Reg review During 2003, German electronics manufacturer Medion came from nowhere to wrest a significant share of the European PDA market from PalmOne, HP, Sony, Dell and co. The secret of its success was no revolutionary new PDA technology, but the simple move of offering an own-brand PocketPC with a separate GPS antenna and navigation software.
To be fair, most of Medion's sales have gone to folk more interested in cut-price GPS navigation equipment rather than using a PDA per se, but the move nevertheless opened up a whole new market for PDA makers. PocketPC or Palm, handheld devices coupled with a GPS antenna - built-in, or connected wirelessly with Bluetooth or by a cable - have proved a solid yet inexpensive alternative to costly dedicated satellite navigation rigs.
So, PalmOne is now offering a Tungsten E plus GPS bundle, and UK PC seller Evesham is offering Mitac's Mio168 PocketPC with an integrated GPS antenna. Long-time GPS specialist Navman has offered wired GPS modules for some time but launched a wireless version late last year. It will soon offer an own-brand version of the Mio168.
Despite such competition, Medion continues to sell its line of PocketPC/GPS bundles. The latest one was recently launched in the UK.
The MDPPC250 is a slim (11.4 x 7.1 x 1.3cm), light (124g) PocketPC that's not bad looking either. Its all-plastic casing doesn't feel too shabby - though the stylus has a habit of rattling when stowed. More positively, the 970mAh battery is removable and sits behind a tight-fitting hatch on the rear of the unit. The SD card/MMC slot on the top of the device is a little fiddly to use, with too little finger room to push a card far enough in to lock it in place or eject it.
The device is powered by a 266MHz Samsung S3C2410 processor backed by 64MB of RAM, almost 57MB of which is available to the user. The operating system, Windows Mobile 2003, is stored on the 32MB ROM.
As a budget-priced machine, there are no extras: no Wi-Fi or even Bluetooth. The bundled GPS antenna connects to the PDA through the latter's cradle connector. In fact, it's hooked up in parallel with the car cigarette lighter power jack, leaving wires strewn across your dashboard. Commercial drivers may not care too much, but individuals and business folk may prefer the cleanliness of a wireless solution, like Navman's 4400 series of Bluetooth-based products. Medion does provide a dashboard mount for the PocketPC, however.
The company's navigation software, Medion Navigator, is not only supplied on CD but on the bundled 256MB MMC. That saves setting up a PC to sync up data, especially handy if you're buying the device solely for its GPS abilities rather than its PIM functionality. Installing the software is just a matter of running File Explorer and activating the installer program on the card. Medion has already loaded up the UK and Ireland street maps on the MMC, so once you've run the installer and connected up the GPS antenna, you're ready to go.
I'd question the software's initial geo-locational accuracy. Having set up the software and hardware, I waited a few short moments for the system to get a fix on the GPS satellites. It did, but the map put me round the corner in another street. I punched in the name of the road parallel to the one I was on and set off. The software soon figured out its 'mistake' and successfully took me to where I expected to go. From then on, the map always seemed to have me in the right place at the right time.
You use the software's Navigation mode to enter a single destination and have the kit guide you there. The map is displayed in 2D mode throughout and the directions are spoken, with early warnings of turns and firmer instructions closer to each junction. Unlike the CoPilot Live software I looked at a little while ago, Medion Navigator only speaks directions, not the name of the street or road you're turning on to.
Tootling around North London was relatively straightforward, and the software was able to resist my blatant attempts to fool it by taking the wrong turnings. The only time it really tripped up was with a couple of streets that are gated halfway along, which the software, billed as a 2004 release, didn't know about. The fault presumably lies with Navtech's maps - also used, incidentally, by Navman - which simply lack that level of detail. The gates have been there for years, so it's not like they are a new obstruction.