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NavMan S90i

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PostPosted: Sun May 18, 2008 11:41 pm    Post subject: NavMan S90i Reply with quote

Hi all,

Amazon mysteriously withdrew my original review for the S90i (under pressure from NavMan, I suspect). So here is an expanded and updated version of it...

NavMan S90i: Well ahead of the other runners but too often falls at the final hurdle.

Score: 3 out of 5

This is the first SatNav system I have bought since my lovely old Navigon Mobile Navigator 4 ("MN4") back in 2004, so I am writing this partly as a comparison between the two but mainly to see how far GPS Navigation software has come in three years...

My main reasons for selecting the S90i were the Text-to-Speech ("TTS") capability for voicing road names and the fact that it is just about the only unit on the market to have both the GPS and the Traffic Message Channel ("TMC") receivers built-in, rendering it truly "All-in-One" with no "add-on" hardware modules and a minimum of cables to faff about with and clutter up your dashboard.

Considering the unit houses a digital camera, it is astonishingly slim and light. The case comprises reasonable quality plastics.

The windscreen cradle mount is a simple yet completely effective design. The adherence of the suction cup is immense - even if using a heated windscreen - yet it is also easy to remove. The unit exhibits no wobble at all except over very rough terrain. It achieves this stability partly through the use of a very short mounting "arm". The downside of this is that with the aerodynamic designs of modern vehicles, you will probably find placing the unit in the centre bottom of the windscreen of a large car will render it physically out of reach. (I mounted mine by the driver's side pillar.) Overall, though, the mount is the best design I have ever used.

Boot-up time is a reasonable 30 seconds, though interrupted by the usual "nag" screen to warn you of the potential dangers of operating the unit while driving. GPS signal acquisition ranges from 20 seconds to two minutes, depending on how long it has been since you last used the unit.

The screen is clear and easy to read - even at lower brightness settings. There volume range is tremendous in that can choose anything from mute to loud enough to wake up the driver of the car in front of you! Occasionally the speaker rasps slightly - it possibly needs tightening up slightly within the case.

The unit is supplied with a number of voices but oddly the Text-To-Speech feature only works with some of them. Not only is this not explained in the user manual, the default voice is non-TTS for some reason. I can't fathom any reason as to why the unit should be supplied like this. Clearly something went wrong in preparing the S90i for production. It's ironic that the TTS feature is, in effect, switched off by default as, once activated, it is wonderfully effective with natural-sounding pronunciation and is easily the strongest feature the S90i has to offer.

Overall the voice instructions are clear and timely.

The operational stability of the unit has been absolutely fine - I haven't had any, ahem, "crashes". (Build version is 5.00.0104, build date/time: 2007-09-10, 23:40:41).

As one would expect with a modern SatNav system, address searches can pinpoint a particular house, if desired. So far, so standard, However the NavMan has a distinct advantage over many rivals. When searching for a street address a lot of systems require you to select a town or village first, followed by the street name. One problem within the UK - particularly in the densely-populated South-East - is the conurbatory nature of many areas, leading to confusion over, say, the border between one village and the next. As such there can be uncertainty as to which area a particular road is "officially" located in. The S90i overcomes this by offering the ability for the user to start with a street name, from which it then lists all the towns, districts and villages (in alphabetical order) in your country which possess a street of that name. You might think that generating such a list would be very slow but that isn't the case at all. The only downside is that the returned list is limited to 99 possibilities for some reason, so if you enter a common name like "High St", you won't be offered towns/villages whose names begin with anything after the letter 'B'. Of course most users will be more sensible but there's no clear reason why this limitation has been imposed.

You can also find the address you need by specifying its postcode, though there are a couple of quirks with this feature. Firstly, despite specifying a "QWERTY" arrangement for the on-screen keyboard, it gives you an "ABCDE" one instead. A simple bug to fix, I guess. Secondly, the list of suggested street addresses are not limited to those relevant to the postcode you have keyed in - you also get a list of addresses encompassed by immediately adjacent postcodes. Arguably this can actually be quite useful if relying on a hastily scribbled postcode. Significantly, however, the User Guide does not cover postcode-based searches at all, so, despite this feature having been commonly available on other SatNav systems for many years, it's tempting to speculate that this was a last-minute addition by NavMan that was rushed in with no time given to debugging.

Either way, however, address searching is highly flexible, intuitive and, in my experience, accurate.

Plotting a 250 mile route involving motorways, A-roads, town centres and country lanes takes approximately ten seconds. While this may not be quite as quick as some other SatNav systems, it can be accounted for by the options the S90i provides in selecting a route. While other systems offer the ability to choose between the "shortest distance" OR "fastest time", the S90i actually combines both so that you can specify a degree of preference of one over the other. (Alternatively you can simply set it to "50:50" for the sharpest compromise between the two). You can set similar ratios for road types - for example motorways versus A-roads. These features offer a huge amount of flexibility.

Most SatNav software offers you the ability to mark selected roads to be avoided. NavMan goes several steps further: you can "draw" rectangular areas on the 2D Map view encompassing a single road, a junction or an entire city centre, for example. (If you're a Lancastrian like me, you will be delighted and relieved to find you can instruct the unit to avoid the whole of Yorkshire!) The map view displays these areas with a grey "dappled" pattern. Even better, the S90i will automatically permanently save "Avoid" areas for you, so they remain in force for future journeys. They can be removed individually via the Map View or removed en masse via the "Delete All Avoid Areas" function. This might seem to be a very basic bit of functionality but no other SatNav system I have seen comes anywhere close to NavMan's solution.

The Traffic Message Channel ("TMC") feature relies upon radio broadcasts from Classic FM in the UK and does a fine job in displaying a list of alerts. TMC is a controversial issue in the UK with many end users citing it as practically non-operational due to the reliance on geographically sporadic transmitters and the low signal strength imposed by OFCOM for data transmission on the already-congested waveband. In common with other SatNav manufacturers NavMan supply a simple wire aerial but the version here is extra-long (1.5 metres) and although reception is still very patchy, its reception capability is a worthwhile improvement. (TMC is due to be carried by additional broadcasters from mid-2008 so, hopefully, with the increased coverage, we will at last be able to view it as a readily-accessible, reliable and useful service.)

The unit can be set to automically reroute around traffic problems it detects (eg a road block) or to merely give a recommendation, thus allowing the user to choose the best action to take. To supplement the Traffic View screen, as the driver approaches an incident, a message pops up accompanied by a voice prompt.

I won't comment on the NavPix/camera aspects as I have no use for them. (Indeed I would have settled for the non-camera S70 model had it come with Text-To-Speech and TMC).

Sound pretty good so far? Well unfortunately there are plenty of problems, too...

The unit possesses reasonable ergonomics but dented by a few rough edges. The keypress sequence for some functions are poorly thought through, rendering their access and operation needlessly cumbersome...

The map view has several modes: 3D, 2D, Turn-by-turn List, Traffic View (ie Traffic alerts) and Entire Route View. The latter two are so similar it would have made more sense to have simply combined them into a single view. Furthermore you can't jump to a particular view directly - you have to trawl through them sequentially until you find the one you want. By default the map operates in 3D view, so if you want the "Entire Route" view, you have four keypresses to make.

Zooming into or out of the map display involves more keypresses than any sane person would opt for. You have to enter "Zoom Mode" via a keypress and then press another button to actually zoom in or out. To zoom further you have to repeatedly press the key, rather than, more usefully, simply hold it down. You can achieve all this in old Navigon MN4 via single a keypress. If you pause for more than four seconds, the unit annoyingly drops out of Zoom Mode.

One feature that other SatNav systems offer is to allow the user to draw a rectangle on a portion of the screen which the unit then automatically zooms in to. NavMan does not provide this.

Lateral movement around the map is a rather clunky operation, too: you "swipe" across the screen as you would expect but before the map "moves", the software insists on drawing crosshairs at the start and end points for no apparent reason. There is a notable pause while this is done. In comparison my "ancient" MN4 is slick and smooth.

Placing the cross-hair cursor on the map views is also problematic. Usually if you press down and hold for three seconds a little menu pops up offering you a number of options. However sometimes the menu appears as soon as you tap, which is very annoying if you're actually attempting lateral movement around the map. Once it starts to do this, often the only way to get it to stop is to switch to a different Map View mode.

The contents of pop-up menu itself is unpredictable. It includes (amongst others) "Navigate To" and "Show Details" but occasionally these particular options are greyed out and unselectable. There is no logical explanation why - indeed trying again a few seconds later sometimes restores those items.

Although you can "draw" on the map view with your finger, for accuracy with operations such as denoting an area to avoid, you really need to use a stylus, something which the unit neither comes with nor has a storage receptacle for.

Overall "manual" control of the map views is a despairingly poor experience. This is by far the weakest aspect of the S90i - made all the more tragic by the fact that the associated functions are the most basic and commonly-used on any SatNav system. If I had the bottom-of-the-range S30 model, this would easily be enough of a problem to lead me to exchange the unit with something from a rival manufacturer.

Out on the road in navigation mode, the unit has a number of problems and shortcomings....

Most SatNav systems will helpfully "auto-zoom" into complex junctions for you as you approach them. While the NavMan unit possesses this capability, to my mind it doesn't really zoom in close enough.

While maps are scrolled smoothly, your indicated position tends to lag by about thirty yards - again far inferior to my ancient Navigon. This can be problematic for driving through busy city centres such as London with frequent side-roads , meaning it's too easy to miss the junction you need...

... and this brings us to another huge weakness with the NavMan. If you diverge from the planned route, the unit takes twenty seconds or more to recognise this. It can then take a further twenty seconds to recalculate a route for you. I found that disabling all POI categories helped to speed things up somewhat but the delay is still unacceptable.

What of the maps themselves? Most people reading this will be aware that there are two main companies that supply the actual map data: NavTeq (as used by Navigon and others) and TeleAtlas. NavMan have plumped for the latter with the S90i. Unfortunately there are some serious gaffes in the mapping data within just a three-mile radius of my house. For example in plotting a route to the next village, NavMan helpfully proposes a nice short cut... across a FOOTBRIDGE(!!) and then a private farm track. There is a motorway junction three miles from my house... but NavMan/TeleAtlas thinks the shortest route is actually nine because the map data is missing a particular road bridge (which was built in 1932) - it's tempting to speculate that in this instance, TeleAtlas thought it *was* a footbridge. Of course this isn't the fault of NavMan but deficiencies in TeleAtlas data - in comparison to NavTeq - have been known about for a long time. TeleAtlas claim they have been making strides to improve the accuracy of their maps and that they use [quote] "a fleet of sophisticated survey vehicles and Mobile Mapping Vans to capture the information that enriches our map database. With our patented Mobile Mapping technology, we collect road details and images with unprecedented accuracy". Whether this is simply hyperbole or they genuinely believe this, they clearly need to get those vans out a bit more! One assumes that it was cheaper for NavMan to license mapping data from TeleAtlas than NavTeq - but I'd rather NavMan had passed on the additional cost of using better quality mapping to the customer as it would actually save you money (in terms of fuel and time) in the long run. (Intriguingly NavMan's S60 unit uses NavTeq instead).

To compund problems, other than using the "Avoid" option to permanently demark rogue routes, there are no facilties for correcting the maps.

On a similar theme, the Points Of Interest ("POI") database provided with the unit has some strange omissions. For example there is no POI for the mainline railway station in my local town, yet they are present for all the small branchline stations! When I ask it to display nearby restaurants, it shows fast-food establishments like McDonalds, KFC, Little Chef, etc but not, ahem, "real" restaurants. More seriously there are no entries for police Stations, dentists and doctors' surgeries, despite there actually being a myriad of these in my area. On the other hand categories such as cash dispensers, petrol stations, Post Offices and hotels are well represented. In short, though, if you have an emergency while driving through an area you are not familiar with, you cannot depend on this unit as supplied...

Happily you can add "custom" POIs through the use of data files made available from third-party vendors. However NavMan maintains a separation between these and its built-in ones (which you cannot add to or amend). This means that you cannot select a built-in category (eg "Railway Stations") or icon for your imported POIs. Nor can you "merge" data between them. This meant that in order to correct the missing railway station problem, I ended up with two categories called "Railway Stations" and duplicated POIs for those stations that NavMan already had.

NavMan need to overhaul the approach they have adopted for POIs. Otherwise my advice would be to use the Options facility to disable all the built-in ones and download third-party replacements.

While my experience of deficiencies in mapping and POI data are just those affecting my local area, there are so many problems, I would suggest it's reasonable to assume coverage is equally patchy across the UK and Europe.

There is no facility to specify the type of vehicle (eg standard car, car towing a caravan, motorcycle, pedal cycle, lorry, pedestrian, etc) as you have with MN4 and other SatNav systems. As I live in the countryside, this certainly affects my choice of route. Nor can you specify the average speeds you anticipate travelling at on particular road types. On initial route calculation, the unit appears to assume you will always travel at the maximum permissble speed on each road. But those possessing vintage vehicles or towing a caravan or driving an HGV will progress at significantly less than this. As such the computed Estimated Time of Arrival for a long-distance journey will be hopelessly inaccurate. Naturally the unit continually recalculates the ETA once you are on the move but clearly this of no use if you need an estimate before you set off (for example to arrange a rendezvous with somebody or to make a delivery). In fairness this is not a serious omission but it is something that could have been implemented very easily - but it ultimately limits the range of people who can use the unit - a perverse decision by NavMan.

The TMC feature has a couple of problems, one of which almost completely undermines its presence. The socket which accepts the aforementioned wire aerial is a 3.5mm audio mini-plug but it is a four-pole version rather than a standard left/right/earth design. (This is because it doubles up as a headphones output - which is a mystery as the unit does not have any mp3 player capability!) While the supplied aerial is fitted with the appropriate plug, realistically decent reception continuity in the UK can only be attained via the use of a special "splitter" cable to be fed off the car's own radio antenna. Splitters (which generally cost around GBP30) either come with an RCA/phono plug or three-pole mini-plug. The upshot of using a standard three-pole plug with the S90i is that while TMC reception works, the unit is fooled into thinking it should be outputting all voice instructions to headphones, so it is, in effect, muted. I tried a three-to-four pole adaptor - as used by the Apple iPhone - but it appears to short the earth and headphone pole together, so does not address the problem. Fortunately I found I could get round this by actually using a mono (ie two-pole) mini-plug, inserting it into the socket as normal but then pulling it back out again a millimetre or so. It's a Heath Robinson set-up... so it's perfectly suited to so many other aspects of the S90i!

As to the TMC information itself, transmitted data includes, where relevant, the anticipated delay period. NavMan have chosen not to include this vital piece of information! If you are travelling along a motorway and there has been an accident ahead, your decision whether to ask the unit to reroute will largely depend on how long you are going to be held up for. If it's only going to be a few minutes, then it's probably worth proceeding as planned. But if it's going to be an hour, you'll almost certainly want to find an alternative route. The absence of this information means you have no way of making an appropriate decision and therefore the advantages of TMC are lost. The unit offers the option of automatic rerouting but according to the User Guide, it does so for each and every Traffic alert - for the vast majority of incidents, this will not only be wholly inappropriate and unnecessary but in some cases will lead to a longer (distance and/or time) journey than had you stayed on the original route.

Given the well-publicised problems of TMC reception in the UK, NavMan should have rendered connection to an antenna splitter straightforward. And to omit one of the most fundamental and important pieces of information concerning traffic delays is both inexplicable and unforgivable.

Multi-stop trips (aka "itineraries") seem to have been an afterthought. To create a new one, you go via the "Favourites" facility for some reason - hardly intuitive! Once you've constructed your list of stops, if you want to amend their order, you have to call up the "More Detail" screen of each one, change their position from there and then return to the list screen. It's not much of a chore but, again, unintuitive and profligate on keypresses. Surely the sensible approach would have been to have the repositioning functionality on the waypoint list screen itself? If you are pre-planning the journey or anticipate needing it repeatedly, you can Save it but not until it has been calculated, which, in turn, requires you to have a GPS signal. So if you're pre-planning the journey from the comfort of your armchair, you'll need to be sitting near a big window!

Furthermore the software will primarily only give Distance-To-Go, Time-To-Go and ETA for the next waypoint. You can get a summary of the entire journey but, again, it involves an unintuitive sequence of keypresses. (MN4 gives you both sets of information on-screen simultaneously).

Frankly this is the worst implementation of multi-stop functionality I have seen on any SatNav system. Even ancient MN4 did this so much better.

Battery longevity is only about three hours in my experience - even with very low screen brightness and audio volume settings.

The unit does not come with a mains charger - you have to purchase that separately (GBP8). You do get an in-car charger - however the screen cradle is designed in such a way that you have to take it off the screen, separate it from the S90i, plug in the cable and then re-assemble the whole kit - it's another example of NavMan not thinking the whole thing through.

If you have a PC, you can also charge up the S90i via the supplied USB cable, though for some reason you cannot actually use the unit (eg to pre-plan journeys) while doing so. Weird.

On the subject of PC connectivity, the unit has an SD card slot (although the User Guide does not explain what it is to be used for.) It would therefore have made more sense to have supplied the NavDesk software on a card, thus meaning that all configuration of the unit for major items could have been done without the need for a PC.

In summary:

+ True all-in-one GPS & Traffic "single box" solution requiring minimal cabling over the dashboard.
+ Start-up and GPS fix times reasonably quick.
+ Screen clarity excellent.
+ Good range of audio volume level.
+ Text-to-Speech for road names excellent.
+ Vocal instructions clear and timely.
+ Multiple - and highly usable - means with which to search for and select addresses.
+ Software/hardware stability faultless.
+ Area-to-avoid feature highly useful.
+ Route calculation fast.
+ Huge but easy-to-use flexibility with routing preferences.
+ Windscreen cradle excellent.

- User Guide poorly written in places and not comprehensive enough - some features not explained at all!
- TeleAtlas mapping errors.
- No vehicle options for type, speed preferences, etc.
- Cost-cutting TMC/headphone socket arrangement.
- No projected delay period given for relevant Traffic incidents.
- Some operations cumbersome to perform and/or lack intuitiveness.
- No POI data for emergency services.
- Ultimate reliance on owner possessing a PC. (And there is no Apple Mac version.)
- Very slow to respond and recalculate when driver diverges from planned route.
- POI management poorly implemented.
- Manual map navigation poorly implemented.
- Multi-stop trips poorly implemented.
- In-car and USB power charging poorly implemented.
- Mains charger not included.


It's great to have Text-to-Speech (once you've stumbled upon how to make it work!), GPS & TMC reception finally all in one "box" - that convenience factor is where one of my three rating stars comes in. But this is the only area where it really scores above my old Navigon setup - in the fast-moving technology industry, it's not much to show for three years of research & development! While I wouldn't say the NavPix/camera feature is an outright gimmick, it's hardly innovative. Considering this is NavMan's top-of-the-range (and, therefore, most expensive) unit, they have a lot of work to do to make the S90i something I could heartily recommend. Indeed this may explain the series of huge price drops it has undergone since its launch in October 2007.

Prima facie the S90i has a range of features that should easily satisfy the vast majority of users but in everyday use many of them are undermined by bafflingly poor implementation or the omission of a simple, useful function that users of rival systems take for granted. NavMan claim that the modus operandi of the new 'S' series has been derived through customer feedback. This has certainly helped to compile an appropriate list of "headline" features but little rational thought has been put into how some of them should work. It's as though senior management within NavMan have succeeded in identifying most of the features users wanted but neglected to employ anybody to analyse the requirements in detail and produce a suitable User Interface specification for the programmers. In some areas - particularly the manual map navigation features - the usability is so poor, one has to wonder whether anybody at NavMan has ever used a rival SatNav system.

Fortunately most of these problems could be addressed via simple software upgrades and fixes. Sadly NavMan have shown no inclination to do so, despite having issued two downloadable software "Service Packs".

In comparison to rivals, the S90i does not excel or stand out in any area at all. Even its positive aspects are merely average and, as I have indicated, they are undermined but its negatives anyway. If this is the best NavMan can do, then TomTom and Navigon have got nothing to worry about.

Were it not for its "All-In-One" design, the S90i would barely scrape a rating of 2 out of 5. Given all its shortcomings, I consider it to be little more than a promising "prototype". This is a tremendous pity as NavMan are (frustratingly!) close to making the S90i one of the best SatNav systems in the world!

Last edited by DaveMatthews on Sat Dec 27, 2008 1:46 pm; edited 2 times in total
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PostPosted: Mon May 19, 2008 6:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Shocked Shocked Shocked

Is this alos the model that only supports 12,000 POIs and so can't take the PGPSW database unless you leave out the Mobiles (for now.....)
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PostPosted: Mon May 19, 2008 7:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

PaulB2005 wrote:
Shocked Shocked Shocked

Is this alos the model that only supports 12,000 POIs

It is indeed. Not really a problem for me personally but not good when compared to rival systems.

BTW, why the (triple!) expression of shock?



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PostPosted: Mon May 19, 2008 7:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

BTW, why the (triple!) expression of shock?

Well not really shock, but surprise. Wasn't prepared for such as detailed review..... Excellent work.
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