Navigon has stormed onto the US GPS scene in the past month or so with the launch of their new line of GPS units, the 2100, 5100 and 7100. The Navigon 2100 is especially hot right now as it appears to be one of the big Black Friday Units for 2007. The 2100 and 5100 being standard screen, 3.5-inch units and the 7100 a widescreen unit. Navigon is taking an approach that is in the minority in the GPS world, in that they are offering TMC traffic with the 5100 and 7100 including a lifetime subscription to the service that usually costs around $60 per year. At the heart of the Navigon offering in my opinion is a beautiful design on the exterior and a different approach to design when it comes to the interface. With animated menus and icons, the unit takes on a decidedly "flash based website" feel that is more up to date than other units.
With all of the requests made to me over the last week for a review on this specific model, I went out and grabbed one to see what the Navigon 2100 was made of, and see how it will do in this very competitive market. I will have to say that many of the people writing in for this review of the Navigon 2100 called it the Navicon 2100; so for those folks, this is the Navicon 2100 review!
Also just a note that the Navigon 2100t is a Navigon 2100 with traffic installed. So while I do not have the traffic option turned on for this review, the other attributes will apply. Who knows if I hit Black Friday right, I may be posting more on this as a Navigon 2100t review.
Table of Contents
It's clear that Navigon did their work when designing the GPS unit, getting a very high quality feel, fit and finish. The dual material look and feel of the unit is impressive, shiny black on the front and rear with a matte plastic, reminiscent of rubber wrapping the girth of the unit. The back of the Navigon 2100 focuses the eye on the brand name with a small rear-firing speaker on the lower left. "Controls and Holes" are minimal, with an SD slot of the left, a smallish power button on the top right, an external GPS antenna input on the top left, a rest button on the left and the mini-USB power inlet on the bottom. The power cord comes straight out of the unit so that it won't sit right down on the dash if needed. The map data on the Navigon 2100 occupies the SD slot, and includes the continental (48) states. Move up to the Navigon 5100 or 7100 and you'll get the all of North America.
The mount is an aesthetically pleasing, mostly functional mount. It is a cam style suction cup, which works well, and the arms are tightened via screws, which can sometimes be frustrating to adjust. The mount includes a C-shaped tray to accept the Navigon 2100, grabbing it on the top and bottom of the unit. The tactile feel of the mounting process is not as obvious as I would like, so, it's best to leave the unit in the tray and take the whole mount off. Put another way, it might be tough to mount this if needed while driving; you'll most like need to fumble with it until you know the unit well. It just appears that the nubs on the bottom of the tray are too small to catch the GPS easily and firmly when snapping it into place.
The interface is a slick, smooth design. The menus are animated so that menus flow out and expand when selected, which adds some definite coolness to the unit. The urban cool is carried through to a very plain point of view with regards to the simple grays and vehicle on the map; no customized wheelie popping motorcycles here. Navigon is based in Germany, and the simplistic design elements that you find adorning German car interiors carries through here. I will say that at this point I am finally learning the icon meanings, an almost international convention that needs to be understood before it can be mastered. This will slow the learning curve of some folks, but something that can be appreciated later.
Basic Map Screen
When driving the basic map screen is fairly clean and offers you some simple options and information (configurable) including in the upper left, the speaker status (mute/on), battery status, satellite status and optionally the direction of travel. On the lower right you can optionally get speed and altitude in a small gray box. You can also get information about your route when navigating.
Across the bottom you get the current street displayed along with a magnifying glass icon button - it allows you to pan, center the screen on your location and zoom in and out. It also has the ability to zoom not only via a +/- style button, but also allows you to draw a box and zoom to that level. Much faster than tap, tap, tap on the zoom in button.
The "Left Arrow" allows you to access the menu for navigation and more advanced settings. Basic settings can be controlled by just tapping the main area of the screen, and this includes Day/Night control, 2D/3D views, and when navigating, you also get the option of setting an Interim destination (a Via), skip the next route point, "Block" which allows you to block a street while navigating. This is essentially a detour options that allows you to selectively avoid parts of a route that are ahead of you. The format relies on you picking from a list of distances ahead of you that you want to avoid: 0.2, 1, 5, 10, 15, 30 miles. Upon picking one, it will re-route you around the issue. The problem of course is really knowing how far ahead the issue is. Finally there is a button here that allows you to get POI along the route. The last is a great addition that allows you to find help along the way, like a place to eat, sleep or get a coffee while navigating with minimal work.
The interface on the Navigon 2100 deserves some special attention. It's different, novel and may be blazing a trail that others will follow. Almost any pioneering effort comes with some downsides, and the Navigon 2100 interface is no different.
The overall look and feel is clean, but at times a bit scarce, not offering a lot of color; the Navigon uses a lot of shades of gray. The vehicle icon is a two dimensional arrow that could use a third dimension or something to give it a better look and feel. So while a bit drab it uses animated menus and a slick and clean feel to appeal to consumers. On the bright side here is the inclusion of branded icons for POI, which are a great little diversion. Not all POI categories are included, but just the ones you want seen (out of 26 categories) that you can designate in the Settings menu. Both fun and helpful, without being cluttered while driving through a densely POI populated area. So while McDonalds, Mobil gas stations and Burger King have their icons on there, my local brew pub was just listed with a name hanging in space.
Tapping and Tapping - It's been said that the touch screen is not all that responsive, and I have to agree that in practice, it is hard to enter data. The data entry of an address can be hard, as you have the left side of the screen dedicated to showing result and the right side of the screen dedicated to the ABC keyboard in a vertical layout. The result is that keys are especially small on a 3,5-inch standard screen. It would be better on a widescreened Navigon 7100, but on the 2100 and 5100, this will be a shortcoming that may hinder some people who can't accurately tap the tiny keys. So, while the keys are small, there is also a bit of a lag, and it takes a bit to get used to. The entire data entry experience seems to have this subtle lag that makes me thing that either the processor is undersized or the screen has a lag time. This is a blemish and not a showstopper for me.
The unit has a lot of settings to customize the view while navigating. Beyond the usual 2D/3D selection, you get the ability to show or not show street names in 2D and/or 3D, as well as display direction of travel, altitude, speed, duration of trip, arrival time, speed limits (on highways), and coordinates. It's a lot going on, and this brings me to the second area that is a bit of a drag on the experience. The screen feels small. So not only in the data input, but in the display of the data like time of trip. It is a beautiful screen display that feels like a higher definition, and that's good because the fonts are small. The entire look and feel is great sitting in your hand, but once on the windshield at the end of your arm, the smallish fonts used to tell you arrival time are tough to read. I have 20/20 vision and I was squinting or leaning forward to discern the numbers.
Overall, navigation is good with the Navigon 2100, the nuts and bolts of the functionality, but with some of the limitations with the interface, the data entry to get to the navigating part can be tough. There's a lot of capability in the navigation department for an entry-level device.
Entering an Address - tap the return or Left arrow on the main screen and tap "New Destination". You now have some shortcuts here and can get "Direct Access" to 3 customizable POI categories. Default is Parking, Gas and Restaurants. Tap one of these buttons and you can bring up a list of locations near you. Pretty straightforward. From "Enter Address" you get to choose Street First or City First; nicely enough the Navigon 2100 remembers the last state you searched in so you don't have to worry about that. As you type in a name, the list of possibilities show up on the left, narrowing down so that you can see what the choices are and maybe stop before you need to type out the entire address. Once you start navigating, you will get a box on the lower left side of the screen that shows travel time information. This box is customizable.
With one destination in the Navigon, you can now add new destinations to build a route. You can add destinations to the route list and then navigate the whole thing in the order you set. The Navigon 2100 does not optimize the route for you. The Navigon 2100 does offer a nice layout of the route on the map, labeling each segment with a number and a travel time of that segment. When navigating, you get a data box that has "Total" trip information, mileage, duration and arrival time, with a "Next" box below it describing the same data for your trip to the next segment. Except for the fact that the writing is too small to see on my windshield, I love the treatment and the ability to see the data on the segments both on the map and on the screen while navigating.
The Navigon 2100 has a few route profile settings that allow you to customize the type of route that they unit sets up for you. The settings include Fastest, Optimized, short and scenic. On top of this, you can also select what vehicle you will be using, like a car, a bike or walking on foot. The unit came with a setting of Fastest as the default, which honestly gave me some whacky results. On one particular trip I usually drive about 10 miles up a state highway, undivided, just like most roads. It's a straight shot up and back. Parallel to this, about a mile away is a divided state highway that the "Fastest" setting tried to get me to navigate to, delivering me at an estimated 7:30AM. By skipping the turn commands, it finally figured out that it had better just keep going straight when there were no turns left and it flipped to a pretty accurate estimation of 7:22 AM, saving me a 8 minutes. Not sure what's up with "Fastest", but the "Optimum" setting gave me pretty good directions. When using "Optimum" it gave me solid directions on the run back up the same stretch, not trying to bring me a couple of miles out of the way. My only caveat here is that the algorithm is weighted to skip some pretty easy side road short cuts. You can also allow, avoid and forbid highways, toll roads and ferries, and not allow U-Turns (my default).
The Speaker volume can be adjusted to be speed dynamic; in other words, it gets louder when you go faster. I LOVE the fact that they thought of adding two profiles, essentially "Make it louder" and "Make it a lot louder." My car is on the noisy side, and I appreciate the extra bit of volume. The downside is that at the upper end of the spectrum, the speaker gets tinny and garbled. Pushed it too far, as the voice quality is low at this point.
The Text-to-speech is good all put together. Navigon has set the system to not speak the road name when the turn is right upon you, but it has reasonable pronunciation ahead of time and it's a good addition whenever you can get it.
I don't especially have a lot of use for the Reality View, although I can see how it can come in handy when navigating in unfamiliar areas where ramps can get crazy. I'll tell you that I would love to have had this when I used to fly into the Newark NJ airport for work late at night and try to navigate through the interchanges there in the rain at night. High speed express lanes, local lanes, and interchanges would make this a great feature. If anyone can do it, Navigon can with their high quality screen. I like the feature and it adds to the feature set; not worth buying the unit for.
Overall, I like the Navigon 2100 for its potential, and its decidedly non-entry level feel. It's being priced pretty aggressively these days and will be a hot topic of discussion on many boards. The unit has a lot of top-notch capabilities, including on balance a great looking interface. The thing that holds me back from recommending it whole-heartedly is the smallish fonts and tough data entry on the unit. I can't quite pin it down, but there is a drag on data entry; is it the small letter keys, the algorithm that searches for matches in real time taking up the processor time, a slow processor or a slow to respond touch screen. Not sure but this is a watch-out should you elect to buy this device. I am not damning the device, but it's a caveat you need to be aware of in your purchasing decision.
The capabilities can be powerful, and with the flexibility to add second segments to the routes that then feedback key data on each segment like navigation time and distance, is great. The interface contains elements that may well be ahead of its time and may be leading instead of following. So with that, you'll have to accept some rough patches in data entry to enjoy the rest.
The Navigon comes nicely packaged in a small box that includes:
- Navigon 2100 GPS
- 12V Power cable with mini-USB plug (Nicely includes a velcro tie)
- Cam-action suction cup mount
- Dashboard adhesive disk
- Quick Start Guide
- Warranty Information pamphlet