November 24, 2005

GPS Review: Cobra NavOne 4500 Review from GPS Lodge

We have been driving around New England for a few weeks now under the guidance of the Cobra NavOne 4500 GPS and overall this is a sound device that can get you from here to there in the lap of screen real estate luxury. We really had a pleasure using the Cobra NavOne 4500 gps for this review. There are lots of bells and whistles to entice you to buy this one, and overall the unit is sound. It's a big old thing, and with that come a few luxuries and a few minor annoyances but all in all, it's a good unit. Right now, the Cobra NavOne 4500 GPS is available at Amazon with FREE SHIPPING.

The Cobra NavOne 4500 comes with a 12V power cable, but does not have an on board battery. Increasingly I find that having an on board battery is really nice. You don't always have to have the thing plugged in, and if you are running short on power outlets, it's nice to not have to power off the GPS while you charge the mobile phone and your iPod.

The Cobra NavOne 4500 GPS is a full featured GPS for the car that offers the features that you'd come to expect from a high end unit. The touch screen is very bright, and I never had trouble seeing it in sunlight. The auto dimming feature is great; automatically dimming as the sun sets. An odd thing happened one night as I was sitting at a stop light with a truck in front of me. As I pulled up behind the guy, the GPS started getting brighter, which was in reaction to his bright tail lights. As we pulled away the light sensor on the back of the GPS thought is was getting dark again, and dimmed back down to a night level. This was a funny quirk, and over the weeks only happened once. By far, the auto dimming feature is great.

Traffic Info
The traffic information comes in through the small FM antenna that plugs into the back of the unit. I was driving around eastern Massachusetts, and had a good solid signal all of the time. The NavOne 4500 allows you to overlay colors on top of the map that indicate medium or heavy traffic flow (or lack thereof). The signals worked great, the info was fed perfectly, the color overlays were sometimes a bit hard to see, but in the end, the traffic flow rate needs a little calibration in my opinion. I don't know who owns this (Cobra or the feed provider), and maybe I am a whimp compared to some notorious cities around the world. I think the traffic I commute through can hold its own - I'm talking about 10 miles of stop and go traffic, sometimes going through bottlenecks, crawling along at an average of 20 MPH on an interstate highway. So, I was surprised that the Cobra NavOne 4500 didn't indicate that my commute wouldn't be at least a Medium traffic flow?!?!? So it never re-routed me around traffic flow issues, but it did warn me of several traffic incidents (accidents or disabled cars). For that, I say "Thank-you Thank-you". So, net, I think the traffic feature is good, and has promise. It was only launched earlier this year and may need some time to work things out. As it evolves it can help people out immensely in the cities that have coverage. For coverage information see Real Time Traffic) In my opinion, this is the direction that all GPS units should go, so I am willing to hang in there while they get it perfect. So, the traffic thing is a big plus in my mind.

Cobra is working with TeleAtlas who is working with Inrix, which has the ability to add a predictive element to the traffic flow. For more, check out our related article.


Navigation
Overall, navigation is easy to do. A big plus in my mind. The Cobra NavOne 4500 has over 7 million points of interest, and lots of categories to help you navigate to the right type of place. You can also type in the name or address of the location you want to go. A great little thing is that as you type, the Cobra NavOne 4500 thinks ahead for you eliminating the letters that can't follow in the name. So, if you are typing the name of a street like "Willow", as you type the "o", then you will only have a "w" to choose from. All of the other letters will gray out. This helps a lot and minimizes the chance of fat fingering and mis-typing the name.

As you are approaching a turn, the voice announces that the turn, and a countdown bar on the right side of the screen is shown. The bar helps you visualize when the turn is coming, and eliminates the need to interpret how far away 400 feet is. A nice touch, and when you are driving along, it's very easy to use. Things like this just make life easier when you are navigating in a new area.

Another nice feature is that you can dial up a second location or route to navigate and see them side by side on the screen - shown in different colors. This allows you to see where you are, where you were going, and where you need to go. This kind of stuff helps you plan your trips and day out when you have lots of places to go in unfamiliar territory.

The Cobra NavOne 4500 also offers the usual set of navigation features that you would come to expect. It can navigate faster or shorter routes, 2D and 3D views of the map, and an easy "Go Home" button. The audio help is often useful, and a nice feature. It also re-routes you in case of a wrong or missed turn.

Maps
The maps that drive the navigation are sound, but they are from TeleAtlas. These maps are well known to not be up to date in the continental US, and I saw similar problems with the TomTom GO 300 when I used it (See our review). It's a minor annoyance, and not an issue in my use. You may not have some of the newest streets. Know this going in. If this is an issue for you, you'll need to seek out products with NAVTEQ maps for the US (Garmin or Magellan). The unit comes pre-loaded with maps and POI's, a big plus and also a requirement in this price range.

Suction Cup Windshield Mount
The one thing that is an issue for me has nothing to do with the GPS unit, but instead with the windshield mount. There is a paper insert that warns you to wash the windshield before mounting. I thought it odd, did it, and went about my business. As I use the thing I dismount it and hide it while I am parked. I assume that most people don’t want to leave a $1000 unit hanging on their windshield screaming "Steal me". After a few weeks of doing this, I was driving down the road, and the unit fell off my windshield. Trust me, not what you want to happen while cruising down the highway. I can only assume that the paper insert talking about washing the windshield was designed to avoid this. My hunch is that if the suction cup mount was larger, we'd avoid the issue. UPDATE - 11/30 : I have talked with a representative for Cobra on this issue and they are working on a fix for this that allows for easy removal of the entire GPS and mount from the windshield, all while maintaining a secure lock on the windshield while driving.

When I was dismounting the unit, I elected to take the unit (and the suction cup mount) off the windshield totally because the unit is not easy to attach to the mount. It fits through four little holes, and snaps down into place that made me feel like I might yank it off the windshield. Other units that I have used have a very simple mounting system that can be operated with one hand, with confidence and without the fear that you are going to rip it off the windshield. This adds to the hassle factor, as you drag the mount, the power cable and the FM antenna off of the dash to hide it.

Summary
The Cobra NavOne 4500 is a solid performer despite the mount issue, and holds a lot of promise as a high end GPS receiver for the car with lots of features including a good traffic feature. I have high hopes for traffic feeds and will follow the progress of these. The traffic feeds are the future of in car navigation, and the Cobra NavOne 4500 is well positioned to be a leader here. The feature set is bountiful, and it is well laid out. I like the navigation features like the bar countdown to turns and the simple go home buttons. Navigation is very good and easy to use wile on the road. The big screen helps make things easy to read and easy to adjust on the fly. Right now, the Cobra NavOne 4500 GPS is available at Amazon for $930 with FREE SHIPPING.


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Posted by Scott Martin at November 24, 2005 10:49 AM

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