HP iPAQ 310
HP (NYSE:HPQ) isn’t totally new to the GPS market, but in the past they have approached GPS from more of a PDA perspective. That has changed with the introduction of the HP iPAQ 310 which is built more like a traditional PND. This GPS is packed full of features and is currently selling for good prices at those features. But how does it stack up against the bigger names in GPS? We’ve spent about 700 miles with our iPAQ 310 and here is what we were able to find.
Before we get into the thick of things, it is important to note who this GPS is not for. If you were to create a list of adjectives and phrases to describe your ideal GPS and that list contains simple, straight forward, out of the box, or drop dead easy…. This GPS isn’t for you. If on the other hand your list contains customizable, full featured, does it all, or you are an advanced GPS user, keep on reading.
HP obviously put a good deal of thought into this GPS. The color is a bit difficult to describe. I could only describe it as a dark maroon, anodized/brushed metal finish. On the front above the display is the power button, below the display is a power/charge indicator as well as the microphone port for hands free calling. Along the left side is an SD card slot which most people won’t need. No SD card is included, but instead a plastic “blank” fills the slot. The speaker is located on the back. Out of the top comes a stylus… I always cringe when I see a stylus on a GPS because you shouldn’t need one… and thankfully I never did need to use it.
On the right side is a dial/jog button. This button serves several purposes and could be easily missed causing many people to think the IPAQ 310 doesn’t offer a few features that are actually there. Make the manual your friend while learning the operating of this device. “Click” the dial once and the volume menu will appear. You can then rotate the dial to the appropriate volume level. Click the dial twice and you get access to the screen brightness setting; again turn the dial to make the brightness go up and down. Finally if you click and hold the dial you get quick access to several commonly accessed features such as route avoidances, canceling routes, recalculating routes, switching between 2D and 3D map modes, going into night mode, editing a route, viewing a route overview, a ‘Go to’ menu, and going into full screen mode. We will cover many of those features in the review, but it is worth pointing out that somewhat secret menu because I’ve seen people who claim certain features don’t exist because they never found that menu.
A reset button is found along the right side which thankfully I never needed to use. Finally on the right is a set of ports protected by a rubber cover. Under the cover you will find the USB/power port, a headphone jack, as well as an external antenna port. As we’ve seen so many times in the past, you can’t judge the reception quality of a device just based on the chipset used. The HP iPAQ 310 uses the SiRFtitan chipset and gets very fast and very accurate reception. You won’t likely need an external antenna as the 310 seems to get better reception than many other GPS devices with a similar chipset inside.
The screen is one of the most attractive parts of this GPS. It is very bright, doesn’t wash out at wide and high viewing angles, and the on screen graphics are very attractive. While most other GPS devices with the same size screen size have a resolution of 480×272 pixels, the IPAQ packs in 800×480 pixels. This makes the graphics incredibly vivid and perfect for viewing videos and photographs with the included video player and picture viewer. Perhaps even more amazing is that they crammed all of that into a space that is also narrower than most other GPS devices with the same screen size and it is one of the lightest GPS devices in this class.
The mount is fairly well designed and didn’t have trouble firmly holding onto the iPAQ. It is a little bit longer than I personally like, but that is just my own preference. The ball and socket joint allows for rapid adjustment on the fly and it didn’t vibrate excessively, even on dirt roads.
In the Box
Most everything you need is included in the box. Obviously the GPS and the mount. The car charger also doubles as the USB cable. The USB cable connects to the GPS. Left bare, the other end will connect to your computer. Or you can connect it to the DC (car charger) adapter or to an AC adapter to power it via your home power outlet. Also smartly included is an alcohol wipe to help getting the suction cup to stick. Smart!
Routing to an address is fairly simple. From the Main menu click Navigation -> Go to -> Address. The list will typically be pre-filled in with the last state, city, street you selected. You can simply “jump” in to whichever part of the process you need to change. For example if you are going to a different street but the same city/state as your previous entry, simply click on the street field to start there. This is a nice feature since other devices might prompt you with the location you last used, but you still need to go through that part of the process, the HP solution is more elegant.
Something else we noticed about locating addresses is that it will sometimes show streets that have similar spellings but in a different (and nearby) city from what you selected. This could be helpful if the street isn’t actually in the town you selected, but also could slow you down a tiny bit if you did correctly select the city/street.
Just to be picky, I do wish the on-screen keyboard was a little bit bigger. When typing in a city name or street name I don’t really care what the battery level is nor the current date or a few other icons they stick on the screen in this location. I would rather have seen the extra space used to squeeze a few more pixels into the keys. However there are devices on the market with even smaller on-screen keyboards so I can’t complain too much. Similar to a few other devices on the market the GPS will disable letters from the keyboard that are no longer possible based on other letters you have typed in. For example in my home state there are no cities or towns with the letters “z” or “x” in them so those two keys are automatically disabled when you enter a city or town. You can also select locations by zipcode.
Seeking a POI… ANY POI
While there are still a few relatively new GPS devices out there that ship with only 750,000 POIs, the HP iPAQ didn’t skimp here, adding in 12,000,000 POIs. You won’t find too many “missing” POIs in this device. In fact, there are so many POIs installed that it (ironically) made searching for specific POIs a little difficult in a few instances. Get to know where the “search by name” icon is near the bottom right of the screen because wading through the millions of POIs can be a bit daunting… I good problem to have I suppose. The search results can be sorted by name or by straight line distance. A few categories like restaurants are broken down into subcategories. The POI name, physical address, and phone number are displayed on-screen if you want to see that information before confirming the location as your destination.
Pro Routing Features
There are a ton of routing features that advanced GPS users will look for. You can pick vehicle types for car, taxi, bus, truck, or bicycle. There are also route types for fastest, shortest, and (my favorite) economical. The economical route method will take a look at a few of the “fastest” routes. If a route can be found that will only add a small bit of time to your route, but is a bit shorter (thus on slower roads) it will prefer that route type. This type of routing produced more similar routes to what I would have picked on my own.
Like other devices on the market, you can also specify things you want to avoid such as unpaved roads, highways, ferries, border crossings, toll roads, and roads where permits are needed. While very few people disable automatic route recalculation if you go off route, the setting is there should you desire.
You can setup custom distances to avoid along the route. Should you come upon a roadblock you can choose to avoid a custom distance ahead of you… 1km, 2km, 5km, 10km, and 30km. Yes, I am in the USA and I do have the units set to display in feet and miles so I have no idea why they display these settings in kilometers, but it does. Oh well, perhaps this will get addressed in a future firmware update.
Something we would like to see (or perhaps we just didn’t find yet!) is the ability to exclude a specific street or maneuver from the calculated route. You can preview the route detail, but not do something such as clicking on a street and tell the GPS you don’t want to travel over that point. You can work around the issue by building up an itinerary and using a via point, but that sometimes doesn’t accomplish exactly what you are looking for.
We were very glad to see the ability to create an offset starting location. When I’m traveling I often want to preview a route from the destination airport to the hotel. Many GPS devices don’t allow you to set a starting location of anything except your current location… the HP iQAP 310 does offer these offset starting locations. Simply find a location as if you were going to navigate there and select ‘Set as Start’ instead of ‘Set as destination’. Then continue to set the destination to build a preview of the route.
With a device of this many features it is no suprise to see that the IPAQ offers multi destination routing and route optimization. You can build up routes, and save them for recall at a later time. Throw a bunch of destinations into your route and manually sort the order of the destinations, or use the Optimization feature to automatically sort each of the points between you and the final destination.
Plan from your Computer
Who wants to be limited to creating routes on your computer? Further, who actually plans routes when you are in the car? Most people would rather do their planning away from the GPS device itself, and HP has an answer for that. You can plan trips on ipaq.com and then sync those routes into your GPS. You can also use that website for map updates, firmware updates, etc. The one bummer is that many of the syncing features are PC only… no Mac use supported.
People often wonder why they cannot automatically transfer contacts from their computer’s address book to set them up as favorites or POIs. I suspect the reason this hasn’t been done more often in the past is because people don’t tend to keep their addresses as “neat” as they need to be for navigation. While a GPS guides you through picking cities, streets, and addresses, “parsing” that information from an address book is more difficult than it might sound. Two line addresses, spelling errors, weird punctuation, etc can all cause issues when trying to decipher the location. HP has tried to build in a way to sync contacts from Outlook into the GPS. In my limited testing it only got perhaps a dozen out of a few hundred contacts properly mapped. Hopefully HP can work on this feature for a future update and build better intelligence into the matching. But it won’t correct how we write many addresses into our contact lists.
Taking a trip with the IPAQ 310 is simply fun… just don’t stare too much at that beautiful screen. The screen refresh rate is very fast thanks in part to the powerful chipset and plentiful amounts of RAM. The text on the map for road names is extremely legible and stunning to look at. You can pick which POI categories you want to show on the map… while some screens tend to get a bit cluttered with too many POI icons, HP has addressed the issue with transparency. The icons are very “light” and transparent so they don’t interfere with or overwhelm the map.
I also appreciate the really big “next turn” indicator. Going beyond a simple “left/right” it displays the type of intersection in a nice graphic as well as the distance to that intersection. The menu at the top and bottom of the screen gets a bit busy, and I think there is just too much data they are trying to display there. Along the top is the phone dialer, route progress list, next turn indicator (again), the name of the next street/turn, distance to the next turn (again), shortcut to the music application, volume menu, current time, cursor menu, satellite reception icon, time to destination, ETA, current speed, and a home icon. Some of that information is redundant, and much of it is unnecessary to have in the main navigation/map view. To make matters worse, there was such little space left for the name of the next street that only about 10 characters are displayed and the rest will scroll.
Thankfully there is a “full screen” mode which will get rid of most of the mess. In fact, this is how I ended up preferring to use the iPAQ. When you go into the full screen mode all you are shown is the map, the next intersection icon, and the distance to the next turn. This was a dream and for me provided the best navigation experience. I wish HP had taken the fantastic transparency features used elsewhere and applied it to the map view… make a few of the text fields transparently hovering over the map, or be able to further customize what fields are displayed in the non-full screen map view.
Text to Speech
Perhaps the biggest disappointment with the iPAQ 310 is the navigation voice. The voices sound poor making it difficult to understand what the instructions are. While playing MP3 music or using the included games the speaker doesn’t sound too bad, so we can only hope that HP will supply some new voice recordings or otherwise address the issue. It is too bad that such an otherwise competent navigation device speaks to you like she has marbles in her mouth.
Life in 3D
One of the coolest features HP put in was 3D buildings for major cities. They are simply a thing of beauty when driving around (for the passenger of course). You can pick to display 3D buildings, elevated roads where applicable, as well as setting how far away you want to be able to see the buildings and the quality of the 3D terrain. Yes indeed, HP realized that our planet Earth is not flat. As you are climbing hills you can see it in the map view. Going downhill around a corner? No problem you can see that too on the display. Headed up a steep mountain valley? Sure, they’ve got that covered too and you can see the road wind up through the canyon. So this GPS offers both 3D buildings and 3D terrain. The terrain covers the entire map database while the buildings are available in just major cities.
When navigating in 3D mode the dial on the right side of the device can also adjust the “angle” you are looking down on the map. Most GPS devices keep a fixed view, however the IPAP 310 allows you to adjust that angle. Want a view closer to a 2D overview? Rotate the dial down. Want a view that is closer to ground level to really see those mountains you are approaching or to get a more “canyon” view in big cities? Rotate the dial up.
Bonus Round: Check out the photo on the right. See if you can identify the building and the significance of that building to this GPS. That building really does look like it does in the GPS! See if the building has been identified or add your guess in the comments below. (Street, house number, city, and most likely reason I picked that building.)
My first experience with an “overview mode” came from the Harman Kardon GPS devices. Basically what this feature does is recognize when you have entered a road where you won’t be making a turn for a good distance. Then instead of just showing you the next half mile of road while you are cruising along at 65 mph, the GPS will switch to a 2D overhead view showing you anywhere from 1,000 feet to 20 miles at a time. I’ve become really fond of this feature. When you take those long trips it is nice to get more of a “big picture” view when you know you won’t be turning off the current road anytime soon.
You can turn this mode on and off, as well as specifying how far the stretch must be before going into overview mode as well as what the zoom setting of the overview mode will be.
We’ve already mentioned a few of the extras available to this GPS such as the ability to plan trips from your computer as well as Outlook contact syncing. We’ve also mentioned the video player, music player, and Picture viewer. Ala Nuvi, you also get a calculator and world clock. Being a “travel companion” the HP 310 GPS also includes a couple of games and the ability to load more. Two games are included.
The Bottom Line
It is easy to see why some people have become frustrated with this GPS. HP really went outside of the box and a few of the settings and controls can appear hidden away if you don’t know where to look for them. If you are an experienced GPS user you might become frustrated because HP approached the settings and controls from a different perspective than many other mainstream GPS devices.
If you are thinking of going to the electronics store, buying the GPS, taking it out of the box, turning it on, and driving away…. you might want to consider something more straight forward.
If on the other hand you are an experienced GPS user and don’t mind spending some quality time with the manual, this GPS could be one step closer to the perfect GPS. Through the tons of advanced features and an amazing set of customization options you might just get closer to having a GPS that is tailored to exactly how you want your GPS to behave.