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The eye-catching Asus P527 cell phone

Festooned with features, the Asus P527 phone (US$570 unlocked, as of April) is near perfection--on paper. Its big 2.7-inch LCD and spacious keypad are immediately eye-catching, and under the hood the P527 includes wi-fi, GPS, an FM radio, and even remote desktop-control features. It's too bad that the P527 is so slow that it will try the patience of even the most enthusiastic user. The various quirky and buggy applications don't help.

Asus has tacked its own homegrown operating system on top of Windows Mobile--hardly the most efficient and intuitive mobile OS to start with. What you end up with is two interfaces running on top of each other: Standard Windows Mobile is there, but the "Asus Launcher" offers its own entry to the usual collection of WM applications, plus a selection of Asus-built programs. You can switch between both interfaces at will--and, in fact, to get anything done you often have to switch, whether you want to or not.

Finding your way around the haphazardly organised Asus Launcher isn't too hard, and because the phone is so terribly slow you'll have plenty of time to ponder what you're going to do next while you wait for a screen refresh. Try to avoid pressing buttons more than once in an attempt to hurry it along: The P527 is just thinking, and multiple taps often result in opening something you didn't really want, slowing things even further. Wi-Fi is helpful for Web surfing, but the lack of a 3G radio means using the P527 on the Internet is equally frustrating when you're away from a hotspot.

GPS is where the P527 should really shine, but Asus's half-baked implementation is lacking. The main application is Asus Go, which comes on its own 2GB microSD card and isn't preinstalled on the device proper. The software is reasonably intuitive but is hardly as capable as a modern, stand-alone GPS device is. Other included GPS apps, such as Travelog, which keeps a running map of where you wander and lets you export it later to Google Earth, are fun but require way too much work to be of significant use.

As a phone, the P527 is capable and easy to talk on, but it has a quieter speakerphone than its size might imply. Its talk-time battery life is excellent, as it lasted the full 10 hours in our lab tests (the maximum amount of time we test). Another plus is that the 2-megapixel camera is better than those of most phones in this class. But everything about the P527--from its shutter lag to its simple data entry--is so ploddingly slow that the phone will quickly frustrate anyone.