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When Navman and Mio merged earlier this year, and it was announced that products under the Mio brand would not be sold any longer in the UK market I was more than a little surprised. Though it never gained mass popularity in the UK in the way firms like TomTom and Garmin have, I've always had a soft spot for Mio products, especially its C620T, which I thought was a cracking sat-nav.
Since the merger it's been pretty quiet, though, with no new Navman/Mio products produced at all in the first half of the year. Now we finally have the first progeny of that relationship - with the Navman S50 3D - a budget sat-nav with regional mapping of Great Britain and Ireland.
If Navman and Mio were proud parents, however, I think that one would be getting a bit worried at this point, as externally the S50 bears very little resemblance to the Mio products of old. In fact it looks identical to the last Navman product I last looked at - the S30 back in October 2007 - with its black and silver livery and big rounded corners. Only the S50 3D's larger 4.3in screen (compared to 3.5in) sets it apart.
Fire it up and the theme continues. It runs Navman's SmartST 2008 navigation software and this bears no trace of Mio's influence either. Not that that's a bad thing - I always felt that Mio's software left a lot to be desired in the usability stakes despite a change for the better with the C620T. SmartST 2008, as on the S30, is extremely straightforward to use with large, easy to read icons on the menu and an uncluttered clear map view. I especially like the pop-up menus on the right that can be tapped to launch detailed information such as speed, ETA and distance, access map browse tools, or change views.
So is there any sign of Mio's influence here at all? It's difficult to tell when the S50 is so similar to previous Navman devices, but that 3D name tag does at least hint at some Mio influence. Unfortunately this doesn't refer to the topographic mapping included in the last Mio product I reviewed, but instead to the addition of a selection of 3D models of famous landmarks. All it means is that, as you approach the London Eye, St Paul's Cathedral or Big Ben, a 3D graphic of looms on screen, just to reassure you that you're in the right place.
Exciting, huh? Well, not exactly. The trouble with this is that, 90 per cent of the time the facility is pretty useless - only major landmarks are in the database and outside central London the models are few and far between. Added to this is the fact that none of the models have labels attached to them - it would be nice to know what the buildings are as you drive by. 3D navigation sounds sexy, but in this instance it's about as far from being a groundbreaking navigation aid as Lands End is from John O' Groats.