Home Reviews Mobile Devices Navman’s new GPS is smart and social

Navman’s new smart GPS is a new approach to in-car navigation – it combines a new interface with dynamic content from Yelp and Foursquare to deliver live recommendations for what to see or visit anywhere in Australia.

To put this in perspective I have been using Navman’s top of the line MY450LMT – it is the more traditional GPS that gets you from A-B. It got my recommendationin 2013 because at the time, it was one of the only ones with lifetime HERE maps and Suna traffic updates, its intelligent routing offered several options, and its lane and exit guidance (using images where possible) was better than other brands I had reviewed.

My only gripe with this, and most other brand GPS units was the time taken for them to acquire a GPS signal – sometimes a good few minutes.

It was important to me that the new Navman Smart GPS did at least as good a job as the MY450LMT and had lifetime maps and traffic. Conclusion: It does everything the MY450LMT does - and it does not, but the latter is in ways that do not detract from the concept.

From a technical viewpoint, the Smart GPS uses Android as its underlying operating system (OS) – as far as I can tell most other Navmans use Windows CE. The OS swap means that it has a different user interface and the change was probably to make it easier to incorporate social media. The result is that this is different to any other brand and GPS on the market. It also means that the interface is not perfect – there are some quirks that users have to learn especially in clearing the screen of social media ‘flip tiles’ (shaped like an old flip type clock) and to get to the navigation screen.

In the upper left corner of the thick black bezel is an icon that looks like two stacked rectangles. Touch this once you get 3/4 of the map screen 1/4 with two tiles. This also reveals the Go To button where you can select a destination. Touch it again and it covers the screen with eight tiles including MotorMouth (petrol pricing), Weather, Speed camera, and Suna. Every time you want to access the map only its three touches - no big deal.

Programming the destination is different to. Most GPS use auto-prompting starting with the State, City/Suburb, Street, and street number (or cross street). You cannot navigate unless you find an address.

With the Smart GPS you can enter an address like ‘13 Smith Street Jonesville’ (in free text and in any order). If you have spelt is wrong e.g. Jonesvile it may offer alternatives. Or, you can enter landmarks like Airport, Hilton Hotel, Café Sydney, and if its is in Yelp or Foursquare it should find it. While the concept is good, there is a lot going for the discipline of the older interface. Navman – why not offer both?

Once the address has been found it will present at least three (or potentially more) numbered routes – fastest, shortest, and least motorways (the scenic long route through all the back streets) that correspond with the numbered routes shown on the map. These can be modified by selecting options like avoid tolls etc.

The Smart GPS uses an Internet Cloud called www.smartGPSeco.com. There are many features there including setting up multiple addresses (if you are doing many home inspections on the one trip etc.) This also enables you to search from PC or tablet. You can also link to Facebook and it will present things of interest to you along the way. It can recommend restaurants, bars, cafes etc., on route including special offers to entice you there.

It has companion apps for iOS and Android (KitKat 4.4 not yet supported) that allow you to select destinations using your mobile phone. Windows Phone and Tablet users can access the cloud web site as if they would on a PC.

All of these items use Wi-Fi and/or wireless broadband data. While in the car, it means you need to set up your smartphone as a personal hotspot. I could not easily measure the amount of data used but it recommends selecting the restricted option that limits data use and precludes over the air map updates etc. While connected you can also use the Smart GPS as an internet browser.

Like most flagship devices, it has Bluetooth hands-free and it gave acceptable call sound quality.

What I liked

After a few days, I became used to the different interface - it lost that ‘daunting’ learning curve. My wife, a casual user, is yet to master, let alone use, all the features, but can get around.

Whether you use the social media features, or use a smartphone companion app is really a moot point – you primarily buy a GPS to get from A to B – the social features simply make it a little easier.

The GPS signal acquisition was perceptibly quicker but still not instant. No GPS will calculate a ‘theoretical route’ using the last known position – perhaps Navman can make this GPS smarter yet again.

What I did not like

Most of my dislikes are minor and I am sure will be fixed in future OS updates.

The faux silver edge around the bezel reflected in the windscreen. A piece of black tape across the top fixed that issue.

The default settings for the map display are crowded with too many icons for too many different things. You selectively can turn these off in the settings.

There is a learning curve to get the most out of this unit. If you are not going to use these features, buy the lower cost MY450LMT.

Should you buy it?

Over the review period, I grew to like the device so yes I would buy it over the MY450LMT that was my 2013 choice for best GPS. It offers more functionality and better navigation than using a smartphone as a GPS navigation device.

The Smart GPS has a RRP of $299 but you will find it at Dick Smith for $279. The MY450LMT has a RRP of $229 – yes it is worth the extra $50.

Should you not buy one?

There has been a lot of debate about using smartphones as a GPS navigation device. These use a range of maps from Google, Sensis, OziExplorer, Hema, and Nokia’s HERE.

Many reviewers tend to confuse the ‘user interface’ – the way map data is cosmetically presented e.g. in 2D, 3D etc., with the base data.

I admit to being a fan of HERE Maps (formerly Nokia) used by Navman. They are in my opinion superior to other base map sources in both detail, being more up to date (if you update them) and for ease of use.

A dedicated portable GPS unit has a lot more functionality, especially in terms of lane guidance and landmarks that make driving easier. Until then a smartphone GPS should be considered as an emergency device only – and remember it is illegal to use these without a proper windscreen/dash mount.

Read one comment from a Google Nav GPS user

Google NAV needs:

  • Choice of different voices
  • a simple one button interface like Navman, Garmin, and TomTom
  • the ability to customise the frequency of instructions; dedicated units give better turn by turn; who wants to wait for instructions when they're driving!
  • No one needs satellite view when driving across the city
  • I can plan and save dozens of routes on dedicated units and then just get in my car and click on my saved route and I start getting instructions. I cannot plan and save a dozen routes with Google Navigation because it is still just a map application!
  • Google Navigation app is not comparable to any professional dedicated unit
  • It is a real battery drainer on a smartphone
  • And that is before we get into an argument about data roaming costs (offline and online)

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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