Published 5 March 2009.
Minor edits October 2010

Review of the Navman S200 Platinum car GPS


I have owned an S200 since October 2008 and used it extensively around Wellington, the Kapiti Coast, Wairarapa province and on journeys around the North Island of New Zealand. By nature, reviews such as this tend to focus on the negative. These aspects are where the value of a review lies and is what makes a review different to an advertisement. But, so I don’t appear as a total curmudgeon, first I will mention what I found good about the S200.

It is a sleek attractive unit, the screen is very crisp and easy to read. It came loaded with Australia/NZ database and NZ maps. The internal database of streets appears comprehensive. The touch screen is very easy to use once a certain technique is mastered. RF sensitivity looks to be very good; the unit has no problem finding satellites when in the car and even manages to stay on the job when driving through tunnels. Using it at home to preprogram destinations, I do have to be near a window. The spoken guidance is very clear and perfectly adequate inside the car. ‘She’ stays commendably quiet if there are no pending turns. The database includes points of interest and this can easily be searched after entering a location. The bracket for windscreen mounting is robust and has never fallen off. As with all such units the ugly power cable has to dangle to the cigarette socket.

Screen brightness

This I would call satisfactory but don’t imagine it is sunlight readable, even at maximum brightness, which you don’t want it set to when using it on foot by the way, as it drains the battery quickly. Lack of brightness is even a problem in car, if your car has a steeply raked windscreen like mine. You can choose to have the unit near the top of the windscreen, near the mirror, or far to the right, then there is no problem viewing the screen. However, it does obstruct driving vision just a little, and the ugly cable scenario gets you. If you want it low down, near the dashboard, well in my case that makes it about a metre in front of me and it is easily washed out by the sun and you can’t reach any controls. Not that playing around with the unit while driving is a good idea anyway.

Database

I can’t claim to have tested this extensively. It has found all but one street I searched for. Oddly, that same street was listed as an intersecting street to another, but could not be found directly.

The FM transmitter feature

I bought the S200 model partly because of this, because I imagined the voice quality through the car stereo would be better. Well, it is; the system works, but you don’t need it. The voice quality from the unit direct is fine and there is a down-side to using the feature. First, you have to set up a clear frequency to use. That is fine for any one location, but driving around the country you will encounter radio stations using your chosen frequency. Secondly, you don’t have use of your radio to listen to music. Now you can load up the Navman with some MP3 files and get it to play them via the FM radio and some might do just that. I found that while driving around, my FM radio picked up the Navman commands well, but quite frequently there were bursts of hiss and burps from the radio to break the silence, as no doubt we passed through areas of interference or encountered nearby reflections causing part cancellation of the Navman signal. So, I wouldn’t buy it for this feature. Knowing this, I would have bought the cheaper S150 model instead. I will add that the S200 has Bluetooth functionality and I have not tried that.

The speed alerts

You can set a speed alert to auto or any speed of your choice. In auto it ‘knows’ the limit for an area and will beep accordingly. Of course, the database may get out of date as it already is around my location in Wellington. If you manually set it for urban limits, then as soon as you hit the motorway, off it goes. If you set it manually for open road limits, then it never goes off in the city. It goes off at exactly the speed limit, which is annoying. I keep in touch with speed limits but I may creep over by a few km/hr. I would like it to have a limit+10% option. Myself, I have it set to 110km/hr. If I hit that speed I need to reduce. It is easier to keep below limits in urban zones.

The safety camera alert

Not a very useful feature in my opinion. It sounds off when there is a camera within 500m, even if the camera is on an adjacent road and you are not going to pass it. Of course the database will get outdated for this too.

Save trip feature

The unit will ask if you want to save the trip before you start. I had imagined this might actually save a route and also produce a nice graphic of the journey. It does neither. All it does is allow you to create a csv file of the distance from A to B after uploading the data to your pc. It will kindly offer to calculate fuel used, based on a consumption figure that you supply. That’s it! Furthermore, it gets it wrong. I set it up on a trip to Waikanae and return, a distance of some 60km each way. From A to B, the distance it recorded was correct. From B to A; exactly the reverse, it recorded about half the correct distance. It has made similar mistakes on other journeys as well. The flakiness of that feature means it is virtually useless.

Getting back on track

While driving around town, the Navman provides good guidance, even to the extent of keep left or keep right messages if there is a choice of lanes. One still has to have an awareness of street signs. One example of this occurred when driving down Wallace St, intending to head towards the motorway, the lovely Australian girl tells me ‘at the traffic lights, turn left; Arthur St- State Highway 1’. The problem is that the next traffic lights are at Webb St and the correct turn is 40 metres further on, at the 2nd set of lights.

If you do not follow instructions, the Navman appeared to recalculate fairly quickly and produces instructions to get back to the original track. Sometimes it can be fairly comical. We headed out of Wellington; destination Naenae. Instead of continuing along the Hutt Rd at Petone, I elected to turn off to go along the Esplanade. There are a lot of side roads off the Esplanade, that would, with some difficulty get you back to the Hutt Rd. As soon as she realized we were off track, instructions to turn left appeared, which we ignored. She wanted us to turn left at every side road, sometimes cutting off one instruction mid sentence to say the next one. The diatribe continued unabated until we had passed every possible side road and were nearly at Hutt Park. By then, she had realized what we were doing and settled down again.

The only other ‘quirk’ I have encountered was when travelling through Newtown up Riddiford St, which is a main arterial road. ‘She’ for some inexplicable reason, wanted us to do a one block detour and back to Riddiford St again. I followed this once for a laugh and sure enough, as soon as I turned off, she directed us back to the main road again.

Overall

I am reasonably happy with the Navman. I expect the price will reduce before long, or the next model will be cheaper.
The S200 (and I understand) other car GPS units are not infallible. They do rely a lot on the quality of the mapping information. Nonetheless, very useful in unfamiliar surroundings. This unit does not provide your latitude and longitude. I know that a car unit really doesn’t need that, but it would appeal to the navigator in me. I mean if I was stuck on the Desert Rd, I could tell the tow company my position. What would be even more useful than latitude and longitude would be distance to nearest town(s). On a long journey for which you pass several small towns along the way, it would be very handy to have a 'distance to [next town]' as well as the distance to the final destination. I would like a more convenient way to save a ‘route’. You can create one waypoint within a route that the Navman has calculated, but this is not saved as a user route. It does save favourite ‘destinations’ but not routes. And it would be nice to be able to download to a pc a simple map graphic with a ‘breadcrumb’ track of the journey.


Axino-tech March 2009