Review – Mobile Crossing Waypoint 200 PocketPC with GPS

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In the niche world of GPS PDAs, Mobile Crossing is far from the first name to come to mind, being eclipsed by big-name Garmin, or dedicated innovator Mitac. We’ve taken their Waypoint 200 GPS PocketPC and given it a few laps to see if they can play with the big dogs.

The Waypoint itself is a remarkably standard-looking PocketPC. Unlike most of the other models designed specifically for GPS use, the Waypoint doesn’t actually have a built-in GPS receiver. Instead, it comes with a pre-configured Bluetooth GPS receiver, and a Bluetooth CompactFlash card, also preinstalled. This means that it doesn’t have the large antennas characteristic of the Garmin and MiTAC GPS models. It also means that to move the system around, you have to carry at least two pieces, the PocketPC and the receiver, which makes it less ideal for field applications than for car navigation.

While this is primarily a review of the Waypoint 200, most of it also applies to the Waypoint 100. Identical in specifications, the two units are differentiated by their color schemes, and their GPS access: the 100 has an attached CompactFlash GPS card, the 200 uses a detached Bluetooth receiver and Bluetooth CompactFlash card.

The box the Waypoint comes in is practically stuffed with small accessories. In no particular order:

  • Waypoint 200
  • Stylus
  • Lithium Ion battery
  • Bluetooth CompactFlash card
  • Bluetooth GPS receiver
  • USB cradle
  • 5v, 3 amp AC adapter
  • Car charger
  • Powered vehicle mount with speaker
  • USB travel sync adapter
  • Audio cord for vehicle mount
  • USB charge cable
  • Windshield mount
  • Documentation
  • Charger Y-cable

Most of the gear is relatively self-explanatory, used in various combinations for powering the Waypoint and its GPS receiver, whether in a vehicle or from an AC outlet.

The powered mount is a custom job specifically for the Waypoint, designed to hold and power both the device and its attendant GPS receiver. The recevier actually rests on a small platform on the arm of the mount, so it’s held in place and relatively convenient to the user. SIRF-based receivers like the included BT-308 don’t require complete line of sight to the sky, so you don’t need to worry about holding a signal.


Cradle, from rear 

The desktop cradle is basic and functional. In addition to power and USB connectivity, it has a slot on the rear for charging a second primary “slim” battery. The cradle also provides space on the back of the device for an extended high-capacity battery, but there’s no indication that Mobile Crossing offers such a thing, at least at this point.

The one real oddity of the hardware is that the directional pad on the Waypoint is only 4-way. Most pads are 5-way, meaning that they have a center-press ‘action’ function, used for dismissing windows, opening programs, and other navigation without using the touchscreen. The Waypoint doesn’t have this, which is both odd and annoying. Frequently I’ll go to dismiss a window and forget that I need to pull out the stylus. The only reason I can imagine for not including this is that Mobile Crossing (or their OEM) thought that a center action button would be easily jostled in a moving vehicle while trying to navigate.

Left, Dell branded BT-309. Right, Mobile Crossing branded BT-308.

In case you’re wondering what the difference is between the Waypoint and an ordinary Bluetooth PocketPC and Bluetooth GPS, the answer is three words: configuration and mapping. The Waypoint comes completely pre-configured–drivers for the Bluetooth card, navigation application, and the Bluetooth connection to the GPS are all ready to go straight out of the box. So are the maps, pre-loaded into internal flash memory. And all the configuration is saved to ROM, so even if you need to perform a hard reset, you can be up and running again in minutes. This does make for a distinct advantage compared to conventional PocketPC/GPS setups, which would require that backups be made to provide the same functionality. However, if you use the Waypoint for anything beyond navigation–PIM, games, reference, etcetera–you’ll still need to make backups to keep your data safe.

The overall feel of the Waypoint is of being durable, though not rugged. What I mean is that it’s up to taking day-to-day wear and tear, but it’s not designed to take serious abuse the way that most dedicated GPS recievers can. It’s not crush-proof, water-proof, dust-proof, or impact resistant, but no consumer PocketPCs really are.

 

Hardware

Processor: 400 MHz Intel XScale PXA260
Operating System: Windows Mobile 2003
Display: 240 x 320 QVGA transmissive/reflective LCD; NVIDIA MQ1188 video controller chip
Memory: 64 MB RAM (41 MB available); 32 MB ROM (None available); 128 MB flash memory (122 MB available)
Size & Weight:

5.3″ long x 3.1″ wide x 0.63″ thick, approx. 5.5 ounces

Expansion: One CompactFlash Type 2 slot (Used for GPS connectivity); One SDIO slot
Docking: 22 pin docking connector; USB cradle with spare battery slot
Communication: Bundled Bluetooth CompactFlash card
Audio:

Built in speaker & microphone; 3.5mm headphone jack

Battery: 3.7v, 1300 milliamp-hour Lithium Ion replacable battery
Input:

5 remappable application buttons; 4-way directional pad; touchscreen

Other: Bundled Bluetooth Global Positioning System receiver; preloaded maps

 

Processor

The Waypoint runs on an older PXA260 processor, a generation behind the 270s used in most new PocketPCs. Compared to the 270, the 260s are less efficient, both in power consumption and in how its clock cycles are used. This makes it both more power hungry and slower than a newer processor at the same speed. Even so, the Waypoint manages to move along at a decent clip, reacting to commands in good time, and performed navigation functions in an efficient manner, if not entirely speedy. The only time that it bogged down seriously was when it was trying to display the maps for a large area, such as several counties. Overall, it performs well, but it won’t provide the snappy reaction of a newer model.

Benchmark results reflect the difference between the old and new processors. I’ve compared the Waypoint to a mid-range Bluetooth enabled PocketPC, the Dell Axim X30, and to the slightly more high-end X50 midrange configuration. The results aren’t flattering to the Waypoint, but they’re not likely to be. Even adjusting for the increase in processor speed, the Waypoint is 25% slower than the cheaper and more feature-rich Axim X30.

  Waypoint 200 (400 MHz) Dell Axim X30 (624 MHz)

Axim X50 (520 MHz)

SPB Benchmark Index 1128 2113 1793
CPU Index 1756 2475 2066
File System Index 1110 1487 1275
Graphics Index 561 5329 4662
Platform Index 1063 1493 1342

 

Operating System

Like its processor, the Waypoint’s operating system is a generation behind the times. It runs Windows Mobile 2003–not 2003 Second Edition, the most common version of the OS, nor Windows Mobile 5, the newest version, but the original Windows Mobile 2003. While not a huge loss, at least compared to 2003 SE, it does mean that the Waypoint will be a bit slower and less stable than a 2003SE device. Another side-effect is that the device lacks the screen rotation capabilities of the newer OS, so you are by default limited to portrait mode. The navigation program can rotate its own screen, but cannot do so for any other programs.

 

Display

There isn’t much to say about the Waypoint’s display. A standard 320 x 240 Quarter-VGA LCD, its reflective qualities make it viewable in bright light, and even more so in direct sun. Since most people will be using it in a semi-shaded environment like a car, however, a little more must be said.

Daylight performance is difficult to measure in a handheld, because of the nature of the optics involved. Any color LCD is not going to look as good in direct sun as it does in a dimmer environment, where it relies on its internal backlighting to make the screen viewable. In direct or indirect sun, the bright light causes the display to seem washed out, lacking color and contrast. The same is true with the Waypoint. To try and combat this for in-car viewing, most users will probably want to run the backlight at maximum, making the car power adapter a very important accessory. To its credit, the Waypoint has a very bright screen, providing good readability even in bright light.

The Waypoint also features a relative rarity, an independant display controller. Such video chips are more common in high-end devices–the Dell Axim X50v and HP iPaq hx4700 are both so equipped. Units in the lower-mid range of technology, like the Waypoint, usually use the LCD controller built into the Intel XScale processor. Instead, the Waypoint has a NVIDIA MediaQ MQ1188 display controller handling the screen. The technology behind the NVIDIA chip is more than two years old, so it doesn’t provide any real benefits in terms of display performance, even compared to the basic XScale controller.

 

Memory

The Waypoint has 64 MB of main RAM, the de facto standard for modern PocketPCs. Out of that 64 MB, however, only 41 MB is open to the end user–significantly less than other equivalent models–which then has to be split between Storage and program memory. For anything more than PIM use, you’ll definitely want a memory card to install your programs and files to. The missing RAM, according to Waypoint, is used as a graphics buffer to speed up map drawing, though I didn’t notice a big difference compared to my other devices.

The 32 MB of base ROM in the Waypoint is entirely used by the operating system, with none open to the end-user. This is typical on the few devices that still have 32 MB of ROM, since the operating system and assorted programs take over almost all of the available space.

Besides the device ROM, the Waypoint also has an additional 128 MB of internal flash memory. By default, this is filled with the selected map set, which we’ll cover under GPS. If you so desire, you can remove the default maps and use the flash memory for other purposes.

 

Size & Weight

The Waypoint is definitely not as sleek and thin as more more modern units, but given the market this is a more secondary issue. It’s primarily meant to stay in its car mount, or in the desktop cradle. Pocketability is a minor concern, and it’s all the more obvious that this is so, because the Waypoint is not tiny for the features it offers.

Top to bottom: Dell Axim X30, Dell Axim X50v, Waypoint 200

 

Expansion

While the Waypoint technically features dual expansion, in practice it’s a single-slot device. To have access to the GPS, you have to have the CompactFlash BT card inserted at all times, leaving only the SDIO slot for memory, WiFi, or other add-ons. Due to the positioning of the slots and the size of the Bluetooth card, some SDIO peripherals that stick out of the slot won’t be usable with the Waypoint. This is particularly true for, but not limited to, camera cards.

 

Docking

The Waypoint’s docking connector is unremarkable in the extreme. It offers standard USB sync capabilities, and power input. According to the specifications, there is also a serial port available, but Mobile Crossing doesn’t list a serial cable for the device on their site.

Sheltered under the main body of the cradle is a standard USB Type B plug, which is the cradle end of the sync cable, and a typical 5 volt DC jack.

 

Communication

While the Waypoint has no built-in forms of wireless–an extreme rarity in its price range–it does have Bluetooth capabilities via the bundled CompactFlash card. This provides some degree of wireless connectivity, useful for cell phone links, syncing, and of course the GPS receiver.

The Bluetooth configuration utility is, not to put too fine a point on it, infuriating, maddening, useless, poorly written, and looks like it’s a refugee from Windows 95. If you manage to actually get it communicating with another device, and have it discover services, it offers you a series of miniscule, cryptic pink-and-blue squiggles, which I assume are supposed to be icons, from which you’re supposed to guess which represents the Bluetooth service you want to use.

Despite the vast number of other words that come to mind for use in describing the Bluetooth software–many of which are not family-friendly–a picture is still worth a thousand words.

Now, guess which one is ActiveSync. Give up? After attempting several other, more promising icons, I discovered that ActiveSync was the first icon on the left, the one shaped like a waffle iron. I can only speculate that the icon is meant to represent a plug of some kind, though a caveman with some charcoal, a rock, and a sharpened stick could probably have more clearly conveyed the idea that this is the sync icon.

After taking a total of about a half an hour to get it to ActiveSync via Bluetooth with my desktop–a proceedure that takes less than 30 seconds on most new PocketPCs–I took several minutes to seriously consider throwing the entire unit out an open second story window, drowning it in the pond, or beating it to death with a hammer. I eventually opted not to, partly because I would probably have to pay to replace Mobile Crossing’s review unit, and partly because I would never be able to finish the review. In hindsight, I kind of wish I’d gone with the hammer.

 

Audio

Being designed for GPS, and particularly for in-car navigation, the Waypoint’s speaker is particularly powerful, capable of projecting sound even in noisy environments. Audio fidelity is not the best, but it’s designed for power, not reproduction. If it’s not powerful enough, the Waypoint can be hooked to the even larger and more powerful speaker in the car mount by way of its 3.5mm headphone jack. This setup, when turned to maximum volume, not only provides directions but can also be used to stun cattle at ten paces.

 

Battery

The 1300 mAh standard battery for the Waypoint is above standard PocketPC size, though not by much. For additional capacity, you can also charge and carry a second 1300 mAh battery to swap in when the main battery gets low. There is a small rechargable backup battery to maintain the contents of the RAM when you’re swapping batteries.

My main battery test was intended to simulate GPS navigation. To that end, the backlight was turned to the maximum, Bluetooth was connected and left on. The battery managed a marginal 3 hours, 16 minutes before dying. For most navigational uses, the Waypoint would be hooked to a power source almost continuously, but it definitely isn’t suited for field work outside of a vehicle. Other PDAs can go for 6-8 hours with a Bluetooth connection active, and standalone GPS receivers can often go up to 20 hours on a single set of batteries.

 

GPS

The mapping program’s interface should already be familiar to most of those experienced with PocketPC GPS apps, and easily accessible to those who aren’t. It’s based on Mapopolis software, which is one of the easier applications to learn to use, with reasonably simple perspectives, viewing controls, and navigation dialogs. This simplicity even extends to launching the application–just press the right-most application button when you want it, and press it again when you’re done. Mobile Crossing has done a neat job on making it possible to toggle the navigation screen with one button press.

Included with the GPS package are a pair of slightly less standard programs. Called TrafficWatch and WeatherUnderground, these offer updated traffic and weather information downloaded to the Waypoint, allowing you to plot potential delays, and if neccessary navigate around them. The programs can retrieve new data via any internet connection, but without WiFi the only practical option is a Bluetooth link to a cell phone. The Waypoint comes pre-configured for this, so with the right phone you can keep updated on the local traffic and weather no matter where you are. A live internet connection isn’t strictly neccessary, but it helps. The purchase of the Waypoint 200 includes a full year of data service in for both of these applications. WeatherUnderground can serve just about any zip code, but TrafficWatch is limited to a select set of urban areas for which live traffic data is available.

My unit came loaded with the “Tri-State” map package, which includes complete maps for all of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey. Of course, this is of limited use if you don’t live in the downstate area, but that’s the breaks when you get maps preloaded. The basic maps were rounded out by a subset of major roads for all the other 45 contiguous United States, allowing you to follow the highways if you ever need to drive long-distance.

That’s basically it. The “Regional” version of the Waypoint doesn’t come with maps for any other states, just the ones it’s loaded with. If you live a quarter-mile from the New York border with Vermont or Erie, Pennsylvania… well, too bad, and have fun with the maps that you did get. Easterm Connecticut, southern New Jersey, same deal. You can get other maps from the Mobile Crossing online store, but there’s still a catch. For one thing, you still don’t get to choose by state. You can pick and choose amongst 17 pre-defined regions, plus major US roads, and one additional region that encompasses all of Canada. The first region, besides the one preloaded on the Waypoint, costs $20, and each additional region after that is $10. This cost, which would be an additional $180 for all regions on top of the $750 for the Waypoint itself, is the only thing which can make the pricetag of the “National” Waypoint package look good. The “National” edition, priced at $800, comes with all the regions activated and available to load.

In contrast, handheld computer GPS systems from TomTom come with a full set of maps for 49 states, the District of Columbia, and southern Canada, as well as a subset of major roads, allowing you to pick and choose whatever you need. It’s a system I much prefer to the potluck assemblage that’s offered with the Waypoint.

If you so desire, you can replace the standard maps with something else–alternate applications and maps, or even just use the space for ordinary programs. You must take care if you want to use the standard maps again, though. Since the maps aren’t included on the enclosed CD, if you delete them from the handheld, they’re gone. To get them back, you would have to redownload them from the Waypoint store. So lesson one is that if you want to save the maps, back them up.

The points-of-interest system was reasonably functional, if a bit confusing at times. For instance, in selecting points of interest, it had two listings for the Town of Warsaw, one of which only had a single entry, while the other had a proper listing of all the points in the town. Also, it listed one point called “Hjh,” with no further explanation.

The GPS receiver itself is a semi-generic BT-308, based on the SiRFstar 2 chipset. In my testing, its primary competitor was my Dell-branded Bluetooth GPS, a BT-309, also running on a SiRFstar 2. The 308 is rated by the manufacturer for 8 hours of continuous use on a single battery charge. In previous experience, I’d learned that for my BT-309 this claim was indeed accurate, so I had high hopes for the nearly identical 308. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to expectations. The battery went critical and shut down Bluetooth and GPS a little short of 7 hours–still a quite reasonable performance, but not quite as advertised. Tracking left no such disappointment, as its accuracy is as flawless as the 309. Even small motions are picked up with ease, and the receiver always performed as flawlessly as one could ask from a GPS receiver.

 

Conclusion

As is the case with most GPS-based handhelds, the Waypoint appeals much more to those looking for a multifunction high-end GPS than it does to ordinary handheld users. Its pricing and pre-configuration underline this, resembling more the Garmin StreetPilot series than an iPaq or an Axim.

The Waypoint doesn’t really do anything that an ordinary Bluetooth-enabled PocketPC, supplied with a BT GPS receiever and maps, can’t already do, albeit with a little extra tweaking. For the convenience of having the system pre-configured, Waypoint users can expect to pay a considerable premium over what it would cost them to buy seperately a Bluetooth GPS and PocketPC of considerably better specifications. The extensive accessory bundle adds some value, but the Waypoint is still overpriced compared to ordinary models. It’s only cheap when compared to high-end GPS systems, which can easily cost over $1000.

Even so, I wouldn’t buy it. The Waypoint remains an extremely niche-oriented model, suitable to moderate navigation with a tiny bit of handheld use thrown in. It’s not for power users, or even average users. The PocketPC component is so bland that it could lay eggs and still not merit a second look, and the aggrivation saved in one area of configuration is returned tenfold in other areas. Simply put, it’s not worth the money, and there’s no scenario that I can think of that makes it worth more than a PocketPC and Bluetooth GPS bought seperately.

Pros:

  • Large accessory bundle
  • Preloaded navigation capabilities

Cons:

  • Ultra expensive
  • Rage inducing Bluetooth
  • No built-in wireless
  • Antiquated technology
  • Map selection difficult

Bottom Line:

Marginally convenient, but far more expensive and less capable than buying seperately.

Purchase Info:

Distribution is a little limited, but resellers can be found on the Mobile Crossing website.

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