- Review Price: £182.98
Thanks to dedicated in-car GPS units from the likes of the TomTom and Garmin, Sat-nav is now a mainstream technology. However, before these devices appeared it was general purpose PDAs that gave most people access to the technology. However, as phones get smarter, the concept of a PDA is becoming increasingly outdated, but companies such as HP are still persevering with them, so there is some sense in it offering a GPS bundle and package.
The product name is self explanatory as you get an hp iPaq rx1950 PDA and a GPS in-car navigation system to put it in. These are quite separate, so it’s quite different to devices such as the E-TEN G500 and Mio A701, which feature integrated GPS receivers.
The PDA itself is a good example of the genre. It’s small, light and quite pocket friendly, but reasonably powerful too. Powered by Windows Mobile 5, you get mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Internet Explorer out of the box. The 3.5in display is only QVGA (320 x 240), which with many phones such as the Sony Ericsson K800i offering the same resolution, actually seems quite low considering the size of the screen. The display is bright and clear and while it’s not the best I’ve seen, it’s still better than that on my TomTom One, with superior contrast and richer colours, though the GPS software really doesn’t make any use of this.
The PDA itself is dominated by the accompanying in-car holder that integrates the GPS receiver. The bulky unit attaches to the windscreen via a suction cup that is tightened by turning a circular grip, which is quite awkward to do. Once it’s done it does hold the heavy unit tightly to the screen. The power connector is hidden between the suction section and the PDA holder making it very hard to attach – you certainly wouldn’t want to do it while driving.
What is good is that you can easily turn the screen round sideways to give you a widescreen effect, just like the latest generation of TomTom Go. However, a design quirk means that the cradle bezel hides the power switch so you can’t turn the PDA on of off while it’s in, a flaw that’s made all the worse by the fact that it’s tricky to get the PDA out. Another bizarre oddity is that every time I came back to the unit after it had been left overnight, I had to reset the PDA to get it to turn on, which delayed getting going.
When the unit has a GPS lock a small blue LED lights up in the base and this took over 20 minutes the first time, though after that it was far quicker depending on location and sky cover.
Maps for the UK and Ireland are included on a 256MB SD card with 117MB of free formatted space available for use. The software HP has chosen is Via Michelin’s GPS navigation that I first saw on the palm Zire back in November 2004. I didn’t much like the software then and I’m still not a fan. The interface is behind the likes of TomTom of CoPilot. The icons and the arrangement are quite simple and straightforward but there aren’t as many features as there are on competitor devices.
The most striking thing was the lack of detail in the display, with the basic use of colours and textures. This is a far cry from the level of detail available in something like the Mio C710.
Once I’d got a fix from the satellite overhead the first thing I tried to do was search for my home address. I was straight away disappointed that while the letters were large and easy to tap with the stylus, the numbers were on a separate screen, which is annoying. Why not just have the numbers one to ten at the top on the same screen, so it’s easier and quicker to enter information? It can’t be a question of display resolution as TomTom devices manage to offer this layout.
I was then mystified to find that it couldn’t find my postcode for some reason. After repeated attempts I realised that I was entering the full postcode but the software only supports five digit post codes. This is very disappointing. All the GPS navigation devices I’ve reviewed recently have supported seven digit codes, so it didn’t occur to me that it wouldn’t. With only five, you still need to enter a street name and number, which makes finding many places, particularly businesses, much harder.
Once I was driving I was bemused to see that the PDA kept popping up with messages asking me if I wanted to join wireless networks that it was picking up as I drove along, obscuring the screen in the process. I had to turn off wireless at the first opportunity to sort that out.
I found that voice instructions were clear enough, with a decent amount of volume and many will appreciate that they are also available in all the major European languages. I did find the software rather quiet compared to other GPS devices I’ve tested and found that it didn’t say anything for long periods. Most other GPS devices tell you to stay on the motorway when you pass an exit but the Michelin software stayed silent. It’s therefore less reassuring than some, but some may prefer this less intrusive behaviour. Once you’ve planned a route a zooming scroll bar appears at the top and you have it place text driving instructions on the screen at the same time.
I wasn’t entirely convinced by the GPS performance. I found that often the icon of my vehicle was not aligned with the road, which was a little disconcerting; and the update speed was rather jerky. Even worse, I found that the angle of the road in the 3D display was just not right and it was often too hard to see where I was meant to go. At one point I had my TomTom One on the screen for reference and I simply could not work out which exit the HP was telling me to take and only chose the correct one by glancing at the TomTom – not a great advert for the HP.
Unlike many competitors there’s no built in speed camera database but you can add them in manually with a subscription based database available here. On the Via Michelin web site you can also purchase additional POI for hotels and restaurants taken from the Michelin Guide.
The POI system worked oddly, is that after you’ve chosen your category and where to search, instead of simply bringing up list of what it’s found, it brings up another search box asking you to enter a letter to find what you want – as if you’re supposed to know exactly what’s there. If you just press search you can then choose from a list, so why have the search screen?
There are other oddities. At times you get the option to go back to the Main Menu – but if you choose this you’ll find yourself at the start, with no way of going back to the route you have planned, so that you have to start planning your route again.
I also found that often the software crashed with odd ‘out of memory’ errors when planning a journey without a live GPS connection, which frankly would drive me crazy.
On the whole then the whole experience was poor. The software is not as great to look at or as easy to use as the competition and the features such as live traffic information and integrated speed camera databases are not present. On balance, I wouldn’t feel comfortable relaying on the HP as my navigation solution.
GPS moved to stand alone devices because of the clunkiness of the separate PDA and GPS solution and nothing here indicates that this was a bad thing. The hx1950 is a decent PDA but the shortcomings of Windows Mobile 5 as a platform for GPS are highlighted by crashes. Things might be improved with better navigation software but I’d still recommend going for a dedicated in-car GPS solution or one that works on a smartphone, such as this package from Navicore.
Score in detail
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