- Review Price: £405.00
Back in September last year, Benny reviewed the Tom Tom Go, and decided that it was a must have product for anyone wanting to drive from A to B with minimum fuss and no need for maps. Amazingly, it’s taken this long before another product has appeared to really challenge the Tom Tom Go, and it’s no surprise that this challenge comes from Garmin.
Garmin knows a thing or two about GPS, and anyone that’s into outdoor pursuits probably has a Garmin device stashed in the rucksack whenever they leave the house. Personally I have a Garmin Gecko 301 that my wife kindly gave me for Christmas a few years back – it sits on my handlebars when I’m mountain biking and makes sure that I get back home, no matter how unfamiliar I am with the area.
But despite Garmin’s obvious heritage in GPS technology, it’s taken a surprising amount of time for it to really burst into the in-car navigation market. There have been other StreetPilot devices, but the c320 actually looks like a product that’s been designed for in-car navigation from start to finish.
The StreetPilot c320 bears an uncanny resemblance to the Tom Tom Go, although it is a bit more svelte. The SD card slot is located on the left hand side, rather than at the front on the Tom Tom, and on the right you’ll find the power button, mini USB connector and an analogue volume wheel. The latter is a great feature, making it very simple to adjust the volume as your environment changes, or as the music on your car stereo gets louder.
Garmin supplies a 256MB SD card with the StreetPilot, which contains detailed maps of the UK and Ireland pre-loaded. The supplied CD includes maps for most of Western Europe, so if you did want to go on a European touring holiday, you could just load up the relevant maps.
Before I go into how the StreetPilot is to use, let me say that once you have got your route planned and you set off in your car, this device works brilliantly. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now, and it has helped me find some obscure locations that I probably would have struggled with otherwise. If the StreetPilot c320 has convinced me of one thing, it’s that I want an in-car navigation system – just not this one.
In some ways I feel quite sorry for the StreetPilot, because Garmin has equipped it with some truly excellent features, but unfortunately along the way it seems to have missed some of the fundamentals.
When you turn on the StreetPilot, you’re greeted with a screen with two selections “Where to?” and “View map” – both pretty self explanatory. The Where to? section is probably where you’ll be going most of the time, as this is where you’ll be attempting to plan your route. The biggest problem with the route planning is that you can’t search by post code. Now, this could be a result of Garmin being an American company, where post or more accurately, zip codes don’t mean that much. However, in the UK, searching by post code could place you to within a few yards of your destination quickly and easily.
So the StreetPilot stumbles somewhat at the first hurdle, but unfortunately a lack of post code search isn’t the only problem. When you search by address, the first questions you’re asked is which country you wish to search in. Pressing E will instantly present you with England – so far so good. You’re then asked which city you’re looking in – you can either search all cities, or spell the one you’re after. Next you need to enter the house number, which is fine as long as the place you’re going has a number. Then you need to enter the street name, and this is where the problems begin.
I tried searching for my old address, which is on Eagle Lane in East London, but after typing Eagle and a space, I was presented with Eagle House, Eagle Lodge and Eagle Wharf Road. After contacting Garmin I was advised to enter just Eagle and press Done – then at the top of the list I was presented with “Eagle (Close, Court…)”. At first I thought that I still hadn’t been successful, but pressing the “Eagle (Close, Court…)” button then brought up a list of pretty much every road in London with Eagle in the name, including Eagle Lane. This is hardly intuitive, and the idea that entering data as accurately as possible will result in bogus results seems bizarre to me.
Looking for my current address was even more difficult. Trying to find St Mary’s Road, proved to be an impossible task. Typing “St Mary’s” resulted in a list that didn’t include my road. While typing “St Marys” brought up another list, where my road was conspicuous by its absence. Just when I was starting to think that my house didn’t exist, I searched for St Mary’s Road on the map itself, and sure enough, there it was!
But it was when I had to attend the CTS Show at the NEC in Birmingham that things really came to a head – yep, that’s right, the StreetPilot couldn’t find the National Exhibition Centre. I searched for both “NEC” and “National Exhibition Centre” in Birmingham, but to no avail. I then noticed that the StreetPilot has a Halls/Auditoriums section under the banner of “attractions” – “this is where I’ll find it” I thought to myself – but yet again no. Again I contacted Garmin and was told that the NEC was indeed in the database, but that I had to select the “Near Birmingham” setting, and then search under the Halls/Auditoriums section. With a heavy pinch of scepticism I tried this, but it worked.
It’s this completely unintuitive interface that ruins the StreetPilot, which is a real shame since this device has such potential. Take the quick links for example – you get shortcuts to Food, Lodging, Fuel, Attractions, Shopping, Parking, Entertainment and Recreation. I found out just how good these categories can be when I had to attend a press event at a hotel in Hertfordshire – I simply typed in the hotel name and not only did the c320 find it instantly, it also presented me with the hotel’s phone number! Now that’s the kind of functionality that shows the potential of the StreetPilot.
As I’ve already mentioned, when the StreetPilot knows where you want to go, it works brilliantly. The voice commands are loud and clear, and the 3D maps give you a great “at a glance” overview of where you’re going – there’s even a text note on the screen reminding you of your next action, in case you missed or forgot the last voice command.
The StreetPilot is also very quick at calculating routes – this is especially useful if you go “off route” and you need an alternative, although it does sometimes insist on making you turn around and go back the way you came. This brings me onto another strange and somewhat disappointing aspect of the device – it has an unhealthy obsession with the M25.
It seems that no matter where I want to travel in the area surrounding London, the StreetPilot wants me to use the M25. Driving home from the office in Ascot means heading past Windsor and onto the M4, but the StreetPilot wanted me to head to the M3, onto the M25 and then onto the M4. But more amazing was when I was when I was returning from the NEC in Birmingham – I was driving along the M40, which heads directly into West London where I live, when the StreetPilot told me that I had to exit the M40 onto the M25, I was then supposed to follow it round to the M4 and take that into West London instead. Of course I ignored the suggestion to take the M25, but the StreetPilot still tried to make me turn around and head back to the M25 for the next three junctions!
Like the Tom Tom Go, the StreetPilot has a built-in battery, which I found to be very good indeed. I used the StreetPilot for a long journey of around five hours and the battery showed no signs of dying. However, for me, the idea of an internal battery means that you don’t need to have a wire trailing to the cigarette lighter in your car, making the positioning of the device more flexible, but here again a fundamental mistake has been made. Instead of having the cigarette lighter cable plugging into the mounting cradle, Garmin has chosen to hard wire it – this means that even when you’re using the StreetPilot on battery power, you have a long messy cable hanging around on your dash. With the Tom Tom Go, you can unplug the cable and keep it in the glove box, leaving you with a more tidy solution, but giving you the option of using it when you need to.
Finally there’s the issue of personal “Points of Interest”, which the StreetPilot doesn’t support. With the Tom Tom Go you can upload your own points of interest, which can include handy things like speed cameras – in fact this has been quite a selling point for the Tom Tom in the UK. That said, Garmin has assured me that there will be an update for the c320 that will allow you to upload your own points of interest, including a speed camera database.
Then you have to take price into account and at just over £400, the StreetPilot is pretty much on a par with the current Tom Tom Go, but things won’t stay that way for long. Tom Tom has already expanded its Go range, and soon there will be three different models available, with the basic unit coming it at around £370. Now that’s quite a price differential, considering that the Tom Tom Go is a better overall product.
All that said, I have to believe that Garmin will get this right, it has far too much experience in GPS to leave these fundamental flaws unresolved. The fact that I have been assured of an upgrade for points of interest gives me hope, since this could mean that Garmin will be addressing some of the other issues, like being able to search by post code. But even though I’m convinced that Garmin will eventually either upgrade this product, or create a successor that’s worthy of its name, right now the StreetPilot c320 is no match for the already established Tom Tom Go.
Garmin has created a device with some truly excellent features, but unfortunately it has missed some of the basics along the way. The convoluted and unintuitive user interface, hard wired cradle and unhealthy obsession with the London orbital motorway, ruin what could have been a great product. I’m hoping that Garmin will release an update to address the majority of these problems, but as it stands, the c320 just doesn’t feel like the finished article.
Score in detail