- Review Price: £299.00
A couple of years ago a portable dedicated in-car navigation system was something unusual. Now, it’s a pretty common sight. In fact, sales are said to have gone up over 1,300 per cent over the past year. Not surprising then to learn that sat-nav units are also now one of the most stolen items from cars so if you buy one keep it hidden.
This might be difficult on Acer’s new GPS unit as the in-car cradle for the unit is surprisingly large. Acer has done sat nav before and the d150 is the follow up to the d100. Can Acer compete with specialists such as TomTom or Garmin?
I was in a good position to find out as I have a TomTom One that sits more or less permanently on the right of my dashboard, so the Acer was set up in the middle og the dashboard for comparison.
As with other portable in-car sat-nav, the d150 is designed to work out of the box, However, it’s certainly not as slick looking as its competitors. The housing is large, bulky and a frankly a bit ugly. The 3.5in, 320 x 240 resolution screen is surrounded by a seemingly oversized bezel, and the buttons on the fascia have a loose feel to them. In particular, the central joystick generally doesn’t sit straight most of the time, which gives the whole thing a rather cheap feel to it.
However, the buttons do mean you have direct access to volume controls, whereas on the TomTom you have to touch the screen first. The joystick can be used to move through menus and scroll around the map, and the Plus and Minus buttons are used for zooming in and out. On the right, one of the buttons brings up the map options, while the other takes you to a separate main menu for the device.
This is where you access the extra functions which are MP3 playback, Photo playback, Ccontacts and system options such as date and time, the backlight settings and the language, of which there are ten to choose from.
I’ve never quite understood the point of MP3 on a GPS device. It’s certainly not to listen to music over the built-in speaker, unless you’re particularly keen to recreate the sound of listening to 1960’s style AM pirate radio. However, there is a headphone socket on the left hand side of the unit, so you can hook it up to headphones or external speakers. You can also display pictures, though I think it would be quite odd to pass round a GPS device at dinner parties to show off your kids/pets/stamp collection.
Storage is via SD card, with a 256MB one supplied containing the maps of the UK and Ireland with the mapping application taking up 171MB of it.
There’s also a Contacts section which is filled by synchronising the device with Outlook. To do this you hook up the d150 via the suppied USB cable and install ActiveSync 3.8. The problem, as ever with devices that read Outlook Contacts, is that it doesn’t work. The addresses can never actually be picked up by the mapping software, without lots of faffing about, which removes any notion of convenience. The Acer doesn’t even limit the list to those with actual addresses in.
This feature though is all the clue you need to realise that the d150 is essentially an updated Acer n35, shoehorned into a portable sat-nav chassis. This is why the Destinator DS software has to ‘load’ – not something you have to put up with on a TomTom.
One issue I discovered was that the backlight dimmed when I unplugged, which isn’t much use in the car unless you intend to keep it plugged into the power socket the whole time while driving. To keep the backlight on you have to delve in the settings and tell it not to turn off when unplugged – and then reload Destinator DS. It is little things like this that really make it seem less friendly to use than a TomTom.
The Destinator DS software itself is based on NavTeq mapping data and if anything is better than the TeleAtlas maps using by TomTom. It has full post-code support so you can easily pin-point addresses in the UK. It also has a pedestrian mode, should you wish to walk around with the bulky device.
My main problem with it though is the interface, which to honest reflects the low-rent design of the outer chassis. It’s simply not as slick looking nor as easy-to-use as the equivalent TomTom and takes some getting used to. For example when you enter the post code, you have to switch between letter input and number input, which is very clumsy and slow. Why not just have letter and the numbers on the same screen? This flaw clearly betrays the software origins as a stylus based Pocket PC.
I also don’t like the way that the map only takes up the two thirds of the screen, with a border at the bottom and almost the whole of the right hand side of the screen covered in icons. The icons themselves are also really rather poor, looking like they’ve been knocked up in Windows Paint.
What I did like though was the clear way the directional information was presented on screen, with the next turn, the distance to it, and the street name very legible. It was especially clear when you view turn-by-turn instructions. The POI database also was comprehensive and many items were easier to find than on other devices I’ve tried.
When you’re driving a clear icon also flashes up showing the type of turn that’s coming up. The audio volume level from the unit was reasonable though it sounded strained at the highest setting.
When you plot a route the software gives you a choice of the fastest or the shortest routes, which is good. However it lacks many features that are present in the TomTom range such as route redirection, let alone more advanced features such as integrated Bluetooth and connection to a live traffic information service and a speed camera database. I use this feature on my TomTom One and though it’s far from flawless by comparison the d150 was decidedly, well, dumb.
To get you from one location to another the d150 did its job well however, and didn’t let me down during my time with it. However, it lacks the finesse and features of the equivalent TomTom. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was a cheaper option but it’s not. It’s actually more expensive than the TomTom One, which you can pick up at Dixons online now for £240. Oh dear. On this basis I can see no reason to spend more to buy the Acer d150.
An effective sat nav device from Acer, but let down by its looks, its interface, its relative lack of features and its price. It does the job, but it fails to present any compelling reason not to buy a TomTom.
Score in detail
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.