Navman PiN GPS PocketPC
Is an integrated antenna enough?
Reg review Once known for its expensive, dedicated in-car satellite navigation systems, Navman has found itself moving increasingly expanding downmarket over the last year or so. Look to the likes of Germany's Medion for the reason: its combination of low-cost PocketPC devices and wired GPS receivers has taken the European PDA market by storm and brought in-car navigation to a whole new group of consumers.
Navman and others have been forced to follow suit. While it has in the past produced navigation systems that clip onto HP iPaqs, the company has started to look to other devices, other PDA platforms. Just under a year ago, it launched a Bluetooth GPS receiver, the 4400, following it up with more advanced model, the 4410, earlier this year and later the 4460, its first PalmOS-oriented product.
Round about the time the 4410 was launched, Taiwanese manufacturer Mitac unveiled the world's first PocketPC with an integrated GPS antenna. It's wasn't the first PDA with built-in GPS - that honour goes to Garmin's PalmOS-based iQue - but it drew plenty of attention, particularly among PC and PDA vendors with an eye on Medion's success.
The Mio 168 finally arrived in the UK in April this year, courtesy of local reseller Evesham, which bundled the device with ALK's CoPilot PocketPC 4 navigation software. Not one to miss a trick, Navman announced a similar product in July.
And here it is, the Navman PiN, a rebadged Mio. Don't take myword for it: the PiN's model number is 'mio168'. Like the standard Mio 168, the PiN isn't a bad PocketPC, though its spec. has seen better days and it's looking distinctly underpowered when lined up alongside the latest iPaqs and Axims. It's processor runs to 300MHz, there's only 64MB of RAM and no wireless connectivity beyond infra-red. These drawbacks are unlikely to bother anyone interested in the device solely for navigation. More relevant to them is the PiN's display, which isn't too clear in bright daylight, but at least has a decent horizontal viewing angle - handy for in-car use, where it isn't necessarily going to be in direct line of sight.
The PiN's GPS antenna folds against the back of the device. Raising it into a horizontal position is all you need do to get it ready for use. Navman bundles the usual in-car mounting kit, though the integrated receiver means the PDA needs to be coupled to the windscreen rather than the front of the dash, depending on how far back the glass extends.
Bundled with the PiN is the most recent version of Navman's PDA navigation software, SmartST 2. It's certainly a better app than it used to be, though that's more because of the new features than the removal of previous releases' irritations.
So, for example, you now get a 3D map view, which has become de rigeuer among navigation software vendors, even though it's of questionabale value to users. Perhaps it's handy having a view that's closer to what you can see through the windshield than a 2D map offers, but since peering at a PDA is the last thing you should be doing while driving, does that matter? PiN-using pedestrians may find it more useful.
Drivers will want to rely on the spoken directions, whose male and female voices have lost their 'public information film' edge and taken on more casual tones, telling you to "make a legal U-turn in the road" with a greater degree of enthusiasm than before.
SmartST is now delivered on a 128MB SD card, which saves you from having to install the software via a PC synchronisation - again, useful if you're only interested in the device's navigation features. The card provides enough room for three or four maps, each part of the country you want to navigate through. The card comes pre-loaded with Southern England, Paris and its surroundings, and South Central Italy. The remaining maps, covering the rest of the UK and continental Europe, are included on CD, and are easy enough to transfer over when you need them.
With the card inserted, SmartST auto-installs and you're ready to flip up the antenna and start navigating. Well, not quite. You need to make sure SmartST knows what COM port the receiver's connected to and the speed of the connection between the two. Navman provides a crib-sheet in the box, but you'd have thought the data would be pre-programmed. With the set-up done, gaining the first fix takes a minute or so. Though, despite sitting in a stationary vehicle, it kept telling me I was doing 0.2-0.3mph.
Navman's code provides the usual array of navigation features - places of interest database, links to the PDA's own Contacts list, area avoidance, automatic re-routing in case you miss a turn and so on - but it still lacks polish when compared to other PDA-based navigation apps. On my first run, I tried to plot a course from one part of North London to the RAF Museum in Hendon. Alas, the site doesn't appear represented in the pre-installed map's database. Fortunately, I know the museum's just off Aerodrome Way, so I could navigate to that. Quite a few key London tourist sites were missing too.
There's no way of using the device without the GPS, so you can't choose start and finish locations from the comfort of your living room or office and have SmartST plot you out a route for you to swot up on before you travel.
SmartST will apparently allow you to name a road intersection as a destination, but while I tried half a dozen junctions, only one came up as a valid destination even though all the streets I used are in the map's database and could be found as individual entries.
Destinations can be looked up on the map, but getting back to tell the software to plan a route to it is tricky. Click the exit cross in the top right corner of the screen quits the program. Push the PiN's five-way navigator control to the left and you go back to the main menu, forcing you to navigate through the menus to get back to the destination selection page. Only then can you tell the software to calculate the route.
Inconsistencies like this abound. There are some neat touches, however. If you follow the route manually, tapping and dragging the map, you can literally drag a on-screen box over the map to mark out an area as a zone to avoid. Unfortunately, you can go beyond the limits of what's on screen there and then, but zooming out first will allow you to select a bigger area. When you're done, tap inside the box and SmartST calculates an alternative route.
The Navman PiN itself isn't a bad piece of hardware, from either a GPS or PocketPC perspective. It has its flaws, but it's not a poor product. SmartST, on the other hand, fares less well against rival offerings, and while Navman has improved it in the last 12months, it needs further work. A new version is on the cards, Navman tells me, which may address these issues. And despite its irritations, inconsistencies and chunky map graphics, SmartST 2 does work, and I found it got me from A to B, despite attempts to trip it up.
At £400 the PiN is around £100 more than the Medion offering, but has the benefit of being a wireless solution if you're prepared to run off the battery. But so too is Evesham's Mio 168-CoPilot bundle, priced the same as the PiN but with rather better software. SmartST 3 may change that, but for now the PiN remains the weakest PDA GPS solution of the three. ®
|Pros||— Decent PocketPC, integrated GPS antenna, bundled memory card with pre-installed software and maps|
|Cons||— Unimpressive software, past-their-prime hardware specs.|
|More info||The Navman PiN site|