- Review Price: £249.99
Our first taste of Navman’s new touch-operated Spirit interface in the S100 didn’t entirely fill us with admiration. As much as we like the homage to Apple’s iPod touch and iPhone, we didn’t find Spirit, aka SmartST 2009, was as friendly as it promised to be. But it’s here to stay, and now we have the next Navman device to use it, the current flagship S300 T.
As the T in the name implies, this model integrates traffic alerts. The S300 also comes preloaded with maps covering 22 Western European countries, although Eastern Europe is an optional extra. But the most significant aspects are the Spirit interface and overall physical design. This may be a 4.3in widescreen sat-nav, but it’s deceptively thin and weighs just 150g. With its brushed aluminium chassis, the S300 T is a beautiful device, and is about as easy to carry with you as any sat-nav in its class.
Spirit, or Glide Touch as Navman also calls it, is more of an acquired taste, however. Instead of relying on single screen presses, Glide Touch allows you to scroll around menus iPhone style. However, this requires a little more care to use than less adventurous systems. It’s quick to operate when you get the hang of it. But those who can’t will find the slide-out menus disappearing annoyingly should a finger be misplaced. Fortunately, the basic functions are accessed by pressing the subtle blue line on the bottom right of the device. This calls up an array of coloured squares.
When plotting a new route, you can use the usual street address and postcode methods. But you can also search for a more general area, and also by keyword, both of which can be handy if you can’t quite remember an exact address. Employing the area search, you can use the map view to locate a destination visually. The keyword search lets you find a street without even knowing which town it’s in – something few other sat-navs can do. The keyword option also scours the Points of Interest, and is in fact the only way you can get to the whole database. Petrol and Parking can be found in the local neighbourhood via dedicated menu options, but these can’t be changed in the settings, as you can with Navigon devices.
The Navman Connect system considerably extends the POI options. You can access this on the S300 T itself using a Bluetooth-connected phone to provide the Internet data stream. Or you can plug the device into your PC and use the Navdesk software to search for destinations, then download them to the Navman. The actual database is provided by Infobel, and includes plenty of obscure locations, such as local schools. The necessity of pairing with a mobile phone, or hooking up to a PC, means that Navman Connect isn’t quite as slick as the Google Local Search which TomTom provides as part of its LIVE services. But it’s similarly useful for finding destinations beyond the narrow POI listings.
On the downside, locations you navigate to aren’t automatically saved in a history – a useful feature of devices from other manufacturers, such as TomTom and Navigon. Instead, you have to add them to your My Places favourites list manually for future use. However, there is also a handy thumbtack icon in the top right. Press this, and your current location is added to My Places with a single click, which is about as slick as you can get. Routes can be calculated for driving or walking, too, but not for trucks or bicycles.
Navman has tidied up the navigation interface compared to pre-Spirit devices. The map view isn’t so cluttered with information panes, although all the main elements remain. A bar along the top tells you your next turning, with the road name or number clearly shown. A customisable box on the right illustrates the remaining miles to destination, remaining time, ETA, current speed or current time. However, TomTom manages to stuff all this information into virtually the same space, even if its readout is a little cryptic.
Most of the latest sat-nav widgets are available. A full-screen graphic pops up for major junctions, showing you which lanes to be in so you don’t miss the turning. This includes a semi-realistic representation of the relevant road sign, so you know exactly which direction to take.
Navman also integrates 3D models of landmarks into the map view, which sounds like a very useful addition. However, as we have found with all sat-navs offering this feature, the models are far too sparse, mostly covering cities and primarily London. They also don’t appear within the 3D map view soon enough. You need to be pretty close to see them on the screen, when outside your car window the landmark will have been looming for some time.
Speed warnings pop up when you exceed the prevailing limit, with a bell sound to notify you of your transgression. The S300 T also includes a free trial of safety cameras, lasting 12 months. But after that each year of UK updates costs £34.95, or £69.90 for three years. Europe-wide updates cost £49.95 and £99.90 respectively. Safety camera warnings pop up clearly at the bottom of the screen.
The S300’s Traffic uses the conventional RDS-TMC system, with a lifetime subscription prepaid out of the box. The FM receiver is cunningly concealed in the car power adapter, so the system won’t work at all if this isn’t attached. You can get a map overview of current traffic problems in the local area, and you can see details of each incident by clicking on it. But more importantly the Navman will prompt you when it detects congestion on your current route, and proactively suggest an alternative if necessary.
The S300 T also incorporates media playback facilities. File support includes WAV, WMA and MP3 audio plus MP4, MOV, AVI, WMV, ASF and 3GP video, although adding a MicroSD card is recommended as the 1GB of internal memory will quickly fill up. We also had trouble playing the files we tried, although our sample was an early model so might not have had this feature fully implemented. There’s a built-in FM transmitter so you can tune your car stereo to the S300 T’s audio output instead of using the built-in speaker.
Feature-for-feature, the S300 T is fairly competitive, coming in slightly cheaper than directly comparable devices such as TomTom’s 730T or Garmin’s 765T. It also has aesthetics in its favour. The real decider, however, is not the specs list but how you can cope with Glide Touch. We find it generally a bit frustrating, detracting from an otherwise capable piece of hardware. Sat-navs need to be dependable, and a finicky interface will rapidly prove annoying. iPhone owners might grow to like it, but we would still have preferred an evolution of the previous SmartST interface.
Score in detail
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