HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion GPS Device
At a Glance
HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion
Poor software design and usability undermine HP's quality hardware.
Though HP has been creating GPS-enabled iPaq handhelds for a few years, its latest device is the first to attempt real competition with Garmin, TomTom, and other dedicated GPS products made with automotive adventures in mind. But while the iPaq 310 Travel Companion is a creditable effort, several glitches make its rather steep price--it lists for $450 (as of 2/8/08)--difficult to justify.
The 310 provides turn-by-turn directions and points-of-interest lookup on a slim (0.7-inch-thick) device with a handsome, crisp 800-by-480-pixel 4.3-inch LCD touch screen that you can perch on the included windshield/dashboard mount (you also get a car charger to keep the device juiced up). The unit also has a built-in media player and supports Bluetooth for use as a hands-free cellular kit.
The 310's text-to-speech technology allows the voice directions to name streets, which can be a major plus in unfamiliar areas. The device's speakers didn't seem powerful enough, however: Even with the volume turned all the way up, I sometimes had difficulty hearing the directions. Currently HP is not offering an FM transmitter to direct the 310 Travel Companion's audio through car speakers.
What distinguishes the 310 from competitors is its integration with HP's recently launched iPaq Navigate travel-planning Web site and Content Manager desktop software. For example, you can sync Outlook contacts to the device and then choose a contact's address as a destination; you can also plan trips on the site and then sync them to the device and/or share them with friends (or the Internet at large).
But you must register with the site to do any of that, and people who don't care about trip planning might not appreciate having to register just to sync contacts. Also, neither the site nor the Content Manager software is intuitive. I tried to plan a summer road trip from San Francisco to Tampa, but was stymied by the site's arbitrary six-day limit; I also couldn't see how to determine what stops I might want to add. The site wanted me to search for points of interest at specific places, assuming I knew where on the route I'd like to stop. Content outside North America was very limited.
For now, you can't use the Content Manager application to download additional maps or transfer multimedia content to the device--you have to buy additional maps preloaded on SD Cards. (HP says that it plans to start selling supplemental maps through its Web site soon.) Plus, you can play non-copy-protected music only if the files are on an SD Card. If you want to play music while using a new map, you're out of luck since the 310 has just one SD Card slot (most maps take up the majority of the card they're on).
The 310 iPaq Travel Companion is based on Microsoft's Windows CE software (with HP's own interface), and suffers from that platform's inability to shut down apps that aren't in active use. At one point I got an 'Out of Memory' error message, which went away only when I reset the device--and when I rebooted, it had lost the North American female voice I'd set it to use. I also found the plethora of icons around the main screen bewildering--what they all do wasn't clear.
The 310 iPaq Travel Companion is good-looking hardware that handles navigation basics fine. But until the extras work better, it's not worth the high price.