Since those early days the AA has blossomed into a huge organisation with its own school of motoring, breakdown and recovery service, insurance services, telephone savings account, financial services, maps and route planning n paper and in software and more. So with all this motoring experience behind them, with the trust and respect of the British public to bolster them and with decades of practise at mapping specialist routes for motorists, caravaners and zoos transporting giraffes and needing to avoid low bridges, why was I now in Halfords staring at an AA branded Sat Nav kit that I'd never heard of, being told by a rather young sales adviser how it was a pile of junk and was on special offer because Halfords were no longer willing to stock them? Was I to believe the AA had brought a steaming pile of cack to market or was this Halfords at their under-trained best proving that anything requiring more than a single button press was too much hassle to bother with? In a fit of journalistic curiosity (aka nosiness) I decided to investigate and bought one.
For the purpose of this review I'll be concentrating on the software, the reason being that the AA have now replaced the unit I'm reviewing with a newer one. My reasons for covering the hardware at all are simply because you can still find this model in some stores and in a few Halfords stores who have stock remaining. You can also buy the Pocket PC on which this system is based as a stand-alone unit and add your own navigation software to it.
Sold as the AA Navigator Ultimate, the kit is based on a Typhoon MYGUIDE 7000XL Pocket PC with built-in SirfIII GPS receiver. The unit now used by the AA is, we believe, manufactured by Liteon and strips out the Pocket PC interface in favour of becoming a dedicated navigator instead. The AA felt they had to make this change because of the huge number of support calls they were receiving from users who were getting no help from their retailer when they hit snags, something quite likely for people with no understanding of how the Pocket PC works. Like I said earlier, if it takes more than a single button press most non-specialised retailers are clueless.
The 7000xl comes with Windows Mobile 2003SE preinstalled and powered by the Intel Bulverde PXA-270 416 MHz CPU making this a fairly beefy machine. The 3.5" screen operates only 320x240 (QVGA) which isn't up to the standard of the recent batch of 640x480 PDAs but is fine for most uses. It's bright and vivid and easily vreadable in bright sunlight which is of course fairly important.
No punches were pulled when it came to box design and the AA went all out on branding and corporate colours, and why shouldn't they. If you've worked hard on your reputation flaunt it. Inside the box is all the hardware you need to get up and running including guides for the Pocket PC, the navigation software and CDs containing the software needed to install ActiveSync for PC synchronisation.
Also in the box was AA Navigator 2005 which I upgraded to the 2006 version in order to get a better feel for the current software performance. I'll highlight the differences between the two versions on the next page but in terms of reliable and sensible route calculation both versions seemed to do an excellent job
Although the 7000xl charges from your cigarette lighter socket you can also charge from the mains if you prefer using the slightly clumsy charger.
It's unfortunate that the cigarette lighter lead uses a coiled cable as it makes it harder to route out of sight but a bit of strategic stretching often helps. That bulge you can see at the USB connector end is the TMC module into which you plug the wire windscreen antenna used to receive traffic information. The TMC antenna looks ugly as hell on your screen but you can get adaptors to splice into your car's radio aerial which both improves reception and looks a whole lot neater.
A set of cheap but perfectly adequate earphones are also supplied and because this is also a Pocket PC you get the usual PC functions like video and MP3 playback limited only by storage space and processor power.
The 7000xl comes in a surprisingly cool looking grey plastic with a yellow AA Navigator sticker placed strategically at the top. It's a little square and a little thick but bare in mind it has a GPS receiver built in, no flip up antennas or Bluetooth receivers to worry about here.
It's designed primarily for navigation use horizontally although a button can be used to flip the display from horizontal to vertical orientation if you prefer, or if the software you're running prefers. The navigation software can be used horizontally or vertically equally well. Device volume is set using the two buttons on the left (as viewed above) while over to the right is the customary direction pad and program buttons, all of which are back-lit in blue. One of the program buttons is dedicated to firing up your navigation software negating the need for the stylus even when launched from Windows mobile mode.
A removable 1320 mAh battery is good for a claimed 8 hours of PDA use and 5 hours of use with the GPS receiver active. A tiny master power switch is tucked away in the top of the battery compartment and is solely responsible for hosts of retailers being unable to even get the device to switch on and recommending other devices instead, this despite it being clearly shown in the manual and on the CD-based guide. You can't blame the manufacturers for feeling they have to dumb down their hardware when such relatively minor things can cause such major problems in the channel.
Power and data transfer comes courtesy of a regular USB port and Infrared tries to make up for the lack of WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, the latter of which would certainly have been nice. The other side houses the power button, lock switch, screen rotate button and a standard 3.5mm earphone socket. A slot here takes the included maps and software on SD card or, when not navigating, you can replace this with your own SD memory card stocked with videos, music or indeed anything you like. You get a stylus as you'd expect but I found I could operate all the navigation functions with a finger and didn't need to resort to the stylus.
To keep things scratch-free you also get a soft leatherette carrying case. Basic but useful.
A solid looking windscreen suction mounting bracket is supplied along with an adhesive disk for dashboard mounting. The suction pad is quite large which makes it difficult to use on parts of the windscreen with too much curvature.
Mounting the 7000xl in its cradle isn't quite as easy or as elegant as on most discrete SatNav units but it's not rocket science. It seems as though the USB power cable should remain in the protruding part of the cradle so the device can push onto it put it doesn't work so you end up connecting the USB cable first then sitting the device in the cradle.
GPS for navigation
GPS: Sirf III+ internal antenna
Gaming (Improved Key pad feeling)
landscape display for clear map reading
changeable to upright format for PDA function
Built-in speaker - produce a clear voice guidance
3.5” QVGA display
Intel® Bulverde PXA-270, 312/416 MHz CPU
GPS: Sirf III+ internal antenna
Operating system: Windows® Mobile 2003 SE, Pro Version
64 MB ROM /64 MB RAM memory
Battery: 8 hours (PDA), 5 hours (GPS-on) removable
121 x 71.5 x 17~22 mm in dimension
Input / Button: Front - Home (quick start menu), GPS, soft key I, soft key II**, Navigation (5 way), Side: power, display switch/ rotating, volume x 2
SD slot with memory card up to 2GB (I/O capable)
USB v1.1 (Mini USB), IrDA
Package: USB Active Sync cable, AC power adaptor, Stylus pen, Installation / Application CD-ROM, include user manual, Quick Guide Car Kit (car charger/car holder), Stereo Headset
Intel® Pentium® III or above
Operating System: Windows® 98SE / ME / 2000 / XP or later
USB v1.1 port (mini-USB) or USB 2.0 mini USB port / Card Reader for data transfer
Must have Microsoft ActiveSync installed and connected if transferring data
Available hard drive space: 24MB minimum