For most consumers, a GPS device is not a tech gadget for geeks – it’s a critical necessity of the commuter lifestyle and an everyday way to find your way around town. You might not know the meaning of the term “PND” (or even care), or that there’s a difference between NAVTEQ and Tele Atlas data. You just want to avoid being late. To that end, the TeleNav Shotgun accomplishes the goal as an in-car navigation device, even if it can’t quite measure up to the more powerful features found on competing Navigon and TomTom products. Unfortunately, the device does falls short though when it comes to some simple pathfinding activities.
Features and Design
The Shotgun will be immediately familiar to anyone who has used a Verizon phone with built-in VZ Navigator software (which is created by TeleNav), or the TeleNav GPS Navigator software found on many BlackBerry phones with built-in GPS. Yes, even the turn-by-turn voice directions are exactly the same, and if familiarity normally breeds contempt, here it breeds contentedness, as you can put down your BlackBerry Curve (and use it when you are not in the car, thank you) and still rely on accurate directions.
The Shotgun is a slim and portable device not unlike a smartphone, measuring 4.9L x 3.1W x 0.75H inches and weighing just .27 pounds. The 4.3-inch display (measured diagonally) has a sharp and clear resolution of 480×272 pixels, and it’s a touch-screen with large, easy-to-find buttons. There’s also a 3.5mm audio jack – for connecting the device to your car stereo, if you own a newer vehicle with an audio-in jack – and the system comes with a 12v charger and mounting bracket.
Speaking of mounting, that’s where things get a little hairy at first. Unlike the Dash Express, which comes with a large suction cup for mounting the bracket to your windshield, the TeleNav Shotgun comes with a much smaller suction cup and a mounting bracket that is lighter but not as sturdy. Oddly, if you mount the Shotgun to your windshield and leave it there forever, it may stay adhered for a very long time. We used it for about a week without any problems – it never disengaged from the windshield. However, when we finally did remove it and tried the Shotgun in a different vehicle, the suction cup had lost its grip on reality and would just not stay in place. We even tried a little alcohol swab to clean the windshield thoroughly, but the bracket was almost useless. It’s possible, for those who intend to re-mount the Shotgun a few times, that you could buy extra suction cups or mounting brackets.
Like many Navigon and TomTom devices, you can clip the Shotgun out of its holder and take it with you – say, for a walk about town. In terms of hardware-friendliness, whether mounted or not, the Shotgun is easy to use for touch-screen operation. There are hardly any hardware buttons to speak of, save for the power button. This presents only one serious problem: When you are driving in hectic traffic, and you want to mute the device or lower the volume so you can hear the guy screaming next to you that you have a flat tire, you have to push the Audio button with your finger and move a slider. The Dash Express has similar software-based audio controls, but they are much easier to find and use.
The burning question for potential Shotgun buyers: Will it help you in traffic? Well, if you can live with the minor hardware deficiencies, the TeleNav software – mirroring what you’ll find on a BlackBerry – is exceptional. It just works. TeleNav has gone the opposite direction of Dash (who will now focus on software and hot hardware) by releasing a hardware product of solid quality.
The main screen on the Shotgun is where you’ll find the most important options, such as mapping a new route, favorites, recent places and a simple compass mode. You can also search for points-of-interest (POIs), including broad categories such as food or gas stations, or by browsing through a much more complete list broken into more specific categories such as hotels and airports. One especially helpful addition: You can search for nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and even see whether they charge for access or not. Once you find what you want, getting there is a simple matter of starting the route. Once you do, the screen changes to a visual routing mode so you can see (and hear) about all upcoming turns.
In the vast majority of situations, the Shotgun provides clear and precise directions. The system’s vocal prompts are perhaps not quite as listenable as the ones on many TomTom devices (read: the voice used here isn’t really that sexy), but they work. On a complex route through a busy city, the Shotgun was prompt and accurate about upcoming turns. Purposefully missed turns resulted in a quick instruction to do a U-turn as well. In a few cases, the Shotgun would immediately find a new route. We’ve used TeleNav software in Boston before, and the only glaring issue we’ve ever found is that it has trouble being clear about those weird turnabouts.
Now, there are a few minor issues to mention as well. Using the Dash Express and the Shotgun at the same time, the voice on the Shotgun has a bit more cadence to it – it takes longer for the voice to speak directions… sometimes two or three seconds more. That means, if the direction it’s telling you is “in 300 feet, make a sharp right turn” then the Dash will spit it out in plenty of time, but the Shotgun takes longer to get the message across. As a result, there were a few times when the Shotgun told us to do a U-turn when simply taking a new route would have been safer.
As with the Dash Express, the Shotgun does not support multi-point directions. You can’t punch in that you want to go to a buddy’s house first and then go to the movie store – you just have to set those routes separately. The Shotgun is also limited as far as screen customization. Even the Dash lets you click a software button to see estimated time of arrival versus time left on the route. The Shotgun doesn’t let you see things like your current speed, heading, or time to the next waypoint either, as both TomTom and Navigon devices do on multi-point routes. Granted, you can make simple adjustments to the view – say, changing to a 2D or 3D perspective, and zooming in at five different settings (with no auto zoom).
Image Courtesy of TeleNav
Okay, so if the Shotgun is just a functional GPS for your car with accurate directions, you might wonder if it does anything else. The answer is a resounding yes, because this device comes with GPRS service. For about $10 per month, you have access to not only new points of interest, but can see local gas prices (accurate to within a day or two) and receive software updates with new features as well. (TeleNav says they plan some new features for early 2009 to boot.) There is also live traffic data. In testing the device, we found the Shotgun would accurately report slowdowns and we could even click a button to re-route based on current traffic (the alerts are shown on screen and with vocal prompts). Mind you, the Dash has an interesting feature where traffic data is enhanced by monitoring the speed of other Dash Express users; the Shotgun has no such extras and appears to just use local traffic data.
The Shotgun comes with 11 million points of interest in the device, and TeleNav promises more in the coming year. Business listings are updated once per quarter. We found them to be mostly accurate, although there were a few listings for companies long out of business and one that had changed its name at least six months ago that was not listed correctly. The most critical detriment on the Shotgun is that this data is not really “Internet enabled,” even though it could be. For example, the gas station data is fed from a service called Opus, but there are no options, for example, for viewing a Web site for the gas station chain to check on extra services. (Annoyingly, when you see gas station listings and prices, you can’t simultaneously see the distance to the stations as you can on the Dash.)
Movie listings are also not based on Web information and do not include mini-reviews or showtimes (or even which movies are playing). In most cases, you can just see the business name and find it on the device, but you can’t find any extra information. The Shotgun is powered by Windows CE and could easily support Web-based services, so it is odd that it doesn’t.
Another amenity is that you can do pre-planning for trips. TeleNav offers a Web site where you can type in a route and then transmit that route plan to the device. They are saved in the My Favorites section of the system. If you happen to drive out of range of wireless service, the Shotgun will use the locally stored POI data and continue working fine as a GPS device.
Overall, the TeleNav Shotgun is a good device for finding your way around town – it will be harder to get lost in urban jungles and country locales. We prefer the Dash for its simplicity, however, and the TomTom and Navigon devices for their more powerful features. Nonetheless, the Shotgun remains a worthy driving aid and accomplishes the ultimate mission: Getting you where you need to go.
- Directions work well
- Gas station prices
- No added Internet features
- Mounting bracket only works once
- Light on extras
Image Courtesy of TeleNav