Destinator3 Personal Navigation System
by PowerLOC Technologies

Review by Crile Carvey


Well conceived and executed, Destinator3 appears to be the "one to beat" for PDA navigation software. PowerLOC has leveraged its industrial-strength GPS engineering staff to come up with a marvelously useful interface for your GPS-enabled PDA. The screens are intuitive, and designed appropriately for a small form factor. The software performs as advertised and, though not cheap, is a good value.

Hardware Compatibility

This software is NMEA compliant, and should handle just about any modern GPS receiver that is thrown at it. For the purposes of this review, we tested with a Rayming Bluetooth TN-206 receiver. The software is available only for the PocketPC operating system. It runs on a large range of PDA's including those made by HP, Toshiba, Dell, and Viewsonic, and many others. There is no Palm OS product available at this time.

In order to use the software, you'll need a GPS receiver connected in any number of ways - through an expansion pack, a memory card slot, or wirelessly via Bluetooth. Destinator does not offer a bundled receiver on its web site, although they mention one in the user manual. But it should work with any modern GPS receiver.

Test Configuration

  • HP iPAQ 5550 with built-in Bluetooth
  • Rayming TN-220 Bluetooth
  • Destinator3 for PocketPC
  • Pocket PC 2003 operating system


Installation is as straightforward as it gets for PocketPC software. Though not as easy as installing desktop software, the process is fairly well automated. If you have gone through the PocketPC ActiveSync shuffle with other PDA programs, you will be comfortable with the routine.

The software comes on 2 CD's. Disk one has an autorun setup program, which nicely walks you through the process. The second CD is a data CD, required for running the Desktop Console and downloading maps to your PDA. Data sets are available for a wide range of areas. We tested the map set for the U.S. and Canada.

There is a minor licensing hassle that springs up during the install. PowerLOC insists on an "Activation Key" which must be obtained from a special web site and entered into a dialog box that interrupts your first launch of the program. In return, you get the advantage of a friendly user registration without mailing in any postcards.

Desktop "Console" / PDA "Navigator"

Destinator has a desktop module and a PDA module. The desktop module must be installed on the desktop computer that you use to synchronize with your handheld. This is in large part due to the way the maps can be sliced and diced before downloading to your PDA (more on that later).

Loading Maps

Destinator for North America comes on 2 CD's. That's a lot of data - of course far too much to copy to the limited storage space on a typical PDA, even with added storage cards. In order to get the maps you need from the CD's to the PDA, you'll use a great application called "Destinator Console America".

The Console application presents a North American map, broken into regions. The map sections appear awkwardly suspended in space above a US map, but it is easy enough to choose a region with a mouse click. You can also pick from a menu, which conveniently indicates the required space in megabytes.

Once you pick a region, you can choose to copy that region to your PDA, and select where to store the data on the PDA (main memory or storage card).

The smallest data region, Hawaii, is 3.2 MB. Most are over 200 MB, making a dedicated storage card for your maps a good idea. You will not be able to fly off on a cross-country tour without access to a desktop computer from which you can load local maps.

Slicing and Dicing

  In order to reduce the data sets to manageable sizes, the Destinator Console makes it easy to put together your own regional maps. They call this process "cutting" a map. Using a visual editor, you can find places by name, select predefined areas, or drag a rectangle on the pap to "crop" a section.

An "estimation" function tells you how much memory your custom map section requires. When you are satisfied, clicking on the "cut" button starts a quick data extraction process that produces a custom data set on your desktop's file system.

Back at the map loader, you can select any of your custom datasets, which are easy to get to in a list called "my maps". The list clearly displays the current memory configuration, the size of your selected maps, and the remaining memory.

Bluetooth Complexities

Perhaps because Bluetooth is fairly new, the interaction between the Bluetooth receiver, the PocketPC 2003 "Bluetooth Manager" program and Destinator is not without problems. On the plus side, they seem to be logical ones, not technical ones. The software did not crash or lock up on us, but the Microsoft engineers could have done better "use case" analysis.

Here's what is probably a common scenario that we tested out: turn the Bluetooth device off while Destinator is running, or move out of the small (15 foot?) Bluetooth range. Simple enough, huh? You'd expect that when you turned it back on, everything would straighten itself out after a few minutes. Wrong. Destinator not only loses the satellites, but when you click on the "find GPS" button, it comes back "GPS not found".

On further investigation, the problem is that PocketPC automatically disconnects from the Bluetooth device when it can't find it, and does not automatically reconnect when it gets back in range. You have to go the Bluetooth Manager, find the device, and click on the "connect" menu choice. Happily, when you go back to Destinator, it automatically rediscovers the GPS receiver and you are back in business.

Zooming and Clicking

Moving around in the map is important when you are working within the constrained display space of a PDA. Destinator has all the facilities needed, including panning and zooming. The zoom uses a slider bar that fills the right side of the display. It works okay. Panning is accomplished with one of those little "hand" icons that you use to grab and drag the map.

We would have liked the zoom feature to work like most other mapping software, but it works fine when you get used to it. Most PC-based mapping software has adopted the convention whereby you can "click and drag" a rectangle around the area you want to zoom. We're not sure how to implement this on a PDA , but we sure wish this intuitive method was supported.

Road Test!

How better to see if this stuff really works than to plop yourself down in a strange airport, turn it on, and see if you can find your hotel in another city 50 miles away? That's what we tried, and for the most part, were successful.

When we got into our rental car, we flipped on the Bluetooth receiver, tossed it up on the dash, opened up our PocketPC, connected to the GPS device, fired up Destinator, and we were in business. Within a few minutes, we had our current location displayed on the screen. We entered our destination address, asked for a route, and we got directions right from the parking space! Quite impressive.

But don't ignore the warning - instead of taking the beautiful road along the beach, we were sent on an inland road 1/2 mile from the shore. The next thing they need to add to these things is a sense of aesthetic appreciation!

Voice Support

  This reviewer is not a big fan of voice-assisted navigation, though we have heard good things from folks willing to use headsets in quiet cars. PocketPC PDA's seem an especially poor choice for such applications, because of excessive battery drain and the tiny tinny built-in sound transducers.

But Destinator will talk to you like the best. There are several "alerts" that you can choose to receive audibly. We did not test this feature. Let's hope their voice features are better implemented than their spelling of "carefully".

Bundled or Bought?

When computer hardware companies market specialized devices, it is pretty much de rigour that they bundle software in the package. Purchasers expect that the device will do something for them "out of the box". Unfortunately, none of the PDA operating systems include even rudimentary GPS software.

As a consequence, hardware manufacturers include some software with their products. Due to cost constraints, this is not always the best stuff. Without naming names, suffice it to say that most folks will want to spend real money and buy the software separately from the GPS device.


  When you click on the screen you get a pop-up menu, with only one of the four options having a clear name. "Set as origin" is easy enough to figure out - but what does "Favorites..." mean? Is it for adding a favorite, picking a favorite, or what? And what the heck is it you are marking as "favorite", anyhow? Turns out it is for adding the currently selected point as a favorite. "Recalculate", however, has nothing to do with the currently selected point at all.

In the "this has got to be a bug" department, sometimes clicking on the map does nothing at all. We still haven't figured that one out. Sometimes all you get when you click is a red circle and no menu. Changing the zoom level a few times seems to clear this up. Or it may have been the chickens we sacrificed :). Who knows?

Pocket Outlook integration

One promising feature that did not work for us is PocketPC Outlook address book integration Theoretically, you can navigate to a Contact in your Pocket Outlook Contact list simply by choosing their name from a list. In practice, we got an error for every one we tried. The error message said that the address "does not match the current map", but we found that nothing we tried would work, even an address right next door.

Maybe your luck will be better. Remember the chicken!