Most of the time marketing hype surrounding big product launches is just that - hype, and nothing more. I've lost count of the number of times I've awaited a product with great excitement following a breathless PR campaign and the promise of breakthrough features, only to be disappointed when I eventually got my hands on the thing.
It happened with the iPhone rival Samsung F700V recently, and I thought it might happen again with Mio's latest, greatest sat-nav - the C620. You see, one of the headline features is that it does 3D: instead of representing the landscape as a flat map or in pseudo-3D perspective style, it promised to render the landscape realistically, drawing the hills and mountains in realistic profile and dropping graphically rendered landmarks in as you pass.
It sounded interesting, but I couldn't quite see the point. After all, what is a map if it isn't an abstract representation of reality? Maps are designed the way they are to make finding your way from A to B easier, not to replicate the confusing real world we live in.
Thankfully, all scepticism (well, most of it anyway) went out of the window as I started to use the C620 in anger. Yes the 3D landscapes are mostly a gimmick, and don't help much on the flat plains around Greater London, but when you're out in the hills and mountains, it's reassuring in a strange kind of way to see your position plotted on a virtual landscape that resembles the one you're travelling through. As you drive along a valley bottom, the mountains rise on both sides just as they do in the real world; and as you wind your way up a mountainside, the roads below actually look like they're further away rather than right next to you as they would on a flat map.
It's not just landscapes that the C620 renders realistically. Bridges, underpasses, overpasses and the like are also depicted in 3D, and in situations where roads get really complicated - the junction of the M11 with the A406 North Circular road in north east London, for example - this really helps to clarify the map view. And it doesn't affect performance in the way you might think, either. The C620 boasts one of the smoothest screen updates and clearest maps I've seen, despite the 3D work it has to do on top of the normal mapping and routing workload.