Navman MY500XT: Bouquets and Brickbats

It’s no secret that I found the Navman S200 appallingly irritating. So you can imagine my trepidation when I was accosted by a charming PR person (do they come in other flavours?), bubbling about the new Navman range, now with integrated traffic information for New Zealand. Casting aside my black mood towards GPS units, I grudgingly accepted the offer of a review unit.

Navman MY500XT intro stickerFirst big change: the unit comes with a giant sticker over the screen, advertising the solution to one of the more irritating UI issues: lack of responsiveness. You can see the sticker at right. It informs you that you can either use the slidey-glidey menus, or turn on the more basic “tap-touch”. The ironic thing is that the screen on the MY500XT is massively more responsive than the S200, so the slidey-glidey menus actually work quite well. Bouquets! Having said that, I can see that the tap-touch menus would work better when on the move (not that anyone uses a GPS device when on the move, right?).

Navman have also removed the inane and utterly pointless “don’t click there, click here!” video on startup. It has been replaced by a nice clear tutorial, with a big “never, ever show me this tutorial again” option on the first page. Bouquets!

The map display in general appears to be tidied up. Road names appear clearly and almost all upcoming roads are named. This is important when you’re running in non-routing mode and looking for an upcoming side road. I loved the way TomTom did this, but Garmin do it very, very badly. Navman’s new software is right up there with TomTom. Bouquets!

I’ve yet to have a proper play with the traffic options in anger, but I’ve seen a demo and I’m impressed. All the bits and bobs are there, including options to route around bad traffic or road closures. The traffic data itself is of cours sourced from Geosmart and completely out of Navman’s control, but the display and layout of traffic info is done well. Bouquets!

Now the big, aching brickbat. Whoever designed the mounting bracket and power plug arrangement on this device is an intellectual dwarf of the lowest order. They should be locked in a padded cell covered with Navman mounting brackets and forced to plug and unplug MY500XTs continuously for the rest of their living days.

Navman mounting 1Navman mounting 2Navman mounting 3

Look closely. There is no possible way to plug the Navman in before mounting it on the bracket. None. Am I being picky? How about you sit in your car with the MY500XT on its bracket on the window, where you can’t see the mini-USB socket on its underside, and try plugging it in. Do that every. single. time. you hop in your car. 👿 👿 👿

Navman, please, if you are reading this: open every single MY500XT box you have in your warehouse, remove the power cable, and replace it with one that bends the other way. It’s a simple fix. I’m begging you.

Conclusion: lovely device software. Pity about the lack of attention to detail.

TomTom XL, Garmin 265W, and Navman S200 Review

During the Summer break, I’ve had the dubious pleasure of test driving three quite similar GPS navigation devices. The devices differ in implementation and usability, but they all do the same thing at a high level.

Understand this: a GPS device will never replace local knowledge, and probably not even a good hard look at a map. The overview you get from a map – especially when travelling long distances – helps you to get a general idea of the direction you need to go in. “Turn left in 300 metres” on the other hand doesn’t offer much information about the journey.

I did find the devices useful in a couple of scenarios though:

  • When setting a destination address with a street number, the GPSes were always pretty good about letting me know exactly where on the road the destination was. This is really good for long roads and stops you driving along slowly for ages looking for the correct street number.
  • The TomTom’s map layout was excellent in the way it showed the next few streets on each side of the current road. This way you could see street names several hundred metres before the street signs were visible.
  • The ‘ETA’ feature on all the devices was reasonably accurate. It gives you some idea of how long the trip will be, especially when travelling somewhere new.

tomtom Of the three devices, my pick would be the TomTom XL. It lacks some of the features of the others (more on that later), but if you want to actually have a usable device for your money, the TomTom is the way to go. The Garmin Nuvi 265w is a close second, but I found the cartoon-ey look of the Garmin maps a bit distracting, and the on-screen info on the TomTom was more informative.

I’ve talked about the Navman already, and the less said about it the better.

All the devices can be loaded with speed camera locations, and the TomTom and Navman offer constant road speed warnings. The Navman is over-aggressive however, bleeping the instant you touch the speed limit, which can get super annoying if you’re sitting very close to the limit. The TomTom on the other hand gives you a few seconds’ grace period before bleeping. I would also note that on both units the road speeds are not completely accurate, especially when travelling through small towns, but overall it can do a good job of warning you when you are travelling too fast.

If you like your information tabular, this should do the trick:

TomTom XL Garmin Nuvi 265W Navman S200
Price (NZD) $499 $499 $649
Screen Size 4.3″ 4.3″ 4.3″
Map Coverage NZ only NZ and Australia NZ only
Bluetooth No Yes Yes
FM Transmitter No No Yes
Spoken Street names No Yes Yes
Other TomTom Mapshare Garmin Connect Photos MP3 player and photo viewer
My Rating 4/5 3/5 1/5

Don’t read too much into the feature list above, other than the map coverage if you plan to travel to Australia.

  • The Bluetooth speakerphone on both the Garmin and the Navman was largely pointless. Sure you could pair up with your phone and make a call, but in both cases the recipient of the call could barely hear what I was saying. I think a dedicated car kit would be a better option if you need hands-free calling.
  • The FM transmitter (oh how I hate the things) in the Navman is beyond pointless. With it turned on, you only hear turn and warning information from a tuned-in radio, so the choice becomes turn warnings, or any other form of musical entertainment in your car.
  • Spoken street names are available, but always poorly pronounced and to me were more irritating than useful.

Navman Review: User Interface Hall of Shame

I remember this ancient site because of its description of those infuriating Lotus Notes command buttons. I came across those buttons as an IT guy trying to help my CEO with his new system. The way they operated was irritating, and patently wrong. Not “wrong” in one of those design-guru debates about which highlight colour to use, but properly wrong like a tap that turns the wrong way, or a “Hot” warning sign coloured blue.

Navman S200The Navman S200‘s user interface is wrong in the same way, and it’s wrong all over the place. It has been some time since I have been so immediately and utterly frustrated with an electronic device.

It starts from the first moment you power the device up. The S200, like most modern navigation GPS devices, is touch screen. The screen, you see, is designed to register touches. So what does one do after turning it on and being presented with a map? You touch the screen. Probably somewhere in the middle.

What happens next is enough – if you, like me are a “UI” person – to make you spit out your coffee and burst into laughter. The Navman sits there, and plays you a little popup video, showing that you are meant to touch the left edge of the screen to bring up a utility screen, not the middle of the screen. Silly rabbit! Unfortunately if you’re a regular Joe (plumber or otherwise), I imagine it is more frustrating than amusing. So then you touch the edge of the screen, and a utility window slides out. It has no scrollbar, and the bottom half is missing. At this point if you accidentally touch either edge of the screen, the utility window will slide away to that edge. So maybe you think back to that helpful little video and touch the left edge of the screen again? Bad luck if the utility window has slid to the right edge. And it just gets worse from there.

So I chuckled my way through using this device for several weeks. I tried to make it work. I tried to find the settings that would turn off that stupid video and instead do something useful with the initial “touch” but it is nowhere to be found. Even when you’ve been using the device correctly, located a destination, then you correctly tap on the distance indicator to get your trip details, it still plays the video to berate you for tapping incorrectly away from the edge of the screen.

Navman, if you read one thing, please let it be this: I rarely swear on this blog, but seriously, when you got to the point in testing that you realised you needed a fucking inline video to show people how to touch your touchscreen device, you should have realised that you were doing it wrong.

Navman calls the interface “Glide Touch”. This sounds lovely, but with an unsensitive, shiny, sticky, plastic screen and zero information telling the user when to scroll, Glide is the last thing on my mind. Eventually I discovered that the little blue line physically off the side of the screen was actually not a stylistic addition: it represented a button. Tapping that little blue line brings up a big-button menu. Again, with zero indication that there is more than one page of buttons. If you happen to accidentally slide your finger upwards, you see that the menu can “Glide” upwards, revealing a second page of buttons. Atrocious.

And then there is the reflective screen. It appears as if Navman have hidden the matte LCD behind a purely stylistic reflective screen that is difficult to read (and sometimes downright hazardous) in a moving vehicle.

So in conclusion, the new Navman S-series: counter-intuitive, irritating, badly designed, and just plain stupid. Zero stars out of any amount you care to think of. I wanted to love this device because Navman was originally a New Zealand company, but until they sort out the design and interface, please get a TomTom, or a Garmin, or anything else.

Update: Oh, I almost forgot, the S200 is “top of the range”, so it comes with a flakey FM transmitter and a bluetooth speakerphone that is too quiet for either party to hear the conversation at anything above walking speed.