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Not in the right direction

There are two schools of tech thought — one that insists that there be special devices for specific tasks (what we call “a-phone-is-a-phone-is-a-phone” brigade), and another that insists that a really good device would be able to do a number of tasks (the convergence pundits). Well, MapmyIndia’s latest device, the CarPad 5, would have the latter cheering, as it attempts to bridge the gap between a personal navigation device (PND), smartphone and tablet.

Mind you, it does not quite strike you that way when you first set eyes on it. For the CarPad 5 comes with classic PND looks, it is thick, with a design that borders on the industrial, with a large five-inch display, and is not exactly lightweight. It is when you cast eyes on its sides that you notice the three touch buttons — Home, Menu and Back — that are the hallmark of many Android devices. Yes, the CarPad 5 is powered by Android, unlike most PNDs these days which still hark back to the Windows CE era.

And praise the Lord, the display is a capacitive one, with support for pinch to zoom, although at a resolution of 480x800, it is definitely a tad on the lower side for a device at this price level (it costs Rs 19,990). The version of Android (2.3) too is a bit of a let-down, considering that 4.0 is getting to be a rule in the market these days, but then hey, this device is not really about Android.

What it IS about is navigation. For, the CarPad 5 is really a navigator that can sometimes morph into a phone or a tablet. Its design makes it too big to fit into a pocket but it is right at home on most car dashboards. Running on it are MapmyIndia’s Aura maps, which come with detailed information, ranging from street names and house addresses to even traffic information. And they respond beautifully to the touch — we were actually able to zoom in and out by pinching our fingers on the screen. Some areas have also been displayed in 3D splendour, although this feature tends to work best only in the case of well-known landmarks — the India Gate looks different, but one row of apartments pretty much looks like another. Voice navigation is a trifle accented but for the most part works fine.

And then of course, there is the Android angle, which lets you connect to social networks, share your location, browse the Web and check your mail even as you go about finding your way around town, or heck, if you are just taking a break from driving and want to find out what’s happening. The device is not the easiest to use one-handed, but if you have a comfy seat, you can use it as a sort of downsized tablet. It can support a SIM card and has 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Unfortunately, we could not access the notification bar when in navigation mode, which was a bit odd, but still as an Android device, this is not too bad. Voice and video quality are acceptable, but not exceptional.

All of which makes the CarPad 5 a bit of a mixed bag. We loved it as a navigation device but honestly found it a tad too large to be used as a phone, and as a tablet, it is unlikely to set the world on fire with its performance (there are lags, alas), especially when you consider that there are some very good competitors in its price segment. As we see it, the CarPad 5 is a great PND that can also be used as a phone and a tablet, but excels only in the first role — a navigator’s phablet (the term used these days to define a phone-tablet hybrid), if you will.

A good option for those looking for a compact navigation device with the option to mess with apps and the Web, and make the odd call, but not really the device convergence pundits dream of. A classic case of the parts being greater than the sum. 

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