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The <a href="http://www.viamichelin.com/viamichelin/gbr/tpl/psg/produits/htm/PND_X-930.htm">Navigation X-930</a> from ViaMichelin is the company’s first standalone navigation device. With a long history in providing travel and tourist information in book form, and more recently of developing electronic resources including <a href="http://www.viamichelin.com/viamichelin/gbr/tpl/hme/MaHomePage.htm">online driving directions</a> and the <a href="http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/handhelds/0,39023875,39216505,00.htm">ViaMichelin Navigation software for handhelds</a>, the key challenge here would seem to have been getting the hardware right.
The ViaMichelin Navigation X-930 is very small. Measuring just 12.cm wide by 7.1cm deep by 1.9cm high and weighing 134g, it's easy to pocket or secrete within your vehicle when it's not being used. The antenna for the SiRFStar III GPS receiver is integrated into the device, so there's no flip-out section.
The Navigator X-930 comes with a rather chunky sucker-style windscreen mount, and you can easily use this to manoeuvre the device in three planes to find the optimum viewing angle.
The X-930 is powered via the car's cigarette lighter and a mini-USB socket on the device itself; you get a mains power adaptor too, so the battery can be charged away from your vehicle.
Mapping data is supplied on an SD card, and if you have several sets of maps for different areas you can swap these as required. A hold button disables screen taps, and there's a headphone socket, so you could use the ViaMichelin Navigation X-930 while on foot.
The ViaMichelin Navigation X-930 is designed to be used with its 3.5in. 320-by-240 pixel touch-screen in landscape format. The display occupies most of the front of the device, but there's room on either side for some control buttons.
On the left are two which you used to adjust the volume. A column of four buttons on the right of the screen have dedicated functions: one takes you to the ‘home’ screen, from which you can begin to plan a trip or change devices settings; one opens a graphic of the number of satellites being used to obtain the current fix; one shows your trip history - tapping any previous destination will allow you to navigate to it; and the fourth provides quick access to the Points of Interest database. It is a pity that the useful History function is limited just to your last ten destinations.
There's a stylus housed at the back of the device, but the hardware buttons, coupled with large on-screen icons plus a soft keyboard and number pad mean it should not be needed very often: this navigation system is well designed for finger-prodding.
Features and performance
When you're planning a trip, two screen taps take you to the information entry screen where you can give the ViaMichelin Navigation X-930 either the name of a town or a postcode.
Postcode navigation should be the easier option, but if you enter a complete postcode you'll be told there are no matches. Only by entering the first group of three or four digits that appear before the space in a postcode will you get a return. The ViaMichelin Navigation X-930 software offers no indication on-screen that it can’t cope with a full postcode, and really should be able to ignore information you enter over and above its requirement. Failure here is significant, as it will be many users' first experience.
With the correct information entered, route calculation is fast, and during our test drives we found the GPS receiver retained its signal well. Spoken instructions were loud enough, but we weren’t entirely happy with the American accent or with some of the syntax used; for example, to be told that a manouevre is required ‘in a short time’ is less helpful than a precise distance.
The anti-glare screen is quite reflective in bright sunlight, making it hard to view under these conditions. Also, the icons that provide a visual cue as to what you should do at the next junction were not always as clear as we’d have liked. Very simple, linear graphics with as few elements as possible work best here, and although the icons are fine in most cases, in one or two instances -- such as when you need to change lanes -- they were over-fussy.
About two thirds of the screen is taken up by the road map itself, with a large arrow showing your current position. The top third of the display delivers information such as the number of satellites being used to fix your position and the name of the road you are on. You can configure three information areas at the very top of the screen to show any mix of distance remaining, time remaining, arrival time, current time, speed and direction.
One of the best features of the ViaMichelin Navigation X-930 is its ability to quickly re-route you around problems that you can see on the road ahead. During a trip, you tap the screen once to get to a set of menu options, and then hit an icon labelled ‘Bypass’. Tapping again allows you to specify the distance of the route ahead to bypass: this can vary between 100 yards and 30 miles.
The ViaMichelin Navigation X-930 proved to be a frustrating mix of well thought-out features and irritations. The large tappable icons and hardware buttons for accessing route planning and system settings were well implemented, but the postcode entry problem is a basic error. ViaMichelin should also have used a British voice for spoken instructions, but the Bypass system proved very handy.