- Review Price: £219.00
With the rise and rise of phone-based GPS navigation, dedicated devices are facing increased competition every day, especially at the lower end of the market. And you can see why: it’s a tough ask to squeeze all the hardware necessary plus mapping into a device at a price that looks attractive when your competitors at the bottom end of the market are able to offer just the software and throw in maps of the whole of western Europe for under 100 quid.
Yet despite all that, there are still advantages to going with a dedicated sat-nav PNA (personal navigation assistant) instead of a GPS-equipped phone with software, as Navigon’s latest mid-range system, the 5100 proves. One of the key advantages of a dedicated sat-nav is that important hardware is fine-tuned. You invariably get a larger screen, for instance. There aren’t many smart phones that have a screen as large as the 3.4in one the 5100 has, a feature that makes road layouts easier to see and on-screen buttons easier to press.
The 5100’s screen is not the only advantage to going with a PNA over a phone, however. With a dedicated device such as this, you get a speaker that’s been tuned for in-car use, rather than the puny one you often get on a smartphone, and a windscreen mount that’s normally a lot more solid than your average phone holder. The long, sweeping arm-like structure that pins the Navigon 5100 to your windscreen is certainly that, and it also has a unique rotating locking mechanism that attaches it to the end of the arm, ensuring it’s never going to pop out of its cradle when you hit a big pothole in the road.
But the 5100 doesn’t stop there. Another advantage it offers over PDA or phone navigation is an integrated TMC receiver. This receives traffic incident information over FM and it does so pretty successfully too, without the need for extra messy wires dangling all over the dashboard. The fact that the TMC service in the UK isn’t great, though, puts a dampener on the overall appeal of this function.
Of course all these advantages would be no good at all if they weren’t put to good use. A sat-nav system must, first and foremost, deliver efficient routing, clear maps and timely voice instructions. And the 5100 certainly makes a good first impression.
I love the way it’s so polite: you actually get a please before every voice instruction and, while other sat-nav voices grate, this one makes the whole driving experience that bit more pleasant. The 5100’s map view is extremely configurable too: almost all screen furniture, including street names, ETA, speed cameras, time, altitude, speed and so on can be switched on or off to give you a very clean or cluttered look, depending on your preferences. To cap this, certain POIs pop up, complete with corporate logo – McDonald’s restaurants with the golden arches, Texaco petrol stations with the red and white star logo.
There’s automatic speed dependant volume adjustment, and by tapping the main map area it’s easy to avoid a road block or traffic jam, set an extra interim destination or view POIs along your route.
On major roads and motorways the 5100 works very well indeed. Exits are indicated extremely clearly with big blue road sign-style banners across the top of the screen, major road numbers are read out by the device’s speech engine and to add to this there’s an innovative view of motorway junctions – called the ‘reality view’. This displays the junction as a static graphic complete with arrows to indicate which lane you should be in. It’s a good idea but I’m not convinced by this implementation: the few times it popped up while I was testing the 5100, it didn’t really serve to clarify which lane I needed to be in at all.
As time wore on and the miles rolled by, I started to spot more serious weaknesses. What least impressed me was the frequently tardy delivery of the voice instructions. The system performs well out on fast motorways and A roads, but take it into a dense urban environment and it begins to struggle. Too often during test trips across central London, instructions were given at the last second, far too late for me to be able to respond in time if, for example, I happened to be in the wrong lane.
Though the routing choices it made were generally sensible – it didn’t send me off on any wild goose chases during testing – its maps aren’t the clearest. Those washed-out pastel-shaded graphics might look good in a product demo or in a glass case at your local purveyor of high technology, but try squinting at them when the sunshine is bouncing off a wet road in front of you and the appeal is considerably reduced. One aspect that suffers particularly from this colour scheme problem is the next turning icon. It offers a reasonably detailed representation of the upcoming junction, but again it’s quite hard to see.
And, finally, address entry is over-fiddly. Instead of using the full width of the screen, the keyboard is, unnecessarily in my view, squeezed into half of it, which makes tapping out addresses and post codes a real pain. You have to concentrate hard to make sure your finger doesn’t press the wrong letter and, to make matters worse, it’s not the most responsive. Letters often don’t appear in the address search field until a fraction of a second after you’ve typed them and, though this doesn’t sound a long time, it is enough to ensure that when you’ve made a mistake you’ll end up correcting more than one letter.
Price-wise, it’s rather expensive: £219 for maps of just UK and Ireland is far too much these days, even taking into account the fact that it has TMC built in. If you have this much money to burn, do yourself a favour and spend it elsewhere – you can get the vastly superior TomTom Go 520 for less than £30 more.
The Navigon 5100 is a bit of a mixed bag. It does some things well, like motorway driving instructions, has a really solid windscreen mount, a system that’s about as configurable as you could hope for and one that’s pretty easy yo use. There’s plenty in its armoury that should make it a PDA or smartphone navigation-beater. However, its urban navigation is flawed, address entry is fiddly, the maps are a not as clear as I’d have liked and it’s not the best value for money.
Score in detail
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