Product review: O2 XDA Orbit smart phone and sat nav

16 May 2007

There are two kinds of people in the world – those that lead and those that follow. The former give direction, the latter take it.

But in the matter of giving and taking directions to physical destinations most of us are in the same boat. We either freeze or lose names and details when people ask for directions and some of us experience short-term memory loss after getting instructions to a location.

The onset of global positioning systems (GPS) and the new range of satellite navigation products in electronics and car equipment shops are the latest must-have ‘toys for boys’.

Whether on your yacht (you wish) or in the car, it is the device of choice these days and in many cases is seen as a necessary distraction from the occasional mid-life crisis.

What O2 has done that is quite interesting is marry a satellite navigation system with its latest business smart phone, the XDA Orbit.

The fact that the device is smaller than previous XDAs does not mean it loses any features – indeed, it has gained some. It comes with a vivid colour screen and synchs perfectly with your PC to transfer vital contacts, calendar and documents.

As a Windows Mobile 5.0 smart phone it comes with Word, Excel and PowerPoint software and for entertainment purposes has Windows Media Player, a radio and a 2-megapixel camera. For connectivity it is a GPRS device with a built-in Wi-Fi radio.

But what really sets the device apart from its smart phone competitors is the presence of a GPS receiver and a real demonstration of how sat nav will work on mobile phones.

While setting up the device as a smart phone was simple, getting it up and running as a sat nav system was trickier than I envisaged. I reasoned that fiddling around with activation codes and being ‘found’ by satellites is due to the fact that until recent years satellite navigation was military-grade technology.

Don’t expect the device to pick up satellites indoors. You need to be out and about with a clear view of the sky for it to work.

I tested the device on relatively short journeys and found it very easy to input addresses and destinations but felt the mapping databases for Ireland need a little updating. It still thinks that roundabouts that have been upgraded to traffic light junctions are still the old roundabouts.

You don’t need to own a car to get good use of the device. If you’re a business traveller and wind up in London or Paris, just input the address you are trying to find and it will help you get there.

All in all, while set-up was tricky, once the device gets working it really performs. It is also good value for money. Most sat nav devices cost around €300. The XDA Orbit smart phone on its own is priced at €329 and the CoPilot sat nav software costs an additional €179.

Pros: Marries smart phone technology with sat nav
Cons: Tricky to get up and running

By John Kennedy