NAVIGON isn’t yet a household name when it comes to auto GPS devices here in North America, but it is gaining quite a bit of buzz recently with promises of free lifetime traffic in some of their devices. We’ve recently become friendly with a NAVIGON 7100 across about 500 miles of roadways, and here is what we found while letting the 7100 find our way.
In the Box
Out of the box, the NAVIGON 7100 greets you with a plethora of included accessories. The usual suspects are all there– quick setup poster, USB cable, software installation CD, and the GPS device itself. A nice bonus is the inclusion of an AC power cable, something many manufacturers leave out. Missing from my box was the suction cup mount as those were not quite yet available in my pre-production device.
NAVIGON, The Company
NAVIGON is a relative newcomer to the USA market, although they’ve been around in Europe for longer. They promise map updates once per year.
Getting to the heart of the matter, the first thing you will notice about the 7100 is the size. It is noticeably larger than other devices with similar screen sizes. The screen is bordered by a think black plastic trim. Along the top is a slot for the included 2 GB SD card slot. The card is so far recessed into the device that it is impossible to eject without either long fingernails (which I don’t have) or some other sort of poking device. Perhaps that could be taken for a good thing as the card won’t easily fall out accidentally, but if you frequently remove the SD card and don’t have long strong fingernails you could be in for a struggle.
On the right side is the power button, on the back an external antenna port, the mounting bracket, speaker, and stylus. I’m always a little afraid when I see a stylus– If the buttons are so small that I need a stylus or if the screen is so insensitive that I need a stylus then I’ll be disappointed. GPS devices should be capable of being operated with a finger. And a preview of a few issues to come… I needed the stylus.
On the bottom is a reset switch, something I thankfully never needed to use. There is also a port for the TMC traffic receiver, as well as the mini USB port to feed power to the GPS. As I’ve said many times in other product reviews, having frequently used ports on the bottom really limits how low you can place the GPS on the dash. There is also a light at the bottom of the display which turns green when connected to power and the battery is fully charged and is orange when power is connected and the battery is charging.
The 4.3 inch widescreen display wasn’t the brightest screen we’ve seen, and it did suffer from fairly high color shifts when viewed from high and wide angles, but overall it wasn’t a bad display. It was bright enough for viewing during bright sunlit days and the nigh mode reduced everything down to soothing levels after sunset.
However one of the biggest disappointments with the NAVIGON 7100 is the touch screen. It wasn’t that it was too sensitive, or not sensitive enough, but rather such a large percentage of our clicks were not accepted. Normally I’d say that the screen wasn’t sensitive enough, however there were countless times when we clicked a button, the button would graphically change to show the click…. yet nothing happened. It would routinely take two, and often three clicks of the button (all which were seen as a click with the button graphic depressing) before the action was actually performed. This became very frustrating and (yikes!) caused me to pull the stylus out of the back of the device for tapping. The stylus didn’t seem to help a huge amount.
Update from NAVIGON officials: “… the touch sensitivity issues you encountered were improved from the time the pre-production units were sent out and the final production units were shipped.” We will try to check that out soon.
As mentioned, the NAVIGON 7100 comes with a TMC traffic receiver, something we’ll talk about a little more later. There is an integrated receiver built into the device, however should you need better reception there is also an external TMC antennal that can be plugged into the device. During my tests I always needed the external antenna and never got a signal without it.
Battery life is described as 4.5 hours. While I was using it with the screen brightness turned all of the way up and heaving usage I was able to get about 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Navigating to an Address
One of the two most common ways people will use their GPS is to take them to a known street address. You do this by selecting ‘New Destination -> ‘Enter an Address’ from the main menu. From there you can select if you wish to enter the address by ‘Street -> House number -> City’ or by ‘City -> Street-> House number’. While we appreciate having both ways to lookup an address, it would be nice if we could set a preference and then switch if necessary. Selecting City first will bring up a screen where a list of potential matches are shown on the left and a keyboard (non QWERTY) is on the right. The search defaults to looking up cities in your current state. You can switch the state by clicking on a very tiny icon with your current state’s abbreviation. The icon is very tiny, measuring just 3/8 of an inch wide and 1/8 of an inch tall. Small buttons are a problem throughout the interface, compounded by the problem mentioned earlier with many clicks not being recognized.
Often, rather than spending too many attempted keystrokes naming towns, I would enter a zip-code instead. Here I found some peculiar results. I entered in the zip-code of my hometown, and then a street I used to live on. It found the zip-code and street just fine, however the name of the town displayed was a town I’ve never heard of. It found the correct location which I guess is the important part, but displaying a town name I’ve never heard of did leave me scratching my head.
In all it took 19 clicks to enter and set my destination address, not counting all of the times I’d need to click several times before a click was recognized. This is actually quite good– a Nuvi takes about 22 keystrokes to find the same address and the TomTom devices take about 24. However since the interface is a little slower and having to re-tap a few buttons makes the total time of address entry longer and the frustration level higher.
Navigating to a POI
You can search for POIs ‘Nearby’, ‘in a City’, or ‘Nationwide'; the latter being what they call “POI of National Significance”. The POI listings include special categories for Zagat hotels, nightlife, golf, and restaurants. There are also regular categories for non-Zagat listings. Those categories are Gas Station, Parking, Restaurant, Hotel or Motel, Bank, ATM, Railway Station, Car Dealer, Motorcycle Dealer, Car Rental, Shopping Center, Tourist/Nature, Culture, Sports, School & Education, Government Office, Health Care, Exhibition, Post Office, Places of Worship, Marina, Business Facility, Public Phone, Public Toilet, and Border Crossing. Ordinarily I wouldn’t list them all out in a review, but there is an interesting point to make. The order I listed them in is the order they appear in. I presume they are listed in the order of how commonly they might be used, however for a scrolling list sorting them alphabetically might have made more sense. While in a state capital I tried to use the Public Toilet and Public Phone categories, but they both resulted in ‘No POIs nearby found!’ messages.
The Zagat ratings might be really nice to have for travelers, but the database appears to be very small. Again while in a state capitol I selected Zagat Restaurant -> Restaurant All and it told me there were No POIs nearby found. I also was told there were no nearby Zagat Hotel -> Hotel All listings nearby while in the state capitol. I had the same experience with Zagat Nightlife and Zagat Attraction categories. I was beginning to think I was doing something wrong, after all there must be some sort of Zagat rated business near a state capital. I did manage to find two Zagat rated Golf courses though. When looking at the information for that POI there was a one sentence review in addition to the commonly found POI information such as the phone number and physical address.
POIs can also be configured to be shown on the primary navigation display (more on this coming up) much like the TomTom devices and what Garmin users have been screaming about for many years.
While actually navigating is where the NAVIGON 7100 finally shines. Thankfully since after all this is the most important part of a navigation device. The on-screen graphics are quite sharp and create a beautiful display. The path of roads to take is clearly shown on the display by a bright, thick orange road. Most side streets are labeled with clear text. The text to speech voice instructions are loud enough through the built in speaker. The voice has an interesting, almost Jersey accent and are not quite as clear as other voices I’ve heard, but are audible enough for it not to be an issue.
I also really liked how the main navigation screen was very configurable. You can select if you want shown street names, altitude, speed, compass, remaining distance, duration of the trip, arrival time, border crossing info, speed limits, and coordinates. I ended up turning off most all of those items except street names, remaining distance, and arrival time so as to not further clutter the display.
You might want to turn off many of those items too since the map does get easily cluttered. Across the top is a next turn display as well as Bluetooth, battery, traffic reception, and satellite reception icons. At the bottom are buttons for cancel, options, phone connection, speaker, and search. With that many buttons across the top and bottom of the screen it doesn’t leave a ton of room for other stats, and the buttons tend to be quite small.
Something I was really looking forward to was the “Reality View”. This view appears as you approach exits of major highways. NAVIGON describes it like this:
Reality View(TM) provides photo-realistic 3D images of complex interchanges — with actual road sign text — so you get the extra guidance you need when you need it most.
Unfortunately, what you see is really what you get. While it does show how many lanes go in which direction… which is helpful, nearly all of the images look the same, with the only difference I saw was if the exit was on the left or on the right, the number of lanes, and the text of the signs overhead changing. That would have been okay…. I didn’t expect customized photos for each intersection, however what was the biggest disappointment was that the image is static. The moving map stops when Reality View is displayed and you no longer see your progress towards the exit. So it is difficult to tell exactly when you need to turn since you can’t see an icon representing your location against the intersection. I ended up turning off the feature as the signpost text is still displayed without the reality view, the map zooms in on the intersection, and you can better monitor your progress against the intersection.
In some areas it might be much more helpful to know “which lane” over any other type of information, but I found myself looking at the display, noticing I needed to exit right, but wondering if it was the right that I was just about to pass or the one just a little further down the road.
The NAVIGON 7100 includes a large host of advanced routing functions found in total on few other navigation devices. There is a detour function, and unlike quite a few other navigation systems (like the Nuvi series) it does allow you to specify how far out you want to detour from your current route.
You can also get a turn by turn listing of all maneuvers in your route, and exclude any one of those locations from being in the route. Both of these are fantastic features to have, and hard to come by.
You can calculate routes with rules as they apply to cars, bicycles, or pedestrians. For route types you can select the fastest, optimum, shortest, or scenic routes. You can tell it if you want to consider current traffic information, as well as if you want to allow, avoid, or forbid any of highways, toll roads, or ferries. You can also specify if you want U-turns to be allowed in your route.
Those options should be sufficient for just about any type of route preference.
Multi destination routing is supported through what they call ‘Route Planning’. So how many points can you put into a single route? The sky (or processing power of the device) is the limit. There is no hard cap on how many points you can add, however as you add more points to a route the computation time will slow down. I put in about 40 points before I gave up and asked what the limit was, and while route calculation with 40 points did take quite a bit of time, that was to be expected. Most other manufacturers who offer multi destination routing put a cap at around 50 points, and any more than that is likely to cause enough performance issues that you would want to break it up into multiple routes.
You can also save those routes for later recall.
Recently there have been a couple of devices to hit the market with voice recognition. What most people want with voice recognition is a way to operate the device without touching it. So far most every device hasn’t reached that goal, and simply offers a way to setup “favorites” with voice recognition cues. This too is the case with the NAVIGON 7100.
After saving a location as a favorite, you can setup a voice recording to go along with it. For example you can save your home address, then record yourself saying “Take me Home!”. Then from the main menu you can tap ‘Voice Command’ -> speak “take me home” -> wait 10 seconds to acknowledge it picked the correct location, and then tap ‘Start Navigation’.
So what you could have done with five taps, now can take one tap, speaking a phrase, waiting 10 seconds, and one more tap. I’m not really sure it saves any time or is any safety advantage since you still need a couple taps of the screen. We’ll see how well full address entry works when the TomTom 920 is released, but until then voice recognition on the NAVIGON 7100 works on par with other manufacturers, but at this point I’m not totally convinced the implementation has any time savings or safety benefits.
I’ve been waiting for this feature on GPS devices for a long time. Except for runs to the grocery store, I use a GPS just about every time I get in the car. Some of the time for business, and some of the time for fun. I do my best to keep the IRS happy with detailed logs of business trips recording where I went, how many miles it was, and what date it was. I’ve always looked at GPS devices and tried speaking to their circuit boards saying “You know where I’ve been, when I was there, and how far I went, how difficult for you could it possibly be to just remember that for me and create a business mileage log for me!”
The NAVIGON 7100 finally met my wish. It even stores the data in an Excel spreadsheet on the device, just waiting to be imported into my finance program! You can record different types of trips such as To Work, Away from Work, Business, Personal, and a few others. Even better, the logbook records even when you don’t have a destination specified.
If I wasn’t in the GPS business which requires me to constantly use different devices, the NAVIGON 7100 would be a dream for helping to record mileage.
Perhaps the biggest story about the NAVIGON 7100 is the traffic service. NAVIGON got a ton of things right when it comes to traffic. First, there is a traffic receiver built into the device. If you happen to get a really strong traffic signal where you drive you may find it isn’t necessary to use the provided external antenna. However in most cases you will probably want to use it. In my testing I couldn’t get a signal in many areas where the coverage maps showed I could get a signal until I used the external antenna.
Another great thing about the traffic service is that unlike a few other devices you can get a list of traffic events, even those that don’t pertain to your route, listed out in a very logical fashion. You can see the type of traffic information, the roadway, and direction. Clicking on the line gives a more detailed description about that traffic event, as well as a button where you can go to that location on the map.
But the greatest point of all about the traffic service on the NAVIGON 7100 is the price. It’s free. No, not just a three month trial subscription. No, not even a 12 or 15 month included traffic reception. The service is totally free…. lifetime. While the “cost” is likely built into the device, the fact that you don’t need to pay $60 per year for the service is absolutely fantastic. This is what has caused this device to get so much buzz in the industry so we asked Ralf Hug, Vice President of Marketing for NAVIGON how they are able to offer this when other companies are charging for the service.
“It’s all about knowing what customers value and figuring out a way to satisfy their needs. NAVIGON’s consumer research indicates that traffic is a very important feature and service. The research shows consumers are not happy with the way traffic is offered today; there is an unfulfilled need out there. Existing subscription processes are complicated and expensive and therefore adoption of the service is very low. NAVIGON developed a unique business model that overcomes these limitations and offers what consumers want out of the box: traffic service over the life of the product without the hassle of subscriptions.”
I mentioned to someone in an email recently that this would be one of the more difficult reviews I’ve written. A short side story… While I’m not a mobile phone expert, I’m a former Treo owner. I purchased the Treo thinking I’d use it to get access to email and the web while traveling. It would send and receive email just find. The web browser was able to display web pages in a satisfactory way. But while it would accomplish the task, all of those tasks were cumbersome, slow, and ugly. Thus I never used my Treo to its capabilities and ended up getting rid of the associated data plan. Recently I got an iPhone. Email and browsing the web is easy and accessible. While both devices accomplished the same tasks, the Treo was so difficult to use I ended up not using it. The iPhone is simply a joy to use.
Back to the NAVIGON 7100, it has a fantastic set of features that are nearly impossible for other devices on the market today to match. There is a great looking navigation display, albeit with a few too many small icons. Multi destination routing is supported, along with the ability to save routes. Routing is quick enough, and the text to speech voice is good enough to be understood. The traffic service is great, and the price of the traffic service (free) is unmatched so far in North America.
But overall in the interface the buttons tend to be too small, touch screen inputs are seen, but often ignored, and much of the text on the screen is very small– even for someone with near perfect vision. There were other small interface quirks as well, like when you save a POI as a favorite there is no default name… you need to type it all out.
If you can get past the often frustrating interface and small buttons, you will find that the NAVIGON 7100 has a feature set that is nearly impossible for other manufacturers to match. But a good deal of patience with the interface is required.