In the world of technological gizmos and gadgets we often see manufacturers play the game of feature one-upmanship where one manufacturer attempts to outdo another by copying the feature set of another, and improving on it. But a product doesn’t have to have all the bells and whistles to work well.
Sometimes all it takes is a little thought or a different approach to capture the imagination. Take the iPod Shuffle – it doesn’t have a screen, FM radio or microphone, yet it’s a pleasure to use because it’s simple.
In the world of GPS navigation, Telmap is attempting to do a similar thing with the latest version of its Java-based mobile phone/PDA navigation software, Navigator 3. Instead of going for fancy 3D maps, Telmap has stuck with the trusty 2D view and has instead made a big effort at making its maps readable and interface easy to use.
And to a large extent it has succeeded. This might not be the most exciting sat-nav software to look at, but it is easy to read and the directions are extremely clear. Turnings are highlighted with bright yellow arrows and the current route marked in red – it’s even clearer than Wayfinder 7’s maps. The user interface is straightforward to find your way around, while voice prompts are timely and clear too. In testing I never found myself wrong-footed, waiting for the maps to catch up.
Like Wayfinder, Telmap’s system is server-based so whenever you want to create a route, the software sends a request over whatever data connection you have and the servers return the favour, sending a small chunk of map and route data. The advantages are that maps are kept up to date, as are points of interest. It also means that memory requirements aren’t too severe so the system can be used on mobile phones with limited memory and no memory expansion slot.
On the subject of points of interest, Navigator 3 has to have the most detailed database of any sat-nav system I’ve ever tested. I punched in the address of the local shop that’s tiling my kitchen floor, and it returned the name and phone number of the shop. It’s not a chain either. The search is also much more intelligent than that on your average GPS. Type in Channel Tunnel and the first option you’re given is the Eurostar; enter London Zoo and the system takes you straight there. You don’t have to know the exact address or postcode.
The server-based approach also means that traffic updates can be built in relatively easily – and it is here that Telmap has the competition beaten. With almost every other sat-nav system on the market, you have to pay extra for traffic information either over a subscription to a data connection, or by buying a TMC FM aerial. With Telmap packages traffic information comes as standard. And, if you dig deep enough, you’ll also find a feature that allows you to share your favourite locations with the Telmap database, in a similar way to TomTom’s latest offerings.
There are disadvantages of the server-based system, of course. Principally, this involves cost. A few kilobytes every now and then isn’t going to make a difference to you if you’re on one of the new ‘unlimited’ tariffs, and is unlikely to make a dent in your fair usage allowance unless you’ve got it switched on all the time, but once you go abroad the cost of using the system is likely to skyrocket.
You’re also heavily reliant on the mobile phone network and Telmap’s ability to keep its servers running. In the event that you enter a black spot – and yes, they still exist in some places in the UK – or the cell you’re in is particularly busy, you’ll lose the ability to navigate outside of the current route. Likewise, if Telmap’s servers go down, you’ll have to be careful you don’t go off track.
But these aren’t the only negative aspects of Telmap’s Navigator 3. As with Wayfinder Navigator 7, it’s not as powerful as a comparable dedicated device. Telmap does have a pedestrian mode and gives you the choice between the fast and shortest route, but what it can’t do is multi-point routing. So if you want to go to Sheffield via auntie Mabel’s house in Doncaster, you’ll have to first enter her address, then once you’ve arrived enter the address in Sheffield you want to visit. If you know a fast, traffic-free part of the route you want to take in, you can’t tell Navigator 3 to go via that route.
You don’t get a roadblock avoidance tool – which is essential if you hit an unforeseen traffic jam or a flooded road and you want to be routed around it – though the software does recalculate your route automatically when you stray from it. Items from the amazingly detailed POI database can’t be displayed on the map as you navigate (you have to enter map browse mode for this), nor can you assign sounds to specific types – cash points, for instance – so that you’re alerted as you pass by. There is no speed camera warning system included in the standard package either; you have to pay extra for that.
And those traffic alerts aren’t 100 per cent reliable either. To test it, I chose several routes that passed through traffic hit routes (according to the BBC travel website), and though some big incidents were flagged, more often than not I was informed there were no problems on my chosen route.
Again, there’s a problem with flexibility here. Though Navigator 3 will route you around traffic problems automatically if it thinks it can find a faster route, what it doesn’t do is give you the choice to force it to calculate an alternative. Sometimes the machine doesn’t always know better and it’s frustrating not being able to tell it so.
And there’s one final thing that may put you off, if all this doesn’t – the price, or rather price plan as I should put it. With Navigator 3 you don’t simply pay once and own the product. You have to pay a monthly or yearly subscription. And at £50 a year for the UK and Ireland product (or £4.99 per month), or £69.99 per year for the Europe, USA and Canada (or £5.99 per month) it’s going to get expensive after more than three years (and these are promotion prices too). The positive side to this is that the contract is a rolling one – so if you’re only likely to need to use it occasionally, it could save a lot of money.
Furthermore, you can opt for a complete package, which includes a lifetime Europe subscription, the necessary Bluetooth GPS receiver and a windshield mount, but that will set you back just under £270 and of course you’ll still have to pay your provider’s roaming data costs.
On the face of it, Telmap’s Navigator 3 is a decent product and a competent navigation system. Routing is highly accurate, directions effective and spoken instructions clear and timely. It has a very impressive search facility and POI database, and traffic information comes as standard.
But I’m afraid it has just too many holes when it comes to essential features to be able to compare favourably with a stand alone system from the likes of TomTom, Garmin or Mio. And that monthly price plan won’t be for everyone either.
Score in detail
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