Manifest Technology
        Making Sense of Digital Media Technology
        By Douglas Dixon


 
  BLOG
  ARTICLES
 - PC Video
 - Web Media
 - DVD & CD
 - Portable Media
 - Digital
     Imaging
 - Wireless
     Media
 - Home Media
 - Technology
     & Society
  GALLERIES
 - Video - DVD
 - Portable
  TECHNICAL
     RESOURCES
  ABOUT
 - What's New
<< HOME 

 

  HOME DIGITAL MEDIA ARTICLES

  Manifest Technology Blog -- Site: | Articles | Galleries | Resources | DVI Tech | About | Site Map |
    Articles: | PC Video | Web Media | DVD & CD | Portable Media | Digital Imaging | Wireless Media | Home Media | Tech & Society |
    Home Media: | Home Media Articles | Home Networked Media Gallery |

Digital Holiday 2006: 
    Mobile Media and Navigation  (12/2006)

    by Douglas Dixon

Portable Players - Markets and Formats
    Portable Music Players
    Satellite Radio
    Portable Video Players
    Portable Media Players -- and Recorders

Portable Power

Headsets

Mobile Phones
    Mobile Internet and Multimedia
    PDA Phones

Portable Navigation / GPS
    Mobile Phone GPS
    Mobile Navigation Systems

References

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 files
  • 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 network-based games.
  • 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.


Portable Players - Markets and Formats

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).

Portable Music Players

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 playback .

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 oz).

       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.

        Kingston K-PEX

Satellite Radio

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

Portable Video Players

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 playback. 

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.

        Microsoft Zune

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 technology.

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.

Portable Media Players -- and Recorders

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.

        Archos 604

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


Portable Power

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  $34).

        Turbo Charge

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).

         Mobility iGo


Headsets

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 isolation.

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 all noise.

        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 wireless.

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 Headphones

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).


Mobile Phones

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 available.

Mobile Internet and Multimedia

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 underground floors.

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 the Internet.

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.

PDA Phones

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 sophisticated applications.

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).

        Motorola Q

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 oz).

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 Web sites.

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


Portable Navigation / GPS

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.

Mobile Phone GPS

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).

Mobile Navigation Systems

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.

Today's dedicated 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.


References

Media Players

Apple iPod 
    www.apple.com/itunes

Windows Media "Plays For Sure"  
    www.playsforsure.com

Yahoo Music 
    music.yahoo.com

Creative Zen Nano Plus 
    www.creative.com

SanDisk 
    www.sandisk.com)

Kingston K-PEX 
    www.kingston.com/flash/kpex.asp

SIRIUS Satellite Radio 
    www.sirius.com

XM Satellite Radio 
    www.xmradio.com

Microsoft Zune 
    www.zune.net

Archos 
    www.archos.com

Portable Power

Turbo Charge 
    www.turbocellcharge.com

Mobility Electronics iGo 
    www.igo.com

Headsets

Shure 
    www.shure.com/PersonalAudio/Products/Headsets

Sony  
    www.sonystyle.com

Logitech  
    www.logitech.com

Jabra 
    www.jabra.com

Parrot  
    www.parrot.biz

Mobile Phones

Verizon Wireless 
    www.verizonwireless.com/chocolate

LG Chocolate (VX8500)  
    www.verizonwireless.com/chocolate

Verizon V CAST 
    getitnow.vzwshop.com

PDA Phones

Motorola Q  
    www.motorola.com/mdirect/q, estore.vzwshop.com/q

Palm Treo 
    www.palm.com/us/products/smartphones

MobiTV 
    www.mobitv.com

Google Maps 
    www.google.com/gmm

Navigation / GPS

Verizon VZ Navigator 
    www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/splash/turnbyturn.jsp

TeleNav  
    www.telenav.com

ALK CoPilot Live 
    www.alk.com/copilot

Pharos 
    www.pharosgps.com

Mio 
    www.miogps.com

TMC (Traffic Message Channel)  
    www.tmcforum.com