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Much like the company's other products, the Harman Kardon Guide + Play GPS-500 is a stylish piece of technology. It's sleek (4.6 inches wide by 3 inches high by 0.8 inch deep and weighing 7 ounces) and attractive, with a classic silver-and-black finish. The compact size will allow for easy portability between cars, and the unit comes packaged with a simple and secure vehicle mount.
The main attraction of the GPS-500 is its wide-screen 4-inch WQVGA display. The touch screen is responsive and features a 480x272-pixel resolution, so we enjoyed extrasharp text and maps. The screen washed out slightly in direct sunlight, but we readjusted the viewing angle and had no problems seeing the map. Overall, the menus and interface are intuitive and user-friendly. We were slightly confused as to how to get back to the main menu page once we were in a specific function, but we figured out that tapping the Source button performs that task.
The right spine holds a volume dial that you can push in to adjust the screen brightness, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a mini USB port, while the left side has a lone Hold switch. On top of the unit, you will find the Power button and SD expansion slot. And finally, the speaker and external antenna jack are on the back.
Harman Kardon packages the Guide + Play GPS-500 with a car charger, an AC adapter, a USB cable, a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a carrying case, and a quick-start guide.
As its name suggests, the Harman Kardon Guide + Play GPS-500 is designed for navigation and entertainment, but route guidance is the primary and most attractive function of this device. The GPS-500 is equipped with a Centrality Atlas II GPS chip and comes preloaded with TeleNav maps of the United States. Before hitting the road, you may want to dig into Route Options and Navigation Settings menus to set your preferences for route creation (shortest time or shortest distance), unit of measurement, avoidances, and so forth.
You can route to a specific address, intersection, or city center, or choose from a list of recently searched destinations or saved locations. The unit is smart enough to gray out letters and numbers as you begin to input data for any cities or streets that do not match, making for faster text entry and selection. Strangely, if you want to plan a trip beyond your home state, you can't simply type in the name; instead you'll have to scroll through a list of the all the states and then select your locale--a bit of an annoyance. Once you've chosen your final destination, you can get a simulation of your route, view a list of turn-by-turn instructions, or add other stops for multidestination trips
For planned or impromptu pit stops, you can search the points of interest (POI) database, which is called Places on the GPS-500. It contains about 3 million POI and includes all the major necessities (gas stations, lodging, and banks/ATMs) and more specific categories, such as golf courses and concert halls. As with many of today's latest portable navigation systems, the GPS-500 also separates restaurants by cuisine type, so you can satisfy your craving for whatever type of food you want.
Maps are presented in 2D and 3D views and can automatically switch between day and night colors for optimal viewing. There are icons to zoom in and out of maps, and you have the option to have "north" set at the top of your screen or the direction in which you are driving. During a planned trip, the GPS-500 will also display onscreen information about the direction and distance to your next turn, current street name, estimated time of arrival, and remaining time and distance. This is, of course, all backed by voice-guided directions, but sadly, the GPS-500 does not support text-to-speech functionality. The system does do automatic route recalculations and includes a detour function.
Finally, the entertainment portion of the Harman Kardon Guide + Play GPS-500: the media player supports MP3, MP4, WMA, ASF, WAV, and OGG music files and also displays ID3 tag information and album art when available. There's a Repeat and Shuffle function, and you can browse tracks by artist, album, genre, or playlist. For videos, you can view MPEG-4 and WMV9 clips. The GPS-500's SD slot can accept up to 4GB cards and has a USB 2.0 interface for faster data transfer.
We tested the Harman Kardon Guide + Play GPS-500 in San Francisco, and from a cold start, it took the unit a solid 10 minutes to get a satellite fix under clear skies--an eternity when compared to other systems we've tested in the past, which only took a couple of minutes. Subsequent starts were faster, but still lagged behind competing products. On a brighter note, the receiver did a good job of tracking our position as we drove around the city.
When planning a trip, the GPS-500 quickly returned with directions, but we didn't always agree with the set of instructions. The system was able to get us to our final destination, but there were times where we knew of a more efficient route. We also purposely veered off track to test the route recalculation rate, and in general, the unit was able to give us new instructions before our next maneuver, but there was one instance where we took a succession of wrong turns, which seemed to confuse the system as it struggled to keep up with our moves. Voice prompts were loud and clear, though we did miss the text-to-speech functionality.
Multimedia performance was what we expected from a GPS device--mediocre. There was plenty of volume, but songs sounded one-dimensional and lacked richness, despite the high-fidelity speakers. The experience was much improved when we plugged in a nice pair of headphones and enjoyed some great-sounding tunes. Video playback was better than some other multimedia-centric portable nav systems we've tested, thanks to the wide and sharp screen. The Harman Kardon Guide + Play GPS-500's battery is rated for up to 5 hours of use.