Navigating sat navs, settled for a Navman

One mobile device that ought to be added to any list of gadgets that epitomizes the Naughties (and there are lots of lists) is the portable satellite navigation device, or sat nav for short.


I first used a portable sat nav in 2005 with a rental car in Amsterdam, then bought my own in 2007 and, yesterday, purchased a new device (the one you see here, attached to my car windscreen), something I’ve been umming and aahing about for weeks if not months.

My experience to date with sat navs has been exclusively with TomTom, a Netherlands-based brand synonymous with satellite navigation and portability, and with a strong reputation for high quality and leading-edge products.

The model I’ve owned for the past near three years is a TomTom  710 Go, a device that’s served me well but getting a bit long in the tooth, as it were, and really needing a maps upgrade.

I didn’t buy a TomTom, though, but instead a Navman Spirit 500 Deluxe Traffic from Taiwan company Mio. I bought it at my local Halfords in their New Year sale for less than half the UK list price.

My reasons for buying this relatively unknown brand – I’ve heard of Navman but not Mio – are quite varied, including my confusion with the huge range of sat nav models, configurations and pricing on the market from TomTom, Garmin, Mio, Navigon, Sony, Snooper and others.

I also flirted with the TomTom iPhone kit especially as good friend Nicky Wake has one which she raves about. But I decided I didn’t want sat nav on that device for the car nor as part of any phone – increasingly, I’m not using a phone in the car at all, not even with the hands-free kit (too dangerous, imo) unless fully stationary for a while in a traffic jam (lots of those these days).

The Navman unit appealed for reasons that included the very keen price, maps for the UK and the whole of western Europe, 4.7-inch widescreen format, charger for home or office as well as for the car, and the overall look and feel as well as just wanting a bit of a change.

It’s at times like this when you want to find out what others’ experiences have been. The Halfords website includes lots of positive customer testimonials for the Navman product (as it also does for others brands notably TomTom and Garmin).

Tweeting some questions from the Halfords store produced some answers. Peter Crosby, for instance, said his experience with Navman has been a good one. And Neil Dixon who commented on his dad’s good experience.

Others had good things to say about other niche (by comparison) brands. Mark Story, for instance, who told me earlier how he likes his Navigon device.

So for better or worse, I’ve bought a Navman. The acid test will be how good is it at actually getting you to where you want to go. How easy and simple is it to use. What the details are like: map display, the voices, interaction, etc. How to manage content including updates via the desktop app. (And on that latter point: the unit gave me a service pack update from Mio when I first connected it to the app. I noticed the device runs on Windows CE Core 5.0, according to a sticker on the quick start guide.)

The TomTom excelled in all these areas so for me, the Navman has a high benchmark to reach.

A short trip out yesterday suggested the Navman should do well although it was a bit of an iffy start with a suggestion on the route I was taking which I know well: turn left down a road which has been a dead end for at least the past 30 years. The TeleAtlas map should know that.

More to come after a couple of journeys with my Navman Spirit 500 Deluxe Traffic over the next week or so.

What sat nav do you use?

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Adrian Melrose

    Hi Neville: I’m puzzled that you’ve shown no Brand loyalty to TomTom even though you appear to have been very pleased with the previous model you’ve had for years. Surely the price differential isn’t large enough to mitigate the risk that the mio doesn’t live up to the high bar set by the Tom Tom. Personally, one trip down a dead-end is enough for me to throw out a device on which we now so heavily depend. I have the TomTom kit for the iPhone – it’s utterly brilliant – I always have it on me, never leave it in my car (where i’ve had 3 TOMTOMs stolen). Also based on many bad experiences, I NEVER buy at Halfords – their after sales service and attitude to customer service leaves a lot to be desired (IMHO) – hope you’re happy with your Mio though!! Happy New Year

    • neville

      Thanks Adrian, good comments! Let me say that I’ve used my TomTom 710 Go almost religiously for nearly three years. I’ve recommended TomTom to people when they’ve asked me about sat navs. So I think I’ve demonstrated quite a bit of brand loyalty to TomTom in this time.

      I don’t have any major negatives to say about TomTom. It’s an excellent brand. But for me, the features offered by the Navman unit I bought stand up very strongly against other similarly-featured sat navs including TomTom. The Navman then becomes compelling at the price point I paid: half the cost of similar sat navs from competitors.

      As for the experience with the dead end road, I’ve had loads of similar experiences with the TomTom during this year, clearly suggesting that the map upgrade I mentioned in my post was getting a bit urgent. TomTom has Map Share which I used and contributed to, although even with update downloads I never saw any difference to the map on my unit.

      And re Halfords, I’ve had no bad experiences with them. Yesterday was quite interesting, though, as I tweeted some opinion re having to wait for ages to get an employee’s attention. Still, that seems all too common with any large retailer these days, in my experience. When I did get with an employee, he was very helpful indeed.

      Time will tell whether my purchase was wise or foolish! And Happy New Year to you too :)

  2. Shel Holtz

    The days of standalone GPS navigation devices are numbered. I use the Sprint Navigation app that came with my Palm Pre, which (a) is better than either the TomTom or the Magellan units I’ve owned in the past — for example, its voice instructions read out street names and it finds traffic problems and suggests alternate routes — and (b) is with me wherever I go because it’s a feature of my mobile phone. My wife’s HTC Hero has the same app. And it doesn’t cost anything extra.

    • neville

      Oh I’m sure of that too, Shel, yet I believe those numbers will be in the thousands, ie, some years yet. I reckon my standalone GPS Navman will do just fine in the lifecycle I see for it: about 2 years.

      The Navman does things like read out street names, find traffic problems and suggest alt routes. Definitely great in the car. Don’t really care about that when on foot. And for foot nav, I’m very happy with the latest Google Maps app (currently free) on the iPhone or even my Nokia.

      I guess much depends on your own particular needs and wishes.

  3. Mark Story

    Congratulations on your choice! It is a long story, but driving during the holidays, our family car broke down about three hours from home. It’s been five days, countless miles, three rental cars and hotel room costs that would make an Arab teenager take pause.

    Had I not had my iPhone/Navigon with me, things would have been a lot tougher.

    Great blow post, BTW.


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