The Mio C520 is Mio’s first foray into the widescreen market, riding on an updated and often times innovative operating system that may just be leading instead of following. The Mio C520 has a sleek design that is not some bargain block on a suction cup GPS, that on top of being good looking comes with a nice set of features. These features include a relatively bright widescreen, text to speech, Bluetooth handsfree capability, music and video playback and a good set of Points of Interest (POIs). The split screen capability (one that you can turn on and off) is innovative and may just represent a new way to interact with your GPS.
Admittedly, it's been a while since I got the Mio C520, but it has allowed me to check it out and overall enjoy the widescreen unit with its tabbed navigation screen quite a bit.
Table of Contents
The Mio C520 has a minimalist design that surrounds the widescreen with a sleek black boarder that is reminiscent of a picture frame. The unit has a mini-USB power inlet in the bottom of the unit, but unfortunately uses a mini-USB plug in the car that comes straight out instead of an “L” plug, so you will need to have the unit just a bit higher off the dash than others. The mount is similar to other Mio devices, which includes a cam lever suction cup and a two-way adjustable hinged neck that can take a bit to get set by locking down the movement with thumb-screws. Not easy the first time, but minimal to no effort after that.
One thing that is a bit of a disappointment is that you need to feed the Mini-USB plug through a hole in the unit’s cradle. This makes taking the unit off the mount a two step process: 1) unplug the mini-USB, 2) Dismount the unit. If there was a slot, you could simply dismount the unit and stow it to get it hidden when you run into stores, etc. I have resorted to taking the whole unit off the windshield, which in the end is probably the safer thing to do anyway.
The top of the unit sports a single power button that is easy to operate and a quick tap powers off the unit. The left side has an SD slot for media data as well as a headphone jack. The back of the unit has the speaker that is plenty loud, and a small external antenna jack.
Navigation with the Mio C520 is fairly easy with numerous ways to find your destination. The new Mio Map version on the C520 includes a “type ahead” feature that shows you only the letters that are available next in the word that you are typing. So, when you type Maple St., and you type the “M”, the unit will only highlight letters that can come next, including “A”. This has the effect of speeding input; net, a big help here.
The POI database is robust and includes phone numbers of the businesses, which can be a big help when you are out on the road.
The Mio C520 has the ability to search for stores and places of business, which is a huge help. There are even more expensive units that do NOT have a database that includes store level POI databases, like the TomTom ONE XL, which saves some money for them, but can also hurt a bit if you are looking for a specific store. When they condense the database, they revert to shopping centers as the POI, not the individual stores, so for me, I have no idea what the shopping center’s name is near me, I just want to local Dunkin' Donuts, or Gap, or Wal-Mart, etc. Anyway, the Mio C520 allows you to search at the store level and that is much more helpful.
Split Screen – Tabbed Browsing
When I first saw the split screen I was skeptical, and a bit leery of its usefulness, but it’s surprisingly helpful. The split screen is optional while navigating a route. Touch the small arrow in the upper right corner of the map, and you can hide the split screen. Tap is again the split screen grows out of the right side of the unit. With it shown, you quickly see that the right side of the screen is actually a tabbed interface. The main tab (shown at the right) shows key navigation data, including speed, time of day and date when you are not navigating, but a additional helpful information when navigating to a destination. When navigating the unit shows current time, estimated time of arrival, ETA, Distance to destination, as well as right at the top of the screen distance to next turn and a turn indicator arrow.
The next tab, the POI tab, shows distance to gas stations, which may also be a good thing while on a trip. Nicely enough, the POI tab on the Mio C520 split screen is configurable, which is fantastic. Set it up with the POI that you need and want to have access to; gas stations, restaurants, fast food only restaurants, train stations, post offices, etc.
In order to change what is showed, you need to display on the map the POI that you want to see; from the Map Screen:
1) Tap the lower left “Menu” button
2) Tap the Gear or “Settings” button
3) Tap the “Manage POI” button
4) Search through the POI list and when you get to a category that you want displayed, you highlight it and then tap the “Show” button in the lower left corner of the screen. [In order to highlight a higher level category, you can tap it, and then tap the “Back” arrow in the upper left of the screen to highlight the category button.
The POI tab now has the new POI category or categories that you just highlighted. You can do multiple categories.
The third tab shows traffic information if you elect to have the traffic module installed (I did not), while the last tab shows a list of turns that are upcoming (Shown in the main image at the top of this review). These turn indicators show you the distance to that turn as well as the street name. This can be a big help when navigating, and I found it reassuring when I was trying to scan the route when going into unfamiliar territory. All of this can be had without losing sight of the maps or the layout of where you are going that stays right in front of you, inspiring confidence in your navigation experience.
Net I like the idea of tabbed browsing on the interface, and expect that this be a big step change in the user interface much like tabbed browsing has changed internet browsing.
Performance in grabbing satellite signals and holding them was on par with other SiRF star III equipped GPS units; net no issues.
In my torture test of navigating from my house near Boston to Dodger Stadium, the Mio C520 was on par with its sibling the Mio C220, generating the route in about 23 - 25 seconds, about 30% faster than the older Mio C310x. In creating routes that you might drive on a more normal basis (20 - 40 mile range) the Mio C520 only took 5-6 seconds to generate and display the route. Pretty fast.
Text to Speech
Text to speech (TTS) is an option worth paying for in my opinion, as it really helps when navigating in urban and densely populated areas where the streets are only a few hundred yards apart. It makes it a lot easier to figure out where you are and where to turn as you drive along. It can be the difference between watching the GPS unit for how many more yards to go before the turn and watching the road while listening for the street name as you drive. If you are in an area where the streets are close, chances are you may also be in some traffic, and watching the road is a much better thing to do in those situations.
The text to speech capability on the Mio C520 is good, and amazingly enough it doesn’t butcher some street names like you think it might. While it does have trouble with some of the street names based on Native American words that are so prevalent around New England, it does just fine on a great majority of the ones I run into. I had the choice of one female TTS voice, and would have liked a couple of others to choose from, something that you can do on other higher end units. The voice is not as smooth as TomTom’s text to speech engine, which is one of the best in the class, but it’s not bad, and at this price, getting a widescreen and text to speech is pretty amazing.
Step by step instructions on getting Text to Speech on the Mio C520: From the Map screen hit the “Menu” button in the lower left of the screen, then the “Home” or house looking icon, Then “Settings”, then “Language”, then “Voice Language” where you need to select a “TTS” voice to make the test to speech engine work.
The Mio C520 also offers Bluetooth handsfree capability for connecting not only to your phone, but also to headphones to listen to music. I don’t have a pair of headphones, so I can’t comment on that, but the handsfree mobile phone feature works well. The set-up was not hard, but not as straightforward as I would have liked. You need to jump out to the main menu (higher than the Mio Map program), to get the set-up going. I was able to navigate the set up without reverting to the manual, and it only took a bit of trial and error to set up. Calls were clear, and easy to complete, a feature that I like to have. Unlike the Nuvi 360 that I reviewed, the Mio C520 did not import my phone’s contact list, or items like my Recently Called list. I was using a Moto KRZR, a fairly common phone.
Mio C520 - What's in the Box?
The Open Box reveals the contents inside.
Something worth mentioning is that Mio has done its homework on the packaging, and seems to have gone to school on Apple, and how they package their products. Like unboxing an iPod, boxing the Mio C520 is like unwrapping a present. The box within a box is a clamshell that opens to reveal a well situated Mio C520, undercover of a protective plastic screen. The accessories are neat, and well organized in the box, and is kept there in its own cavity to the left. It probably cost a bit more to package the unit this way, but the effect didn't go unnoticed.
In the box:
- Mio C520 Widescreen GPS
- 12V power cord (mini-USB plug)
- AC Power adapter
- Suction Cup Mount
- Cradle for attaching the Mio C520 to the Mount
- Adhesive disk for dash mounting
- Mini-USB cable
- Fast start fold out and CD with a user's manual
Overall, I think that the Mio C520 is a big step up for Mio and one that brings higher end features like Bluetooth handsfree, Text to Speech and a widescreen to the masses at a very reasonable price. Mio continues to offer a great value in the GPS world, delivering a well-designed unit that only has a blemish here or there. The bottom line is that the unit is a solid choice that will navigate well for most people. It has more options to control its features, which may be intimidating for some, but a welcome capability for control freaks. Right now, the Mio C520 is the best value out there with a feature set that others can only match for $100+ more. If you need a dead simple interface and navigation, consider a Garmin, but at this price point, you’ll sacrifice features, like Text to Speech, or the Widescreen. It’s like the comparison of an Apple vs. a PC, and if you can navigate around Windows, you’ll do well with the Mio C520.