Advantages Clear , turn-by-turn directions
Disadvantages Unreliable advice
|Instructions / Help|
|Ease of use|
|Ease of Installation|
|Range of extra features / functions|
|Value For Money|
Satellite Navigation is both a blessing and a curse. It means you can drive places without needing a map. It also means that when you're driving places and you get lost, you don't have a map. "But how can you possibly get lost with SatNav?!?" I hear you cry... Well let me tell you a story.But first, you might want to treat yourself to a cup of tea. Or a toilet break. This is quite a long one.
After much careful research, as is always my way with purchases of a gadgety nature, I finally placed an order for a spangly new NavMan 4410 Bluetooth GPS kit, to go with my brand-new iPaq 4150. The theory being that a cool, calm and collected voice guiding me through the english/european countryside would serve, in some tenuous fashion, as a marital aid. My wife not being much use at navigating. It would save the frustrations in the car. The tension and angry silence that most folks are surely familiar with as we search for the next suitable place to turn off and go back on ourselves to take the turning that we were SUPPOSED to take...And indeed it did. At least once. Maybe even twice!
But how could this be? The wonders of modern technology, the pinpoint accuracy of satellite guidance, the expense! It surely can't get it wrong... they use this stuff to guide nuclear missles! But get it wrong it has, and on more than a couple of occasions.Take the time we wanted to drive from Kendal in Cumbria across to Sleaford in Lincolnshire. While I cannot dispute the fact that the route was amazingly scenic (for the most part) and without casting aspersions on the delights of Bradford town-centre, the route it chose to take us was... How shall I phrase it. Innovative. Up hill and down dale, we followed, for the most part the A66. A lovely road that takes in many pretty yorkshire villages. Untill we got to the M66. At which point things started to go a little wrong. In fact let's not beat about the bush. Things went very wrong.
Instructed to turn off mid-way along the M66, I thought it a little odd, but did as I was told. I was promptly instructed to perform the logical equivalent of a motorway U-turn, by taking the roundabout underneath the junction and rejoining the M66 headed westbound. Back to the junction at which we joined the motorway! Hmmm... it seemed a little odd, but I was committed and so back we went. Upon nearing the beginning of the motorway we were instructed to leave and, again perform a logical U-turn, rejoining the M66 at the same point we had joined it in the first place, once again headed eastbound! Now for those of you that are familiar with the area, you will know that there is a good 4 miles between junctions and, on a busy day it can get quite hectic. So you can imagine my dismay when, upon reaching the same junction 4 miles further down the road, I was instructed, once again, to turn off. Not wanting to write off the SatNav system that had (in all) cost a princely £700, I again followed the instructions, but this time, when it became apparent that I was going to be directed back onto the westbound motorway, I struck off on my own. Towards Pontefract.Suffice to say that, 45 minutes (and a significant portion of Pontefract & surrounds) later, we were instructed back on to the Motorway. Thankfully, this time I caught sight of a sign for the motorway services at Blythe, a reference point I could work with. So off we headed and finally (with a heavy sigh of relief) picked up the southbound A1. From there it was plain-sailing and, to give it it's due,. the SatNav did a good job of bringing us home. But boy was I humiliated. Left to the whims of technology, we'd likely have been stuck in an endless loop around the same stretch of the M66 for the rest of eternity! During all of this time, my wife remained calm and unflustered and my temper only frayed with the danmable SatNav. So, in theory at least, it served it's purpose.
In practice however, it's failed on a number of other ocssions. Like the time I drove to a golf course in the middle of the Kentish countryside. Approximately 45 miles away from home, I left with plenty of time, hoping to get a visit to the driving range before the game. SatNav, however, had other ideas. Half-way through my sting on the M25, the cool, calm and collected voice assertively informed me that I should be preparing to exit. But how could this be... the next exit wasn't for another 6 miles? Oblivious of this trivial detail, SatNav ploughed on regardless. Instructing me, in no uncertain terms, to "Exit Left". Through the crash barrier presumably.Suffice to say, I was now headed way off course. Taking the next available exit, the route that followed could be described equally as rural, disused and exhilerating. Credit given where credit's due, the route was dead-on accurate, following all manner of minor roads through the backwoods of Kent, until finally arriving at my destination. Some 45 minutes later than I was intending. It was only on the return journey that I discovered where the problem lay. Along most of the major motorways in the UK, there are emergency access roads for police vehicles etc. My trusty SatNav had been trying to make me rejoin the M25 via one of these such access roads. Unfortunately, not only are they for authorised vehicles only, they also have padlocked gates to prevent abuse by desperate victims of SatNav misguidance. So once again, I had to strike off into the countryside until I was far enough away that it would find me an alternative route. That goal achieved, I was back on track and arrived home in slightly less time that it had taken me to get there.
The software that has lead me such a merry dance is none other than the wittily titled "SmartST v2" from NavMan. It came as part of my 4410 GPS bundle, but for the sake of making the review a readable size, I've split it into two parts. The bundled software is covered here and a review of the hardware and associated bits is under the NavMan 4410 category elsewhere in the GPS section.SmartST then. If you were to buy it on it's own it's going to set you back a fair old whack (about £150 give or take). So what do you get for your money? Well, it comes on a generous ensemble of 4CDs. One contains the application installer and the remaining three contain maps that cover pretty much the whole of western Europe (OK, the actual list is Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Rep. of Ireland, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK).
Installation is pretty straightfoward, if a little unorthodox for a PocketPC application. First you install the Navman desktop application on your host PC, then ensure that you have an Active Sync connection to your PDA and push the software down to it through the desktop programme. All this, of course, after you register your product over the Intenet. All told, it probably takes about 5 - 10 minutes. Once the basic software is installed, the next step is to download the maps you are interested in. Again, this is done through the desktop software component on the host PC. You simply insert the CD containing the maps you want to download and use the desktop software to mark them for download. You even have the ability to define where on your PocketPC device you want to store them, but chances are you will opt for a removable storage card of some description. In terms of size, the maps are really quite small considering the amount of detail they contain (down to emergency motorway access roads no less!!!). I have a 256Mb SD card in my iPAQ and have no problems carrying all of the maps for England, Scotland and Wales with 120Mb still free!. That said, it will take a while to download 130Mb worth of maps to your PocketPC and this is no fault of the software, simply the bandwidth limitations on the ActiveSync connections.With your maps are installed you're almost set. Simply establish a connection with your GPS receiver and you can be away as soon as you've determined your position. It's worth pointing out that you can use any GPS receiver as the source. The tie-in to NavMans own devices has been removed with the latest release and to prove a point, I actually hooked up my trusty old Garmin eTrex and it worked fine.
On starting the application, the firt thing you will likely do is flick to the GPS Status page, where you will see whether or not you have managed to locate enough satellites to determine your position yet. ONce "locked on", you are provided with precise coordinates, heading and speed as well as an indicator as to how many satellites are currently being tracked. When the blob in the middle of the screen turns green, you're good to go.In terms of features, SmartST boasts some pretty neat integration. As well as the ability to hook in to your contacts database on your PDA, it also has a full UK PostCode database (and probably for the rest of europe too, but I haven't tried those yet). This allows addresses to be located with relative ease, provided you know the postcode. A street gazeteer is also available and there is even the option to specifiy a destination based on the intersection of two roads, although I have yet to enjoy any success with this particular feature. Similarly I find the Outlook contacts integration to be very fussy and only truly accurate when you have a post-code at the end of the address. You can also specify destinations by Points Of Interest. This could be a hotel, restaurant, railway station or any one of the 13 categories specified (covering everything from petrol stations to Natural attractions). Be wary though as not every railway station, petrol station etc is included. My advice on this front would be to use the postcode wherever possible.
Once you have found the place you want to get to it is possible to save it for future reference as a Favourite, allocating a friendly name and storing it in a neat little sub-menu. for those really frequent detstinations (like home), you can define them as "QuickNav" destinations which puts them at a higher level still in the menu system and upon slecting a QuickNav item, calculates a route straight there.Navigation around the actual application takes a little getting used to. It does require use of the iPAQ control-pad, which will allow you to change the map mode, and zoom-level as well as taking you out to the main menue. Once there, it's the usual iPaq tap/drag type interface. Whiel displaying the map itself, you can tap-and-hold almost anywhere on the screen to call up a context menu, offering options to save as a favourite; navigate to; mark to avoid. The last point is worthy of note as the mark to avoid feature can come in handy. Say you're stuck in traffic and have heard a traffic bulletin that's warned of the next junction on the motorway being closed. Simply tap the screen, mark it as an area to avoid and SmartST will recalculate you a new route to avoid the trouble-spot. If only they could integrate it with Traffic-Master they'd be on to a real winner!
The Map display itself is a fairly neat affair, available in either day-time or night-time colour schemes, with night-mode offering a slightly darker background to reduce the glare. The map can be displayed either top-down or in an isometric, 1st-poerson perspective. I find the latter to be more intuitive as it gives you a better feel for the road you are travelling on and the streets around you. Another neat feature is the speed-sensitive zooming of the map. A good example of where this comes in handy is when approaching a roundabout. As you slow down, the map zooms in to give you a better view of the roundabout, allowing you to confirm the voice instructions you have just received as to which exit to take, your route being marked by a continuous red line, with any immediate manouevres being represented by a bold green arrow.All of which leads us nicely on to the spoken guidance. One of the big attractions of SatNav is being told, in a clear, concise and consistent manner which turns you need to make and how far away they are. SmartST certainly delivers in that area. You can select either a male or female voice, both clearly spoken in an unplaceable English accent. regardless of the units you have chosen to work in, warnings to turn are almost always given well in advance. "In 900 feet, turn left" is a typical instruction, the the instruction to "Turn left" being issued when you have approached the corner in question. For motorway driving, more than enough notice is given of impending merges and lane changes, with typical advice taking the form of "In 1.5 miles prepare to exit left", with further instructions being issued as you approach the relevant exit. Where roundabouts are encountered, you are even told which exit to take... "At the roundabout, take the fourth exit." backed up by the zoomed-in map showing you exactly where to go leaves little room for confusion. So as a navigational aid, it is excellent. Should you find yourself off-track (either through a diversion or getting stuck in an unexpected one-way system), SmartST does a grand job of recalculating your route to get you back on track. In fact the speed with which routes are recalculated is fairly impressive.
Finally, settings are available to tune most aspects of the software, from the display colours, to the units (feet/metres) and the Points of Interest that are displayed on the map. This includes your route preferences, such as avoiding urban areas and toll-roads or quickest versus shortest (taking into account the average speeds travelled on the roads involved).And that's pretty much it.
On the whole, it's a fine piece of software. The coverage of the maps is excellent, if a little out of date in some areas. The new M6 toll-road isn't there for example. The level of detail is amazing, one-way streets are appropriately tagged and considered when formulating directions (although there may be the occasional mistake). The navigational instructions are clearly provided, both on-screen and verbally, and in a timely fashion that ensures your journey remains relatively free of last-second swerves across 3 lanes of the motorway. While the interface takes a while to get used to, it soon becomes familiar and provided you have a post-code for your destination, finding where you are going is pretty plain-sailing.In terms of shortfalls, they can be broadly divided into three types.
Problems with the underlying maps, such as a surprise one-way system, the inclusion of emergency access slips to motorways etc. are problems that will befall pretty much all of these systems. So I wouldn't be too harch, but it does mean that it's always worth checking your route.Features that would be neat to have. And into this back I would include the ability to mark permanent blackspots to avoid. Either that or the ability to set waypoints in a journey. As it stands, you can only set a destination. if you wanted a multi-leg route, say stopping off at relatives, a restaurant or petrol station on the way, you are currently forced to break the trip down into it's component parts. Which is a shame.
Glitches in the software, such as the indefinite loop around the M66 are a real gripe. It's happened on trips around the M25 as well. To my mind this is a major flaw. Unfortunately, it has the effect of completely destroying your trust in the directions you are being given. So whereas you ideally want a stress free drive to your destination, you are continually having to second-guess the software to make sure it's not doing something plain stupid.It's this last category of "shortfall" that really does it for me. Without confidence in the directions, it's almost not worth having the software. Especially when you can print turn-by-turn directions for free from the AAs website. Should they come out with sime fixes, feature upgrades I will, of course, update my opinion. Until then, as much as it galls me (given the money I spent), SmartST, in it's current form can only muster a measley 2 stars.
If you've made it this far, I salute you! This has got to be the longest review I've ever written and for that, I apologise. Unfortunately, it's a pretty complex topic and without the stories to illustrate the problems it would be difficult to describe. Hopefully they get the message across.
Attention, this is the first review from this author
Instead of giving a negative rating, consider:
Help this member by giving your advice
Report fraud (for example plagiarism) or other issue with the review to the Ciao support team
Add your comment