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Digital Holiday 2006:
Mobile Media and Navigation (12/2006)
by Douglas Dixon
Portable Players - Markets and Formats
Portable Music Players
Portable Video Players
Portable Media Players -- and Recorders
Mobile Internet and Multimedia
Portable Navigation / GPS
Mobile Phone GPS
See also: Digital Holiday 2006: Home Entertainment
Goes High-Def (12/2006)
We have reached the point where you can actually have it all with you -- any
place, any time, any digital thing that is important to you:
- A tiny music player lets you can carry your entire music
collection, your favorite photos, your datebook and contact and important
- A portable media player can download the latest podcasts, TV shows,
and even movies to take on a trip.
- A portable game player can entertain you with both personal and
- Mobile phones and PDAs mean you can always be in touch -- by phone,
voicemail, text messages, instant messaging, e-mail, photo and video
messages. With these wireless devices, you can be updated on news, weather, and
billions of Web postings. Plus you can listen to live radio and even TV
- Portable navigation devices and mobile phones can keep you from
getting lost, so you can navigate by GPS, with live directions and maps.
So are you ready to invest in more portable gadgets? Or maybe trade in a few
dedicated gadgets for a single more integrated device?
The Consumer Electronics Association thinks you will -- it's forecasting 15
percent industry growth through the fourth quarter of 2006.
So here's an overview of trends in these categories, and some example devices
to get your thinking.
The Apple iPod
line is still clearly the standout leader in this market, with some 75 percent
market share, followed by the rapidly-growing SanDisk
at 10 percent, and then Creative at 5
percent, Samsung at 2.5 percent, and Sony
at 2 percent.
The major Apple advantage, besides coolness and purity of
design, is to offer a single-source integrated experience. You organize your
collection with Apple iTunes software
(including integrated podcast downloads), buy new music from the Apple
iTunes Music Store -- protected with the Apple
FairPlay DRM (Digital Rights Management) -- and download songs to an Apple iPod for playback (www.apple.com/itunes). Apple offers over
3.5 million songs at 99 cents, 65,000 free podcasts, TV shows for $1.99, and
some 200 movies for $9.99 to $14.99. You're in great shape as a result of this
full Apple infrastructure, as long as you like what Steve Jobs thinks you should
-- since Apple does not license its formats or technology to other companies.
While all media players support the MP3 format for
unprotected music, they also offer different advanced formats for better
compression (especially for "ripping" your own CDs) and to protect
purchased music. Apple has adopted the MPEG media standards, using AAC
for audio and MPEG-4 H.264 / AVC for video, and then
wrapped these formats with its own proprietary copy protection.
As a result, most other non-iPod players support the Microsoft
Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Windows
Media Video (WMV) formats, also using Windows Media DRM to protect purchased
content. Microsoft has encouraged the use of its
"Plays For Sure" logo (www.playsforsure.com) to identify
compatible players (but not including its own new Zune player -- see below).
You can purchase music and videos in Windows Media
compatible formats from a wide variety of sources, including Yahoo
Music, Napster, Movielink, and CinemaNow.
(Or try eMusic for purchasing music in unrestricted MP3 format.) While Apple
only sells its music (and movies) as purchased
downloads, the other online stores and compatible devices also offer the
option of streaming movies over the Internet, and renting your media through
purchasing monthly subscriptions, with access to the full library of available
music (i.e., $4.99 a month for access to over 1 million songs at music.yahoo.com).
The inexorable trends of dropping pricing and increasing
capacity continue to drive the portable media player market, with 1 GB flash
players under $80 (and available with up to 8 GB with video playback) and 30 GB
hard disk players under $250.
You still can get tiny music players like the Apple
iPod shuffle at only 0.55 oz. (1 GB for $79).
Apple iPod shuffle
Or try similarly-priced
competitive devicesthat add features
including a small display so you can choose your music, plus FM radio playback,
voice recording, and replaceable batteries for long trips.
These include the Creative
Zen Nano Plus (1 GB for $74, www.creative.com).
And the SanDisk
Sansa c100 / c200 (up to 2 GB for $109, www.sandisk.com).
SanDisk Sansa c100 audio player
But as capacity increases it becomes really clumsy trying
to manage a large collection of 500-plus songs using a small screen on a tiny 1
GB player. Yes, it's fun to "shuffle" randomly through your music, but
sometimes you do want to be able to choose what you listen to, or play a
specific song for a friend.
As a result, it makes sense to add a color display capable
of showing a reasonable menu, to choose your music by artist, or album, or
genre, or playlists. And that display can show album art, plus photo slide
shows, or even video.
The result is still a very light and sub-pocket-sized
player, exemplified by the Apple iPod
nano (ranging from 2 GB for $149, 4 GB for $199, 8 GB for $249). The nano
has a 1.5" LCD at 176 x 132 resolution (3.5 x 1.6 x 0.26 in., 1.41 oz.).
Apple iPod nano
Again, competitive products at similar prices then also add
features like FM and recording, plus go beyond music and photos to support video
The SanDisk Sansa
e200 has a 1.8" LCD plus a MicroSD slot to add up to another 2 GB of
storage (3.50 x 1.70 x 0.52 in., 2.6 oz).
SanDisk Sansa e200 media player
And the Creative Zen V Plus has a 1.5" screen (2.6 x 1.5 x 0.6 in., 1.6
Creative Zen V
Or for a mini video player that looks more like a handheld
game machine, the Kingston K-PEX
(Personal Entertainment Experience) provides an interesting alternate
perspective (1 GB for $129 and 2 GB for $179, www.kingston.com/flash/kpex.asp).
It's tiny and light (3.7 x 1.8 x 0.57", 2.3 oz.), with a 2" color
display (220 x 176), plus a miniSD memory card slot for extra expansion. The K-PEX
displays text files, plays music in multiple formats (MP3, WAV, WMA, Ogg),
displays JPEG photos, and plays (small) video clips converted to MPX format.
Another form of portable music is satellite radio: why
spend time and money building your own music collection when you can listen to
dedicated channels of whatever genre fits your mood, from commercial-free music
to sports to news/talk and entertainment. SIRIUS
Satellite Radio (www.sirius.com) and XM
Satellite Radio (www.xmradio.com) offer monthly subscriptions from 70 plus
channels starting at $12.95. SIRIUS offers Internet radio access for the same
price, or with a $6.99 additional subscription. Plus there are plans for live
traffic and marine weather service.
These services started for use in cars, but now also offer
removable radios and base stations for home or office use -- as long as you can
position an antenna with a clear view of the sky where their satellites roam.
And they are adding terrestrial repeaters in major cities to extend their
digital signal into buildings, and for mobile use.
As a result, the trend for convergence in these devices has
seen satellite radios become more portable and more like MP3 players, with the
ability to record your favorites for replay later.
For example, the new Sirius
Stiletto 100 has a 2 GB memory to store up to 100 hours of live programming
(but you can only play recorded music from the device -- you can't then extract
the music to a computer). Or mark songs to purchase later via the Yahoo! Music
Engine. Plus the Stiletto includes a WiFi connection to listen to SIRIUS
Internet Radio over an accessible network ($349).
Sirius Stiletto 100
While multiple gigabytes of flash memory can hold lots of
songs, it's still not necessarily enough storage to hold an entire large
collection -- Why constantly fuss with choosing and deleting songs in the player
memory when more storage could allow you to just synch the entire library from
your computer to your portable device? Similarly, you can store small video
clips in flash memory, but it just does not provide enough capacity to hold TV
shows or feature-length movies.
So the next step up is to hard disk-based video players,
with 10 times the storage and a larger screen for music, photo, and video
The iconic Apple iPod video
is available with 30 GB for $249 and 60 GB for $349: enough to hold some 20,000
songs, 25,000 photos, or 100 hours of video. It has a 2.5 inch screen at 320 x
240 resolution (4.1 x 2.4 x 0.43/0.55 in., 4.8/5.5 oz.). The non-removable
battery provides 20 hours of music playback or 6 hours of video.
Or compare the Creative
Zen Vision:M also with a 2.5 inch screen, with additional features including
TV video out, and USB hosting to copy photos direct from a digital camera ($249
for 30 GB, also 60 GB).
Creative Zen Vision:M
The big new entry in this market, of course, is the new Microsoft
Zune player, just launched in November for $249 (www.zune.net). The Zune has
a larger 3-inch screen, comes with 30 GB of storage and also includes a built-in
FM tuner. It's available in traditional black or white, plus the interesting
choice of brown.
What's new with the Zune is the inclusion of a Wi-Fi
connection (IEEE 802.11g) -- but not for general Internet access. You can use it
for wireless sharing songs and pictures with friends, but only in a very limited
way: you can share only from Zune to Zune, the recipients can only listen to
songs three times over three days, and cannot then re-share the same songs to
others. However, this effort to protect artist copyrights does not extend to
photographs, which can be freely shared. And it also blocks free sharing of
full-legal unprotected music, including your own composed music.
The Zune is a significant change of direction for
Microsoft, apparently signaling that it's given up on depending on others to
take on the Apple iPod. Instead, Microsoft is competing with its own licensees
in the Windows Media ecosystem by bringing out its own player, and also
abandoning support for its Plays for Sure formats, which means the Zune cannot
be used with your existing collections of purchased or subscription music
protected with Microsoft's Windows Media DRM digital rights management
The result is a typical first-generation product, with
me-too features and pricing, plus the addition of the deliberately-crippled WiFi
- as the product was seemingly designed for the music industry, and not for the
customers. Zune is easy to dismiss, but, like the first Microsoft Xbox gaming
system, instead should be regarded as only the first beachhead in a long and
serious assault on a new market.
These disk-based players are a little bigger and noticeably
heavier than flash memory devices, but still fit comfortably in a shirt pocket.
Yet they are still a personal device, for one person to watch while listening
with headphones. But YouTube and the like have convincingly demonstrated that
video is for sharing, which leads to the next step to portable media players,
complete with larger screens and built-in speakers.
For example, the Creative
Zen Vision has a 3.7 in., 640 x 480 screen, with 30 GB for $369 (4.9 x 2.9 x
0.8 in., 8.4 oz.).
Creative Zen Vision
Archos also has introduced a new line of media players
focused on a larger-screen experience (www.archos.com), including the Archos
404 with 3.5 in. screen and 30 GB for $299 (4 x 3 x 0.6 in., 6.75 oz), and
the Archos 504 bulked up to 160 GB of storage. The Archos 404 also has a
model with an integrated camera
Archos 404 with DVR Station
The Archos 604
sports a 4.3 inch widescreen display (480 x 272), with 30 GB for $349 (5 x 3 x
0.6 inches, 9.3 oz.). It also offers a model with built-in Wi-Fi for $449 --
beyond the Zune's device-to-device file-sharing to providing real Internet
access, to also browse the Web and access e-mail.
The new Archos line also goes beyond playback and audio
recording to offer video recording with a separate Archos DVR Station module that can be added to the players to even
offer scheduled recording -- your player can grab your favorite shows overnight
for you to watch the next day, for free ($99). It also serves as a docking
station, with power, USB connectors, and an IR remote control
These portable gadgets make trips much more bearable, but
can add their own burden from carrying around all these devices -- and their
accompanying power adaptors. Or you have to take the risk that you'll run out of
power before you get back home.
A better solution to this quandary is to carry a single
adaptor -- but one that supports multiple devices through the use of swappable
tips that match specific products.
For cell phones and tiny players, there's the Turbo
Charge -- a metal tube the size of one AA battery that can boost (but not
completely recharge) cell phones when you desperately need them ($19.95 with one
tip, or $24.95 with a set of ten adaptors, www.turbocellcharge.com). The new
model includes a general Mini-USB adaptor and even a mini flashlight. There's
also a new iTurbo, a lip balm-sized charger for most popular iPod models, which
can add nine hours of playtime for the iPod nano ($29 to
And for larger devices, there's the Mobility Electronics iGo line, with different chargers for small
devices up to notebooks, with options for wall power, cars, and airplanes, and
dual adaptors for simultaneously charging multiple devices (www.igo.com).
Once you've got your music ready to travel with portable
players and even on your mobile phone, how do you then listen to it? You can
choose over-ear, on-ear, and in-ear headsets for a comfortable fit, in a variety
of colors and styles. But the new trends this year are multi-purpose, wireless,
and noise suppression.
With all these devices, who wants to carry multiple
headsets? Products like the Shure I
Series Sound Isolating Earphones
offer the ability to switch between listening to your music and answering your
phone (starting at $75, www.shure.com/PersonalAudio/Products/Headsets). They
include an inline microphone with filtering to remove background noise while on
calls. These and other Shure audio and mobile phone headphones come with a
selection of soft foam and flex sleeves for your in-ear comfort and sound
There are two ways to remove background noise while
listening to your music: passive sound isolation and active noise cancellation. Sound
isolation is simply blocking ambient noise, either though a big over-ear
headphone cup, or with an in-ear bud with a flexible sleeve to seal the ear
opening to isolate the sound of your music. Noise
cancellation is performed by active electronics that uses a microphone to
capture the background noise and generate the opposite signal to cancel out the
sound. As a result, active noise cancellation headphones are heavier because of
the required electronics and batteries. In general, sound isolation works great
as a first cut at simply blocking noise, and then adding noise cancellation can
be helpful in further cutting down irritating noisy environments, and even some
of the rumble of airline travel -- but it is not magic, and does not eliminate
Shure E3C Sound Isolating Earphones
In case you're worried about being too sealed off from the
outside world while enjoying the clarity of your music, the high-end Shure
E500PTH Sound Isolating Earphones not only includes three hi-definition
miniature drivers, but also adds a "Push-to-Hear" option that lets you
alternate noise isolation and hearing the outside world ($499).
Sound isolation earbuds like the Shure can reduce outside
noise up to 90 percent (30+ db). And for noise cancellation in earbuds, the Sony
MDR-NC11A Noise Canceling Headphones include a small control with
electronics, battery, and on/off switch, and can reduce outside noise up to 70
percent (10 db) -- your results will vary with these depending on the specific
kinds of noises ($99).
Sony Noise Canceling Headphones
Sony has taken noise cancellation a step further by
including it with the music player, in its flash-memory Sony Noise Canceling Walkman MP3 Player with active noise canceling
earbuds to reduce ambient noise to 25 percent (12 db) -- (NW-S703F 1 GB for
$169, NW-S705F 2 GB for $199, www.sonystyle.com).
Sony Noise Canceling Walkman MP3 Player
For home and office use, the full-size Logitech Noise Canceling Headphones include over-ear pads to block
some noise, plus active noise cancellation, with the batteries and on/off switch
nestled in one of the ear cushions ($149, www.logitech.com). For travel, they
collapse nicely into a carrying case and include an airline adaptor.
Logitech Noise Canceling Headphones
But those earphone cables do get in the way. Wireless
connections using Bluetooth technology are becoming popular for mobile phones,
with people wandering the streets with Borg-like appendages over their ears
while they mutter to themselves. And as mobile phones move to stereo for music
playback and audio players add wireless, Bluetooth has been extended to support
the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), offering CD quality stereo over
For example, Jabra
offers a full line of wireless headsets, headphones, and speakerphones, some
with active noise cancellation, including a variety of over-ear and behind-ear
styles for mobile phones -- some can vibrate for an incoming call, have controls
to answer/end calls and adjust volume, and even include a display to show caller
ID information (www.jabra.com). And
for more style, the Jabra BT 160 has
33 interchangeable design covers ($59).
Jabra BT160 Bluetooth Headset
For wireless access to your music, plug the Jabra
A125s into your iPod ($59), or plug the Jabra
A120s adaptor into any music player ($49) and send Bluetooth stereo to the Jabra BT620s Bluetooth stereo headset ($129).
For wireless freedom at home or in the office, the Logitech
FreePulse Wireless Headphones are very light and comfortable, and also
include a small adaptor to plug in to the stereo plug of any music player to
listen in wirelessly ($99).
Logitech FreePulse Wireless
And for the car, Parrot
offers wireless Bluetooth products including the Parrot Driver Headset to answer your phone and talk hands-free
($59), and car kits like the Parrot
MK6000 to both play the music from your Bluetooth MP3 player through the
car's speakers, or talk hands-free and listen to music from your stereo mobile
phone ($179, www.parrot.biz).
We seem to be collecting more and more portable gadgets, in
our pockets and in our cars -- mobile phone, PDA, media player, GPS navigator,
satellite radio -- so there would seem to be a need for an even stronger trend
towards integrated devices to lessen the load. And since the mobile phone is
always with us, it would seem to be the obvious choice for adding features, even
beyond the games and texting and email and Web access that have already been
The big news with these mobile services is the roll-out of
3G (third-generation) mobile broadband service, offering "DSL-like"
data rates. The Verizon EV-DO 3G
network is rated at 400 to 700 kilobits per second for downloads, and 40 to 60
Kbps for uploads (www.verizonwireless.com). That makes it reasonable to access e-mails, including
attachments, and surf Web sites, and even to play streaming videos.
Verizon and the other carriers continue to roll out their
high-speed services. In my testing of EV-DO along the Eastern seaboard, it's
almost always available on train rides, except in rural Connecticut and short
gaps in North Jersey, and it's much better than a year ago at penetrating deep
into buildings in Boston, New York, and Princeton -- but not into some
As a result, you never need to be out of touch again -- you
can obsessively read email and monitor stock prices at any time, or, more
reasonably, check the latest news or weather or travel schedules. Photographers
can post new images and bloggers can post new entries to the Web on the go, all
without needing to carry a laptop or hunt for a WiFi hotspot.
However, all this access does require that you step up to
an unlimited data service plan. Be careful to read the fine print -- for
example, Verizon's "unlimited" BroadbandAccess service (up to $45 a
month) forbids usage for services including streaming video, and requires an
extra charge for a VZAccess connection for your computer through your phone to
One poster child for today's integrated high-speed mobile
phones is the LG Chocolate (VX8500)
-- an interesting chunk of candy, with a smooth slider design that lights up
with red glowing touch-sensitive navigation keys ($149, www.verizonwireless.com/chocolate).
LG Chocolate (VX8500)
As a phone, it has a 1.3 megapixel camera, microSD memory
slot, and Bluetooth connection for hands-free headsets (3.8 x 1.88 x 0.69
inches, 3.53 oz.). And as an Internet device, it supports mobile web, mobile
instant messaging, and Verizon's Get It Now applications. As a multimedia
device, it serves as a music player that you can sync from your PC, and supports
streaming and download V CAST music and video at EV-DO speed. And it even adds
GPS support for navigation.
Of course, media on mobile phones is not new -- we're
getting used to music playback and built-in cameras for photo and video capture
and playback. New models like the LG Chocolate not only synch music from your
computer, but also support the Verizon V
CAST Music service to download tracks on the go, and Verizon V CAST Video for streaming playback of a library of news,
sports, and entertainment clips ($15 per month subscription, getitnow.vzwshop.com).
V CAST - NBC Mobile
Sprint and now Cingular also offer media subscription and
download services, as cellphones become like pocket-size transistor radios.
Of course, while a mobile phone can make sense as an
integrated device, it's rather limited by the small screen and numeric keypad.
Thus the attraction of PDA phones, with larger screens, QWERTY keypads (albeit
with tiny keys), and the ability to synch your office documents and run
If you're a Windows fan, the Motorola Q is an amazingly slim and light device, available from
Verizon for $199 (www.motorola.com/mdirect/q,
estore.vzwshop.com/q). It has a
full-color 320 x 240 display, QWERTY keypad, 1.3 megapixel camera, and miniSD
expansion memory slot (2.5 x 4.6 x 0.45 in., 4.1 oz).
The Q runs Windows Mobile 5.0 for Smartphone, which
includes mini-Office applications, and the Windows Media Player. As a media
player, the Q supports a wide variety of standard-based, Windows Media, and
phone media formats, including MP3, WAV, MIDI, AAC,
WMA, and QCELP audio, and MPEG-4, AAC, WMV, H.263, and GSM video. Yes,
you indeed can browse to a video website and just start playing files.
And for Palm Treo
fans, Palm has crossed over to the dark side and now offers the Treo in both
Palm OS and Windows Mobile versions (www.palm.com/us/products/smartphones).
These are available from Sprint and Verizon for $399 or even $299 with rebate.
They both support 3G EV-DO speeds and have an Intel XScale 312 MHz processor,
128 MB built-in memory (half used by the OS), SD/SDIO/MMC expansion slot, 1.3
megapixel 1280 x 1024 camera, with a touch screen, backlit QWERTY keypad and
5-way navigator control -- and the same form factor (2.3 x 4.4 x 0.9 in., 6.4
The Palm Treo 700w
runs Windows Mobile 5.0, Pocket PC Phone Edition, but has a lower 240 x 240
screen resolution. It's designed to sync with Outlook, runs pocket version of
the familiar Microsoft Office applications, and has built-in music and video
playback with Windows Media Player 10.
Palm Treo 700w & Palm Treo 700p
The Palm Treo 700p runs
Palm OS 5, with a 320 x 320 screen. While Palm OS has been something of a
lost stepchild, it is continuing to be developed and improved, and the result is
still a more convenient to use interface than Windows Mobile, especially
one-handed. It also syncs nicely with Outlook and uses third-party applications
like Documents to Go to sync and edit Office documents and e-mail attachments.
The media support also still leans on third party applications, with built-in
playback of photos and camera phone video formats, Windows Media Video playback
in the browser, and the Pocket Tunes music player, with synching to the Windows
Media Player and support for a variety of formats (after upgrading).
The combination of a reasonable screen size and fast 3G
data service also opens up interesting possibilities for streaming video direct
to your cell phone. The Treo 700s can stream Windows Media files directly from
You also can use third-party applications like MobiTV
to watch live television on a variety of phones and PDAs -- with subscription
access to 30 plus video channels ($9.99 per month), plus digital radio (www.mobitv.com).
This is the big benefit of PDA phones -- big enough screen,
keyboard, and good enough processor to run all those interesting Palm and
Windows Mobile / Pocket PC applications. Now add the high-speed data connection,
and things get even more interesting, even beyond multimedia.
For example, the Google
Maps service runs on a wide variety of phones and Treos, but really sings on
the Treo 700p (www.google.com/gmm). You simply enter an address in typical
flexible Google search format, and the map appears on your screen. You can zoom
in and out, or drag the stylus to scroll -- with the new map image filling in
almost instantly. As on the Web, you can switch between map and satellite view,
and even overlay traffic information (highlighting busy roads). And you can
search for nearby businesses, or get directions for a trip, step by step with
maps and text. However, this is not (as yet) linked to a live GPS signal to
track your actual location.
Google Maps on Treo 700p
GPS is a growing new trend, not only for navigating and
tracking, but also for location-stamping information such as photos in a digital
camera. Navigation devices are getting more portable, and adding media player
functions, and meanwhile GPS tracking is being built into mobile phones.
Some new phones not only know your general location (by
triangulating from cell towers), but also can include a GPS (Global Positioning
System) chip for precise positioning. As a result, you can run applications such
as Verizon VZ Navigator ($9.99 per
month, www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/splash/turnbyturn.jsp) to provide real-time
mapping directly on your phone.
TeleNav offers similar tools, plus add-in GPS receivers for PDAs (www.telenav.com).
These are helpful for general assistance and certainly great in an emergency,
but can't compare to dedicated GPS units for responsiveness and reliability.
The VZ Navigator interface actually worked amazingly well
even on the small screen and keypad of a mobile phone. It was good at
understanding location addresses that I entered, returns a useful series of
step-by-step navigation maps that you can scroll through, and then provides a
useful guidance display as you are traveling -- including voice directions that
even attempt to say the name of the street out loud.
However, any such phone-based system is limited by the need
for a round-trip delay when communicating with the server (for example when
recomputing directions) -- and these delays can be inconsistent, which is a
problem when you really need to know immediately whether to make another turn.
In addition, the implementation of the GPS tracking was also not as accurate as
a dedicated system with a stronger antenna -- VZ Navigator can be confused about
your exact position and direction of travel, so the instructions can be wrong as
you start up a trip, or off by a block or two on nearby streets (especially a
problem when walking in New York City).
The actual navigation directions provided by VZ Navigator
were sometimes very odd -- sending us past the street we wanted in Princeton
only to circle around and back, and directing us away from a highway on-ramp in
Boston to take an alternate route to the same highway.
But given its limitations, GPS navigation on phones
certainly can be a great help to keep you on the right track, and a comfort when
you get lost. Just regard VZ Navigator as a generally-knowledgeable advisor to
supplement your travel directions, but don't blindly rely on it.
You also can add GPS navigation to your smartphone or PDA
with products like ALK CoPilot Live,
which can communicate via Bluetooth to a wireless GPS antenna and optimally to
your phone for real-time tracing and messaging ($199 to $399, with map data on
miniSD card and GPS receiver, www.alk.com/copilot).
However, this trend of converged devices with media players
and GPS navigation also goes the other direction, with car navigation systems
going portable (breaking away from the dashboard like satellite radio), and then
adding media playback on the color screen, and even Bluetooth integration to act
as the display for a mobile phone.
For example, the Pharos
Drive GPS 140 is a portable navigation device with a 4 inch color touch
screen display and preloaded maps of the U.S. and Canada on a 2 GB SD card
($486, www.pharosgps.com). For use in the car, it adds Bluetooth calling
capability for dialing and receiving calls hands-free. But it's also small and
light enough to fit in a coat pocket to use when walking (5.8 x 3.5 x 1 inches),
and so adds MP3 music playback, photo viewing, and even videos. The process of
converting and loading files is not yet fully documented, and there's no much
room on the SD card with the maps, but this is an indication of the developing
trend to store and play media on almost every device.
The Pharos synchronizes to the
host PC using Microsoft ActiveSync -- you drag and drop media files into folders
in the SD card memory. It supports JPEG and BMP photos and slide shows; MP3, WMA,
and WAV audio; and MPEG, WMA, and MID video.
Pharos Drive GPS 140
The Mio DigiWalker
C710 is also a portable navigation system, with a 3.5 inch touchscreen, full
maps, Bluetooth, and media player ($599, www.miogps.com). Plus it has a TMC
(Traffic Message Channel) receiver for real-time traffic information
broadcast on FM channels (operational in most European countries and coming to
North America, see www.tmcforum.com). And it's certainly portable (4.33 x 3.03 x
0.78 inches, 6 oz.).
But check out the handheld Mio DigiWalker H610 -- miniaturized to the size of a deck of cards,
with a 2.7 inch screen ($499, 2.32 x 3.35 x 0.74 inches, 3.88 oz.). It's
designed for all forms of travel -- car and bike and walking -- with GPS
navigation plus media playback. Plus it includes a three-year WorldMate
subscription to check weather, convert currencies, get flight info and more.
Mio DigiWalker H610
The H610 supports JPEG and BMP photos, MP3 music, and
MPEG-4 video. It includes Toolbox software to convert formats, and you can then
download files using the Mio Transfer tool or the SD card.
navigation devices are very quick at locking the GPS signal, and very accurate
at tracking your position, even as you roll up slowly to an intersection. And
they're reasonably quick at re-computing routes if you choose a different path,
updating within the next block. However, they vary significantly in their user
interfaces, both for the map display and for entering and managing destinations.
The main display for
the driver should be simple and clear, easy to understand at a glance, with good
prompts for upcoming turns (in addition to the voice prompts). And the map
display should have a more detailed option for the passenger to monitor as you
move along the route, with the ability to zoom in and out and to review the
step-by-step directions along the entire route.
The interface for
planning routes should be very flexible in entering destinations -- for example,
by street address, closest intersection, or a nearby point of interest. However,
we've been spoiled by the flexibility of Google Maps in finding locations using
big-time databases and processing, so lookups on these small systems can be
frustrating -- is it U.S. Route 1, Route 1, U.S. 1, Highway 1, or something
else? (Only one of these options will work.) So definitely try out these systems
before you buy.
Windows Media "Plays For Sure"
Zen Nano Plus
Mobility Electronics iGo
LG Chocolate (VX8500)
Navigation / GPS
Verizon VZ Navigator
ALK CoPilot Live
(Traffic Message Channel)