- Review Price: £189.99
There are two types of company selling sat-nav systems today. Those you probably know best are the specialists: it’s the only thing they do, and they tend to do it well. I’m thinking of companies such as Mio, TomTom and ALK with its CoPilot product.
Then there are the electronics and computer giants who do a little bit of everything – with a bit of GPS on the side. Acer falls into this category along with Sony, Panasonic and a host of others. But despite the fact that big companies often succeed through sheer economies of scale, keeping prices down and features high – at least with sat-navs – is an approach that, so far, is not working. The specialists are still leading the way, with TomTom’s Go 720 scooping a coveted place in TrustedReviews’ products of the year roundup, and Mio commanding the mid-range.
Can German firm Medion, which sells everything from Windows Home Server boxes to mobile phone ringtones, change that with its latest range of sat-navs? If first impressions of the on-review GoPal E3410 are anything to go by, then I think it could well do.
Based on the £190 price, it’s obvious that Medion is targeting the system at the middle of the market – customers who are willing to pay a little extra for luxury features, but don’t want to shell out top whack for the ultimate in sat-nav luxury. But there are a few features here that you don’t usually find in a mid-range sat-nav.
The first of these is a text-to-speech engine, a feature Medion dubs rather Teutonically, SVOXX. TomTom’s Go 520 and 720 will read road names out to you too, and a number of rivals will read major road numbers, but few devices this cheap will do every road. Yes, it does sound like you have a female version of Stephen Hawking in the car with you, but it also means you can spend more time with your eyes on the road rather than figuring out if that last instruction was for the tiny turn-off just in front or the crossroads 10 yards further down the road.
The second is a built-in TMC traffic information receiver. Now I’m yet to be convinced that the UK’s subscription-free service is actually any use for avoiding day-to-day congestion, but it does pick up the really big jams and can help you get around them. And devices with built-in TMC usually sell for over £200. Not so here.
But that’s not all. There’s also Bluetooth, so you can use the system as your hands-free car phone system. You get a preloaded speed camera database and full European maps courtesy of Navteq – further impressive inclusions considering the TomTom Go with equivalent mapping costs £40 more. And the GoPal E3410 has a feature that TomTom doesn’t have – motorway lane assistance. This tells you precisely which lane you need to be in using a road-sign style graphic stretched across the top of the navigation screen, and it works not only on big motorways, but also on multi-lane A-roads, such as the A406 and A1 roads in London.
It may not sound much, but it’s a great help in situations where “take the next exit” might not be the clearest of instructions. There’s a junction on the A406 that demonstrates this feature quite nicely: as you travel clockwise, the road splits into three when it joins the M11 and here the lane assistance is invaluable, turning what could be a confusingly vague instruction into something much more helpful.
So, the Medion E3410 would appear to have most of the major sat-nav tick-box features covered, and then some. In fact it would appear to rival TomTom’s all-conquering devices in many respects. The big question is; can it compete when you take it out onto the road?
On motorways, as I’ve pointed out already, it works rather well, and that text-to-speech engine helps you keep your eyes on the road. The maps are clear, if not terribly slick-looking, while the voice instructions are timely and the speaker loud and clear. I couldn’t find fault with its route choices either, which were largely sensible. For instance, it rarely directs you down tiny side streets when major roads would get you to your destination just as quick.
Clearly, the driving instructions are not a problem. It’s when it comes to ease of use – one of TomTom’s greatest strengths, incidentally – that things begin to unravel. One issue is that the tiny size of some of the text on the main navigation screen makes it difficult to read on the move. While the map and next turn icons are clear enough, the rest of the information is squeezed in tiny font sizes into a bar along the bottom of the 3.5in screen. Anyone without perfect 20/20 vision will find this impossible to read.
There’s no quick route overview screen either, which can make detailed route planning a bit tricky. To do this you have to switch to 2D navigation and use the zoom controls – not the most straightforward of methods.
But more annoying than this is the address entry system, which is both confusing and frustrating. It’s fine when you first start it up – you get three large buttons on screen offering the choice between postcode, city or street – but after you’ve entered a few addresses, the caption text on the buttons changes from Post Code, City and Street to the details of the last address you entered. Okay, it’s not a deal killer, but it does make you pause and think “eh?” each time you enter the screen.
What may be more of a problem is the lack of full postcode support. The Medion website claims the device has a seven-digit postcode search, but during testing I found it didn’t offer anything of the sort. In fact I couldn’t get it to resolve any postcodes I entered past the first digit of the second part of a postcode – which makes entering destinations more of a bind than it should be. The voice recognition engine – yes it even has one of these – is not a patch on TomTom’s either. Even in very quiet environments I couldn’t get it to recognise the simplest of city and road names.
And last, but by no means least, the address database didn’t seem very flexible. It found most of the addresses I searched for without too much trouble, but you have to know which area a street is in before you can search for it. You can’t simply search for Melrose Avenue or Loxford Lane and then pick from a list – you have to know precisely which area those streets are in, or have the first part of the address’s postcode.
So, what starts off so promisingly for the Medion GoPal E3410 unfortunately ends up in disappointment. On paper the GoPal E3410 is superbly equipped for the money, with built-in TMC, Bluetooth, text-to-speech engine, voice address entry, lane assistance and full European maps for under £200.
But an at-times confusing interface, limited postcode support and frustrating address search make it slightly less of a bargain than it otherwise would have been.
Score in detail