Navman GPS 4400 Bluetooth navigator

Are we there yet, dad?

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.

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