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iPAQ 310 Travel Companion GPS

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In the fall of 2006, HP dipped a toe in the GPS market with its navigation-equipped PDA, the iPAQ RX5900 Travel Companion. More than a year later, the company has finally taken the plunge with its first dedicated GPS device, the $449 iPAQ 310 Travel Companion. Offering a sleek-looking design and a gorgeous wide-screen display, the iPAQ 310 is packed with all the higher-end features and extras we’ve come to expect from GPS in its price range. Unfortunately, sluggish performance and balky navigation hold it back from the crowd.

Measuring 4.3×3.4×0.7 inches and weighing 6.6 ounces, the iPAQ 310 boasts a slim frame that’s both attractive and portable. The centerpiece of the device is its 4.3-inch touch-screen display: with a sharp 800×480-pixel resolution, strong backlighting, and effective antiglare coating, it’s one of the nicest screens we’ve seen on a GPS device. You’ll find a few other well-thought-out design features, including a built-in stylus-storage slot and multiuse jog dial that lets you adjust volume and screen brightness without wading through menu screens. We also like that HP used a standard mini-USB port for both data sync and charging (many GPS devices use a proprietary connection). There’s also a headphone jack, a microphone jack, and a SD/SDHC card slot for supplementing the device’s 2GB of onboard memory.

Thanks to its wide-screen display, the iPAQ 310’s user interface looked clear and vibrant, with readable text and big, bold menu icons. One would think such a good-looking interface would be easy to navigate, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Our biggest beef is with the menu icons: We found it hard to tell what functions certain icons represented or what screen they would take us to. As a result, we were constantly pressing the wrong icon for even simple tasks such as pausing music playback or returning to a previous screen. And while the touch screen was responsive, its performance was just plain slow; after pressing a menu icon, we often had to wait several seconds before the device loaded the new screen.

Our main gripe with iPAQ 310, however—and it’s a deal-breaker—is its poor navigation performance. The trouble started at power-up: every time we attempted to enter the navigation mode, we had to accept a disclaimer before the unit would start searching for a satellite signal. (We couldn’t find an option to disable this feature.) The device’s flaky course-plotting was an even bigger letdown. Our first test was a simple route calculation between two neighborhoods in Queens, New York. Instead of the straightforward 10-mile trip we expected, the iPAQ 310 conjured up a roundabout route that sent us north through the Bronx.

Over the course of our testing, we experienced a mix of spot-on route calculation and wonky directions—a mixed bag, at best. What’s more, while the device’s 2D and 3D maps were bright and legible, the voice prompts on its text-to-speech feature sounded muddled and the pronunciation of street names was less accurate than those we’ve heard on other devices. Worst of all, the iPAQ 310 completely locked up during several long trips, forcing us to reset. You have to use the stylus (or any other small implement) to press the device’s reset button—not the safest thing to attempt while behind the wheel. Still, some aspects of the navigation system have their merits. In addition to the standard route-planning features that are built in to the device, you can plan routes on HP’s iPAQ Web site and download them directly to the iPAQ 310. This feature was still in beta at press time, but we found it worked well: it’s a useful option for those who need to routinely pre-plan multi-day routes with multiple stops.

Another handy feature: the iPAQ 310 comes preloaded with Tele Atlas maps of both the United States and Puerto Rico; you can load additional map information using the device’s SD-card slot. Also onboard are over 12 million points of interest in various categories such as amusement parks, restaurants, and gas stations. The device will even render certain landmark buildings in its 3D map view; though more gimmicky than practical, we thought this feature made good use of the screen.

The extras, meanwhile are a mixed bag. Like many high-end GPS devices on the market, the iPAQ 310 pulls double duty as a portable media player, offering music, video, and photo support; it can handle a decent number of file types, including DRM-protected WMA audio tracks purchased from online stores such as Rhapsody and Napster. You can also sync the device with your Microsoft Outlook contacts or use its built-in Bluetooth 2.0 to connect it to a compatible wireless headset or phone. (Live traffic data is available via an optional receiver.)

As we expected, video playback looked nice on the vibrant display, but once again, we experienced some performance hang-ups. In our tests, the WMV files we played stuttered constantly, as if the device were not powerful enough to process the files. And that wasn’t the only audio problem: the built-in speaker is weak and tinny-sounding. Bluetooth connectivity, on the other hand, was straightforward: the device easily recognized the Samsung Blackjack that we tried to pair it with.

Overall, HP’s newbie GPS doesn’t seem ready for prime time. Though the company took great care in designing a good-looking device with a gorgeous screen and lots of features, interface and performance issues make it difficult to enjoy its good points. More pointedly, balky navigation abilities made us loath to use the iPAQ 310 as a travel companion. With all the strong offerings out there from established competitors like Garmin, Magellan, Mio, and TomTom, we simply can’t recommend it.

Hewlett-Packard Co., 877-203-6108

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