- Review Price: £299.00
If I ask you to think of companies making sat-nav equipment I doubt you’d offer the RAC. Odd, that, considering it is a motoring organisation with a vast membership and has been offering door to door route planning from its Web site for ages.
Then again, maybe it isn’t so odd, because the RAC’s new range of three sat-nav devices is its first real foray into this area. Yes, there was a single device launched last year, but it was more of a quiet toe in the water than a big launch.
So, I said there were three devices launched recently. Needless to say I got my hands on the top of the range model, but you can see info about the other two here.
I always say that a good sat-nav device is one which does not require you to look at its screen. The spoken instructions should be good enough to get you across junctions and through the traffic all of the time. It is a simple matter of driver safety that anything which means you take your eyes off the road ahead is not a good thing.
Still, if you do need to look at your sat-nav screen it has to be clear. There’s no problem in that department here. The RAC sat-nav 220 has a screen measuring a massive 5in corner to corner. It is wide format, and the actual dimensions are 110mm wide and 62mm tall.
A column down the right hand edge of the screen delivers information like distance to the next turn, direction of the next turn, distance to destination, estimated arrival time and so on. But the bulk of the screen area is given over to the map display.
The RAC has tweaked its core software, provided by Route66, to deliver a few interesting and user friendly goodies for those times when you do look at the screen. During motorway driving I noticed that junction numbers are overlaid onto the map, and that when taking an exit a box appears on screen showing a close representation of the physical road sign. If sat-nav systems are meant to reassure drivers about following the suggested route, then these are great examples of how to do that.
Of course the big screen makes for chunky kit, and the overall size is not helped by the column of buttons that sit down the left hand side of the screen. You are going to need a big pocket to carry the 148 x 85 x 35mm (WxHxD) device, and the 520g of weight is off putting too. Maybe rather than carry it around you’ll need to stow this sat-nav safely in the glove compartment when it is not in use.
For this purpose you get a drawstring pouch that should protect the screen from scratches, but it isn’t large enough to accommodate the windshield mount or any of the other gubbins that comes in the box. This includes both vehicle and mains power adaptors, FM antenna for the TMC data that comes with the system, mini-USB PC cable and AV-in cable – yes really. I’ll get to that later.
Inputting locations is a real bugbear for some sat-nav devices. Any device that requires you to enter information in a set way – starting with a town or city for example, is asking for trouble. Any that don’t have full seven digit postcode searching are way behind the times.
The good news is that the RAC sat-nav 220 has full postcode searching. It adds something else too – Fuzzy Search. This is simply the best location entry system I’ve ever seen in a sat-nav device. You enter bits of your destination and the system offers you its best fit options. It could be a street, a town, anything.
For example if you live in Acacia Avenue, give it ‘aca ave’ and it’ll list all possibilities for you to select from. If you want to go to Richmond Park just south of London ‘richm par’ is all you need. It works with POIs too. ‘Hosp Manc’ gets you the hospitals in Manchester.
The only problem is that if you aren’t specific enough you get a lot of places to sift through, because the RAC Sat-nav 220 includes European mapping.
Spoken instructions were so loud that I actually had to turn the volume down from its full setting. I like that. Too often they can disappear in the roar of other in-car noise. Just tapping the screen repeats the last spoken instruction, and when you have a long way to go to the next turn, it tells you to follow the course of the road till further instructions are given. More good stuff for driver confidence there.
The RAC has decided to include Bluetooth in the Sat-nav 220 so you can use it as a handsfree kit with your mobile. There is also a music player and that already noted AV-in capability.
The Bluetooth is reasonably well implemented, and if you need handsfree, it functions well enough. A hardware button in the column to the left of the screen jumps immediately to the phone screen so you can take and make calls.
The music player only copes with MP3 files. You can use the provided cable to connect the RAC Sat-nav 220 to your PC for file transfer, but you’ll also need to install a driver. The alternative is to pop MP3s onto an SD card using a card reader then put it into the card slot on the left edge of the hardware.
There is a real problem here in terms of storage capacity. The device comes with an SDcard which contains the maps the kit needs. Remove the card and the device can’t navigate. And the card is almost full. So it is a challenge, to say the least, to play music while driving.
I guess the idea is that you can use the music player when you are not navigating. But a dinky and sylish little iPod the RAC Sat-nav 220 isn’t. Don’t even think about hanging it round your neck. It is more useful to give to the kids to keep them quiet for a bit.
What about the AV-in system? If you have a DVD player or set top box without a TV attached, then use the provided cables to attach it to the Sat-nav 220 and use its screen for viewing. Hmmm. Not sure about that one.
The fuzzy searching alone is enough to make me want the RAC Sat-nav 220 in my car. Add in the wide screen, superbly loud and precise spoken directions, TMC information and European maps and I’m hooked. If the RAC wants to offer added, non sat-nav features, though, it needs to think carefully about what to offer and how they should be implemented.
Score in detail
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