The Mio DigiWalker 269+ could be mistaken for either a handheld GPS or a PDA, and that's a fair call, given that it's a device that dips its toes in both camps, although clearly it's designed for the GPS-using crowd first and foremost. It measures in at 138 x 78 x 26mm and weighs 232g, so you'll feel it in your pocket both from a weight and more importantly a size perspective. The display on the 269+ is a landscape format, 320x240 display capable of 65,000 colours, which might seem like overkill for a simple GPS, until you realise that it's also got touches of the portable media player and PDA world to it as well.
Controls include a five-way selector on the right hand side and a set of common function buttons -- including one that'll automatically plot a route to a pre-defined "home" spot for you on the fly. If ever there was a button that should have been labelled "Drunk at the pub", it's this one -- just remember to hand the GPS to your taxi driver, rather than connecting it to your own car.
One thing that we particularly liked about the Mio 269+ was that the GPS antennae is simply a bump on the top left hand side of the unit, as opposed to the fold-out or plug-in antennae of many GPS units. The practical upshot is that you can't forget to unfold or unfurl the 269+'s antennae, as it's always on call.
As well as the GPS unit itself, Mio also bundles a regular AC adaptor, carry case and a car cigarette lighter charger in the box, as well as a remote control for those who don't like touchscreens, or are worried about the safety implications of using a touchscreen while driving. There's a catch there anyway, which we'll get to later. There's also a car mounting kit with a small flexible arm and sucker to attach to your windscreen -- preferably from the inside.
The Digiwalker runs on an Intel Xscale 300MHz processor with 64MB of SDRAM. Unlike many GPS units that rely on a permanently inserted SD card for road data, the 269+ instead uses an integrated 2.5GB hard drive to store road data, along with a variety of multimedia content that can be viewed while on the road. Road data is provided for the entire Australian continent via UBD and Sensis, and includes a number of points of interest, including some that are presumably part of some kind of commercial arrangement -- we can't see any other reason why Caltex stations should be marked out with the company logo while other petrol vendors are merely marked in place.
File support for non-GPS functions includes MP3 music files, video and picture files, as well as backups of your Microsoft Outlook Contacts and Calendar information. There's no facility to enter new details or amend existing ones on the 269+ itself, however, so it's more like a searchable backup of your info rather than a true PDA replacement.
Here at CNET.com.au, we like to test things properly. In the case of a GPS, there's only one real way to be sure, and that's to take it out on the road. This was no mere Sunday drive, though. We drove the Mio 269+ from Sydney to Adelaide and back; firstly via Hay and Mildura, and then back the long way, via Broken Hill and Dubbo -- well over 3,000kms of testing, in fact.
Things didn't get off to a good start when, not five minutes into the journey, the Mio 269+'s Windows underpinnings showed, as it crashed. Still, better us than it, really. A reboot saw it resume tracking quickly, but uncovered another problem, which we've previously noted on the Mio 268. By default, when the GPS senses that it's in motion, it puts itself in "safe mode", and resists any kind of user input. That's a good measure for the solo driver, but if you've got a navigator handy it's immensely annoying -- especially if the unit's just rebooted and has to be reconfigured in order to work at all.
Even GPS units get bored, and on our long trek we figured we'd kick back and listen to some music using the 269+'s inbuilt MP3 player. That works quite well for what it is -- Apple probably doesn't have to start panicking yet -- but it uncovered another annoyance, in that the using the multimedia functionality stops the navigation functionality, and vice versa. If you're on a long stretch of track in the middle of nowhere with only the road ahead to look at it's not a massive problem, but it would be preferable if the two could multitask, especially in city environments where you'll probably want to listen to music and get navigation advice simultaneouly.
The 269+ handled city driving well in our testing, albeit with the usual odd call on navigation routes or demands that we turn into roads that we couldn't turn into. We've seen that with plenty of GPS units, however, and it's worth noting that none of them will drive the car for you -- you still have to keep your brain in gear, as well as your car. Its coverage of smaller towns was less enthralling. For some reason, it decided a few of the streets in Broken Hill didn't have quite as many houses as they actually do, and it made us drive around blocks we could have cut through, although it did keep us essentially on track.
In-car GPS is a hot commodity right now, and while the feature set of the Mio 269+ makes it seem like an absolute must-have item for the festive season, it's ultimately a very ordinary GPS that could benefit from some better crash protection and multitasking features.