You can imagine, some years ago, the meeting in which HP engineers assessed the arrival of stand-alone sat-nav devices like the TomTom Go. They’d have said: ‘People have the option of adding a GPS receiver to one of our current iPAQs – why should we make a dedicated sat-nav device?’
Because, as HP has now realised, people crave simplicity. One box, one cradle, one 12v power lead and one easy way to get where you’re going. The HP iPAQ 314 Travel Companion addresses that need for simplicity. But as is usually the case when a megacorp attempts something that has been largely perfected by smaller, expert companies, they’ve added a twist to show how clever they are.
The screen of dreams
That twist is the iPAQ 314’s super hi-res screen. Specifically, it’s 800x480 pixels in a 4.3in screen. (A TomTom Go 720 has the same size screen, but only 480x272 pixels.)
HP has also bundled TeleAtlas’s newest maps with 3D landmarks and realistic elevation of bridges and overpasses. And it’s given you the option to run the maps full-screen on the device, with only very basic next-turn overlays.
It’s all very pretty. In either 2D or 3D aspect modes, streets are perfectly drawn, and street names are very readable.
But, as any geek knows, for crisp visuals you need processing power. The HP iPaq 314 Travel Companion has a 600MHz processor and 128MB RAM – specs that wouldn’t disgrace a palmtop computer. Yet it just – and no more – manages to draw maps and cycle through menus at the kind of speed you want when you’re in a stressful car-based situation. A TomTom Go, or a Mio C620, or a Garmin Nuvi would be quicker.
Also, on-screen options to rotate, zoom or adjust the angle of the map only appear when prompted, are too small, and disappear again too quickly. No, you shouldn’t be doing these things while driving, but making it harder to do isn’t the solution to that problem.
There’s more to it
So the HP’s screen, its ace card, creates as many problems as it solves. But there are other reasons to recommend the iPaq 314. It looks good, with a beetle-back purple hue, and it’s solidly made.
The cradle, which has an easy to use retaining clip, has clearly been devised by a clear-thinking engineer. The right-side jog dial makes volume and brightness controls a breeze. It has palmtop-esque extras like a calculator, world clock, MP3/video player and Outlook contacts sync for using with the Bluetooth hands-free function. And it’s not unreasonably priced, either.
So, has the megacorp taken on the experts, the back-street artificers and won? Should you buy one? Yes, if you want an upmarket sat-nav with a class-leading screen and clever 3D maps. If you just want a dependable sat-nav that will always respond promptly in a crisis, though, the current market leaders from TomTom, Mio, Navman and Garmin will serve you better.