The notion of an iPod touch GPS cradle has two big factors working against it from the start. For one, dedicated navigation units are readily available for as little as $100 (or less) and, in general, get the job done quite well. Secondly, more and more cellphones are becoming more and more capable as navigation devices and, again, are relatively inexpensive (phone contracts aside). On the other hand, a lot of people have iPod touches, and most of them really like their iPod touches. So, in that respect, there is a potentially big market for something like Dual Electronics new iPod touch GPS cradle. Will it actually help carve out a new niche in the crowded navigation market? Read on to find out.

Dual Electronics iPod touch GPS cradle review

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Dual Electronics

XGPS300 iPod touch GPS cradle

Pros

  • Performs comparably to a standalone GPS
  • Doubles as extended battery
  • Works with other navigation apps

Cons

  • A bit unsightly on your windshield
  • Has mic, but app doesn't support voice input
  • It costs as much as the iPod touch itself
Summary


Hardware

Dual's GPS cradle (also known as the XGPS300) consists of two main components: the actual GPS / battery cradle, and the windshield mount, which itself doesn't contain any electronics save for the pass-through for the charger and audio. That gives you the added flexibility of also using it outside of your car -- either as a GPS device, or simply as an extended battery for your iPod touch (the battery also naturally powers the GPS unit while in use, for up to ten hours). In both instances, you'll also be able to take advantage of the cradle's built-in speaker, which expectedly doesn't sound terrific, but is at least loud enough to be heard over the radio if you choose to not use your iPod touch for music while driving.

That flexibility does come at the expense of some elegance, however, as the setup isn't exactly the most seamless in-car navigation option once you put all the pieces together (especially if you add in the audio and charger cables). On the other hand, the cradle is reasonably compact on its own, and could conceivably be used with a universal beanbag dash mount if you're looking to keep things a bit more discreet.

One other nice bonus is that the cradle packs a built-in microphone, which will let you use your iPod touch as a speakerphone for Skype, and take advantage of other apps like Shazam that require a mic. It doesn't, however, allow for voice entry of destinations with Dual's navigation app. Speaking of which...

Software

Dual's NavAtlas app is a bit on the basic side, but not really lacking in any significant respect compared to a dedicated GPS device. You get full text-to-speech, turn-by-turn navigation, along maps of both the US and Canada, over two million points-of-interest and -- this being an iPod touch app -- the ability to play music while the app is running (although the interruptions can be a tad jarring). Perhaps the biggest downside to the app is that it's a 2GB download (and actually requires about 5GB of space for the install process). That's hardly an insignificant amount of space to give up, especially on a basic 8GB iPod touch, and it's not the sort of app you'll be installing and uninstalling whenever you need it.

In use, NavAtlas tried to send us down a one-way street and suggested a few inadvisable U-turns, but always got us to our destination and, in general, performed quite well. Somewhat curiously, Dual suggests switching off the WiFi on your iPod touch to speed up the GPS signal acquisition time and, indeed, that did seem to improve things somewhat in our tests. The app also boasts a few other advantages over a standalone navigation device, including support for pinch-to-zoom, and full integration with the contacts on your iPod touch.

Your software options don't end with Dual's own app, however, as the cradle will also let iPod touch users take advantage of most of the GPS-related apps that have previously been restricted to iPhone users -- including other full-fledged navigation apps. Things don't work both ways though, as the free NavAtlas app will only work with the cradle, and you can't currently buy a version that will work on the iPhone.

Wrap-up

So, the device is a viable alternative to other navigation devices (with a few advantages of its own), but there's one significant issue we haven't yet discussed: the price. Originally intended to run $179, the cradle is now selling for a hefty $199.95, which is the same price as the 8GB iPod touch, and more than many standalone navigation units. There's simply no getting around the fact that it's a tough sell and, if we had to recommend a navigation device, we'd suggest a standalone GPS (assuming you don't already have a smartphone with a good navigation option). At a $100 or less, it might well be a different story but, as it stands, this one is for iPod touch die-hards only.

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Dual Electronics iPod touch GPS cradle review