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NavMan GPS 3400 Voice

  • Editors' rating
    7.6 Very good

Pros

  • Supports voice instructions, dynamic routing and street-level mapping
  • clear user interface minimises the need for stylus input
  • map coverage for UK and (shortly) Europe.

Cons

  • Relatively lengthy time to first GPS fix from a cold start
  • iPAQ may not deliver enough volume for all users
  • no facility to add user-defined points of interest (POIs).

NavMan’s GPS 3400 Voice is an upgrade to its GPS 3000 navigation product, which we reviewed back in January. Based on the same iPAQ-jacket GPS hardware, the 3400 introduces NavMan’s new SmartST Professional route-finding software, which adds several long-awaited features, including spoken instructions, a redesigned interface, dynamic routing and street-level mapping for ‘door to door’ routing. At £379 (inc. VAT), not including the iPAQ handheld itself, the GPS 3400 is more flexible and a lot cheaper than a built-in satellite navigation system for your car, although it’s not without drawbacks. Existing GPS 3000 users can upgrade to the SmartST Professional software for £139 (inc. VAT).

The GPS 3400 Voice kit comprises a 12-channel GPS receiver jacket with a built-in Type II CompactFlash slot, a windscreen suction mount, a charger cable that fits in your car’s cigarette lighter, a quick-start guide and the SmartST Professional CD. The latter contains a user manual, installer software and map download software in addition to the maps (supplied by NavTech) and the SmartST Professional itself. If you have an H3600-series iPAQ with ROM version less than 1.77, you’ll need to upgrade this –- the English-language update is provided on the CD.

After installing SmartST software on your iPAQ, you have to activate the software online before you can download maps to the handheld, so make sure your Internet connection is active during the install process. Maps are available for the whole of Britain and Ireland, and are broken down into seven zones: Southern England; West, Midlands, Anglia; Northern England; Scotland; Wales; Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. We downloaded the five mainland British zones, which took up 90MB on a 128MB Type II CompactFlash card. European maps covering France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Benelux, Italy, Denmark and parts of Sweden will be shipped free of charge to early GPS 3400 Voice buyers in mid-November.

The SmartST Professional software, which supersedes NavMan’s SmartPath Trip and SmartPath City programs, is a big improvement. For a start, it combines the atlas-style Trip and the A-Z-style City programs into a single application, allowing you to plan 'door to door' journeys without swapping programs when you need street-level detail. The maps themselves are well drawn with good detail, showing road numbers, street names and one-way systems, for example. You can zoom into and out of maps easily via the up and down positions on the iPAQ’s four-way scroll button, the current scale being displayed in the bottom left-hand corner of the display. You can also opt to have the maps display points of interest (POIs), which come under a range of selectable categories -- as you zoom out, only the most important POIs (such as airports) are displayed. Although you can add custom locations and save them as Favourites or Quick Nav destinations, you don’t seem to be able to add to the database of POIs, which is a shame. In the setup screen you can select between day and night map colours to optimise contrast in light and dark conditions.

The user interface has been designed to be largely -– but not completely -– navigable using finger-pointing, rather than the iPAQ’s stylus. This is useful, although any increased temptation to interact with the software while driving should be resisted. Fortunately, SmartST Professional works well enough to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, thanks to its new-found support for voice instructions and dynamic routing.

To create a route, you first enter your destination, which can be an address, road intersection, POI or favourite. To find an address, you have to tap on the relevant flag at the top of the Address screen to select the region (England, Scotland or Wales in this case). Then you type in the Area: this somewhat vague field is optional, but helps to narrow down the search on large maps and can be an entity like a town, city or county. After you’ve entered a few characters, the software attempts to second-guess you, providing a drop-down list of candidates to choose from. To pin down your location, you then fill in the Road and House No. fields and press Show to view the map. If it’s a place you visit regularly, you can designate it as a Favourite -– up to 30 can be stored -- by tapping and holding the screen and selecting 'Add to favourites' from the drop-down menu. Up to three of your Favourites can be designated as Quick Nav destinations, which are accessible via a single button press from the main menu.

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Before it calculates a route, SmartST Professional needs a positional fix from the GPS unit, and when you first start up the software this can take several minutes: if your iPAQ is on battery power, you’ll need to make sure that the power settings don’t turn the device off before the GPS finds your position. Its progress can be checked in the GPS Status dialogue box, which -– once a fix is obtained -- gives information on satellite tracking, latitude, longitude, compass bearing and speed. You can select between shortest and quickest routes, and avoid toll roads and/or urban areas; route calculation is reasonably fast.

There are three navigation screens, selectable by pressing the right-hand position on the iPAQ’s four-way scroll button. The Map screen displays the local area around your current position; your current GPS location, fix status and heading; the current road or street name; and the map scale. If you don’t want to be distracted by a map, the text-only Navigation screen shows the next road or street name, a turn indicator, the distance to the next turning and the current road or street name. Two buttons at the bottom of the screen display user-configurable information -- current speed, current time, distance to go (DTG) to destination, estimated time of arrival (ETA), time to go (TTG). The third navigation screen -– our favourite -- is a combination of the above two, showing an automatically zooming map, turn directions and a single user-configurable information button. A fourth routing display, a simple list of turn-by-turn directions, is available via the main menu.

The two key new features -– voice instructions and dynamic routing –- work well. You can select between male and female voices that speak reasonably clearly in English accents. The software doesn’t do text-to-speech synthesis, so you get generic routing instructions rather than actual road or street names. It’s possible that a future upgrade will provide the latter functionality. The iPAQ doesn’t deliver great volume, and some people may struggle to hear the instructions, however clearly they are spoken. If this is a problem, you will need to investigate methods of plugging your iPAQ’s audio output into your car’s stereo -– a cassette adapter is one solution. Dynamic routing, where the software recalculates the route should you depart from the original one, is reasonably quick, although you may have to ignore the odd request to 'perform a legal u-turn' until the system is convinced you've taken a different route.

If you need help using the GPS 3400 Voice, there’s only a limited FAQ on NavMan’s UK Web site. Detailed queries have to be submitted via a technical support request form -– no phone support is provided.

Having used, and been frustrated by, NavMan’s previous SmartPath software, the new SmartST Professional is a big improvement. The features it adds are long overdue, but they work well, while the interface is clear and for the most part usable. The system did 'hang' a couple of times during testing, requiring a soft reset, but otherwise worked as advertised. If you have an iPAQ and you want to know where you are and where you’re going, NavMan's GPS 3400 Voice is a good solution.

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