capsule review

Harman/Kardon Guide + Play GPS-500

At a Glance
  • Harman Kardon Guide + Play GPS500 NA

    PCWorld Rating

Harman/Kardon's Guide + Play GPS-500 called to mind the backpacker's axiom: Double up! Why carry two things when one thing does the work of both? The Guide + Play is a good in-car navigator and a worthy portable media player, but it's a step down from the best in either category.

I tested a shipping version of the device, and when I started its navigation app for the first time, its built-in Centrality Atlas II GPS receiver took more than a minute to find and display my location. On several subsequent cold starts the unit took just as long to acquire enough GPS signals to orient itself. Once it locked onto the signals, however, it followed my progress along the route without lagging, and it recalculated the correct directions in just a few seconds whenever I departed from the prescribed course. You can view a list of the turns in a programmed route, choose to avoid specific segments of a route, and skip or add waypoints in midtrip.

The Guide + Play's 4-inch, 480-by-272-pixel LCD touch screen shows maps in 2D and 3D views, and it switches to night view automatically as the sun sets. To adjust the screen's brightness you have to enter the device's settings menu to call up the touch-screen control, but turning the volume up or down is handier: Just use the dial control on the right side of the device.

Maps for all of North America and a points-of-interest database with millions of listings (both provided by TeleAtlas) fit in the device's 2GB of internal flash memory.

Other in-car GPS devices include a media-player applet, but the Guide + Play is the first I've seen that lets you listen to MP3, WMA, and AAC audio files from an SD card with a capacity of up to 4GB while also receiving turn-by-turn driving directions (no card ships with the product). While songs play, you can see your location, next turn, and other navigation information on the 2D or 3D map. The name of the track currently playing appears at the bottom of the map. Conversely you can view your playlist in the media player and see the next turn at the bottom of that screen. The GPS system's spoken turn instructions are easy to hear over the currently playing audio track.

The media player lets you play MP4 and WMV9 video files, too. (Since you wouldn't play a video and navigate at the same time, there's no need to display your next turn at the bottom of the video screen.) Also included with the device are a 12-volt car power adapter, an AC adapter that connects to a USB 2.0 cable (to power a USB bus), a carrying case, and a compact windshield mount that holds the device firmly in place as you drive.

I was impressed with the Guide + Play's battery life: It's rated for 5 hours, but in my tests the device played music files and issued driving directions for more than 6 hours.

I was less enamored of the routes that the device suggested: Too often it directed me into the teeth of commute traffic--usually instructing me to turn at nearly every street corner until I returned to its preferred route--and ignored faster surface-street alternatives. Still, its GPS receiver did a good job of keeping up with the vehicle, and it recalculated the route quickly whenever I strayed. When you're not navigating a route, you can hit the Map button and track your route as you go.

Most GPS devices are one-trick ponies. Thanks to its built-in media player, the Guide + Play lets you travel with one fewer gadget, though you must sacrifice some extras to lighten the load.

Dennis O'Reilly

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Pros

    • Sleek
    • Includes a portable media player

    Cons

    • Lagged occasionally at acquiring GPS signals
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