Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2003/12/12/navman_gps_4400_bluetooth_navigator/

Navman GPS 4400 Bluetooth navigator

Are we there yet, dad?

By Tony Smith

Posted in Reviews, 12th December 2003 12:25 GMT

Reg Review Navman is well known for its GPS systems for individuals, transport fleets and the like. In addition to dedicated devices, it has offered a clip on unit for HP's iPaq Pocket PC devices. Recognising that those machines aren't the only PDAs out there, the company recently launched the GPS 4400 a standalone module that connects to the Pocket PC across a Bluetooth wireless connection rather than a physical one.

The 4400 is a palm-sized unit about the size of an iPod and powered by three standard AAA batteries - enough, claims Navman, for 30 hours continuous use. Designed primarily for in-car use, it comes with a windscreen mounts and a ciggie lighter power adaptor. For the automotively challenged, there's a shoulder-strap that allows you to mount the device epaulette-fashion, though it would probably do just as well fixing it to the handlebar of a bike.

Windscreens that incorporate a heat-reflecting material - Navman's web site has a list - are opaque to the GPS satellite signals, but our Honda Jazz is compatible with the 4400 so we slapped the small, blue unit down on top of the dashboard and prepared to give it a spin.

First, we installed Navman's SmartST Pro software on an iPaq h2210, along with a map covering South-East England. The European version of the product also ships with street-level maps for the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden. A separate North American package is on the way, offering street-level maps for the US and Canada.

Flying by wireless

The Bluetooth link is handled by Windows Mobile 2003 itself - just run Bluetooth Manager and create a connection using the built-in wizard. The iPaq finds the 4400, interrogates it to learn what services it supports, and sets up a shortcut. Tapping the latter connects the two devices.

The beauty of keeping GPS separate from the Pocket, is that it makes it a darn sight easier to use the latter as a PDA. You connect to the 4400 when you need to, but without having to slip on a physically connected antenna rig. It also means you don't have to hold the PDA in a position where it can 'see' the sky.

But back to navigation. Launch SmartST Pro, and it gets the 4400 to find the GPS network, triangulate your position and tell you where you are. That's the theory - in practice, we found it less successful. The Bluetooth link operates as a spoofed serial port, COM 8. SmartST Pro defaults to COM 1. It mentions this in the manual, but how many people read those? We didn't and it took us some time - not to mention a tech support call - to get it sorted.

To be fair, different devices uses different COM ports, so it's hard to see what else Navman can do. A dialog box asking you to identify which model of Pocket PC you're using, perhaps?

Once the right settings are in place, the 4400 got the signals and correctly plotted out location in a jiffy.

Pressing the iPaq's navigator control to the left calls up the software's main menu. Select Destination, and enter an address or choose a place of interest - historic site, airport, etc - or a place where two or more roads intersect. SmartST Pro then spends ten seconds or so thinking about it and plotting you out a route.

I said 'right', not 'left'!
You don't want to be holding your PDA while you're driving, so SmartST Pro very nicely reads your route out loud in a Radio 4-style male or female voice. "In... six hundred feet... turn left," she says coolly and without emotion. Take the wrong turn and there's no angry admonishment - the software quickly replots your course and provides a new set of directions to the destination. And it's rather reassuring to hear a disembodied voice calmly get you back on the right road.

SmartST Pro also provides a separate list of instructions, but alas you can't click on any of them and be taken to the map in order to familiarise yourself with your route before you travel.

Trying to plot the list against a road atlas isn't much help either, we found. The instruction list is highly context-sensitive - it assumes you're at the junction and can see which road to take, so it's not overly packed with detail. For instance, a trip from London to Milton Keynes takes you up the M1, but the instruction list didn't always mention the fact.

While you're moving, the map updates continuously to show your progress. Your route is market in red, with arrows to guide you through junctions. Street names are displayed as labels attached to the road by a red dot - much easier to read than street names printed within the edges of the road. But you need a dash mount for the iPaq if you want to make the most of SmartST Pro's visual navigation - and make sure your Pocket PC's backlight is kept on.

Are we there yet, dad?
Route planning is also inconsistent and illogical. Change the route from the same London location to a different part of Milton Keynes, for example, and it comes up with a different route to the motorway. We had the software set to choose the quickest route, but it often picked roads that seem the best when looking at a map, but are by no means the quickest on the ground.

Of course, the software only has the official road classifications to go by and can't know about the quirks of the classification process - or the degree to which some London car owners insist on parking in narrow streets. The software's quickest route is often also the shortest, but the two aren't necessarily the same. But only true local knowledge allows the best route to be chosen. Still, it can't be argued that the software doesn't get you where you want to be, right down to a particular house in a particular street. It's also good at getting you through some very complex junctions.

Software

There are more pragmatic problems. We found SmartST Pro to be buggy and it likes to hog the iPaq to itself. When it's running, it's hard to quit - there's no obvious Exit button, and it hides the Windows Mobile task bar when it's in map and menu modes. If you do manage to hop over to another app - say, Bluetooth Manager, to turn off the connection, SmartST Pro has a habit of coming back to the front. Break the Bluetooth and it calls up Bluetooth Manager to persuade you to re-establish the connection.

Often, having reached a destination, we attempted to select a new one, but found the software would not recognise the address. Force-quitting the app was the only way we could enter a new destination.

Navman tells us that a number of these issues have now been fixed in a service pack available from its web site.

Verdict

Software issues aside, the Navman 4400 is undoubtedly a good navigation system, and one that makes perfect use of Bluetooth to keep two devices at arm's length. That makes it possible to immediately turn the Pocket PC from a navigation tool to a regular PDA - only SmartST Pro gets in the way. Having recoded the software to operate with different GPS hardware, Navman now needs to adapt it to life as one app among many and not the only program that will be run.

Once we were up and running, we enjoyed using the Navman 4400. It takes a while to trust the system to know how to get you where you want to go, but it never once caused us to question that trust, only its ability to pick the best route. But only locally - outside our stomping ground, we found it easy to follow its spoken directions.

And, with the new 'no holding while driving' mobile phone and PDA law now in place, we soon reached the point where we didn't feel the need to pick up the iPaq and check the map. That's crucial if you have no dashboard mount for the Pocket PC and you want to stay legal.

One disappointment was the lack of Palm OS support. Navman has supported Palm devices in the past, and we'd like it to continue doing so, especially with the Tungsten 3's slick screen. ®

Navman GPS 4400
Rating 75%
Pros — Flexible Bluetooth connection to a PDA
— Quickly replots your route when you take a wrong turn
— Spoken directions for hands-free usage
Cons — Curious choice of routes
— No Palm OS support
— Buggy software (fixes available)
Price £351.33 including VAT
More info The Navman web site

Visit The Reg's Review Channel for more hardware coverage

Buy the Navman GPS 4400 from The Register Mobile Store