Harman Kardon GPS-500
Harman Kardon has entered the GPS market with a device called the Guide + Play, GPS-500. This device features voice navigation on a nice big 4″ display, but also includes the ability to play MP3 music as well as videos. I recently had the chance to spend a few hundred miles with the Harman Kardon GPS and here is what I found.
Out of the box, the GPS-500 has strikingly good looks. It is a very thin GPS at barely three quarters of an inch. It is just about 4.5 inches long but it doesn’t seem as big as other devices of this length since it is so thin. Along the top of the GPS is the power button as well as an SD card slot. The maps are pre-installed and cover the USA and Canada, so the SD slot is only used if you want to add music or video files.
On the right side is a volume dial, headphone jack, and mini USB port where the GPS-500 gets power from. Along the left side is a “hold” button to keep buttons from being operational when you are listening to music. On the back is a speaker as well as an external antenna port. You probably won’t need the external antenna port as the Centrality Atlas II chipset performed well. Thankfully, there are no buttons, plugs, or ports on the bottom of the device, someone was thinking ahead on that one!
The mount was one of the better designs I’ve seen in suction cup mounts. It was very compact, easy to adjust, and held the GPS without vibration. There was an easy “eject” button on the bottom of the mount so you can easily take the Guide + Play off the mount and slip it in your pocket or stow it away in the glove compartment. I wish the power cable connected directly to the mount like the Nuvi series, however this was probably the second best mount I’ve used in a long time. The ball and socket type joint made it easy to angle the GPS, yet still held it firmly in place.
I was really impressed with the quality of the screen and graphics. The combination of screen and graphics produced what is probably the richest, most vivid presentation I’ve seen in a GPS. The Tele Atlas maps looked fantastic on the harman/kardon GPS. While it has a widescreen display, it is one of the smallest GPS devices with a widescreen.
Navigating to an Address
Routing to an address is quite easy and provides lots of guidance along the way. From the Menu you click ‘Plan a Trip’. You can ask it to navigate to an address, place (POI), city center, intersection, postal code, your pre-defined “home”, any recent destinations, or any saved locations. I selected ‘Address.’
The GPS-500 then asks if you for a country, and then state. When you are selecting a state you don’t type anything in, but rather scroll through the list. I pity anyone navigating to Wyoming who will have to click to scroll down thirteen times before being able to select a state. Being able to type in the state name or abbreviation would have been much easier.
After entering the state you enter the name of the city/town you want to navigate to. As you click the letters of the name, other letters on the keyboard become disabled which can no longer be part of the name. For example in my state there are no towns which contain the letters x, y, or z. Therefore the keyboard does not display those letters as clickable. As you type in characters, more letters are removed if they are no longer a possible combination. While this seems simple, it is very helpful and keeps you from making typos.
The Guide + Play will also show you how many cities match what you have typed in so far. This is helpful in determining when you can stop typing in the city and hand pick from the search results.
After you select a city name you use the same process to select a street, and the keyboard again guides you to only possible letter combinations. After you select the street, you type in the house number (and address rage is displayed). The full address is displayed for confirmation on a big ‘Go’ button. A route is then calculated to the destination, and you are taken back to the map display.
Along the top of the display, a status bar flips back and forth between the current street and the next street. Along the left is a large graphic showing you either the direction of the next turn for most intersections, or a representation of the type of intersection in the case of areas like rotaries or highway exits.
Below the turn indicator is a box displaying the current time remaining in the trip, miles left in the trip, and an ETA time.
While navigating, the traditional 3D display is shown most of the time. As you get closer to an intersection the angle of the 3D view increases and zooms in to provide greater detail. This is a fairly standard feature of GPS devices. What is slightly more unique however is what happens when you enter longer stretches of roads. If you don’t need to turn for a few miles the display will go to a 2D mode, viewing directly overhead. The map is zoomed out quite a distance to give you the big picture view of where you are.
I had mixed thoughts about this feature. On one hand getting the big picture view was quite nice. Being able to see many miles ahead on the road gave me a nice overview of how far I’ve gone and how far I need to go, and added a new perspective of the trip. However I also encountered one situation where I came upon a split in the highway. The GPS apparently thought I should go straight and thought the intersection was obvious enough (going straight) that it didn’t zoom in on the split in the road. This happened just once; all other times it switched back to a 3D, zoomed in view when I got closer to the intersection.
Navigating to a POI
Navigating to a POI was very similar to navigation to an address. POIs are called “Places” on the Guide + Play GPS-500. You have the option to navigate to a place nearby, near another location, near the current destination, or near another city in the current state.
The category detail was good, setup in a hierarchy unlike some other devices which use flat lists. For example you first select ‘Food & Drink’, then the type of food you are looking for. The search results display the name of the place, the street address, and the straight-line distance away from your target. After clicking on the place, the name and address is displayed again along with the phone number in case you need to call ahead.
You can simulate routes ahead of time. Thankfully you don’t need to sit there and watch the simulation in real-time. While you can’t adjust the speed of the simulation, it at least happens much faster than real-time so that it won’t take you hours to watch the simulation.
Multiple destination routing is available, however setting it up can seem a little backwards if you are used to setting up vias on other devices. With the Harman Kardon Guide+Play you need to enter the addresses in the order you are going to visit them in. So you would enter the “via” first, and then the final destination. You do this by going to the Menu, ‘Route Options’, and then ‘Add Destination’. If you mix up the order you enter the destinations in there isn’t any way to rearrange them. You need to start over again.
This can also be aggravating when you decide to take a different route than what was suggested. In this case you have entered the destination, looked at the route, realize you need a via, then you need to go back and create a new route to the via, and finally add your final destination. Still, at least the device does support having multiple vias per route.
There is also limited detour functionality. From the same Route Options page you can ‘Detour next turn’. Not as advanced as what some devices provide, but perhaps slightly better than making a guess and triggering automatic rerouting.
The voice prompts were clear, and loud enough at highway speeds. They were frequent enough to navigate in some tight areas with quick street changes and were very descriptive. Coming from harman/kardon, I expected to get a little more out of the speaker. At the highest volume setting the voice was a little scratchy. Still, the voice prompts were loud enough even when it wasn’t set at the loudest setting so this wasn’t a big issue. There is no text-to-speech.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the GPS-500 is inclusion of a music player and a video player. More multimedia file formats are supported than many other GPS devices; take you pick of MP3, MP4, WMA, ASF, WAV and OGG. You can browse music files by song, artist, genre, album, playlist, etc. There are also settings which will allow you to set the volume for voice prompts and the volume for music playback. Personally, I would rather have one volume setting and have the music be dimmed or muted when navigation instructions come in. When the music volume was loud the voice prompts were somewhat difficult to understand, even if the voice prompts were set as loud as they would go.
As with most other GPS devices, the music player won’t be a replacement for your car stereo. I was honestly hoping for a little more from an audio leader like harman/kardon. But plugged into headphones, the music sounds great.
Video is also supported. While videos are playing, navigation is completely disabled as a safety precaution. So don’t expect to be playing a video and have the video pause to give you navigation instructions. The videos play very well; I never experienced any choppiness and the screen produced good rich colors.
There are a few high end GPS features not included in the GPS-500. There is no Bluetooth hands free calling, no text-to-speech, and no live traffic reporting services. Also the multiple destination routing feature isn’t as good as it could be if you frequently need to create complex routes. But what defines this device is the music player and video player.
Therefore this device would be a great match for a college kid who wants a GPS for getting around a new town or getting back and forth from school. The navigation features are easy to use and they will certainly appreciate the multimedia capabilities.
If you don’t need the multimedia options you might be better off saving a little cash and going with something simpler like a Nuvi, or something with more complex routing capabilities like a TomTom ONE. But anyone who wants a GPS with fairly good routing features plus a really nice video player will want to check out the harman/kardon Guide+Play GPS 500.