not only superb stability, but also good performance at an affordable price. We asked Arkon if we could test their DM520, suitable for our Dell Axim x50V. What can you expect from the Arkon DM520? First, let's see some background information about Arkon.

- Arkon background

Arkon Resources, Inc., a California corporation headquartered in the city of Arcadia, about 10 miles North East of Los Angeles, is a manufacturer and supplier of consumer product accessories for use in the car and home.

Arkon is a leading global supplier of car mounting solutions for PDAs, Cell Phones, GPS, DVD, CD, MP3, iPod, and other portable electronic devices. Arkon achieved worldwide recognition as the partner to turn to for custom or other high quality universal mounting solutions. Quality, speed, and experience have helped Arkon become a leading third party accessories provider and Original Equipment (OEM) and Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) for GPS, Cell Phone, MP3, and PDA manufacturers worldwide. Arkon products are now distributed in more than 53 countries making them one of the leading global suppliers of mounting solutions and products.
  
MISSION & GOALS
ARKON seeks to provide innovative consumer solutions designed to enhance the function and experience of complimentary products for the car and home. Success can only be achieved by providing quality at all levels of the business and by building strategic alliances and partnerships with the suppliers, resellers, and customers that are served.

- Arkon DM520

The Suction Mount Arkon DM520 Docking GPS Cradle Speaker Holder, provides the perfect in car solution for those using an in-car Sat Nav via their PDA.

Each Arkon DM520 includes a windscreen suction mounted docking PDA cradle, allowing you to dock your PDA directly in the cradle rather than needing to attach any wires. It also has an amplified built-in speaker and charger cable, allowing you to power the mount from your car cigarette lighter as well as passing GPS data for Sat Nav through the integrated GPS receiver.

- Used chipset

The SiRFXTrack chipset has the following specifications:


2. Features - A Closer Look

- Features

  1. Compatible with: Dell Axim X50, X50v, X51, X51v
  2. Integrated GPS receiver
  3. Industry’s most powerful speaker
  4. High-quality built-in
  5. Hands-free function (with microphone and noise cancellation)
  6. Docking PDA-specific power connector

For our test purposes, Arkon sent us the retail package that includes:

The current price for the product is around US$139.90, as found on Arkon's website. The price includes a battery, which is optional, since the device can run from DC power.

Lets now examine the DM520 device. The device is well build, with silver colour. The Arkon logo can be found at the bottom.

By pressing a button on the right hand side, the flaps open up and you can install your PDA (Dell Axim x50V in our case). Also on the right, we find the ear phone jack and the DC power input.

On the bottom, there is the GPS antenna (which is rotational) and the battery cover.

On the left, we have the speaker jack, the battery on/off switch and finally, the volume knob.

The DM 520 uses a 3.7V 900mAh battery, in case you need to operate it without DC power, (if you carry it with you for example, which we don't recommend due to its big size).

Let's now see how easy it was to install our Dell Axim x50V. After having pressed the "release button" located on the right of the device, the padded flaps open up.

Install your PDA in the docking connector and gently close the flaps. Your PDA is now secured and you don't need to worry about anything, it will stay there no matter what!

The next step is to install the windshield mounting bracket. This is probably the most important part, since if it fails, your PDA can get damaged.

Finally, our PDA is installed and we are ready to begin using it in our car.


3. Installation

- Installation with Dell Axim x50V

In order to install the DM520 in your car, you need to find the perfect spot. The windshield mounting bracket has a locking lever which secures and releases the pedestal.

Here is a typical setup, installed in the centre of our car's windshield:

If you want to view your PDA in landscape mode, there's no problem. The unit can swivel to any desired angle.

You don't need any special drivers or software in order to start working with your Arkon DM520. Just point to Port 1 (19200 baud rate) and your GPS software should show you your exact location:

While the device couldn't be switched to SiRF mode, we did see the device's firmware version (v2.4.13) using WinFast Navigator:

We asked Carl @ SiRF why the Arkon DM520 couldn't be switched to SiRF mode:

"...SiRFXTrac 2.0 is a bit old.  If the version you have was made to default to NMEA mode, then when you set it to SiRF mode it will stay there, and restart there as long as you maintain battery backup power to the receiver, and as long as you do not issue a Factory Restart command.  If either one of those are not met, the unit goes back to how it was built.

By the way, we recommend that you never use the Factory Restart command except when you are installing new software, and that you maintain battery backup power.  This keeps the most recent almanac downloaded from the satellites fresh in the receiver.  With XTrac, the almanac is only saved in battery-backed RAM, not on flash as it is in standard GSW2 software.  So if you lose the battery, you revert to the factory almanac, which for XTrac 2.0 is probably already approaching 2 years old..."

- Tests

We tested the device with a Dell Axim X50v. We recorded all produced data for a pre-selected route with VisualGPSce (free edition) and later analyzed it with GPSLog. In order to measure the TTFF ("Time to First Fix" which is the time it takes for a GPS to determine its current position), we used the GPSInfo "Cold Start" function. All tests ran continuously, under the same environmental conditions (night, clear sky, 8° C ) and all installed in an Audi, model A4 2004.

Globalsat BT-338 Arkon DM520
Time to First Fix (TTFF) Secs 38 sec -
Fix Invalid 0 0
2D 0 3.2

3D

100 96.8
Satellites Average (in view) 8 8
Average (in use) 5.19 6.15
Average Signal Level (in dB) Maximum per Satellite 47.33 38.00
Average per Satellite 38.43 27.36

The Arkon DM520 uses SiRF XTrack 2.0, which is quite a bit older than the latest SiRF III series. Compared with the Globalsat BT-338, Arkon DM520 didn't have 100% 3D Fix, it had higher average in use satellites and significantly lower average signal levels (38.43dB vs 27.36dB). While this may sound rather low, it will cover most of your needs. We confirmed it after driving around for over 3hours in our car. We never noticed a loss in signal and met with no problems.


4. Conclusion

Arkon's DM520 is a combined GPS and PDA holder, designed for car windshield mounting. The device is powered by a SiRF XTrack v2.0, which is rather old, but will do the job for most users. The amplified built-in speaker, although it could be clearer, is a very good addition since our Dell Axim x50V's speaker is rather quiet for car use. There's also no need to worry about your PDA battery running out of juice, since the docking station works as a charger as well. We didn't notice any problems while working and charging our unit at the same time.

The device has a rotating antenna, useful to finding the perfect angle for best reception. The flaps that grip the PDA have plastic pads which protecting your PDA from scratches and hold your PDA securely in position. The included windshield mounting bracket is very sturdy, and very effective. To test out just how well it secures on, we tried prying it off a home window and almost broke the glass.

Overall, we were satisfied with the DM520 PDA/GPS holder. It eliminates the need for an additional GPS module (either CF, SD or BT) and works very well. Of course, we would love to see a DM520 powered by an SiRF III chipset, providing perfect reception levels. But this is something that Arkon is definitely working on. Lastly, don't forget that the device can be powered by the internal battery, with almost 4 hours of stand by time.

The price for the Akron DM520 is around US$139.90 (including battery) which is less than buying a good PDA holder and a BT GPS device.

The Positive

The Negative



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