Hewlett-Packard's GPS-enabled HP iPAQ rx5900 PDA has its strengths - but concise directions aren't among them.

Traditional PDAs are on the verge of extinction. They're being phased out in favor of smartphones, which combine PDA functions with mobile phones. But Hewlett-Packard is trying to give the PDA one last fighting chance with its HP iPAQ rx5900 Travel Companion.

The HP iPAQ rx5900 Travel Companion combines a GPS receiver with a traditional PDA. We've been testing the HP iPAQ rx5900 for several weeks. While we've found a great deal to admire, we've also been disappointed - if not downright confounded - by the navigation guidance we received.

HP iPAQ rx5900 specification

The HP iPAQ rx5900 Travel Companion includes a built-in GPS receiver and TomTom's Navigator software, which displays your current GPS position on a map, calculates routes, and provides voice-prompted, turn-by-turn directions. The TomTom software and maps are stored in the device's 2GB of flash ROM.

The HP iPAQ rx5900 uses the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system and includes 64MB of SDRAM plus a Secure Digital card slot for added storage. Built-in Bluetooth lets you connect to your PC or other Bluetooth device, and you can access the internet via 802.11b/g Wi-Fi.

Like other Windows Mobile PDAs, the HP iPAQ rx5900 comes with built-in Microsoft Office-compatible programs, such as mobile versions of Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, PowerPoint, and Windows Media Player.

The HP iPAQ rx5900's price

The HP iPAQ rx5900 Travel Companion lists for £246 ex VAT - £289 inc VAT, but we've seen it online for less. While this is pricey for a PDA, it's comparable to, if not less than, some other portable GPS devices.

The HP iPAQ rx5900's good points

The TomTom software offers lots of routing options, including fastest, shortest, avoid motorways, walking route, bicycle route and limited speed. That's a few more than other portable GPS systems we've tested.

Our HP iPAQ rx5900 (sold in the US) lets you choose to have voice prompts in English, French or Spanish - which is fun to use when you know the route and want to brush up your French or Spanish. The software offers a ton of useful features, including an Advanced Planning mode that lets you input locations within a city you'll be traveling to.

Our favourite HP iPAQ rx5900 GPS feature is the Demo mode. After you've input your destination or itinerary of multiple destinations, the software lets you preview the entire route in an animation. You can even choose the speed at which the animation is played.

HP has put a lot of thought into the iPAQ Travel Companion's design. For instance, there are convenient hardware buttons for changing the display's orientation from landscape to portrait, turning on the GPS receiver, launching Windows Media Player, and so on. A rocker button lets you easily adjust the volume, zoom in or out on the map, and move backwards and forwards through menu selections.

The HP iPAQ rx5900 makes a worthy music player; audio quality with headphones was clear and loud. You can also make voice recordings.

The HP iPAQ rx5900's bad points

And now, the heartbreak.

Simply put, the TomTom software frequently gave us truly convoluted directions - to the point where we wondered if "circuitous" was the default routing option. For example, when asked to guide along one route, the shortest route consisted of no fewer than 19 streets. The fastest route had us traveling on 14 streets. But we can get there on our own using just five streets - the fastest route we know uses six.

In fairness Google Maps didn't fare much better. But it's free.

A PR rep for HP said we may have been given a preproduction HP iPAQ rx5900 to review or one that had not had a map software upgrade. The software updates are the best way to make sure the navigation system provides the most accurate directions, she explained. HP has made a free map upgrade available on its website.

More gripes: the GPS signal sometimes took 5 to 10 minutes to kick in. And the 3.5in color touchscreen was difficult to read in direct sunlight, even at the screen's maximum brightness level.

HP iPAQ rx5900 Travel Companion: Specs

  • Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 for Pocket PC, Premium Edition, (Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile and Internet Explorer Mobile)
  • Samsung SC32442 400MHz
  • 64MB SDRAM main memory for running applications, 2GB flash ROM
  • 3.5in backlit display
  • removable/rechargeable 1700 mAh lithium-ion battery
  • TomTom Navigator 6 and complete maps of Western Europe pre-installed
  • 76x16x12mm
  • 149g
  • Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 for Pocket PC, Premium Edition, (Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile and Internet Explorer Mobile)
  • Samsung SC32442 400MHz
  • 64MB SDRAM main memory for running applications, 2GB flash ROM
  • 3.5in backlit display
  • removable/rechargeable 1700 mAh lithium-ion battery
  • TomTom Navigator 6 and complete maps of Western Europe pre-installed
  • 76x16x12mm
  • 149g

OUR VERDICT

The HP iPAQ rx5900 Travel Companion has received some strong reviews. We love its many features and sensible hardware design. If we had received good directions at least most of the time, we could have enthusiastically recommended the iPAQ Travel Companion for anyone considering a portable GPS. Based on our experiences, however, we can only recommend it as a strong (though pricey) PDA. You know, the PDA? That device the smartphone is making extinct?

Find the best price