Just as Dash and Magellan announce plans to stop marketing and development of their connected GPS systems, TeleNav makes the jump from the mobile phone software space into the hardware business. The TeleNav Shotgun sports a familiar interface for those familiar with their mobile phone application, but how does the hardware compete with other PND devices? Do the connected features offer the same innovation as what Dash is offering? We’ve spend a few hundred miles of quality time with the Shotgun riding shotgun, and here is what we were able to find.
Right out of the box the TeleNav Shotgun offers an immediate advantage over the Dash Express… The Shotgun is quite similar in size to a typical widescreen Garmin or TomTom device. No big bulky shell, the Shotgun is slim and dramatically more portable. On the top is the power button. The right side sports a slot for a MicroSD card which holds the application and maps. The left side is where you will find the USB port for computer connectivity as well as where the power cable connects. Also on the left is a headphone jack– which is somewhat strange since the Shotgun does not have a music player. You could however attach a patch cable to send the audio to your car stereo. On the back is a reset switch which thankfully I never needed to use.
The screen is decent. Not the best screen I’ve ever seen, but it performed just fine in most lighting conditions. The colors stay true when viewed from wide angles and the contrast shifts only slightly when viewed from high and low angles. It does have a “matte” type finish to it so it doesn’t appear quite as sharp as many other devices, but this didn’t detract from visibility.
The mount is quite sturdy, and uses a ball and socket approach to adjust the viewing angle. So far so good. However other features of the mount were not as appealing. In my vehicle I wasn’t able to get the mount to pivot quite enough so the screen would be vertical. The top of the screen was a little bit closer to me than the bottom. This didn’t impact the clarity of the screen, but if you sit high in the vehicle relative to the GPS, or have a windshield that slopes more than mine it could potentially be annoying. The mount was also a little longer than most mounts seen these days, which caused me to need to mount the GPS higher on my windshield than normal to avoid a rim at the close end of my dash.
This is a small limitation, however I wasn’t able to mount the device in a location that would have complied with California law with the included mount. The power cord was also very short. If I was to mount the GPS in the lower left corner of the windshield per California law recommendations the power cord would not be able to reach the GPS Using a friction (bean bag) mount or adhesive disc would alleviate many of those issues in my car, although neither are included.
Entering a destination on the TeleNav Shotgun is a fairly straightforward process, although a little bit different from other devices. When you enter and address the last city/state combination you searched comes up as a default entry– very convenient and something many other devices surpassingly don’t offer. The city and state are entered into one text field which most of the time will make entry quick; except when you are entering a common town name like “Greenville”. But that isn’t a big deal. There is no “QuickSpell” type feature… the full keyboard stays active. In big cities like LA the keyboard was a little sluggish when entering street names as it searched through the database for matches, however this wasn’t an issue most of the time.
After entering the city/state you enter the house number and street name, again on one line. The determined full address is then shown with options to save the location, view it on a map, or to create a route to that destination.
Of course you can also enter an address from the TeleNav website. Similar to other online mapping services, you can search for an address from the website and view view locations on a map. Then send the address over the air down to your GPS. This is similar to what can be done with the MSN Direct service on many Garmin devices. You can give the address a label, as well as assign it to a particular category.
Very long routes (500+ miles) took a bit longer to calculate than other devices, so beware of that if you are going cross-country.
Something else that is a little different from other devices is how it deals with not having a satellite signal when you first turn the device on. With most GPS devices you can still enter a destination and tell the device to calculate a route even if you don’t have a GPS signal. Once it gets a signal it will automatically create the route and start navigation. The Shotgun is a little different. It won’t accept the address you have entered until it gets a GPS signal. And it doesn’t alert you when the signal has been found. So I found myself constantly going back through the menus trying to create a route not knowing if it had found the GPS signal yet.
Eagle eyed GPS geeks might notice that the map on the TeleNav website uses data from NAVTEQ while the data inside the Shotgun is from Tele Atlas. I thought I might be able to trick the Shotgun by sending it an address that exists in the NAVTEQ database but not in the Tele Atlas database. Alas, the system is smart enough to handle this type of situation. The addresses are likely geocoded on the website, then the name, category, typed out address, and coordinates are sent to the GPS.
Searching for POIs
The device comes with 11 million POIs pre-installed– nearly double that of most other PND devices. Unlike the Dash connected system you can’t do fuzzy product type searches. For example you can’t type “batteries” and have it try to show you matching POIs where you could get batteries. However the POI categories are deep enough that I’m not sure it matters. For example I could search through Complete List -> Business -> Shopping -> Electronics and find what I need. You can search for POIs near your current location, near another location, or along an existing route.
Restaurants were similarly broken down by type. Currently you won’t find any restaurant reviews, however we understand that is a feature that will be added in the future. Movie Theaters are listed, but no live movie times are offered unlike other services. You can find a fairly comprehensive list of wifi locations, and they are listed as either “free” or “pay” locations as well… quite handy.
Being a “connected” device, fuel prices are available through the list of Gas Stations. You select ‘Gas by Price’, pick the grade of fuel you are seeking (including diesel), and a list of stations is displayed sorted by price. While you can search ‘nearby’, the list of stations and prices doesn’t show you how far away that station is, so you could end up driving further than is worth it to save that penny. For example in my most recent search the first three stations had the same price, but they happened to be listed in an order that was furthest to closest to my current location. This isn’t really a big deal either, but it would be nice to get both the price and the distance to the station for the best evaluation.
Various route preferences are available; fastest, shortest, traffic optimized, prefer highways, prefer streets, and pedestrian mode. Multi destination routing is not available, nor can you even insert a single via point in your route. If there is traffic along the route you can selectively exclude a segment of the route, but otherwise few route customizations are available. Thus, it was surprising to find that offset routing is available.
Once you generate a route, if you are not currently on a mapped road such as in a parking lot, a straight line will be drawn to the start of the route.
Navigating a Route
The primary moving map display, the most important part of any GPS, is well designed. A big next turn arrow prominently stands out along side a distance to that turn. Tapping on the next turn arrow will also trigger a verbal repeat of the last voice instruction. The name of the next street you need to turn to is displayed at the top along side quick access to the volume, a battery meter, and a data connection strength signal.
Zoom in and out buttons appear on the right. I did find myself using those zoom buttons from time to time as the device didn’t zoom in quite far enough on intersections as I would have liked. As I entered unfamiliar intersections there were a couple of times when the default zoom just didn’t give me enough detail to understand where I needed to go. The zoom function also appears to “stick”, thus after I went through the intersection and wanted the bigger picture again I needed to zoom out.
Near the lower left are fields that display the ETA, distance to destination, satellite signal strength, as well as the direction you are moving. The map refresh rate is not nearly as fast as most other devices. The screen will update about once per every 1-2 seconds giving it a “stuttering” appearance. This doesn’t really make a big difference to navigation, although I know at least a few people who have returned devices with slower refresh rates in favor of a more fluid moving map.
Like any good GPS, the Shotgun has a night mode. You can force it into one mode or the other– or have it automatically switch. There is some room for improvement in nighttime operations though. The backlight settings are not linked to the day/night modes, so if you have the backlight at 100% during the daytime it will also be 100% at night too. Second, the night mode only applies to the map display– the rest of the interface only has a “day” mode. Finally, the blinking blue light on the front of the device used to indicate a data connection is extremely annoying at night. I found it so distracting while driving that I pulled over and put a piece of electrical tape over the blue blinking light.
Voice Prompts, Speaker, Text to Speech
Unlike many devices, the voice was still easy to understand at full volume. However the speaker isn’t all that powerful to begin with. At highway speeds with the radio on at a soft to medium level it was a little bit difficult to hear. Otherwise pronunciation was about as good as it gets for text-to-speech and the voice was clear– just not quite loud enough. The voice does give good instructions, with plenty of “do this, then get ready to do that” type instructions many GPS devices forget about.
While I’m not a fan of cluttered maps, what was missing from the map was any indicators about traffic on the route. You can access the information but it is sometimes helpful to know how many incidents are along your route and the total delay… even if none.
Being connected, live traffic information comes into the device every five minutes so long as you are in the coverage area. The only time I yelled out loud in disgust at The TeleNav Shotgun was during one of these traffic updates. I had planned a route and started my drive in an area with no data connection. Just as I was approaching a complex highway interchange the Shotgun found the data signal and started downloading traffic data. Proud of its accomplishment it displayed a big banner over the map saying ‘Getting Traffic Optimized Route’! Unfortunately at that moment I really needed to see the map instead of the device congratulating itself for finding data.
Those issues aside, the traffic data was updated frequently and the data was just as complete as those I saw in my other traffic connected devices. After you have created a route there is a new screen you can display traffic on the route. This is displayed better than many other devices, with a list of each road and the estimated speeds– even if there isn’t traffic on that road. The speeds are highlighted with different colors based on the severity of the delay, and you can pull up detailed information about the incidents and traffic flow.
There is a corresponding traffic map as well. The roads change color depending on the traffic. The roads with traffic data also blink, which was somewhat annoying, but did provide hints as to the roads data was found for. Unfortunately, the traffic data isn’t displayed at all zoom levels on this traffic map. I had created a route of about 72 miles and at the default zoom level for that route overview traffic information isn’t displayed. Once you zoom in a little bit then you can start to see the traffic data.
Should you miss a turn, the TeleNav Shotgun provides automatic rerouting like any other GPS. it isn’t as fast as other devices to trigger a new route, but once it started the calculations were fairly quick. At one point I missed a turn and the device started to recalculate the route. As soon as the Shotgun finished recalculating I had just passed the road it wanted me to turn to. I kept driving and this cycle repeated a few times. Other devices seem to assume you will have traveled a certain distance by the time rerouting is completed so as to give you a more reasonable next instruction.
As you are on the last stretch of road before your destination, the voice will tell you how far ahead you your destination is, as well as which side of the road your destination is on. If you forget, the next turn arrow will show a picture of the road, and display a destination flag on the appropriate side of the road.
Being a “1.0″ type device, there were a few features I thought were missing. There is no “reality view” type feature to give lane guidance information. Many exits are just displayed with their exit number rather than the “signpost” style information found on competitive devices. No speed limit data appears on the screen, and there is no “help me” type menu to organize emergency information in one spot. (Although you can clear the route go to an overview map, select ‘cursor details’, and it will show you the closest physical address to your current location.)
The device itself will debut at $299, exclusively from telenav.com. That is a reasonable cost for a device with text-to-speech, a widescreen, and a traffic option. However don’t forget to consider the cost of the connected services. Month to month plans are $11.99/month, 1 Year plans are $10.75/month, and 2 Year plans are $9.96/month. If you purchase the device with two years of service the total cost will come to about $540.
A good comparison might be with the Garmin Nuvi 255w that offers similar hardware and navigation features. The device is about $250 right now. Add the MSN Direct GDB-55 traffic receiver for about $95 which comes with one year of service. Add a second year for $50. The TeleNav Shotgun also comes with map updates so include the cost of one map update at $80. So over the two year period you would spend just $475.
In both cases you would get a device that has a widescreen, is slim, has text-to-speech, the ability to send destinations to the device via the web, live traffic updates, current maps, and updated fuel prices. The most notable Garmin advantages in this scenario are weather reports, movie times, stock quotes, and a design that has years of product development behind it. The TeleNav Shotgun advantage is with double the built-in POIs, automatic updates, and all of the hardware and subscriptions come in one package. That may or may not be worth the extra $65.
The Final Fix
TeleNav is off to a good start with the Shotgun. While I ran across a decent list of things that needed to be touched up, most of those were relatively small issues that can be addressed through software updates. As a bonus those software updates get delivered to the device automatically so you don’t need to fuss with USB connections, computer downloads, and installation programs. If the TeleNav has the features you are looking for (widescreen, text to speech, fuel prices, traffic updates) and you want to purchase it all in a single package it might not be a bad way to go. New features such as restaurant reviews and weather updates are said to be coming, so the feature disparity with other devices will diminish. But for all of the new companies entering the GPS market over the past couple of years, the TeleNav Shotgun is off to the races with a good start.