Acer's portable navigation range includes both Windows Mobile Pocket PCs with GPS built in and standalone navigation devices such as the p610. There are three models in the p600 series; all come with maps courtesy of Navteq and have a version of the ALK CoPilot 6 software installed.
The models vary in whether they include live traffic information and Bluetooth, and in the version of CoPilot they run. The two higher end models come with CoPilot Premium while the p610, reviewed here, does not. Nor does it have Bluetooth and live traffic data support. Even so, the price -- around £180 -- is very competitive.
Like many of its competitors, the Acer p610 Portable Navigator has a wide-screen format. This makes it a fairly large piece of kit -- it measures 116mm wide, 81mm deep and 23mm high. The 102mm (4-inch) screen delivers a resolution of 480x272 pixels and during testing it was sharp, clear and bright.
You will notice the 195g p610 in a pocket if you decide to carry it around with you on foot. There's a soft case to protect the screen if you want to put it in a bag.
The grey and black styling around the casing is tidy and unobtrusive. There are only three buttons on the front, beneath the screen; all are long and thin, making it easy to find and hit them. The central button, marked 'navi', fires up the navigation software or takes you to the device's main screen. The pair of buttons flanking this are volume controls.
The p610 fits into your vehicle using a very sturdy mounting system. This allows it to move both vertically and horizontally to get it into a good viewing position, but is nowhere near as flexible as a swan-neck-style mounting system. It's easy to remove the device from its holder when required, and it feels very solid when in place.
Along with the vehicle mount and soft case, the Acer p610 Portable Navigator comes with a car charger, two brief Getting Started guides and several CDs that between them include the full manual, PC software and CoPilot install discs.
Features and performance
The Acer p610 Portable Navigator comes with maps of the UK and Ireland. If you want Europe-wide coverage then you'll need to consider the high-end p630 and p660 models. It's powered by a 400MHz processor and its mapping data comes from Navteq. The GPS module is the standard SiRFstar III, while the presence of ActiveSync on one of the provided CDs shows that the core software is Windows CE.
The p610 does more than simply navigate you from one place to another. It can also play sound files in MP3, WMA and WAV formats, and display BMP, GIF, JPEG and PNG images.
The p610 will stop audio playback in order to give any spoken instructions and then resume. This gives you the option of listening to spoken word or music files while driving, although the sound quality of the latter in particular may not be up to that of your car stereo.
There's also a contacts manager, and the presence of ActiveSync on CD and Windows CE on the device suggested that it should be possible to synchronise Outlook contacts with the p610.
So, using ActiveSync, we made a connection with our PC, but were unable to synchronise data. Indeed, checking the device manual it seems that the only way to import contacts to the device was via an SD card, contact by contact.
We saved a few contacts from Outlook as vCards, copied them to the p610's SD card and imported them one by one. This worked, but was far too tortuous a process to work for an entire contacts database. Even if you have 50 or so contacts to deal with (and many people will have considerably more), the process is tedious.
You access the audio player (which is wrongly labelled 'MP3', considering the file range supported), photo viewer and contact manager from the main screen, which offers touch buttons for these as well as for the navigation software and device settings.
The maps and some other data needed to run the navigation software come on a 256MB SD card. There was 82MB free on our card, and this can be used for pics or music. If you remove the data card, the CoPilot software stops running. If you're interested in using the p610 for looking at photos or listening to music and want more than 82MB, you'll have to reinstall CoPilot from CD to a larger-capacity SD card.
The most significant issue with this entry-level p-series device is that it doesn't run the Premium version of CoPilot. It only offers four-digit postcode navigation, for example, which isn't good enough: Acer should have included the Premium version, with its seven-digit postcode support. For an extra few pounds on the price, this makes the device far more usable.
Generally, though, we found using the Co-Pilot software intuitive and easy. Much effort seems to have been put into providing very large on-screen tappable buttons for option selection and trip planning, and into trying to keep menu layers to a minimum.
It is a little confusing to have separate pop-up menus on screens offering a range of tappable options while you're working through nested menus on-screen, but in general the software is easy to get to grips with. The pop-up menus are available in the map view screens too, where the ability to quickly start a new trip, add a stop, switch into system settings and so on can be welcome.
There are some useful features like a list of recent trips that lets you easily navigate to places you've recently visited, and a 'return trip' option that takes you back to your starting point without you having to enter an address.
The main navigation display is very good. The screen is superbly bright and clear, and there's plenty of space for showing the street plan. There are a couple of rows of information at the bottom of the screen and you can cycle through different classes of information on display simply by tapping the screen (items such as current time, estimated time of arrival, current speed and the name of the road you are on), as well as being able to make preference settings for what's displayed here. There are plenty of other preference settings too.
But we do have some issues. When planning trips you have to switch between alphabetical and numeric keypads -- addresses, and especially postcodes, mix these characters and switching is an irritation. The software narrows down available options as you enter characters, so if you're lucky the first three or four letters will cause a street name to pop up ready for you to tap and confirm it's correct. This is helpful, but the greying out of letters no longer available in the ever-narrowing subset of destinations is annoying.
One road we used several times was misspelt in the software. This is not a major issue, but once errors of this type creep into navigation software it's often difficult for the makers to rectify them in future updates.
The spoken instructions were generally loud and clear. Some navigation systems speak the road number you're going into at each junction. This boosts confidence that you're doing the right thing, particularly at roundabouts where counting exits is not always easy in traffic. Unfortunately, the Acer p610 Portable Navigator simply told us which exit to take, but not which road number we were aiming for.
If Acer is aiming at the corporate market, then the company would have done well to abandon its music and photo playback in favour of incorporating the Premium version of CoPilot in every model in the series, and included some utilities that business travellers might find handy such as a calculator or currency converter. At the very least, contact synchronisation should work in batch mode.
As it stands, the Acer p610 Portable Navigator is a competent enough device, but there are a few areas where it could provide a better user experience.
Edited by Charles McLellan
Additional editing by Nick Hide