When you're constantly traveling, the less gadgets, the better, which is why a PDA-GPS combo like the Mio DigiWalker P550 can be an attractive option for the mobile professional. As a PDA, it allows you to organize your various appointments and trip information as well as provide you with the tools to work on the go. And as a handheld GPS device, with preloaded maps of North America and a built-in GPS receiver, it can aid you in getting to said appointments. On paper, the P550 has the makings of a great travel companion, but sadly, it just doesn't deliver on performance. Satellite-acquisition times could be slow, and the prescribed routes weren't always efficient. Also, all these capabilities took a toll on the device's battery; we often found ourselves running for the nearest power socket to power up. The Mio P550 is available now for $399.95, but we would rather spend a little more money and get the similarly featured and better-performing HP iPaq rx5900 Travel Companion.
At 4.1 inches high by 2.4 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep and weighing in at 6 ounces, the Mio DigiWalker P550 carries a similar footprint to the HP iPaq rx5900, but we'd have to say the latter is the more attractive of the two with its glossy silver-and-orange casing and rounded edges. Now, we're not calling the P550 ugly, rather it's just a bit frumpy and pedestrian. Looks aside, the handheld is compact enough to carry and use on foot. Overall, it has a solid construction, though the back of the device has a slightly cheap, plasticky feel.
Mio packages the DigiWalker P550 with an AC adapter, a car charger, a USB cable, a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a 3.5mm earphone converter, a MioMap DVD, ActiveSync software, and reference material. The vehicle mount was easy to install and securely held the handheld in place during our road tests. We should also note that the cradle is designed to hold the handheld horizontally, so you can switch the P550's screen orientation from portrait to landscape mode and get an optimal view of your maps.
Like the HP iPaq rx5900 Travel Companion, the Mio DigiWalker P550 pulls double duty as a PDA and handheld GPS device. Starting with its navigation abilities, the P550 is equipped with a 20-channel SiRFstarIII GPS receiver and comes preloaded with TeleAtlas maps of the United States and Canada. The device uses the same MioMap navigation software found on the company's standalone portable navigation systems such as the Mio C520.
You can enter your destination by address, a point on the map, a point of interest (POI), or select from your Favorites or recent history list. The system has the ability to calculate directions by the fastest, the shortest, or the most economical route, as well as with or without highways, toll roads, and so forth. The unit also features a comprehensive POI database with all the major attractions and more specific categories.
Maps are available in 2D and 3D with day and night colors. You can zoom in and out of maps, route to points or destinations along the way, and use the Add Cam tool to mark where safety cameras are located. Also on display is the name of the street you're on, the next turn, the remaining distance, the estimated time of arrival, and so forth. Of course, you get text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, though it doesn't support text-to-speech functionality to speak the actual street names. There are options to get a Fly Over preview of the prescribed route or view a detailed itinerary. The P550 also supports automatic route recalculation if you get off course.
In addition to the mapping software, Mio throws in a complimentary three-year subscription to WorldMate 2005 Standard Edition. It's an older version than the one included on the rx5900, but the app does provide you with some handy tools, such as current times around the world, weather information, international dialing codes, a packing list, and converters for currency, clothing size, and measurement.
We tested the GPS capabilities of the Mio DigiWalker P550 in San Francisco, and from a cold start, it took the unit a solid seven minutes to get a lock on our position under cloudy skies. The handheld actually froze in the middle of acquiring satellites, and we had to reset the machine. On the bright side, subsequent starts were almost instantaneous, and we were impressed with the strength and accuracy of the receiver as it held a steady fix while we drove around the city and pinpointed our location. Route calculations were on the slower side compared to GPS devices, and we didn't always agree with the directions. For example, we planned a trip from San Francisco International Airport to CNET's downtown headquarters, and everything was great until the end, when the P550 instructed us to take a series of turns to get to our destination. This was completely puzzling to us, since we knew of a more direct and simple route that only required one turn. Route recalculations were prompt, however.
As a PDA, the Mio P550 was generally a good performer and pretty responsive. We had no problems transferring or opening various Office files, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. The device also found our test Wi-Fi access point immediately, and we were able to connect to the Web without a problem with relatively quick download times. Music and video playback were excellent with clear sound and fairly good picture quality. However, if you're listening to your tunes via the built-in speakers, take care not to place the device with the speaker side down.
Despite having a 1200mAh lithium-ion battery, we found that the Mio P550 lost its charge really fast. After just a couple of hours of general use and tooling around in the MioMap application, the battery was already half-drained; within the next hour we got a notification that the main battery was low--and this was with the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios turned off. We are still conducting CNET Labs battery-drain tests and will update this section once we have final results, but things aren't off to a good start.