March 23, 2009

TeleNav Shotgun Connected GPS Full Review

TeleNavShotgunFront.jpg

The TeleNav Shotgun is a the latest internet connected GPS that adds a lot of capabilities to the standard GPS by having a realtime full data connection to the internet over the cellular network. The Shotgun has internet search functions for Points of Interest, gas station searches that include gas price data, a big plus these days. The TeleNav Shotgun adds a conservative number of functions to the featureset, stopping short of some of the far reaching capabilities of the Dash Navigation folks when they launched the first connected GPS early last year.

With the fatter data pipe that the cellular network offers, more granular traffic information can be sent to the device, offering you a more accurate view of what lies ahead. The Telenav Shotgun is targeted at the business travelers who are generally out in the traffic on a regular basis, so the better detail and capabilities should be welcome. Speaking of business travelers, the Shotgun also captures your mileage, offering the easy ability to capture trip distances for mileage reimbursement.

Telenav Shotgun Design

The overall design of the unit itself is fairly straightforward and offers a nice rubberized soft touch exterior, and a power switch on the top right side of the unit. Powered via the 12V cord into the side of the unit, the Shotgun can sit firmly on your dash in its cradle. The Cradle itself is not the most elegantly designed but very functional and easy to use in a cam-lever actuated suction cup.

Interface

I found the interface on the Telenav to be straightforward after getting acquainted with the overall system. The key is that Telenav calls their navigation environment a "Moving Map" which honestly threw me for a while. "I don't want a moving map, I want to navigate." I got over it. The main screen has four main selections - "Drive to", "Search", "Maps and Traffic", and "Extras"; also available are Preferences and Volume Control. While the preferences add the ability to always route via the fastest route, surface roads, highway preferences, etc. it does not allow you to set avoidances; something I would like to see in the next round of upgrades. Telenav has already released one update, and I am sure they are working on more, so I am confident that they can work something like this in. Without avoiding a "U-Turn" the Telenav can ask you every now and then to complete one if you miss your turn. I always shut U-turns off when possible, because let's face it they are not the most welcome maneuver and there is often another turn just ahead to make a new route just as acceptable without the hazards of a U-turn.

"Drive to" is where you will spend a lot of time, and is easy to understand. My Favorites is a great place to store your main addresses and locations. Whenever you have an address up on the screen, you can elect to save it in the favorites folder with a custom title. The Recent Places button reveals a longer list of things you have just navigated to. Sometimes, I like to pre-load some addresses in there by "Navigating" to them and then canceling the route. It's easy to tap on them later while driving, and get there quickly. You can also navigate to an address, an intersection, a Business (search the pre-loaded POI database), a City and interestingly an Airport. I like that the airport has been pulled up to a top level menu item. I travel for work, and it's great to get that direction quickly and easily; because I can't count how many times I was running late for a plane and needed the best way to get to the airport.

Another cool thing was to search for WiFi spots from the GPS - This is not some WiFi triangulation service, but instead a listing of businesses that have WiFi available. I had mixed results finding WiFi locations, but I like the idea; keep building the resource. The POI listing is pretty extensive if you have the time and patience to burrow into the categories. A few are good and novel, like searching for items under the "Money" tab, like ATM's and Credit Unions, etc. or for the DMV. A few like the DMV are limiting, as you can search near you or in a different city; if you don't know the city the DMV is in you might be out of luck. But if you know that it's in a certain town like you should since it's probably your home state, you should be OK.

Maps and Traffic - Takes you right to the overview of where you are and what you are doing, giving you the view of the Moving Map. A quick touch of another button gives you access to traffic conditions.

NavScreen.jpg

Traffic Capabilities - Telenav Shotgun

The Telenav Shotgun comes with the advanced capability of rendering a more granular read on traffic issues. The bigger data connection of the cellular network is the enabler of this ability and one that is hard to walk away from and return to a TMC based system. A sip of the nectar, if you will, is tough to turn down. The data available through the Telenav is the way traffic reporting should be; detailed, accurate and helpful. There is always room for improvement, but this is a glimpse of the future, and it is a lot better than the past. I say this for two reasons:

1) Finer resolution on traffic issues. With limited data throughput, a TMC device may offer a read on a road's traffic conditions in road segments that are no finer than a mile or more, while the unit with better data handling capabilities is cutting the road into segments that are fractions of a mile. The result is a better read of where traffic conditions turn really ugly, and a better read on accuracy of travel time. Time and time again, the Telenav gave me solid travel times on my 35 mile commute into Boston on some of the busiest roads around that have ever changing traffic conditions.

2) Better details on problem areas - Instead of "Accident" alone on a stretch of roadway (i.e. I-93), you will get better detail on exactly where and what; "Traffic Congestion Near Exit 3 I-93 Northbound - Average Speed 25 MPH" , which can make all the difference in the world when you are heading towards that situation. It gives you an understanding of where and when and what your alternatives are. I like the color coded road assessments on the traffic detail screen, with the indication in that color block of the average speed - very helpful in understanding what lies ahead. (A little tough, but see the numbers in the colored boxes in the image below)

TrafficDelayTimes.jpg

While the color coded summary above offers a quick look at the situation I would like to see a map based version too. The image below is a zoom out of the situation, but that's as big a picture as I can get, offering only a few miles ahead. My hope is to get a graphical view of my whole trip if possible showing the maps. A way that I have seen it done that makes the traffic conditions pop off the screen is to gray out the underlying maps, which makes the red/yellow/green of the traffic very obvious.

TrafficMap.jpg

The Telenav Shotgun offers a decent re-routing capability, but does suffer from the inability of the collective system to judge some traffic on surface roads, which in many cases becomes your alternative routing option. I would like to see an easier way of getting an overall picture of what my current traffic map looks like and what the route options are, including these major surface roads.

In summary, the Shotgun gives much better resolution and detail on what lies ahead, but will not magically deliver you from traffic nightmares, as you still need to travel down crowded streets and deal with some situations that the collective system is not yet able to incorporate into the interface yet. The ability to pull down more data through the cellular connection makes for a better informed driver, and makes going back to a TMC based traffic solution a tough step back.

Connected Search

The connected search worked well for me, and includes a few that really make sense. The Gas By Price search is intuitive, and offers a broad search allowing you to search for Any, Regular, Plus 89, Premium, and Diesel. The data is fairly accurate in my searches, and the additional search by grade of fuels, especially diesel is important. Not all stations have prices loaded for all grades, but the main ones are there. When you do tap on a fuel grade, the TeleNav Shotgun asks where you want to search; Near You, or Somewhere Else; which allows you to search near a town, address or near an Airport. The last being a total savior for those of us who have to return that rental car full of fuel every time.

The other POI searches include ratings and reviews on businesses (i.e. gas stations and restaurants) that allow you to add your own comments and ratings to a business. I found that the ratings are starting to get populated but the comments (reviews) are not yet for many businesses. Something that will add value over the long term.

The search appears to be searching titles, which won't allow you to search for "content", only titles. So, Dash famously talked up its ability to search for "Dim Sum" on its search to find restaurants that served Dim Sum, and not just ones that had it in its name.

Mileage Capture

At a glance; this seemed like a decent add-on, and not something that is all that wonderful, but actually it can be quite useful. The feature isn't just some modified onboard dashboard of mileage capture, but a connected service that allows you to name trips, capture the mileage, and download to Excel the information for reporting purposes. Need to capture mileage, this is a big help. The "Start Capture" button is on the left part of the screen offering an easy way to start your navigation and mileage capture. You don't need to be navigating to do this, as the "Start Capture" button is available when simply driving around. While driving, the "Stop Capture" button in the corner will remind you to stop the data capture. The data is stored online for later retrieval and download.

When you log into "My TeleNav" you get to see your mileage reports and search by last week, last month, etc. The mileage reports can be viewed as a summary, or detailed, with quite a bit of detail available. When you pull the detail report, the location of start and finish are shown (" 73 BOSTON TPKE\MA-9\BOSTON WORCESTER TPKE\BELMONT ST and N QUINSIGAMOND AVE, SHREWSBURY, MA"); along with the total distance. The detailed or summary reports are downloadable in PDF or in Excel format. Easy to use, and powerful.

Review Summary

The Telenav connected GPS shows a lot of strengths and can offer business travelers and regular citizens a choice worth considering in the marketplace for GPS units. There are some smart additions that make make the interface easier to use when navigating - and features like Mileage Capture that can make it a great choice for those who have to track of such things. The Telenav's strengths lie in its connected traffic reporting. The traffic incident reporting detail is excellent and the TMC system can't come close to it. The detail coming from Inrix allows you to see in much better detail the quality of the traffic (Red/Yellow/Green) as well as an estimated speed for most roads in an urban area with traffic flow reporting. The advantage here is more accurate estimation of the total travel time. My experience was that the Telenav was pretty close overall across my ~35 mile commute up to Boston. The benefits to me are simply an accurate picture of what I have in front of me, and no, the Telenav didn't magically deliver me from the crush of traffic that Boston has to offer (a top 10 city for Traffic congestion according to Inrix). To be fair, until the GPS world has flow readings on highways, major roads AND side streets, no GPS will do that (Dash was trying to do this, but couldn't get traction). Overall, the Telenav is a competitive entry with some blemishes and some great strengths; the latter setting it apart from anything on the market today.

Available at TeleNav

   



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Posted by Scott Martin at March 23, 2009 9:04 AM

Recent Comments

Is it smart enough to pick faster routes on less-major roads? It would seem to me that the traffic just could not keep up with the Dash, which has traffic data in its database for all but the most minor roads. I'd love to see a replacement to the Dash on the horizon but it seems no one else is coming close (and why I still pay Dash every month).


Posted by: Josh Wardell at March 23, 2009 11:15 AM
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