Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/06/09/review_medion_mdppc250/

Medion MDPPC250 PocketPC GPS Bundle

Best value PDA-based GPS rig yet?

By Tony Smith

Posted in Mobile, 9th June 2004 15:31 GMT

Reg review During 2003, German electronics manufacturer Medion came from nowhere to wrest a significant share of the European PDA market from PalmOne, HP, Sony, Dell and co. The secret of its success was no revolutionary new PDA technology, but the simple move of offering an own-brand PocketPC with a separate GPS antenna and navigation software.

To be fair, most of Medion's sales have gone to folk more interested in cut-price GPS navigation equipment rather than using a PDA per se, but the move nevertheless opened up a whole new market for PDA makers. PocketPC or Palm, handheld devices coupled with a GPS antenna - built-in, or connected wirelessly with Bluetooth or by a cable - have proved a solid yet inexpensive alternative to costly dedicated satellite navigation rigs.

So, PalmOne is now offering a Tungsten E plus GPS bundle, and UK PC seller Evesham is offering Mitac's Mio168 PocketPC with an integrated GPS antenna. Long-time GPS specialist Navman has offered wired GPS modules for some time but launched a wireless version late last year. It will soon offer an own-brand version of the Mio168.

Despite such competition, Medion continues to sell its line of PocketPC/GPS bundles. The latest one was recently launched in the UK.

PDA

Medion MDPPC250 Pocket PCThe MDPPC250 is a slim (11.4 x 7.1 x 1.3cm), light (124g) PocketPC that's not bad looking either. Its all-plastic casing doesn't feel too shabby - though the stylus has a habit of rattling when stowed. More positively, the 970mAh battery is removable and sits behind a tight-fitting hatch on the rear of the unit. The SD card/MMC slot on the top of the device is a little fiddly to use, with too little finger room to push a card far enough in to lock it in place or eject it.

The device is powered by a 266MHz Samsung S3C2410 processor backed by 64MB of RAM, almost 57MB of which is available to the user. The operating system, Windows Mobile 2003, is stored on the 32MB ROM.

GPS

As a budget-priced machine, there are no extras: no Wi-Fi or even Bluetooth. The bundled GPS antenna connects to the PDA through the latter's cradle connector. In fact, it's hooked up in parallel with the car cigarette lighter power jack, leaving wires strewn across your dashboard. Commercial drivers may not care too much, but individuals and business folk may prefer the cleanliness of a wireless solution, like Navman's 4400 series of Bluetooth-based products. Medion does provide a dashboard mount for the PocketPC, however.

The company's navigation software, Medion Navigator, is not only supplied on CD but on the bundled 256MB MMC. That saves setting up a PC to sync up data, especially handy if you're buying the device solely for its GPS abilities rather than its PIM functionality. Installing the software is just a matter of running File Explorer and activating the installer program on the card. Medion has already loaded up the UK and Ireland street maps on the MMC, so once you've run the installer and connected up the GPS antenna, you're ready to go.

I'd question the software's initial geo-locational accuracy. Having set up the software and hardware, I waited a few short moments for the system to get a fix on the GPS satellites. It did, but the map put me round the corner in another street. I punched in the name of the road parallel to the one I was on and set off. The software soon figured out its 'mistake' and successfully took me to where I expected to go. From then on, the map always seemed to have me in the right place at the right time.

You use the software's Navigation mode to enter a single destination and have the kit guide you there. The map is displayed in 2D mode throughout and the directions are spoken, with early warnings of turns and firmer instructions closer to each junction. Unlike the CoPilot Live software I looked at a little while ago, Medion Navigator only speaks directions, not the name of the street or road you're turning on to.

Tootling around North London was relatively straightforward, and the software was able to resist my blatant attempts to fool it by taking the wrong turnings. The only time it really tripped up was with a couple of streets that are gated halfway along, which the software, billed as a 2004 release, didn't know about. The fault presumably lies with Navtech's maps - also used, incidentally, by Navman - which simply lack that level of detail. The gates have been there for years, so it's not like they are a new obstruction.

Route march

For longer trips, or those involving multiple stops, Medion Navigator includes a Route Planning option allows you to map out a route in advance. It's slightly unusual in that all locations are considered destinations - you enter your start location as a destination and simply put it at the start of the list.

Unlike other navigation tools I've tried, this one provides a journey simulation which talks you through the route first. This helps you familiarise yourself with the journey before you set off and - crucially - lets you to veto roads that you know to be problematic. Blocking off a road forces Navigator to find an alternative route.

The software doesn't provide a written list of directions. Presumably Medion feels the simulation is sufficient advance guidance - it's certainly easier to absorb the information this way than by reading a list of 'turn right onto the A10' type of phrases. When it calculates the route, the software will choose either the quickest or the shortest path between destinations, and can be told to avoid motorways, ferries and toll roads, if possible. The latter includes London's Congestion Charge zone.

The Route Planning system will apparently look up destinations based on contact list entries' addresses, but it didn't seem to find the sole entry I typed into the PDA. I understand this is a quirk of the system's German heritage. Different countries write addresses in different ways, but Navigator expects you to follow the German style. If you're Outlook contacts are formatted the UK way, Navigator can't extract the postcode and thus locate the contact's address on the map.

Medion MDPPC250 Pocket PC accessories

Another flaw is its entry system, which while neatly providing a list of likely locations based on what you've typed so far, starts rather than ends with a post code. This is fine if you have this information beforehand, but what's the post code of, say, Victoria railway station? I don't know. You can enter 'victoria' in the Town/Postcode field and then choose 'Railway Station' from the Special Destination Category field, but the software won't locate the station.

This is less of an issue if you're visiting a small town, but it does make finding places of interest in a large city more difficult.

I couldn't initially find a way to drive to the Tower of London. Entering 'tower' does no good, and typing 'london' gives you a list of airports and the SW1A area. I tried the latter and hit paydirt. However, a more direct way of searching - even if took longer - would be more useful than Navigator's narrow it down, field by field approach.

Map work

Medion Navigator's 2D maps are reasonably clear, with street names are written along the streets in question rather than horizontally. Places of interest are flagged too, but they, along with the street names, can be turned off in the Settings screen, if you prefer.

A nice touch is the tool bar, which can be minimised to leave more of the screen able to show the map view. There's also a 'night' mode, which some users may find easier to read at any time, let alone during the hours of darkness. Tapping on the map zooms out, and you can drag out an area into which the map will zoom. I'd have preferred a tap-and-drag scroll option.

Verdict

At £400 including VAT, the Medion MDPPC250 has to be one of the cheapest GPS systems available today. Yet a low price doesn't imply low quality. Neither Medion's PocketPC nor its navigation software are the best I've seen in either category of product, but they're not actually bad, either.

I personally prefer Navman's Bluetooth-based wireless solution, the 44xx, but at the same price as the Medion PDA plus GPS bundle, it's only economic if you already own a Bluetooth PDA. If you don't, you'll end up paying a lot more simple for the convenience of a wire-free cockpit.

Like the Navman package, Evesham's PocketPC GPS system offers better software than Medion's but it too is more expensive - by £50 - and the integrated GPS antenna is less suitable for in-car use, but unlike the Medion can be used by walkers.

But what Medion's offering loses on flexibility - wired vs. wireless or integrated GPS - it more than makes up for on price. We expect Halfords to drop the current £400 to £350 shortly, which will really put the bundle in a league of its own. ®

 

Medion MDPPC250 PocketPC GPS Bundle
 
Rating 80%
 
Pros — Decent PocketPC
— Bundled 256MB memory card with maps, software pre-installed
— Competent navigation software
— Excellent value
 
Cons — Software lacks the finer features of some rival apps
— Destination selection could be easier to do
— Set-up spreads wires across your dashboard
 
Price £400
 
More info The Medion UK website

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