Poor software design and usability undermine the high-quality hardware of the HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion GPS Device.

Although HP has been creating GPS-enabled iPaq handhelds for a few years, its latest device is the first to attempt real competition with Garmin, TomTom and other dedicated GPS products made with automotive adventures in mind.

But while the iPaq 310 Travel Companion is a creditable effort, several glitches make its rather steep price (around £150) difficult to justify.

The HP iPaq 310 provides turn-by-turn directions and points-of-interest lookup on a slim (18mm-thick) device with a handsome, crisp 800-by-480-pixel 4.3in LCD touchscreen that you can perch on the included windshield/dashboard mount (you also get a car charger to keep the device juiced up). The HP iPaq 310 also has a built-in media player and supports Bluetooth for use as a hands-free cellular kit.

The HP iPaq 310's text-to-speech technology allows the voice directions to name streets, which can be a major plus in unfamiliar areas. The device's speakers didn't seem powerful enough, however.

Even with the volume turned all the way up, we sometimes had difficulty hearing the directions. Currently HP is not offering an FM transmitter to direct the HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion's audio through car speakers.

What distinguishes the HP iPaq 310 from competitors is its integration with HP's recently launched iPaq Navigate travel-planning website and Content Manager desktop software.

For example, you can sync Outlook contacts to the device and then choose a contact's address as a destination; you can also plan trips on the site and then sync them to the device and/or share them with friends (or the internet at large).

But you must register with the site to do any of that, and people who don't care about trip planning might not appreciate having to register just to sync contacts.

Also, neither the site nor the Content Manager software is intuitive.

NEXT PAGE: planning a road trip, and our expert verdict > >

Poor software design and usability undermine the high-quality hardware of the HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion GPS Device.

We tried to plan a summer road trip, but were stymied by the site's arbitrary six-day limit; we also couldn't see how to determine what stops we might want to add. The site wanted us to search for points of interest at specific places, assuming we knew where on the route we'd like to stop. Content outside North America is very limited, too.

For now, you can't use the Content Manager application to download additional maps or transfer multimedia content to the HP iPaq 310 - you have to buy additional maps preloaded on SD Cards. (HP says that it plans to start selling supplemental maps through its website soon.)

Plus, you can play non-copy-protected music only if the files are on an SD Card. If you want to play music while using a new map, you're out of luck since the HP iPaq 310 has just one SD Card slot (most maps take up the majority of the card they're on).

The HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion is based on Microsoft's Windows CE software (with HP's own interface), and suffers from that platform's inability to shut down apps that aren't in active use. At one point we got an 'Out of Memory' error message, which went away only when we reset the device. We also found the plethora of icons around the main screen bewildering - what they all do isn't clear.

HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion: Specs

  • 109x86x18mm
  • 3kg
  • Bluetooth
  • built-in antenna
  • preinstalled POIs, 2D / 3D map perspective, hands-free calling via Bluetooth
  • 2GB memory
  • 800 x 480, 4.3in TFT
  • Anti-glare, Touch screen, Transmissive
  • USB
  • supports MP3, JPEG
  • includes stylus, USB cable, Carrying case, AC power adaptor, Car power adaptor, Automotive windshield mount
  • USB port, Headphone, Touchscreen
  • MicroSD slot
  • internal lithium ion battery
  • 1-year warranty
  • 109x86x18mm
  • 3kg
  • Bluetooth
  • built-in antenna
  • preinstalled POIs, 2D / 3D map perspective, hands-free calling via Bluetooth
  • 2GB memory
  • 800 x 480, 4.3in TFT
  • Anti-glare, Touch screen, Transmissive
  • USB
  • supports MP3, JPEG
  • includes stylus, USB cable, Carrying case, AC power adaptor, Car power adaptor, Automotive windshield mount
  • USB port, Headphone, Touchscreen
  • MicroSD slot
  • internal lithium ion battery
  • 1-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

The HP iPaq 310 Travel Companion is good-looking hardware that handles navigation basics fine. But until the extras work better, it's not worth the high price.

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