Last year, HP introduced its HP iPaq rx5900 Travel Companion, a sleek gadget that combined the powers of a PDA and a portable navigation system into one solution. It was the first GPS device for the company, and it enjoyed moderate success with our readers. Now, HP has decided to embark on its first GPS-only venture with the new HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion. It's a sleek device with an exceptionally beautiful and sharp screen, and it has attractive features on the inside as well, including text-to-speech, integrated Bluetooth, and 3D building renderings. Unfortunately, things turned ugly as soon as we hit the road. The iPaq 310 was awful at route recalculations, giving us baffling directions and roundabout routes to our destination. In addition, the voice prompts were difficult to hear and understand. It's a shame because we really wanted to like this device, but HP needs to work out some bugs before we're willing to fork over the $$449 for the portable nav system. In the meantime, if you're looking for a midlevel to advanced in-car GPS, we'd suggest the Mio DigiWalker C520 or the Garmin Nuvi 660.
Though the HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion doesn't offer a remarkably different design than other portable navigation systems, it's still one sleek device. It sports an attractive dark plum chassis and black soft-touch finish on the back, making for a handsome addition to any car interior. The iPaq 310 also has a slender profile (4.3 inches wide by 3.4 inches high by 0.7 inch deep; 6.6 ounces) so you can easily transport it between vehicles or pack it in your suitcase for use with a rental car while on a trip.
On the front, you'll find a spacious 4.3-inch TFT touch screen that shows off 65,000 colors at a sharp 800x480 pixel resolution that makes maps and text look extra crisp and vibrant. It's one of the best displays we've seen on a GPS device to date, and we were able to read it in various lighting conditions, including bright daylight. You can adjust the backlight levels, and there's a night mode option that will automatically switch the map colors at nighttime for better viewing. The touch screen was responsive to our commands, though the system itself can occasionally be sluggish; that can make it seem like the screen isn't immediately responding to your touch. The onscreen keyboard is on the cramped side, so users with larger digits may have a hard time entering addresses with just their fingertips. Fortunately, there's a stylus on top of the unit for more precise text entry.
For the most part, the HP user interface is intuitive and easy to understand. The main menu page presents you with five clear options: Navigation, Entertainment, Contacts, Extras, and Settings. That said, once you dive deeper into these selections, the function of all the different buttons isn't always obvious. The user's manual is pretty barebones, but it at least explains the purpose of each icon.
The Power button is located right above the display, while there's an SD expansion slot on the left side. To the right, you'll find a reset hole, a mini USB port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, an external antenna jack, and a multipurpose jog wheel that you can use to adjust the volume and backlight, scroll through and select the various menus, or zoom in and out of maps.
The HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion comes packaged with an AC adapter, a car charger, a USB cable, a leather protective case, a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), and reference material.
The HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion was built from scratch and no longer uses TomTom's navigation software. Instead, it uses HP's own navigation software and comes preloaded with TeleAtlas maps of the United States and Canada. As with most portable navigation systems, you can get directions to a specific address, a point of interest (POI), a location from your Favorites or recently visited list, or your home address. Once you've entered your destination, routes can be calculated in several methods, including shortest, fastest, and most economical, and you can instruct the system to avoid certain road types and maneuvers, such as highways, toll roads, and U-turns. There will also be an iPaq-dedicated Web site where you can plan your trips beforehand and then send them the iPaq 310. This is a nice option if you have time to preplan your journey since you can take advantage of your computer's full screen and keyboard to enter all the information. Unfortunately, this feature was not live at the time of this writing, so we couldn't check it out. HP says the site should be ready for public use by late November but didn't give a specific date. Other navigation goodies include automatic route recalculation and safety camera warnings.
The iPaq 310 offers text- and voice-guided directions in English, Spanish, or French. In addition, the unit has text-to-speech functionality so you'll hear actual street names instead of generic voice prompts. Maps are presented in 2D or 3D view, and while driving a specified route, the map screen will show you the distance to and direction of your next turn as well as the street name, your current driving speed, estimated time of arrival, and other useful information. One cool aspect about the iPaq 310 is that you get 3D renderings of buildings. This capability isn't available for all buildings but includes most major landmarks, which can be helpful in getting your bearings in unfamiliar areas since it gives you a visual reference point.
The iPaq 310 also features integrated Bluetooth, so you can pair your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone or smartphone with the iPaq 310 and use it as a hands-free speaker system. Once connected, you can either use the touch screen to accept or reject calls. Also, if a number is listed with a POI, there's an option to dial out directly from the iPaq 310. Unfortunately, the system doesn't automatically transfer your phone's contact or call history list, though you can synchronize your device with your PC to transfer Outlook contacts. Again, sadly, this feature wasn't available at the time of this review so we weren't able to try it out.
For entertainment, there's a built-in music and video player. Using the expansion slot, you can load up an SD card with your favorite MP3, WMA, WMV, and AVI music and video files, and check them out on the iPaq 310. The players are pretty rudimentary with just the basic functions--play, pause/stop, rewind, fast forward--but it does support playlist creation. Other extras include a calculator, a clock, a picture viewer, and a set of games.
We took the HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion out for a test drive in San Francisco, and from a cold start under clear skies, it took about 3 to 4 minutes for the receiver to get a fix on our position, while subsequent starts were almost instantaneous. During everyday drives around the city, the iPaq 310 did a good job of tracking our movements, and it was pretty cool to see the 3D building renderings.
We entered our standard trip from the Marina District to CNET's downtown headquarters, and the iPaq 310 was able to quickly return with an accurate route. Disappointingly, the voice prompts were a bit soft even with the volume at its highest level and there was a bit of reverberation. Also, the text-to-speech directions weren't as smooth as some of the other GPS devices we tested as it mangled and chopped up the pronunciation of some street names. However, more concerning is the system's ineptitude at route recalculations. We missed a number of turns to test this functionality, and while the iPaq 310 was quick to come up with new directions, they were completely circuitous. Instead of coming up with a new route, it would try to have us go back to the point where we missed the actual turn instead of plotting a new course from our current location.
We were able to successfully pair the HP iPaq 310 with the RIM BlackBerry Curve and had no problems making calls. Multimedia performance was mediocre. Given the soft-spoken directions, we weren't surprised to find that songs sounded weak and hollow through the systems speakers. We experienced similar results with video, but on the upside, the audio and picture were always synchronized and picture quality was good.