Portable GPS devices are among the hottest selling CE gadgets: An amazing 12 million are expected to be gobbled up this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Not too bad for a device that simply tells you where to go—and gets annoyed if you decide to take a different route! (We affectionately call our Garmin GPS “Naggie” since she gets a dismissive tone if we choose to blaze our own shortcuts.) Still it’s unbelievably cool getting a real-time view of your location and directions to grandma’s house—or wherever else you’re off to.
Dramatically-dropping cost is perhaps the biggest driver of GPS popularity since you can now buy one for $149 US, although low-end models are hard to recommend. In GPS Land, three companies dominate sales—and no, Sony, Samsung and Panasonic are not among them. Garmin, TomTom and Magellan own 80 percent of the market while others like Navigon are trying to claw their way into the top ranks. That said, we recently were sent the Navigon 2100 Max off to our testing labs to determine if it deserves to be considered a top-tier unit. Now let’s take a drive…
Features and Design
One of the biggest trends for 2008 is the proliferation of GPS models with 4.3-inch widescreens, a dramatic increase from entry-level, square-shaped 3.5-inch units. Thankfully, the Navigon 2100 Max sports the former – and trust us, you’ll definitely appreciate the larger visual real estate.
For the most part, GPS devices look pretty similar—a screen surrounded by a small bezel – since there are few buttons and controls. Everything other than power on/off is usually handled by tapping the screen: Another reason to opt for a larger display. The Navigon has a piano-black-colored frame with a small, unobtrusive logo and it blends nicely with a dark dashboard. Just as important is the rear of the unit, since you’ll see it as you approach your car, which has a nice, etched design along with a small speaker.
As for general dimensions, the Navigon 2100 Max measures 4.83 x 3.03 x .74 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 6.27 oz. On the right side is an SD card slot which holds NAVTEQ map information (this comes with the unit). Please note that the maps supplied on the card only contain the lower 48 states—if you’re heading for Anchorage, Alberta or the rainforests of Puerto Rico, track down the 2120 Max, a model aimed for drivers north of the U.S. border ($329 CAD).
One of the most critical interfaces of any GPS is the windshield mount. We tried an older Navigon 7100 and the suction cup kept failing with the entire unit falling on the floor because the arm was so heavy. Fortunately, the company KO’d that mount with the 2100, instead opting for a different style. It too proves annoying, but at least it didn’t hit the carpet too many times. Looking like something from a Lego set, you have to attach the GPS holder to the mount via a screw. Navigon doesn’t bother to include instructions for putting it together—you have to go online and check out the manual.
We know companies want to save money, but a small quick guide wouldn’t cost a fortune and would improve the “out of box” experience. By comparison, even older models such as Garmin’s nuvi 360 have a mount that’s much easier to use along with simple get-started instructions. Also, the Navigon mount—designed for quickly removing the unit to prevent theft—doesn’t have a reassuring snap or click when you take it off or put it back in place.
Beyond setting up the mount and plugging the power cord into a cigarette lighter jack, there’s not much more involved with getting set up and going. We have to give Navigon some credit here: With the 7100 you had to charge it for five hours off the car’s electrical system before it worked—truly one of the most absurd things we’ve had to deal with in the past few years. The 2100 Max has some power right out of the box and the screen immediately pops to life.
Other than larger display size, a good GPS device should have text-to-speech capability, so directions are announced as you cruise along, which the Navigon thankfully possesses. However, it does not sport Bluetooth capability, so you can’t use it with your cell phone or play MP3s, as do competing units. Then again, the device does have several other features that are recommendable including Reality View, an almost photo-like image of key highway interchanges. The screen shows you road signs virtually as they appear in real-life, making it a lot easier to deal with complicated clover leafs and the like. Units also feature DirectHelp for directions to emergency services in case you need them. On the downside, they also sport Automatic Speed Warnings. Who needs to be nagged about that—not that you’d ever break the law! Fortunately, these can be disabled.
Another point of difference between GPS devices is the number of POI (points of interest) such as banks, gas stations, restaurants and so forth contained on supplied maps. (The more the better, natch…) The 2100 Max has two million, less than certain rivals. Worse, not all are accurate.
Many industry observers believe real-time traffic is the “killer app” for GPS devices. With it, the unit receives notice of road congestion then provides an alternate route to speed you along. Navigon offers Lifetime Traffic as an option. It’s $99 USD for as long as you own it.
The device also has a Zagat option for $39 USD so you can also check ratings for restaurants, hotels and so on. There’s a FreshMaps feature for $79 USD as well, whereby the company supplies regular map updates quarterly for three years. These are competitive prices with Garmin, TomTom et al, and if you live on the road, might be worthwhile investments.
After getting the 2100 Max into position (thanks to a little saliva on the suction cup), it was time to start driving with the help of our chatty new “friend.”
Image Courtesy of Navigon
Performance and Use
The Navigon powers up and receives signals from associated GPS satellites rapidly, although the company warns it can take up to 15 minutes for the first boot. (It took less than a minute for us.) Before you get going, it’s wise to go through the Basic Setup. There are seven screens’ worth and you can customize the maps and data you’ll see on the WQVGA display (480×272 pixels) – a resolution similar to other 4.3-inch models such as the new Garmin nuvi 880.
The 2100 Max features a receiver that’s built into the unit and the antenna is part of the power cord. This is a nice solution and eliminates the need to snake a separate traffic antenna on your dash. Navigon let us try out the Zagat and Lifetime Traffic services, which will set you back $130 USD total plus the $299 USD for the unit. Enabling them is a multistep process that requires you to go to the Navigon website to get an activation code and then input that info into the unit. It’s not too onerous. Before discussing these features though, let’s talk about the 2100 Max as a pure direction-generating device and its ability to get you from Point A to B.
Entering locations is relatively easy. But the onscreen boxes for numbers and letters are a shade smaller than you may find on competing models. That said, it’s not difficult entering an address—still, you should keep a pen nearby to tap the screen, advice which holds true for any GPS (keep the point retracted, though).
Also important to ponder is the amount of time it takes to generate each route, with 2100 Max doing so in a reasonable 30 seconds. The aforementioned Reality View feature is also quite handy: When you come to a key highway interchange, it shows signs almost exactly as you’d see them appear on the road. The GPS will also inform you about slowdowns on highways up to 50 miles away – quite a nice extra.
Reality View shows you the signs in real-time
From a voice-over standpoint, the Navigon’s narrator is cheerfully quite forgiving and informative too. She’ll say “turn in 30 feet” or vocalize whichever other instructions are needed to keep you on track. The 2100 Max has another cool bonus as well—speed limit signs that appear on the left side of the screen. We were tooling down a 65 MPH highway and suffice it to say it was a nice reminder when we, er, “accidentally” hit 83.
Zagat restaurant ratings are a big plus for foodies too. With this option activated, you get an additional 30,000 POI (restaurants, hotels, golf courses, etc.) To find the info though, you have to enter the POI screen then manually review the local Zagat write-ups. This process proves clunky, and it would be preferable if the Zagat icons automatically appeared on the main screen and opened into another screen with the requested data once you tapped the display. What’s more, the 30,000 POI are geared towards big cities rather than outlying areas, which makes them useful primarily for those living in larger metropolitan areas.
A couple additional design niggles should also be noted. For some reason, Navigon engineers did not include an auto shutdown when you turn off the ignition. You’re forced to turn the device off manually when you leave the car… Otherwise it just keeps running, making it a nice beacon for thieves. Rival devices also offer preferable splash pages for accessing favorites, restaurants and other common selections.
Same with Garmin’s auto daylight/night display. When it becomes dark, the Garmin automatically go into night mode, changing the colors of the maps. With the Navigon you have to manually do this on the touch screen.
The Navigon 2100 Max is a solid, well-performing GPS that’s easy to recommend. At about $260 USD street price (as of April 2008), it proves well worth the investment for features such as the terrific Reality View option. By comparison, the new Garmin nuvi 205W with a similar 4.3-inch screen is due soon for $266 USD and lacks this feature, not to mention spoken turn commands. Since both use NAVTEQ maps, there really isn’t that much difference in terms of day-to-day performance as well. Navigon also has traffic alerts for $99 lifetime versus MSN Direct at $129 lifetime (or $49.95 annually) on the Garmin. However, MSN Direct gives more info such as movie times and stock quotes, so this is pretty much a wash. All told though, the Navigon 2100 Max takes the prize. And, better still, we love the fact it doesn’t nag us…
• Sharp 4.3-inch touchscreen
• Reality View is outstanding
• Relatively inexpensive traffic info
• No Bluetooth capability
• No shutoff or auto day/night view
• Should have more points of interest