Final thoughts on Guide + Play GPS


I wanted to post this update to my prior Harman Kardon Guide + Play story earlier, but other circumstances intervened. This’ll be a little shorter than I was initially planning, but should hopefully fill you in on the key details I skimmed over in the prior coverage.

After additional testing, it’s obvious that Guide + Play has some serious strengths and a few comparatively minor weaknesses. First, the positives: as noted before, it’s a totally pocketable, sharp-looking GPS unit that can overlap turn-by-turn directions and isometric 3-D maps over music you store on an SD card. I’d underscore that particular sentence because the unit’s pocketability, maps, and music playback features are all quite nice. Though obviously I’d pick an iPod first for general audio purposes, Harman’s GPS interface has turned out to be even better than I’d originally thought. I’ve taken G+P out on drive after drive over the past few days, and found it considerably better at its key task—locating remote destinations and quickly charting a good course to them—than the GPS units in either of the cars we have here.

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The system tends to nail points of interest, and provide great overviews of nearby alternatives, but even if it can’t find the specific place you want, it does well with addresses, and works with intersections as well. Harman’s TeleAtlas map data is impressively up to date, but could really benefit from free synchronized updates a la the iTunes database. It’d be a huge selling point, and make G+P even better than it already is.

From a navigation standpoint, the only issues I had were ones I’d classify as mixed in importance. Like many portable GPS systems, Guide + Play can take enough time acquiring the initial GPS signal that you’ll wish you had a hardwired antenna to speed things up. It blazes from menu to menu and plots courses quickly, but wasn’t as fast at this single satellite signal task as our more fully sluggish in-car GPS systems. Consequently, you might need an extra minute to start driving to your destination as G+P syncs with the GPS broadcast. Also, during data entry, we managed to crash the unit twice under circumstances we couldn’t reproduce, bringing up an on-screen error message and a restart of the system. This was mercifully fast—and rare given how many times we’ve used G+P.

Though recomputation of directions under odd circumstances—say, an unexpected road closure—isn’t hard, it’s not as easy as it should be. Guide + Play kept telling us over and over again to make a U-turn to get back on a highway ramp that was closed, and the unit’s “Detour next turn” button wasn’t useful to fix this when we’d already started driving to a different ramp. Even after recomputations, it fixated on the closed ramp, and insisted that we try to go back there. And finally, the unit tends not to be perfectly on the mark for specific addresses—or at least, doesn’t cheat in a way to make you think that it is. I’m sitting inside an address right now, having pulled into the driveway using Guide + Play, and the unit keeps reminding me that I’ll be at my destination in 400 feet.

In my view, despite these issues, Guide + Play is so fast and so close enough to right most of the time that I really prefer it to the GPS units I’ve owned or used in the past. Harman’s navigation interface isn’t beautiful, but it works really well, and the combination of “two steps ahead” voice prompts when necessary and the nice-looking maps make driving with the device fun. The included mounting hardware works, but could be even better, and the built-in speaker is plenty good for listening to music and voice commands if you don’t want to use the headphone port for audio out. Charging is handled intelligently, and the unit will automatically turn itself off after a period of charging inactivity—useful if you’re leaving it in a car.

Other items to mention are that iPod owners may find the music and movie integration to be a little lacking, despite the fact that the unit does a good job when it’s actually playing something. The issue’s merely synchronization: we were able to get all the sample video and audio content to play fine, and easily dumped MP3-format music onto an SD card, since G+P doesn’t need iTunes to synchronize. But as it turned out, we had problems getting it to play some standard MP3s we dropped onto the card with a card reader, and had to connect G+P to our computer to transfer files. Our Mac didn’t play nicely during the sync process—it seems like there are still some bugs to be resolved. Oh, and for videos, you may need to use Windows Media Player 10 to handle transcoding and synchronization, a big no-no for Mac users like us. If you’re willing to go through that process, however, you’ll appreciate the big, detailed screen, which is way more iPhone-sized than 5G iPod-sized.

Some of Guide + Play’s rough edges could benefit from further polishing, but in our view, the good news is that the device generally works very well for its primary purpose, and most of the aforementioned issues could be completely fixed with additional firmware and software tweaks. From form factor to speed and interface, Harman’s done a great job with Guide + Play, and we expect that it will continue to bring this sort of quality design work into future products, as well. Bring on the Guide + Play for iPod fans!

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Jeremy Horwitz

Jeremy Horwitz was the Editor-in-Chief at iLounge. He has written over 5,000 articles and reviews for the website and is one of the most respected members of the Apple media. Horwitz has been following Apple since the release of the original iPod in 2001. He was one of the first reviewers to receive a pre-release unit of the device, and his review helped put iLounge on the map as a go-to source for Apple news.