- Voice-enabled route guidance
- convenient, portable unit.
- Bulky GPS jacket
- no external antenna support
- voice instructions need more volume.
Car manufacturers typically charge £2,000 or more for a built-in satellite navigation system, while a dedicated GPS (Global Positioning System) unit with an integrated map display can cost as little as £200. Sitting in the middle of this price spectrum, and offering several unique benefits, is Compaq's iPAQ Navigation System (iNS), which costs £850.21 (ex. VAT; £999 inc. VAT) for the full handheld/GPS/software bundle. If you already own a 3000-series iPAQ handheld, the GPS receiver with 64MB of maps (covering south-east England) on CompactFlash costs £424.68 (ex. VAT; £499 inc. VAT). With 128MB of maps (covering most of the UK), the price is £552.34 (ex. VAT; £649 inc. VAT).
The Compaq iNS is based on a GPS jacket from NavMan, into which the iPAQ handheld slides. The jacket is bulky compared to many standalone GPS units, incorporating a chunky aerial and a CompactFlash slot for storing maps downloaded from a PC. Unlike many GPS units, the jacket has no connector for an external antenna, which is slightly disappointing given that reception may often be sub-optimal when the unit is mounted inside a car. A special in-vehicle mount allows the GPS-iPAQ combination to be attached to the car's windscreen, and there's a car charger to keep the show on the road. The iNS is supplied with a 64MB or 128MB CompactFlash card, a CD containing TravRoute's Pocket CoPilot 2.0 route-finding software and the maps.
The iNS is straightforward to set up. The GPS jacket is automatically recognised when the handheld device is inserted, and the Pocket CoPilot software can be installed from the supplied CompactFlash card via the jacket's CF slot. Both Pocket PC and the new Pocket PC 2002 operating systems are supported. You also need to install the desktop component of Pocket CoPilot from the supplied CD, which contains the maps that you will download to the handheld via the docking station.
Map downloads are handled by the Data Download Wizard, which provides three options -- City, Map Area and Trip. The City option downloads data within a user-defined radius of a city centre; Map Area lets you make a rectangular selection from the main map and download that; and Trip downloads map data from the start and end points of a journey (within a user-defined radius), plus a corridor of user-specified width between them. These options allow you to conserve storage space on your handheld or on the CompactFlash card supplied with the GPS jacket. Usefully, the Data Download Wizard lets you specify the destination for the map data, and calculates the amount of space required for your selection. Obviously, you'll need to take care not to be caught on the road without the appropriate map for a proposed journey, although this shouldn't prove a problem if you go for the full 128MB CF option.
Planning a trip is simply a matter of entering start and destination points -- you can specify streets, post codes, junctions or regions -- and any stops or points of interest along the way. Address entry is speeded by a type-ahead feature that tries to 'guess' what you're inputting; you can also store up to 25 frequently used addresses or places for easy access, in addition to your Home and Work locations. Pressing the Go button when in Planning mode delivers full turn-by-turn directions and trip maps, so you can preview your journey before setting off.
The fun starts when you switch to Guidance mode, which brings in the GPS. Given a good view of the sky, the unit will initially require about half a minute to pinpoint your location (generally to within just under 7m), whereupon a pointer will appear on the map showing your progress. The iNS's main advantage over other systems is its voice guidance: as well as on-screen maps and clear written directions, you get spoken instructions -- in a human rather than a robotic voice, and in an English accent to boot! The only problem we found was that unless your car is whisper-quiet, the iPAQ's internal audio subsystem may not deliver enough volume. If your car's stereo can accept an input from the iPAQ's headphone socket, you should be OK, but otherwise you may occasionally struggle to hear the instructions.
Another key advantage of the iNS is its ability to recalculate the route on the fly if you should depart from the original plan. It really is impressive to see the GPS register that you've missed a turning, spend a short while processing the data, and then come up with revised routing instructions. At all times the guidance screen shows where you are, how far it is until the next turn, and the distance to your final destination. Guidance screens come in two variants, Driver and Passenger, the latter displaying a map at all times and the former periodically dispensing with the map in order to minimise distraction.
Compaq's iPAQ Navigation System is an impressive solution, although there is scope for improvement. Support for an external antenna would improve reception in sub-optimal conditions, and the iPAQ's lack of volume could prove problematical for some users. Although the price may seem high in comparison to route-finding software running on an existing notebook equipped with a GPS, it's much more convenient, and a lot cheaper than any built-in system.