As things go in the tech world, there's always a push to create slick all-in-one gadgets, and GPS devices are not exempt from this trend. Even though portable navigation systems are just starting to appear on people's radars here in the United States, the GPS manufacturers are forging ahead by adding new functionalities and creating new designs. Just last year, Mio Technology introduced the Mio H610, a pocket-size hybrid navigation and entertainment gadget. It was pretty much in a category of its own, but not so anymore. The Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100 offers similar features and also has a pocketable design that makes it better for cyclists and walkers rather than drivers. We actually prefer the streamlined design of the N100 over the Mio H610, and it comes with Navigon's excellent mapping software, complete with slick maps and branded points of interest. Unfortunately, this is pretty much all negated by the fact that the Pocket LOOX N100 suffers from poor performance. It's extremely slow, and the navigation performance isn't up to par with other systems on the market. At $499, the N100 is priced the same as the Mio H610, but for our money, we'd go with the better-performing H610.
The Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100 is cute; there's just no other way to describe it. The palm-sized device (3.5x2x0.6 inches; 3.9 ounces) boasts a nice streamlined design with eye-pleasing curves and an attractive silver-and-white color scheme (the company also includes an exchangeable black faceplate in the box). The overall size and look is similar to the Mio H610, but we prefer the more sophisticated look of the N100, whereas the H610 somewhat resembles a handheld toy. And while the device has a solid build and is comfortable to hold in the hand, we do think the Power button and the Hold switch on the right side feel a bit cheap and plasticky.
All the other operations--entering addresses, launching the media player, and so forth--are handled through the N100's 2.8-inch touch screen. The bright display, which you can switch between portrait and landscape mode, shows off 64,000 colors at a sharp 320x240 pixel resolution, so maps and images have nice definition and rich colors. We also had no problem reading the screen in direct sunlight or under harsh lighting. The touch screen is responsive for the most part, although the sluggish performance might make you think otherwise (we'll talk more about this later though). Since the Pocket LOOX N100 has a smaller screen, inputting addresses on the virtual keyboard and tapping the smaller icons really requires the use of the stylus. Clearly, this doesn't really lend itself for in-car use. Now, while you'll probably enter all your destinations before you hit the road, if you want to perform any other functions while on the road, such as zooming in or out, this will be a problem. Fortunately, the company realized this, so you can actually use voice commands to work the N100. Just be aware that you have to save a destination and record a name for the trip before you can use this option.
The N100 features a mostly intuitive and clean interface with some sleek drop-down menus. The main menu page clearly presents you with four options: Navigator, Multimedia, Utilities, and Settings. The icons are pleasing to the eye with a nice bubbly, animated look, but once you get into the more specific applications, the function of the icons aren't clearly identified, so it's a matter of trial and error. Another confusing aspect is that some of the graphics are shaded out or transparent, which made us think the control wasn't available to us, but this isn't true.
The Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100 is powered by a SiRFstarIII GPS chip and uses Navigon's MobileNavigator 6 software. All maps of the United States and Canada are preloaded on the included miniSD card. As with most GPS devices, you can enter a location by specific address, point of interest, recent destination, user-defined home, and so forth. The N100 can calculate routes in one of four ways--fast, optimum, short, or scenic--and gives you the option to allow or avoid highways and toll roads. There are also pedestrian, bicycle, and motorcycle route options, and our favorite, slow car mode. Other standard navigation features include automatic route recalculation, multi-stop trips, simulated demos, speed alerts, and of course, text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. Though the Pocket LOOX N100 doesn't offer text-to-speech functionality, it will announce major highways.
Navigon delivers some really beautiful maps to the Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100. There are slick transitions between maps and we'll mention the aesthetically pleasing icons again, as they add much value to the navigation experience. You can view maps in 2D or 3D mode, and with day or night colors. The map screen shows you plenty of data, such as the name of the street you're on, distance to next turn, estimated time of arrival, remaining distance, a compass, signal strength, and more. Of course, if you feel the screen is too cluttered, you can always choose to hide some of these elements via the Settings menu.
Another benefit of the Navigon software is its excellent points of interest (POI) database. Not only do you get the usual POI categories (gas stations, ATMs, shopping centers, restaurants, and so forth), but you also get branded POI icons. For example, McDonald's is identified by the familiar golden arches and Shell gas stations are noted with a shell. Clearly, the N100 doesn't offer branded POI for all businesses, but we're impressed and appreciative of this feature--nice touch. We found the database to be fairly up to date, though not perfect.
The Pocket Loox N100's media player is pretty basic, but gets the essential job done. The music player supports MP3, AAC, and WMA files, and displays song title and artist. You can create playlists on the fly, and there's also a shuffle and a repeat mode. There's no equalizer, but you can adjust treble and bass through the Audio option under the Settings menu. You can play music while navigating, but it was our experience that the N100 didn't interrupt the song when giving a voice prompt. Instead, both were played at the same time, which didn't do any good. The video player offers a full-screen mode and repeat function and works with WMV files. However, there is an included conversion app to convert other video formats. There's also an image viewer for opening JPG, GIF, and BMP files.
Finally, Fujitsu Siemens throws in a few extra utilities. You get a world clock, a calculator, and two games, one of which, much to our delight, was Pacman, although it's called Smart Pixie on this device.
Before we get to its results as a navigator, we want to start with the general performance of the Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100. We found the unit to be real sluggish at times. I consider myself a pretty patient person, but there are times when I was ready to walk away from this device. For example, it took over a minute for the Navigator app to launch. This also brings up the issue we mentioned in the Design section. There were times when we'd hit an icon, such as the music player, and nothing would happen for a few seconds, so we were left wondering if our tap didn't register or if we had to tap it twice. This happened a lot when we first started using the N100, but we eventually realized it's just slow. Either way, it's incredibly frustrating.
For our tests, we took the Pocket LOOX N100 out for a spin in San Francisco. From a cold start, it took the unit about two minutes to acquire a satellite fix under clear skies, but subsequent starts were erratic; it took anywhere from seconds to five minutes to get a signal. Once set, the N100 did a good job of pinpointing our location, but as we started moving, we noticed that it was about half a block off as we drove around the city. We also entered a specific trip, and the unit calculated a route in a reasonable amount of time. The directions were accurate, but route recalculations were a little too slow for our tastes. Plus, when we missed too many turns, it really seemed to confuse the poor little guy and the map screen went on the fritz trying to catch up. Not exactly what you want when you're lost or trying to get to your destination.
Music playback through the device's speakers was OK. Songs sounded a bit hollow and bass was lacking a bit. Of course, plugging in a good pair of earbuds improved the quality greatly. If you're in an absolute pinch and you're just bored out of your mind, you could watch a video on the N100. However, the picture quality was choppy and there were times when the audio didn't sync up with the picture. Again, we'd only recommend it as a last resort. The Pocket LOOX N100's battery is rated for 5 hours.