- Review Price: £99.99
In these gadget-crazy times, it’s often not enough for a manufacturer to produce the ultimate product at the cheapest price. Competition is so fierce that today’s gizmos must look good and slip into your pocket comfortably if they’re to force their heads above the increasingly vicious riptide of new products.
Once upon a time, for instance, I would gladly give over space in my bag or endure a great lump in my jacket pocket for a dedicated GPS device, such was its unique appeal. But now? I usually prefer to go with CoPilot and the built-in GPS receiver in my phone rather than lug an extra device around, despite the fact that a dedicated device with a larger screen is normally a bit more convenient to use in the car.
Route 66’s latest sat-nav – the Mini – has at least made me think twice about that choice. That’s because it’s one of the smallest, most pocketable sat-navs around. Although it has a large 320 x 240 resolution 3.5in touch screen, its compact dimensions of 95 x 81 x 19.5mm and light weight of 149g makes it easy to slip into a jacket pocket when you leave the car parked. The Mini is also a pretty good-looking product – at least as far as sat-navs go. Its faux aluminium frontage and embossed Route 66 logo are smart and it feels extremely solidly built with thick, sturdy plastic casing all over.
It’s not just the physical design of the Mini that appeals, though – it’s also an extremely easy device to use. In fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s more intuitive than TomTom’s excellent Go 520 and 720 devices, and that’s not something that trips off the tongue lightly. This is in part down to the Mini’s large, clearly labelled icons and logical interface organisation: most of the important options – address search, trip management, volume control and so on – are all a couple of quick clicks away.
But it’s the address entry and search system that really catches the eye. Where most other portable sat-navs force you to split your search laboriously by country, post code, city and street the Mini is intelligent enough to allow you to perform free text searches for your destination, just as you can with Google Maps. This means that, not only can you simply tap in a street name without knowing the precise geographical area in which it lies, but also hunt through points of interest just as easily. Thus you can simply type in “Hotel South Woodford” and it’ll go away and find you exactly that: hotels in South Woodford. Want to be more specific? Type in “Travel Inn London” and it’ll come up with a list of appropriate results. I can’t understand why more sat-navs don’t do this.
Other forms of destination and waypoint searches match this superlative ease-of-use. Creating multi-point trips is a doddle, for instance, not something that every sat-nav can lay claim to. And the on-screen keyboard is pretty usable too, occupying 90 per cent of the screen and including numbers and letters all on-screen at once so you don’t need to keep switching between alpha and numeric keyboards as you do with other small sat-nav devices.
But none of this is any use, of course, if the driving instructions are no good, and I’m happy to report that, in most instances, the Mini works very well in this respect too. The speaker – so often an area of weakness – is loud, clear and free of distortion. The voice instructions are delivered in a timely manner and the device links turns that follow each other together.
Route choices are largely sensible too, and I failed to find serious fault in over 300 miles of driving. Route calculation and recalculation when you go off route is handled swiftly and without fuss, and the Mini even includes a Lorry profile along with the usual car and pedestrian options. This optimises routes for wide vehicles and should keep truckers from getting stuck down narrow country lanes.
The Mini’s one weakness is the clarity of its maps. Most of the time these are fine, with clearly marked turnings and routes. The slimline, TomTom-style info panel, which can be displayed either as a sidebar or run along the bottom of the display, doesn’t occupy too much of the screen either. But the maps aren’t the cleanest or clearest and, just occasionally, things get confusing particularly when you come across complex turnings that have roads running either above or below them. Charlie Brown’s roundabout in east London, for example, has a complex network of fly-overs passing overhead and this confuses the display somewhat, with those overhead roads indistinct from the complex road layout underneath. CoPilot on my TyTN II, for instance, never gets this confused and has a much clearer display, and it’s the same with Mio’s excellent budget sat-nav – the C220.
The Mini also isn’t the most fully featured sat-nav ever: there is a photo-viewer, but you don’t get Bluetooth connectivity, or live traffic updates via TMC, and for this money, of course, you only get maps of UK and Ireland. However, you are provided with up-to-date speed cameras on purchase, which you must install via the excellent sync software in the box. This software, à la TomTom, also provides a central area that you use to upgrade other aspects of the product, from maps to a series of free extra voices and Rough Guide travel guides. TMC and Bluetooth phone functions can be added at a later date via various add-on accessories as and when funds allow.
So, if your funds don’t quite stretch to a TomTom Go 520 and you’ve got £100 to spend, you shouldn’t let the occasionally unclear map view and lack of fancy extras put you off considering this product. Not only can you add to it, should you want to via the excellent sync software, but the Mini is also a highly polished product in all the other core areas.
The biggest bonus is that it’s cheaper than the excellent Mio C220 at a very-reasonable £99.99. The fact that it manages to combine this with TomTom-rivalling ease-of-use, the most intuitive sat-nav search around, and high quality navigation means it takes over from the Mio as the best budget sat-nav around.
Score in detail
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