Twelve Days of Christmas: GPS Units

December 10, 2008
Considering the number of portable GPS units on the market, it seems that as a nation, we have an incredible fear of being lost and/or not knowing where we are. Regardless of how fun it would be to dart down a rabbit trail commentary regarding our national consciousness, your author will stick to some facts about these remarkably useful NAV units.

The unit on the left is the Mio Digiwalker C720t. Why do we like this slightly bulky unit that's been on the market for over a year? Because it's more than a capable in-car GPS device. Read on…

The Mio's 4.3-inch TFT display proved visible in sunlight and the touch-screen interface functioned intuitively. The articulating mount truly sucked, affixing itself to the windshield like a limpet. Compared to newer mounts, however, it was a bit bulky. Voice prompts (switchable on and off) were surprisingly helpful while navigating traffic in unfamiliar territory because it helps you keep your eyes on the road. The point-of-interest (POI) database is 12 million large. The unit also comes with a three-month subscription to ClearChannel's Traffic Messaging Channel that helps drivers route around traffic.

Beyond the basics, we also liked the screen's reconfigurable nature, which let us decide how much or how little information to display. Having the vehicle speed display next to the map proved exceedingly helpful when driving rental cars—since we were already looking at the map, we didn't then need to search an unfamiliar instrument panel to continually check our speed.

Along with providing roadway information for the U.S., Canada, and much of Mexico, the DigiWalker also stores data on walking, biking, and hiking trails because the unit is intended to travel with you when you leave the car. Compact enough to pocket, the lithium-ion battery provides juice for an afternoon's trek, and best of all, this GPS unit doubles as a 2-megapixel camera.  It snaps acceptable shots and can stamp photos with longitude and latitude coordinates (geotagging). The images can be reviewed on the unit's screen or transferred to a computer via SD flash card (you supply) and then used to enhance everyone's Google Earth experience.

The unit lists at $499, but the street price is closer to $250. Check out technical specifications at Mio-Tech.com.

The just-introduced Navigon 7200T is another top-performing GPS unit. Like the Mio, the Navigon gets you from point A to B with varying degrees of ease. Both integrate real-time traffic updates with 2D and 3D visuals, but the 7200T provides free traffic information forever. Nice. These units also work as Bluetooth speakerphones, but because this is a secondary design element, both units require a quiet automotive interior to perform this task satisfactorily.

And it gets better: The $250 (street price) Navigon 7200T is among a new breed of portable GPS that accepts voice commands, just like the high-buck factory-built in units that cost upward of $1,500. When the 7200T's bright 4.3-inch screen powers up, its graphics are crystal clear. The touch-screen controls work as expected, and the cadence for manually entering destinations is straightforward. So far, so good.

The maps are detailed and major landmarks even look like themselves (for example, in Detroit, the so-called Renaissance Center looked like itself). We also liked the Lane Assistant Pro feature when driving in unfamiliar metro areas where it's tough to know which of seven lanes you need to be in. A huge database of Zagat POIs is also welcome when you're in the right lane, but don't know where to eat.

While all of this is great, the marquee feature of the 7200T is its voice entry for destinations. If you know the address you're heading to, you're all set. The Navigon understood male and female voices equally well. Numbers must be spoken sequentially; 332 must be said, "three three two."

On the down side, the Navigon's database of POIs can't be searched by voice, and the HMI (human/machine interface) isn't perfect. Every time the unit powers up, it requires a tap or two to get to the map. Not completely intuitive, but worth the effort for the rest of the machine's performance. Our biggest complaint was the unit's relentless chastisement for speeding. Every time you run 10 mph over the posted limit, the 7200T says, "Caution!" and a speed limit icon appears on the display. As of this writing, we couldn't find a way to silence this electronic nanny without turning off the speaker completely.

For more information on the 7200T, visit www.Navigon.com.

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