- Review Price: £254.08
The trouble with sat-nav systems is you still have to have more intelligence than the average family pet to use most of them. Even if it’s a TomTom there’s a fair amount to get used to, from entering the address the ‘wrong way around’ to getting the volume loud enough so you can hear the instructions clearly on the motorway.
Last week a coach driver, clearly flummoxed by his sat-nav, ended up in Lille, Belgium, instead of Lille, France – some 100 miles off track. And there have been numerous other accounts of similar blunders in the past.
Accurate driving instructions are, of course, essential. But for the most part the manufacturers seem to have this aspect of their design cracked. And that’s why I always think the most important thing for a sat-nav is its ease of use.
The first step along this road is the screen – so many sat-navs cram in so much on-screen information that the map can become cluttered and difficult to read and on-screen buttons fiddly to press. That’s not the case with Panasonic’s new Strada CN-GP250N sat-nav. This device’s massive 5in screen makes it an absolute doddle to read, as well as simply offering more room to display a bigger map area.
Approaching Wandsworth Bridge from the south, for example, you can see the whole sweep of the Thames in front of you, and as petrol stations pass by one, two or even three streets away, you’ll be able to see where they are and where to turn to reach them. Even with all the POI categories on the device selected to display on the screen, it never feels too crowded. Furthermore, many locations such as McDonald’s restaurants and popular petrol stations have logos associated with them, making them much easier to spot.
The big screen also makes the touch-screen easier to operate – buttons are larger and easier to hit while leaning over to the screen in the car, and that’s important with the software installed on this Panasonic. That’s because the Strada uses software produced by German sat-nav specialist, Navigon – software very similar to that used by the Navigon 5100 I reviewed a few weeks ago, in fact.
I criticised it then for being a bit fiddly, with a small, difficult-to-read next turn icon and distance indication, and for having a slightly washed-out colour scheme. But with the large and bright 5in screen these weaknesses all but disappear.
Address entry is also easier, and assisted by the fact that the layout of the screen is slightly different to the Navigon 5100’s. Instead of occupying half the screen, the Strada’s keyboard stretches across its full width and has large, easy-to-tap letters and numbers. You get a full, seven-digit postcode search, so finding where you want to go is a doddle, although the ‘voice command’ system isn’t very impressive – unlike the TomTom Go 720 it only works if you tag your favourite addresses in advance.
In terms of the rest of its performance, the Strada takes on board the positive features of the Navigon 5100 and improves on them. The roadblock and waypoint features are just as easy to get to – with a simple tap of the screen – but its route management and map browsing features are much improved, making it easier to add stops along the way without knowing the address. There’s lane assistance too, but again it’s implemented with considerably more panache here. Instead of occupying the whole screen, you get a considerably smaller set of arrows appearing just below the ‘car’ icon at the bottom of the screen.
Voice instructions, though a little delayed, also seemed more timely than the 5100’s and the excellent speaker makes it hard to miss instructions. It’s also nice that it’s polite, but there’s a practical advantage here too – somehow, the fact that the Strada says ‘please’ before most instructions makes you sit up and pay more attention.
And there are plenty of extras to play with too. Bluetooth means you can use the Strada as your hands-free speakerphone, and it’ll import all contact info from your phone too. I tried it on my TyTN II and it not only copied across my SIM card contacts, but also all 500+ Outlook contacts as well. Mighty impressive. There’s also a complete speed camera database for the whole of Europe, plus a picture viewer, and also 3D landmarks of famous places. As you drive past major landmarks such as St Paul’s in London or the Champs Elysée in Paris, up pops a 3D representation of it. It’s a nice feature to have, but more eye candy than useful navigational aid and not that comprehensive. The only places in London marked in this way are the aforementioned St Paul’s, Nelson’s column, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Big Ben (without the Houses of Parliament attached) the Albert Hall and Southwark Cathedral.
There’s even an electronic compass built into the thing that doesn’t rely on the GPS signal – so it can guess at where you are on the map when you enter a long tunnel or lose the satellite signal in some other way.
But now onto the bad things. Well I say bad, but what I really mean is disappointing, because there’s nothing disastrously wrong with the Strada. The first thing to point out is that, despite the fact that it costs well over £200, it doesn’t come with TMC or the ability to receive traffic information over a data connection. You can add a TMC receiver at a later date, but to be honest; at this price I’d expect it to be included.
The second thing is that it doesn’t quite have all the bells and whistles of a TomTom. For instance, the auto volume is merely speed based rather than related to actual cockpit noise, and even though brightness can be adjusted based on whether you’re in night mode or day mode, there’s no light sensor to do it automatically for you.
Finally, I’m not a fan of the Strada’s non-standard charging arrangements. Instead of using the standard mini-USB socket on the side, the Strada utilises a tiny circular power input, which means buying spares or replacing lost and damaged charging cables will be more hassle than it should be.
However, those are mere niggles, because in most respects this is a very competent sat-nav system. Its biggest strength is that enormous screen, which makes spotting POI’s and map-reading extremely easy, but there’s plenty of other stuff that’s worth having too.
It’s still not quite the complete system that the TomTom Go 720 is, and doesn’t feel quite as responsive in use either, but if you’d prefer a big screen £250 isn’t too much to ask.
Score in detail
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