- Review Price: £229.99
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past 18 years you’ll be aware that certain technological products – PCs and notebooks in particular – are built in a modular fashion from a range of widely available components, all connected together via standard interfaces.
But what you may not be aware of is how far the practice extends into other areas of the industry. Many other products are put together in just the same way, and aftermarket sat-navs, for instance, are a good example. Most run on the same Microsoft Windows CE Core 5.0 operating system; and most use one or other of the major mapping company’s road databases – Navteq or TeleAtlas. Until recently, the software built on top of those common tools had remained the key differentiator, but now it appears that even this critical element is commonly being repurposed, rebadged and sold as original product.
Blaupunkt, more famous for its car stereos than navigation systems, has chosen this very route for its new TravelPilot Lucca 3.5 system; and it’s the third product I’ve looked at for TrustedReviews over the past few months to use a very similar software front end. That’s no bad thing. After all, the Panasonic Strada CN-GP50N employed the very same tactic to good effect this time last month. But you still have to put all the elements together, and Blaupunkt has made a bit of a pig’s ear out of a silk purse with this one.
It looks pretty promising when you pull it out of the box. As you’d expect from a manufacturer famed for the quality of its products, the Lucca 3.5 is beautifully built and designed. Its gloss black and gunmetal finish wouldn’t look out of place in the cockpit of a BMW M5 and setting it off is the trademark blue dot in the centre, below the screen – here backlit and doubling up as a power button.
It’s not all design niceties either; there are other, more practical elements too. Flanking the blue dot are large volume up and down buttons – a feature I wish more sat-nav manufacturers would build into their products – making it a doddle to tweak the volume settings without having to rely on imperfect automatic adjustments or wading through layers of menu settings. The Lucca can also be charged via USB or the more traditional style DC connector, depending on your preference.
But once you switch it on, blue halo bestowed by Teutonic engineering and brand association suddenly starts to dim. The first sign of trouble is the touch-screen, which doesn’t feel particularly accurate or responsive. While clicking around the interface I found myself constantly tapping twice or even three times to get the Lucca to respond, and this wasn’t helped by the ‘improvements’ that Blaupunkt has made to that common front-end. Buttons are too often skinny or small and surrounded by space rather than large and easy to tap, and even the large 4.3in wide aspect 480 x 272 screen fails to render it usable.
The destination entry screen, as well as being fiddly, is confusing and the onscreen keyboard is one of the worst I’ve used. I don’t believe I’ve sworn at a sat-nav quite as much as I have with the Lucca 3.5. But it doesn’t end there. As soon as you start to drive you’ll quickly discover another irritation: the voice instructions are recorded so badly they sound distorted and quickly grate on your nerves. The fact that the woman sounds like a close relation of Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t help either; she barks out orders as if you were some kind of deviant, not a considerate motorist who’s simply cartographically challenged.
And then there’s the turn icon, which disappears from the screen if you’re more than a mile or so from the next turning – annoying if you’re on the motorway and want to keep tabs on how far away your next manoeuvre is. Even the windscreen mount had problems. Though it looks solid and well made, I had such trouble getting it to stick that I removed the bracket and had to resort to mounting it on a spare I had lying around. Hopefully this was just a faulty unit, not an issue with the design.
It’s not all negative, though. I rarely come across a completely awful product and to give you the impression that the Lucca is irredeemably bad would be wrong. There’s plenty about it that works well. The voice prompts, for instance, are timely and logical. They’re linked together when necessary and the maps are clear too, if a little on the functional side. The visual experience is enhanced further by a lack of on-screen clutter. Routes are calculated quickly and when you stray off course, recalculation is speedy too. The way branded POIs such as Texaco, Jet or McDonalds pop up with their own logos as you drive past, makes them very easy to spot.
The trip management functions work well, and there are plenty of ways to mark waypoints on your route, including a decent map browse mode that you can use to pinpoint roads you want to travel down. You don’t get Bluetooth, but there is a built in TMC module with one of those unsightly stringy aerials to drape across your dashboard, and full street level maps of Europe are included – though annoyingly you have to install the European maps to an SD card (not included) if you want to drive abroad. Finally, the Lucca is equipped with an MP3 player facility, and it even has a proper 3.5mm output for connecting your headphones.
Unfortunately, there’s no getting past the irritation factor of the TravelPilot Lucca 3.5. While it has its moments, these are vastly outnumbered by annoyances in almost every department imaginable. And at £230 it’s pretty expensive too. It’ll get you to your final destination, but it won’t do so without completely driving you round the bend first; and when you’re driving, that’s the last thing you want from a device that ought to be helping, not hindering you.
Score in detail
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