Hitachi is a relative newcomer to the burgeoning portable GPS market, but its MMP-501 GPS device manages to offer great functionality and is priced competitively against its rivals. Apart from navigation duties, the MMP-501 also doubles as a portable entertainment unit with both audio and video playback as well as Bluetooth support.
At first glance, the MMP-501 appears very chunky and outdated. Measuring in at 148mm by 85mm by 34mm, and weighing some odd 335 grams, the MMP-501 isn't going to be winning any size or design contests. It doesn't help that the device is finished in a boring dark grey and features only a few basic buttons.
The bulky design did, however, allow engineers to add a large 5.0 inch touch sensitive LCD screen. Users can select between either 2D or 3D maps with both day and night modes. These maps aren't as pretty as some we've seen but they're clear and simple to follow. The maps also provide information including distance travelled and distance remaining, as well as current speed.
Attaching the MMP-501 to your car's windshield is done via a clumsy mounting kit that takes some getting used to but once in place, the kit offers a secure grip to both the device and windshield. Although most of the controls are accessed via the screen, frequently used buttons such as the volume wheel and mobile phone operation are included on the sides.
Other features include a headphone jack, mini-USB port, SD card slot, AV input and an AC power adaptor. Both an AC charger and in-car charger are provided.
The MMP-501 comes pre-loaded with the 2006 edition of WhereIs Sensis maps of Australia on 256MB of inbuilt flash memory. Additional data, such as music and video files, as well as maps, can be added using the SD card slot. Navigation is handled by the reliable SiRF Star III chipset, while the included mapping database has over 350,000 points of interest as well as fixed speed camera alerts and speed zone warnings.
The user interface is very simple to use. The main menu is comprised of four onscreen icons, with each tab including its own sub-menu. Bluetooth connectivity allows for hands free mobile phone usage, but it is very limited and lacks cool features such as voice dialing and SMS playback as seen on TomTom's GO 910.
For entertainment purposes, there's both MP3 audio and MPEG-4 video support with limited play and repeat options.
When first switching on the device, we immediately noticed that the screen wasn't as bright as most units on the market. In direct sunlight, images get washed out and are difficult to view.
Fortunately, volume from the inbuilt speaker is loud and directions are read out loud and clear. It's a shame that Hitachi left out text-to-speech functionality, a cool feature that actually reads out loud street names in real time. Acquiring a satellite connection was quick, taking less than 30 seconds even in busy urban areas. Navigational directions were mostly accurate and took only seconds to calculate.
Even more impressive was how quickly an alternate route could be calculated if we missed a turn. We'd often receive the new instructions well before the next turn. On a full charge the batteries managed less than 3 hours with just navigational duties, a figure that worsens when Bluetooth is turned on.
Overall, the MMP-501 is a good first attempt from Hitachi at trying to enter the competitive portable GPS market but it falls short of offerings from more established manufacturers such as TomTom and Navman. Hitachi provides a 12-month warranty as well as a telephone support service for the MMP-501.