Navigon continues to impress me. While I don’t think they will break into the number two spot in North America anytime soon, they are becoming a big force in their space. The Navigon 7200t builds on the older NAVIGON 7100, gets rid of a few annoyances we had with that device, and adds a few more goodies. After spending a few hundred miles letting the 7200 T guide us around, here is what we have to report.
Out of the box I was expecting to see something similar to the look of the older 7100, but there were some nice cosmetic upgrades that were a surprise. First is that the entire front of the display is flush, the widescreen is not recessed into the housing as with most devices. The black finish is also less reflective making the screen a tiny bit easier to see.
On the top is the power button, which is so flush with the housing that it can be difficult to find by feel. So until you get used to the small flush button you might have to look at what you are doing. On the bottom is where the microSD card lives which contains the maps and application, as well as the USB/power port and the headphone jack. I’ve always disliked ports on the bottom as it restricts how low on the dash you can mount the GPS. To make matters worse they didn’t use a 90° (elbow) type power connector which could have eliminated the problem. Instead the inflexible part of the USB cable sticks out over an inch further increasing how high the GPS must be mounted over the dash.
The mount itself is quite solid though. The two joints can be used to set the device at just the right angle yet it can be easily adjusted with one hand. The suction cup lock was sturdy and kept a tight grip on the windshield. On the back of the device you will find the speaker as well as an external antenna port for the GPS chip– something you won’t need unless you have an athermic windshield.
Speaker, Voice, Battery
The speaker seems just loud enough to be used at highway speeds with the radio on, however I would like to see a speed linked volume setting. My preferred setting at highway speeds wasn’t the same as it was on city streets. The voice was clear, although the text-to-speech voice (speaks street names) does seem to have a tiny bit of an NYC accent which caused a few laughs. I was able to get about 2:40 out of the battery.
I don’t typically mention the operating system, however I’ll note that the Navigon devices are built on Windows CE. Unfortunately when I first turned on the device I was greeted by a Fatal Application Error. Not a very warm welcome. It crashed one other time across a few hundred miles of navigation.
Using the typical keyboard entry system for address entry, we found a few things that were a definite improvement over earlier Navigon models, and a few things that tripped us up. First is that despite using the same NAVTEQ mapping database as other popular GPS brands, the Navigon seemed to have trouble with many locations that were certainly in the database. For example I went to enter in a destination on ‘W Olympic Blvd’ in Los Angeles. After entering California as the state and LA as the city, I had a difficult time getting the street. I tried “W O” but at that point the predictive keyboard wouldn’t let me enter the “l”. I then backed up and typed “West O” but at that point it suggested I was looking for the POI “Best Western of Long Beach”. Finally entering just “Olympic” the device suggested E Olympic Blvd in LA, W Olympic Blvd in LA, or Olympic Blvd in Santa Monica. So I was able to find my destination after a bit of trouble. I also found it confusing that POIs would appear in the search results after I had selected the option for address entry and not POI entry.
I’m happy to report though that two of my biggest grips from the older Navigon models have been fixed in the Navigon 7200t. First, they on screen keyboard keys are large enough that you don’t need a microscope to find them. Second, the responsiveness of the touch screen is dramatically improved with almost no taps that went unnoticed. Those two factors made the older models quite frustrating, but these newer Navigon models are less likely to cause anger and frustration.
My only issue with address entry now is a lack of a QWERTY keyboard option.
Additionally, the Navigon 7200t comes with voice entry of addresses. Most of the time it did a great job at recognizing what I was saying, and it even worked with the car radio on at a soft level. Corrections are fairly easily made, although if your destination is in a different state than your previous destination you often need to tap out the new state name.
Personally, even on GPS devices where voice entry works perfectly well I find little value in the feature. Certainly not everyone will agree with me. I’ll use the feature to test it out, but I can type out the addresses faster with my finger. I also find it very distracting to conduct voice entry while driving, so I don’t utilize it for that purpose either. I’ll always pull over to enter a new destination.
We did come across a couple of snags with it, there were a couple of times that no mater how we tried to pronounce a city name it just wouldn’t match on that name, nor even list it as one of the four similar sounding possibilities. While I could enter the address just fine through the keyboard method, I almost wonder if there is a mismatch between city names and zip codes in the database. The town name I was trying to speak shares a zip code with another nearby town. Using the keyboard method I could find the correct address using either town name (which it shouldn’t) but I could only use one of the town names (the incorrect one) to find that street.
Certainly weird, but it didn’t happen the majority of the time I used the voice entry system it worked well. It also handles incorrect guesses well (minus the exception in the previous paragraph). It will walk you through the correction process identifying which part it got wrong and offering suggestions to pick from.
If you don’t say anything when the GPS is expecting a response, or if it just doesn’t have a clue what you are saying it will ask “Pardon me?” in a pretty funny tone.
Points of Interest
There are three options for picking POIs, nearby, in a city, or statewide. I was headed out to an airport to catch a cross country flight. The airport is only about 20 miles away so I tried the ‘Nearby’ option. Turns out this was a mistake. But what made it difficult to identify the mistake was that I couldn’t find an appropriate category to look in. I could find the normal things like Lodging, Shopping, Bus Stations, and Marinas… but no airports. I fumbled around for quite some time before I realized is that if there are no matches for a particular category based on the location you are searching, those categories will not be displayed. The airport 20 miles away was not considered ‘nearby’ so the airport category didn’t appear.
Going on a tangent for a second, but this brings up an interesting issue about our concept of “nearby”. I consider the airport 20 miles away “nearby” but I wouldn’t consider a gas station 20 miles away “nearby” unless it was the closest station. So it seems our definition of “nearby” can change based on the frequency we expect to find something. However this difficulty to find the POI might cause a few people to think that the airport (or airports in general) don’t exist in the POI database.
In addition to the typical fleet of POIs you also get Zagat information and reviews. Looking up nearby hotels for example will show you the number of rooms, average cost, a review narrative, type of food available at the hotel, etc. As is the case with the other POIs, if a phone number is available for the POI and you have paired up with a compatible Bluetooth phone you can initiate a call to the POI directly from the GPS.
Many POI icons are branded with their logo and will appear on the map as you drive by.
Map clutter has been addressed a little bit over prior models as well, but there are still too many buttons available on the main map for my taste. Don’t get me wrong… having quick access to so many functions is appreciated when you need them, but most of them are rarely used. I’d rather the map utilize a little bit more of the available display. Still, you do get quite a bit of good situational awareness.
On the top are small icons showing if you have a paired mobile phone, battery status, traffic status, and GPS reception status. On the bottom are a row of buttons to exit navigation, access route options, perform phone operations, change the volume, and pan/zoom for the map.
A second row of buttons on the bottom provides a very nice, and very huge next turn icon. Tapping on this button will repeat the last voice prompt. The icon also uses a “thermometer” or almost a vertical progress bar to show you just how close you are to the intersection– really helpful for those people who don’t always accurately judge just how far ahead 500 feet is. (Just don’t stare at the screen for too long.) Also really handy is that when you have two tight maneuvers back to back you will get two arrows… the bottom showing the first turn and the upper showing the second turn.
Near the lower center are two lines with street names. The bottom shows the name of the street you are on, and the higher line shows the name of the next street you will turn to. Finally another field on the right shows the distance to the destination as well as the time to the destination. You can tap this to toggle the field and it will show the ETA and which side of the road the destination is on. The voice will also speak the side of the road your destination is on, however often it wouldn’t give us this verbal heads up until we were actually at the destination. For the information to be useful it needs to be given further ahead on the road, not as you are actually arriving at the spot.
Additionally, speed limit data is also included, and the current speed limit will be shown on roads where the limit is known. In my testing, as with similar devices, this data was available for almost every road, but there were certainly times when we saw the displayed limit didn’t match what was actually on the road. But most of the time it was quite accurate.
There were a few times when entering city intersections where the map view needed to zoom in even more on the intersection as you approach it. With multiple roads in on place, medians, etc there were times when I really needed a view that was more zoomed in than what was presented by default.
Navigon was one of the first with a feature they call Reality View, now a household term. While it took me a little while to warm up to the feature, I now really appreciate just how valuable it is. Knowing which lane you need to be in can be a significant help when traversing complex highway interchanges. I can’t wait until the day this view is available for more complex smaller intersections as well. Don’t be fooled… the Navigon 7200t (and the same goes for any GPS with a similar feature) cannot tell you which lane you are currently in, but rather it shows which group of lanes you are coming from, how many lanes there are ahead, and which lane(s) you need to be in. GPS just isn’t sensitive enough and the maps not accurate enough (yet) to determine which lane you are currently in.
If you happen to be in one of the bigger cities, many buildings and landmarks will now appear in 3D. While mostly an eye candy type feature, it does provide limited navigation cues– turn left after that big, round, blue building on the corner.
The way Navigon implemented traffic on this device is better than just about anybody else in the market. You don’t need to sign up for a subscription, it is activated in the box. The service is “lifetime” so there is no need to renew every year, nor pay for renewals. And even though the traffic service is included, the service is not advertising supported like a few other “free” traffic models.
As a bonus, there is no external traffic receiver either with the antenna built into the GPS. While it didn’t do as good of job connecting to the traffic service in fringe areas as devices that use an external antenna, it still worked reasonably well and the price is right.
The traffic system can be configured for automatic rerouting if a faster route is found, or to prompt you for input.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from users about the Navigon devices is that the routes picked are sometimes less than ideal. So much personal preference goes into picking the best route that it is difficult to weed out route preference biases. People always insist they know the best route and any route picked by someone else is just wrong. Still, while most of the routes picked by the Navigon 7200T were solid, we did come across some odd routes. Consider this example, here is a segment of a long route, as was generated by the 7200t.
Lots of zig-zags there. So I added a single via point to hopefully force a more logical route. Instead I wound up with this route, which was even worse.
Here is the route I was hoping to get:
So common sense applies here and you will want to preview the routes ahead of time, just as you should with any GPS. But it does tend to stray away from picking reasonable routes from time to time.
Routes, Multi Destination Routing
A common way to deal with issues where the route isn’t what you wanted is to utilize multi destination routing. The Navigon 7200T does offer that function, in a couple of ways. First, after creating a route you can tap on the screen, select ‘Interim Destination’, then add an address, POI, or other saved location. This will insert a via point to the route.
A second way is to actually start by using the route planner. For this, go to ‘Options’ from the main menu and select ‘Route Planning’. Here you can specify a starting location, all of your route points, and a final destination. You can save and recall these lists of locations as well. However you cannot optimize the order of those stops as you can with other devices on the market such as the Nuvi 700 series.
Once nice feature is that on the primary map display you will see both the distance and time to the next stop, as well as the distance and time to complete the entire route– a more elegant way than competitive devices handle multiple stops where you can typically see either the stats to the next via point or the stats to the final destination but not often both.
Multi Destination Routing is what I would call a “positive” method of route customization because you are “adding” points to the route you want to force it to go through. The opposite is also possible by excluding certain points, which is something else the Navigon 7200t can do as well.
You can bring up a list of maneuvers, and exclude individual turns from your trip. If you want to avoid a specific road segment you can exclude the maneuver that puts you on that road. Additionally a standard “detour” function is available that allows you to exclude the next “x” miles of the trip.
Want to log all of your mileage for IRS business/tax purposes? The Navigon is one of the few devices out there that allows you that function directly on the GPS. You can set a preference that at the start of each route it will ask you for the purpose of the trip, a name for the trip, and an optional entry for the starting mileage on your vehicle. These stats are logged into an Excel spreadsheet you can later retrieve via USB hookup to your computer. It doesn’t prompt you to “close” the log. Also keep in mind that the format method of the internal drive isn’t Mac compatible so accessing that information from a Mac could be problematic.
The Final Fix
When I started watching Navigon more closely a little over a year ago they looked like they certainly had what it took to make it in the North American market. A year later many players have exited the market, and Navigon remains– even stronger. Last year they seemed to take the spaghetti approach… fill it with every feature in the book and see what sticks. They produced devices that feature for feature outmatched everything else out there, but at the expense of a complicated device that had quite a few quirks in execution.
Fast forward a year and a few of the negative aspects are gone… touch screen issues and incredibly tiny button issues have been addressed. Feature for feature they are still almost impossible to match, and the interface has become more logical and easy to use. The complexity will still turn away a few people, but overall the devices are sliding towards more mainstream appeal. Navigon led the way with Reality View, and is continuing that innovation with free traffic that isn’t bundled with advertisements, no external traffic antenna, reviews in certain POI categories, and voice assisted address entry. Don’t forget too that you can add NAVIGON FreshMaps and get three years of map updates for $79.
If you want a feature packed device at a price the bigger names can’t quite match, and are willing to dig around a little bit to discover some of the more powerful features, the Navigon 7200t provides a bundle of features and is tough to match.