HP announces a neat GPS unit

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Next month, Hewlett Packard's new iPAQ 310 will hit store shelves. It's the first GPS unit from the nation's largest consumer electronics maker. Like other GPS units, this device is a hand-held computer that can help you plot your location within about 20 feet on a built-in electronic map of the U.S., using a network of satellites. The device can direct you to your destinations, one turn at a time, using automated voices. Pricing hasn't been set yet, but HP says its new iPAQ will cost around $400 to $500.

This added competition among the makers of GPS units is good news for consumers. Prices may drop in time for holiday shopping. Already this year, Garmin and Magellan have cut the prices on their GPS units to between $200 and $600.

One of the most distinctive feature of the iPAQ 310 is that you will be able to use it to download road trip itineraries and other travel recommendations from other iPAQ users. Here's how: You'll tether your iPAQ 310 to your PC or Mac, visit a yet to be announced HP website, and download map information provided by other iPAQ users. At first, this feature will probably appeal to small business owners who have teams of employees on the road and who want their road warriors to share travel information. But eventually leisure travelers will be sure to get into the act, mix and matching their road trip information with each other.

Here's the recent Budget Travel roundup of GPS devices.

And here are a few more details on the new iPAQ 310:

When I played around with a review model, I was impressed by the device's display. Its 4.3-inch size seemed larger than rival high-end models by Garmin and Magellan. Its touchscreen was also easy to use, with a simple glide of the finger allowing me to adjust the on-screen map. Plus, the image resolution was high enough to create a 3-D effect with the maps.

As with higher-end rival models, the iPAQ Travel Companion doubles as a hands-free answering system for your Bluetooth-enabled phone. And like other units, the device can recommend stores and restaurants in your location.

Caveat: All of the high-end GPS units, like the iPAQ 310, provide you location information at a faster speed and increased screen space than the image you can get on many smartphones, phones, and PDAs that have wireless Internet access to online map programs, such as Google maps. However, if you already own GPS software on another device, it is probably not be worth the added cost to you to also buy a GPS unit.

Related: 9 ways travelers can max out their PDA (be it a Blackberry, Palm Treo, iPAQ 300 or other gizmo).

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