Editors' note: Since its initial release in January 2006, Fine Digital has updated its FineDrive 400 with some added features. We've reviewed the new unit and have adjusted the ratings accordingly.
With its basic design and features and its subpar performance, the FineDigital FineDrive 400 is an example of the proliferation of portable GPS navigation devices made possible by the mass production of GPS chips and LCD screens. The unit consists of a 4-inch color touch screen set in a plastic case, with ports for power, USB, and audio out, as well as an SD card slot. Along with mapping and navigation, it includes 2 million points of interest (POI) in its database and a built-in MP3 player. However, its lack of batteries means it can't be used out of the car.
It comes with preloaded with maps of the United States and Canada, and it can play MP3s off separate SD cards. The MP3 player and navigation cannot be used at the same time. Satellite acquisition can take 20 minutes or more from a cold start, and its positioning isn't pinpoint accurate. We noticed a substantial difference between where it thought we were and our actual location. Route calculation isn't particularly fast, and one jumble of freeway junctions caused it to route us off the freeway, then right back on. It does have a 3D-view mode, which some people might prefer, and it gives adequate warnings for upcoming turns.
The FineDigital FineDrive 400 is pricier ($699) than more feature-rich GPS devices, such as the Lowrance iWay 350c and the Magellan RoadMate 2200T. It may have been impressive a couple of years ago, but it falls short of the current state of the art.The FineDigital FineDrive 400 has a serviceable form factor, with its 4-inch color touch screen wrapped in a relatively wide bezel. Two buttons on the left side of the bezel zoom in and out, while two others on the right side open up a navigation and system menu. The unit measures 5.16 by 3.52 by 1.05 inches. Ports for power, USB, and audio out are located on the bottom edge, while an SD card slot sits on the right side. We were disappointed by the lack of an exterior volume dial; instead, you adjust the volume onscreen. Unlike most portable nav systems where the antenna is integrated into the device, the FineDrive requires you to plug the GPS antenna into the back of the unit. The antenna is a fixed, plastic fin that juts out but doesn't get in the way when the device is mounted on its clamp; however, it makes storage difficult. It's also annoying that you can't turn on the device unless it's plugged into your car's cigarette adapter. It'd be really useful if you could use it outside of the car, so you could enter in all your trip information at home, then just plug it into your car and go.
The software interface uses a home screen with icons for navigation, the MP3 player, setup, and shutdown. The navigation function has its own menu, with icons for destination input, route options, display options, and GPS info. The icons are large and easy to activate using the touch screen. The destination icon leads to a submenu with six options, from addresses to points of interest to recent locations. Although there are deeper levels of submenus, a Back button aids navigation.
The map display itself isn't fancy, but it works. In daytime mode, it shows the road you're on in red, other roads in white, and surrounding terrain in tan. A strip at the bottom displays the name of the street you're on, which is very useful. The nighttime setting uses a blue background and gray roads. As with the volume, you adjust brightness through a submenu, though we would've preferred to access it via an external dial.
The box for the FineDrive 400 contains everything needed to use the device right away. Beyond the unit itself, it comes with a GPS antenna, a power cord that plugs into a 12-volt supply, a strong, plastic adjustable clamp with a suction cup on one end suitable for attaching to windshields, and documentation. The instructions suggest leaving the antenna plugged in after it's first installed.The FineDigital FineDrive 400 does two things: navigate and play MP3s but not simultaneously. The MP3 player reads files copied onto an SD card. It has the usual play, pause, forward, and reverse controls, and it displays ID3-tag information in its interface. The controls are big and easy to use, but there's no way to easily navigate folders and files. The MP3 player can output its sound to a car stereo via either its minijack or through its built-in FM transmitter.
For navigation, the FineDrive 400 comes preloaded with maps of the 48 contiguous United States and Canada. The map display is fairly flexible. It can be set to show a 2D or 3D view, and the heading can be oriented north or in the direction the unit is traveling. The map can show POI icons, which can be customized by category. There's also trip information at the bottom of the screen, including trip time, remaining distance, and speed (it will also alert you if you go over the speed limit). An options menu lets users choose quick or short routes on major or local roads. Ferries, toll roads, and roads with carpool lanes can all be excluded or included. There's also a detour function if you want to avoid a certain part of the prescribed route.
The FineDrive 400 offers a number of options for destination entry. The address-entry option lets you start by first picking a city or street using a touch-screen keyboard. Unfortunately, the keyboard doesn't have predictive entry, so all letters are active at all times, making it easy to fumble and hit the wrong key. At least the keyboard is fairly spacious. After each letter or number is entered, the list of streets or cities displayed shows only the remaining possibilities. Because the touch area for each list item is small, selecting from the list requires a deft hand.
The FineDrive 400's database of more than 2 million POI includes categories for restaurants, emergency services, lodgings, and recreation. Although it has useful items such ATMs and gas stations, we found its shopping category (a subcategory under Business) lacking. It covered only major shopping centers and missed individual stores, making it completely unsuitable for spur-of-the-moment errands.
It saves a list of recent destinations, so it's simple to find preprogrammed spots, and it includes a favorites menu, a good place to store frequently visited locations. There's also a Home icon, where you can enter your home address and quickly navigate to it with the press of a button.We found route guidance on the FineDigital FineDrive 400 to be rough. Its voice guidance gets too chatty in areas with lots of freeway junctions, piping up with often unnecessary instructions every 30 seconds. It also nags when it gets off route, commanding the driver to take the first legal U-turn as soon as it senses it's not on a prescribed road. More refined units quietly recalculate the route and give the driver the best way to get back on track. The voice guidance can call out freeway or highway numbers but not street names.
The FineDrive isn't particularly accurate, either. A few times, we crossed an intersection before the map caught up with our location, indicating that we should have turned. It gets very difficult to use in areas with lots of closely spaced intersections. Plus, when we veered off course to test the unit's route recalculation skills, it failed miserably. At one point, the FineDrive had us driving in complete circles.
One screen shows latitude and longitude, plus how many satellites it has acquired (it needs 12 to fix its location). From a cold start, the FineDrive 400 took an excruciating 25 minutes to acquire a signal, which was incredibly frustrating. Even worse, the acquisition time didn't get any faster until a few days after we'd gotten the device. Fortunately, we didn't have to be at our destination at a particular time, but this kind of delay would certainly affect the trip time. Route calculation time is adequate.