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Mio P550 Digiwalker
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Mio DigiWalker P550 GPS Navigation Pocket PC Review

GPS or Global Positioning System is a fantastic tool that has been in use for years but prohibitively expensive until fairly recently, and it can be found in many cars now as an available option. So why should I or you for that matter bother purchasing a GPS! I mean who travels that much or gets lost that often that they would feel a rather large investment of over at least $300 in worth the money, what do these devices bring to the table to make them a worthy addition to my growing collection of gadgets. I spoke with a friend who regularly visits family in the Niagara falls area and he had driven with her GPS unit and found it to be a rather indispensable gadget so he did some research after and decided that Garmin was the best unit, now I had heard from another friend who rented a vehicle with an on board GPS system that while traveling in the city of Montreal he often lost the GPS signal and was not happy with the GPS system, but he said it was wonderful when it was working. I was planning a trip to the same city and was concerned with this revelation and it may have stopped me if not for next comment he made, he suggested I purchase one and try it as I could simply return it after the trip if I found it to be unsatisfactory.

I thought about the GPS for a few days and announced to my wife that I was thinking about acquiring a GPS and was preparing all my answers for the usual battery of questions when she simply said 'fine' after my initial shock I asked why she thought it was a good idea and she replied with the upcoming trip to Montreal it would relieve a lot of stress trying to navigate. I usually prepare for any trip with a few stops at the various online map sites and print the routes as well as any route planned while in the city so we never get hopelessly lost but my navigator apparently found the whole process rather stressful.

I did some research myself and found that the best units all used the SiRFstar III chip, GPS receivers based on this chipset have routinely performed better than receivers based on other chipsets so I was prepared to do some shopping and see just how much I was going to have to spend to purchase one. I spent considerable time in various stores and online trying to whittle the choices down to 5 units. The units I choose are listed in the table below (click on any picture to see a larger view) the table does not compare all the features just the basic features that I felt made the units worthy of a look, now remember all these units use the SiRFstar III chip.

GPS Model TomTom 510 LG LN740 Mio P550 Mio C520 Garmin 250W
Price $429.99 $449.99 $469.99 $499.99 $449.99
Screen size 4.0" 4.0" 3.5" 4.3" 4.3"
Screen Res. 320 x 240 320 x 240 320 x 240 480 x 272 480 x 272
Flash Memory 1GB 2GB 2GB 1GB 1GB
Battery Life 4 Hours 6 Hours 4.5 Hours 5 Hours 5 Hours

I found myself wondering if I was willing to spend close to $500 for a GPS that would get fairly limited use then the Mio Digiwalker P550 caught my eye because unlike all of the other devices it was based on the Pocket PC platform and ran the Windows Mobile 5 Operating system. Why was that such an important feature you may be asking yourself well because unlike the other devices which used a hidden OS the Pocket PC could be used as a very capable PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). that means it can be used to keep your contacts and notes or you can open and edit MS Word or MS Excel files let's add the ability to view pictures, play music, games and videos. Now the Mio P550 also has a WiFi connection so that means you can read and answer your e-Mail or simply surf the internet for information on your Hotel's Wireless network. In fact the amount of software and uses for the Pocket PC are practically endless so maybe my $500 will at least get me a decent PDA. So now lets compare the Mio P550 against a few other Pocket PC's.

Model HP iPaq 2490 HP iPaq RX5910 Mio P550
Price $449.99 $549.99 $469.99
WiFi 802.11b/g NO YES YES
Screen Res. 240 x 320 240 x 320 240 x 320
Ram Memory 64MB 64MB 64MB
Flash Memory 128MB 2GB 2GB
CPU Speed 500Mhz 400Mhz 400Mhz

So based on the prices and features the winner is the Mio P550 but we have one topic left to discuss the actual GPS software. Garmin uses its own software and does not offer it for other devices the HP uses TomTom Navigator and the Mio uses Mio Map which is actually iGo My Way software re-labeled for the Mio. I've read a few reviews that bounce back and forth as to which is the best software with reviewers finding Pros and Cons with each software so I actually installed the TomTom Navigator along side the existing Mio Map software and I having used both I can safely say either is just fine. I'll talk more about the software later in the article a little more.

Mio Digiwalker P550 Package contents
So here are a few pictures of the Mio Digiwalker P550 so you'll know exactly what you are getting when you purchase one. The P550 comes with a rather complete package as seen in the photo below.
(Click on any picture to enlarge it)

Included in the Box: USB Cable, AC Charger, In-Car Charger, Mount, Device Holder, 3.5mm Earphone Converter, Manual and Three installation CD's

The Car mount is a suction based device, you push the lever down behind the unit to create a very powerful suction that is not easily dislodged in fact they recommend releasing it once per month to ensure it will not weaken. The mount can be mounted to any windshield or dash by using the included self-adhesive base. The unit extends to double it's base height and the cradle is reversible for various mounting positions, the cradle mount also pivots up and down and side to side to allow placement in almost any angle you may need to view the screen properly.

The photo below is the top of the unit which contains the only hint of the devices true function the letters 'GPS'. The chrome section is to attach a lanyard if so desired and it may also be part of the GPS assembly but it's certainly sturdy enough for the intended purpose. You can also see the slot that holds the stylus, the stylus is fairly short and can be extended to just under twice the original length, I suspect this was done to save room in the device and also to allow any user in a confined situation (close to the windshield/dash) to use the stylus.

The bottom of the unit contains the Mini-USB port (USB v1.0) a reset button that can be used in the event the unit stops responding and a off/on switch. The USB port also serves as the charging port which is great as the device can be charged from any computer with a standard Mini-USB cable.
The Right hand side is mostly the identifying label with the exception of a very small port near the bottom that houses the built-in microphone
The next photo shows the Left-hand side which contains the SD/MMC Memory Slot and the 2.5mm Headphone jack (they have at least included the adapter to fit the typical 3.5mm jacks used by most headphones) I was curious just how much larger the P550 was than my trusty Treo 680 so in the photo below you can see the difference in length and in thickness.

Lastly we have the front of the P550 it has a miniature 5-way joystick surrounded by four buttons the right-lower button is the 'Power' just above that is the 'Home' button, depressing it takes you back to the main welcome screen. The left-lower button takes you to your 'Contact' list while the button just above that changes the screen between 'Portrait' and 'Landscape' modes. The buttons will behave differently depending on the application loaded. (another photo comparing the Treo 680 to the P550)

GPS ready, now let's see if we lose the signal
I will admit this was my first experience with a GPS system and I kept trying to set the start point and the end point, then while in the car with a GPS lock it showed our current location and I finally understood why you don't need a start point, the GPS knows where we are! Unfortunately I had no practice time with the device due to a minor set-back when I first purchased the device. NOTE if you purchase this device please ensure the outer shrink-wrap has not been removed! I had purchased it the night prior to our departure (close to closing time) and I discovered that my package had been opened by another consumer and the unit's touch screen was defective so I was left scrambling to exchange it the morning we were to depart. Well I managed to exchange it and we were off to Montreal, I figured if I was going to lose the GPS signal it would be in the downtown core as it has many narrow streets with high buildings all around. The GPS signal was strong and this was not the case the signal was perfect except for one time we passed under a much wider than usual underpass and the signal was restored mere seconds after clearing the underpass. The Mio Map software supports voice prompts and the unit ships with a full selection of languages but only one voice per language it appears to be possible to download new voices but at this time not many voices are available, one spot I found is Here.

The screen shows the next turn/step on the trip in the upper left-side of the screen along with the distance left to that point, the software supports miles,yards,feet or kilometers, meters and can be switched in the preferences menu. I mentioned earlier I would talk about differences between Mio Map and TomTom Navigator and the main difference between the two programs is the use of voices Mio Map is more chatty and informs you more often of upcoming turns/maneuvers along with information regarding loss of the GPS signal or a route recalculation whereas TomTom makes up for this by drawing a large green arrow indicating the turns/maneuvers on the route you are taking. In practice both work really well I prefer the Voice reminders but that's my opinion. I did notice on a few occasions that both of the GPS software's gave directions that were not really the best route and they both used slightly different routes to the same destination, this would not effect a visitor to the city who had no idea in the first place but it's worth mentioning that both plan routes fairly well with minor exceptions. I also found both to be very good with recalculating the route if you miss a turn or are forced to take a detour. Interestingly enough because of road work on the 416 to Montreal we were forced to cross the medium and the GPS software became confused as we were not on the roadway it was expecting, we were essentially heading the wrong way down a two lane highway and both of the software packages struggled to figure out what the heck was going on with one telling us we needed to turn back and the other saying we were on a unknown road. Once we crossed back over the medium both were happy to continue with the planned route.

TomTom's interface is more intuitve to use as the menu's are sorted better, Mio Map takes some guesswork to find the same menu's. I suspect if you have never used either this won't be an issue but users acustomed to the TomTom's interface will be totally lost with Mio Map's interface (kinda like XP users trying Vista). A feature I liked with Mio Map is the way the map changes perspective when you approach turns, the map zooms closer to the area to allow you to have a better look and then after the turn is made it zooms back out to give you a better look at the road ahead.

Update Aug 2008
I recently went on a few trips into some rural areas around Ontario,Canada and here is where the Miomap software starts to show some faults. In one instance I was shown driving on a field for several miles instead of the road, I knew that this highway had been widened more than 5 years ago and was relocated to the side of the original road. This means the GPS maps are out of date and I have not seen any updates available on the Mio website. When we headed out to Westport once again Miomap failed as it could not locate the address we were trying to find, it showed 4-5 roads in the town where TomTom showed close to 50 roads for the same area. So if you plan on using the Miomap software for traveling in more rural areas you will be disappointed, this does not mean the device itself is not worth buying as it has been reduced to $360 but you may need to purchase the TomTom software which will set you back around $99 and I suggest you install onto a 2GB memory card unless you plan on not using Miomap again.

Obtaining the GPS signal when the device is first turned on can take a few minutes but improves after a few uses as the device remembers where it is and knows where to look for the GPS satellites, but if you move the unit or turn it on inside to show your friends the GPS locking will take substantially longer as it needs to sort it self out again. I also noticed a strange behavior with TomTom maps loaded whenever I removed the USB car charging adapter from the device it would cause the GPS signal to be lost. I suspect the GPS unit is being reset because of the power being removed (surge perhaps) but other than this oddity I have not had any issues locking onto or losing the GPS signal unless traveling under a very large overpass.

Well it's official I'm addicted to my GPS and would not want to drive without it, I have actually been thinking about traveling to Prince-Edward Island and planning the whole trip with stops at Points of interest along the way. Knowing I will always find my way gives me the peace of mind to allow me to watch the scenery instead of looking for road signs for a clue that I'm heading in the right direction towards the next junction/turn. This coupled with the ability to bring games, photos, videos and access the internet all on one device is truly handy.

PDA and Pocket PC functions
Well as mentioned this device is a pocket PC and being a hardcore Palm (Treo) user I was unsure how I would transition to a Pocket PC. I have purchased a slew of games and programs for the Palm and was not looking forward to having to repurchase most of them for use on the Pocket PC. I can't live without a few essentials on my devices the first being SmartMovie and my favorite time waster BeJeweled 2. I proceeded to download the Pocket PC versions and install them and then I made a little discovery that may encourage some users, the activation codes are the same for either platform! I have found that almost any software that has both versions available (Pocket PC and Palm) uses the same activation code system, the only caveat is that your device user ID needs to be the exact same on both devices in order for this to work.

I was afraid to try the install software with my Vista machine as I had heard some bad things about trying to sync with a Vista PC so I opted for the safe route and installed it on a Laptop with Windows XP. No issues the process is painless and once you get used to the sync software it's fairly intuitive and painless to install other applications and games.

I found the Pocket PC to be as quick as my Treo 680 for all of the programs and games I was running on each device. I found the 240 x 320 (4:3) screen means most applications only use a 240 x 240 section (1:1) of the screen but when browsing the web being able to rotate the screen to landscape really helps see the most text possible. I also installed a few Games that were Pocket PC only and they seemed to automatically use the landscape layout to maximize the screen area. I have not had to restart the unit with a hard reset since I have had it which seems strange since I have had to reset my Treo 680 much more often than I would like to admit. It would appear that the Pocket PC OS, Windows Mobile 5.0 has had many of the bugs that plagued earlier versions worked out.

Final words
Bottom Line if your looking for a GPS and would like to have as many features as possible then look no further than the Mio DigiWalker P550, as outlined in this review you'll be hard-pressed to find a better device offering the same features for less of your hard earned money. I admit the GPS software may not be the best offering for those who have had much experience with other GPS software but it's not an issue as in the end you'll arrive at your destination. As a Pocket PC the device has strong specs compared to other devices in the same pricing area. Some may say the display is not sharp enough or should be of a higher resolution but the GPS maps themselves are certainly not going to look much better so other than a minor complaint when viewing pictures, they appear grainy due to the P550 using only a 240 x 240 area to display them compared to the 320 x 320 screen of my Treo. The screen is fine and has considerable brightness when in use for all other applications designed to use the proper 320 x 240 screen area.

Update Aug 2008
I have noticed one annoying problem with the device and it relates to battery life if you don't reduce the brightness of the screen you will barely get 2.5 hours of use before heading to a charger. Lastly the device has an occasional habit of not turning on when the power button is pressed which results in you having to press the reset button, not showstoppers but annoying.

I have tried a few new programs for the Pocket PC and have found them to be great programs for use on any Pocket PC, below is a list of the best with links to the website where the item may be purhased.

Games worth trying:

Programs and applications:


All of the pictures and information contained within the www.biline.ca website are the property of Jeff Mathurin please do NOT use any of the contents of this website without consent. If you would like to contact me for any reason then feel free to use the contact form by clicking Here