- Wide-screen display shows plenty of map data
- built-in camera and innovative NavPix system
- spoken instructions are loud and clear
- easy-to-enter destinations
- supports full postcode navigation
- Live Traffic information is an optional add-on
- device is large and heavy
- NavPix needs some refinement and may not be universally useful
In an increasingly crowded market Navman, like others, is searching for ways to differentiate its standalone navigation products with ‘must have’ extras above and beyond simple routing between locations. The company's latest attempt at differentiation is NavPix. The term refers to photos taken with a built-in digital camera. Photos can be shared via the Web and also used as navigation destinations.
NavPix makes its first appearance on the iCN 720 and iCN 750. These are essentially the same device, the £549 (inc. VAT) iCN 750 coming with maps for 17 Western European countries pre-installed and ready for use; the £399 iCN 720, reviewed here, has the same maps pre-installed, but only the UK ones are available to use -- maps of the remaining countries can be activated for a fee as required.
The Navman iCN 720 is neither small nor lightweight for a navigation device, weighing 300g and measuring 136mm wide by 77mm tall by 31mm high. One reason for the device's bulk is its wide-screen display, which measures 88mm wide by 50mm high (4in. across the diagonal). To the right of the screen is a column of hardware buttons, of which more later.
On the right edge is a volume control wheel. The left edge houses a connector for an external antenna, a power socket and a mini USB port, as well as an SD card slot that can be used for storing both maps and photos. The top edge is carries the power switch and shutter button for the digital camera. The lens itself is on the back of the device, along with the flip-out GPS antenna. The system's speaker is also on the back of the device.
The windscreen attachment unit is in two sections, held together by a ball joint. This allows you to move the iCN 720 through all planes, but by rejecting a swan-neck-style system, Navman has made it difficult for anyone whose vehicle has a deep dashboard, as the device rests about 15mm from the windscreen. That said, it's easy to attach and remove the iCN 720 from the mount thanks to a simple catch mechanism.
As well as the windscreen mount, mains power charger and cigarette lighter cable, the Navman iCN 720 box includes a USB cable for PC connection, Navman’s SmartST software on CD along with map data and a user manual, a printed user manual and an in-car installation guide.
If you want access to real-time traffic information, you need to purchase the optional T1 Traffic Pack, which costs £100 (inc. VAT) extra.
Features and performance
Finding your first destination with the Navman iCN 720 should be a positive and straightforward experience if it mirrors ours. When you turn the device on several pages of on-screen tutorial walk you through some of the key features. That over, you can begin to plan a route.
Pressing one of the buttons to the right of the screen brings up the Go To menu. You can now tap large icons to go to a recent destination, a destination saved as a favourite, one of the Points of Interest (PoI), a specific address you want to enter, or the place you have designated as My Home. You can also use this screen to configure a multi-stop trip.
Choosing to go to an address or PoI takes you on to a screen where you first choose a country (subsequent trips do not require this step unless you wish to change country), then either enter a city or area, a street name or a postcode (or access the PoI database). Postcode navigation is often all you’ll require as full seven-digit postcodes are supported. Oddly once you’ve entered a postcode you can’t fine-tune the destination by adding a building number.
We did identify what could become quite a serious issue if you want to begin entering a destination using a city or area designation. One of our destination streets in Ashtead, Surrey, was, the software was convinced, not in Ashtead at all, but in Leatherhead; another in Walworth South London was designated by the software as being in Camberwell. On that basis, our advice is to only use the city or area designation if you aren’t actually looking for a specific place.
The button that provides quick access to the Go To menu is one of five on the right-hand side of the screen. Two of these mirror a feature we first saw in the iCN 550: tap one and it displays a list of the fuel stations closest to your current location, along with the distance to them. The other does the same for parking locations. In both cases, you tap the one you want to see a small insert map showing the destination and your current location. Tap the ‘Go’ button and you are directed to it.
Another of the side buttons launches the main menu screen that allows you to set up various preferences, and, importantly, access features associated with the camera. The fifth button cycles through four different screen displays: 3D map, 2D map, a screen showing the next turn diagram in a small window inserted into the main map, and a list of turn-by-turn instructions.
The 2D and 3D map screens offer a zoom feature, and all screens show direction of travel information, offer the opportunity to cancel the current route, and have a display area which, when tapped, cycles through showing current time, current speed, time to destination, estimated time of arrival and distance to destination.
Spoken instructions were loud and clear during our test trips, and delivered at appropriate points before junctions. Tapping the next turn diagram in any of the screen views causes the current instruction to be repeated.
The NavPix system is not exclusive to the iCN 720: Navman says it will be supported in future devices. When you take a photo with the 1.3 megapixel camera, it is stored in the internal memory along with GPS positioning data. You can use NavPix as journey destinations, and indeed can ‘assign’ them to Favourite locations and specify that icons representing them are shown on maps. Tapping on an icon brings up the associated NavPix.
You can assign meaningful descriptions to NavPix, copy them to an SD card, delete them from the internal memory, and, when viewing them in their album, tap the Go To icon and initiate navigation to the relevant location.
One of Navman’s intentions is for people to share their NavPix through a Web site. This was not live as we wrote our review, but we were told it would become available during June 2006. You will be able to get to it from Navman's Web site.
You can’t effect this image-sharing from the iCN 720 itself. You need to copy NavPix to a PC first, either using the SD card or by making a USB cable connection and using Microsoft's ActiveSync, which is supplied alongside the SmartST software.
There are some genuinely useful ways to take advantage of NavPix. You could take a photo of somewhere you want to remember -- a promising-looking restaurant, for example. Navman suggests that professionals like estate agents and event coordinators might find uses for NavPix. If the recipient of a NavPix has a Navman device supporting the technology, they can save the image to their device and use it.
Overall, though, NavPix gives the impression of being a bolted on feature rather than a smoothly integrated one. For example, you can’t instruct the system to save images to an SD card rather than the internal memory by default, and you can’t navigate to a NavPix from the main Go To screen (which is where you access all the other types of destination): you can only do this from the NavPix album.
The iCN 720 is a high-quality navigation device with excellent usability and on-screen information display. The wide-screen 4in. display is a welcome enhancement, allowing more map data to be visible; tappable on-screen icons and information displays can also be large without interfering too much with the maps. However, the bigger screen does make for a sizeable device. Although it's intriguing, we're not convinced that NavPix will have the revolutionary effect that Navman is hoping for.