In the GPS world, real 3D maps are the equivalent to Dick Tracy's watch for communication. And of all the Garmins, Magellans, and TomToms on the market, we're a little surprised that HP is the first to get them integrated into its iPAQ 310 Travel Companion. The iPAQ 310's 3D maps for 40 major cities are more of a novelty than a necessity, but the 310 is still a good all-around navigator with some helpful tools for frequent travelers.
iPAQ 310 Design and Interface
Like other plug-in GPS units, the iPAQ 310 is an easily portable black rectangular unit, although its 4.3 x 3.4 x 0.7-inch shell is a bit sleeker than most. Its only external controls are a power button, external volume dial, an SD Card slot, and a mini-USB port. Besides the standard car charger and windshield and dashboard mounts, the iPAQ 310 also comes with an AC power cord, a slip case, and a USB cable for indoor syncing.
The iPAQ 310 is built on Windows CE 5.0, so its menus resemble those of a handheld computer more than those of other GPS devices on the market. Menus are clear and well arranged; navigating the device and planning and following multistop itineraries is a breeze. Whenever you look up a POI or an address, you get the option to add it to your existing route, or to make it the start or endpoint of your journey.
Plan Your Trip on the Fly (or Online)
While all navigators have routing options, the iPAQ 310 makes adding new waypoints and including them on your existing route especially easy. You can even call up an overview map that shows all of your destinations. Registered users can go to ipaq.com to create downloadable itineraries online, which requires installing free HP Content Manager software on your PC first.
On the Road with the iPAQ 310
Driving with the iPAQ 310's directions was mostly a pleasure; it offers spoken street names and clear instructions. The Tele Atlas maps were friendly on the eye, and routes are marked with brightly colored lines. However, the developers have crammed the large 4.3-inch, glare-resistant touchscreen with too much information; a slew of icons and numbers competed for our attention.
As a result, valuable information gets crowded out. You need to look to the map to see the name of the street you're currently on; the device doesn't show the street name on a separate line. And only a small area is given to the name of the street you need to turn onto next, so the street name usually scrolls instead of staying put-also detrimental for at-a-glance navigation.
The 3D World
If you're driving in one of 40 major cities, the iPAQ 310 shows a 3D map with nearby buildings in gray. Although the buildings lack detail, they're recognizable. The 3D view also shows how some highways, entrances, and exits cross over others, which is actually more useful than the building view. Still, the street names do a much better job of helping you find your way, and all that 3D rendering slows the device's 600-MHz ARM11 dual-core processor. We tested the device mostly in and around St. Paul, Minnesota (one of the 40 major cities), and the screen froze for a full 5 seconds while we drove on a downtown highway.
POIsand the iPAQ 310
The iPAQ 310 offers an impressive points-of-interest database of 12 million entries. We're not thrilled with the interface, however. Finding a nearby POI is easy, but you can't look up a spot in another town. Instead, the device asks you to pick a spot on a map first, which is tedious, then search near that spot.
Bells and Whistles
A few extras make the iPAQ 310 more than just a navigator, including a basic music player, video player, and picture viewer. Music didn't sound great through the navigator's tiny rear-facing speaker, and the iPAQ 310 doesn't have an FM transmitter. It comes with five games that are actually fun to play, plus a calculator, a contact list that you can sync with Outlook, and Bluetooth, which allows you to make and answer calls hands-free.
The iPAQ 310: Your Next Travel Companion?
On a product billed as a travel companion, we expected more, such as a currency conversion tool or a directory of travel discounts. Although we're still excited about 3D maps, they didn't make navigation easier, and the iPAQ 310 needs a better processor to handle them. Despite these shortcomings, we're still impressed with the HP iPAQ 310 Travel Companion's ability to handle multiple waypoints and plan long trips on your PC before hitting the road.
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