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Review - Haicom HI303MMF
Posté le 04 juillet 2003 à 00:01:16 par gpspassion.

Haicom HI303MMF, HI303S, BT401, 303III, 305III, 305N

Updated 08/19/05:
The HI303 now comes in a HI303III SiRFstarIII version for the best all-round GPS experience so far. There is also a 305III model that adds an SD slot (News Item). In the US, they are available from Semsons for $108* and $98*, respectively. The 305N uses the NemeriX chipset.

Updated 07/09/04:
The HI303 now comes in a HI303S "high sensitivity" Xtrac v2 version for those who find themseleves in difficult GPS environments. In Europe it is available via the GpsPasSion Club for 149 euros alone or 245 euros with the Bluetooth module. In the US, is is available from Semsons for $135* and buyGPSnow for $150 and both have bundles.

Updated 01/05/04:
There is now an optional module that turns the HI303MMF into a Bluetooth GPS, see the shoot-out. The HI303MMF is available through the Club GpsPasSion for 139 euros alone, 235 euros with the Bluetooth module (also available alone for 99 euros).

This GPS receiver was announced by Haicom at the beginning of March 2003 - news. It stands out as a "convergence" GPS, if I may employ this term that’s been used rather ofter lately for all kinds of devices. In any case, it does seem to fit the HI303MMF (MMF for Multi-Mode Foldable) that can be used as a "mouse" GPS (PDA, USB or Serial) or a CF (Compact Flash) GPS, with other "modules" probably in the works…

"Modular" Concept
I must admit that the first time I laid my eyes on the HI303MMF, I wasn’t entirely convinced by this "modular" concept. Not because it seemed like a bad idea in itself, but rather because it didn’t seem to justify an increased volume and weight compared with a « classic » CF GPS. The option to fold the upper part containing the antenna didn’t appear like something necessary for improved reception compared with the already excellent reception of the other SiRF IIe/LP CF GPS receivers (something I would later verify) and the absence of a magnetic base preventing the user to place it on the roof of a car equipped with a refletive or heated windshield. It took me several weeks of use in a “non-test” mode to really appreciate the flexibility and comfort offered by the HI303.

Comfort of Use
Using it with my Dell Axim, I switched between the "CF" mode for short trips and the "mouse" mode for longer trips or when the battery on my Axim was low. That’s when I really started realizing that the foldable antenna that lets you give a "smarter" look to the Holder/PocketPC/GPS combo was a not a minor aspect. It seems a bit "simple" but if you can compare with a "classic" CF GPS setup, you’ll probably agree that it looks a bit more "DIY", not that there’s anything wrong with that ;-). The cover made of durable black material allows you to secure the HI303 on your belt with a velcro strap and to use the HI303 in "mouse" mode without having to remove it, which is quite convenient.

So there you have it, a "comfort of use" section might seem at odds with a GPS receiver review but it’s sometimes good not to miss out on the simple things in life ;-) Simple things that can make a difference when performance is equivalent and in this case set the HI303 apart from the competition.

GPS Specifications
Like the Bluetooth GPS reveivers described here, the HI303MMF uses the SiRF IIe/LP chipset and can therefore be configured quite extensively when used in "advanced" mode. This means that you can change the bitrate (4,800bps by default), switch to SiRF mode (NMEA by default), activate SBAS (WAAS/EGNOS), use the Trickle mode (power saving), to name only the more common ones. This is not required for “normal” usage with a road navigation program, but it does offer a potential for “growth” that should be factored in.

My test model came with firmware 2.2, while models currently being sold come with the more recent 2.3 firmware. It offers a few more “advanced” features as mentioned in the Bluetooth GPS comparison article. Also mentioned there is the current absence of firmware upgrades for any SiRF basd GPS receivers (except the GPSmart).

As mentioned in the previous paragraphs, the HI303MMF can be used in « mouse » mode mode for a wired solution with no power constraint, or in « CF» for a wireless but power constrained use.

"Mouse" Mode
The « mouse » mode makes the HI303 compatible with pretty much any PDA on the market(HP iPAQ, Dell, Toshiba, Palm, Sony, etc…) and the cables provided with this version provide both power to the GPS and the PDA via a car adapter and a data connection between the GPS and the PDA. This is the best solution for long trips (4+ hours with a Dell), but obviously it won’t work outside of a vehicle. Another small negative is the lack of a magnetic base (due to the CF mode) that wont’ let you bypass a reflective or heated windshield. If you happen to have such a windshield, then an external antenna placed on the roof will be in order.

Notes :
(1) The HI303MMF is generally provided with a mini1394 (miniDV Camcorder) / PS2 (mouse/keyboard) cable. The PDA/USB/Serial cable will in turn connect to the PS2 plug.

(2) The mini1394 conection does not allow for data to be sent to the HI303. This means that for an “advanced” usage (SBAS, Protoco, Trickle, etc...), you’ll need to use the HI303 in “CF” mode.

"CF" Mode
In this mode, the HI303MMF requires a free CF port (type 1 or type 2) on a PDA or a CF port via a PCMIA adapter in a laptop (might be a problem with an ultra-slim laptop) or a TabletPC. This is the “wireless” mode of the HI303MMF that lets you use it for a hike or a walk around an unknown town and in a car of course, but if the trip is in longer than 4 hours (with a Dell), you’ll need a power adapter for the PDA, so you might as well use the HI303 in “mouse” mode since. As mentioned previously, the upper part (containing the antenna) of the HI303MMF can be folded (see pictures) allowing it not to stick out as much as other CF GPS receivers, improving the looks and stability of the combo. On the other, folding the antenna didn’t produce any notable improvement in the reception (which was just as good) with the vehicles I tested it in (Citroen Saxo and Xantia), but it might make a difference in a vehicle with a very upright windshield.

The HI303 benefits from the use of the SiRF IIe/LP chipset that currently represents the "state of the art" in consumer GPS receivers, when it comes to sensitivity and speed of position acquisition and reacquisition. Similarly to the Bluetooth GPS comparison that brought out performance levels slightly below that of « mouse » GPS receivers, the « CF » mode is just on par with the « ancient » GM-210 based on the SiRF IIe chipset; except when it comes to accuracy (this is probably due to the better « reactivity » if the IIe/LP chipset). In “mouse” modem, it does significantly better in terms of sensitivity. It’s hard to tell where thses diffences come from. Probably a combination of the power source and RF interference coming from the PDA.

As you’ve probably figured by now, I believe the Haicom HI303MMF is currently the GPS receiver offering the best performance/comfort of use/flexibility ratio on the martket. While it performs as well as the best receivers on the market today (Emtac/Socket Bluetooth GPS, iTrek/Globalsat Mouse) thanks to the use of the SiRF IIe/LP chipset, it really shines thanks to its « modular » concept, a “mouse” mode for use in car with no power constraints and a “CF” mode for wireless use for a hike or a stroll around town with the bonus of a foldable antenna. With a GpsPasSion Club price of $168 in the US and Club GpsPasSion de 149 euros in Europe, it’s hard to beat the price…and since it relies on a “modular” concept, it’s possible that a “module” offering an alternative connectiviy mode is ‘round the corner…

* Includes the GpsPasSion Club discount

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