Guiding you from A to B

Fujitsu-Siemens Pocket Loox N100

Looking uncannily like an iPod, the Loox N100 is a really stylish bit of kit. It’s a combined PDA and satnav, so in theory will also work as your electronic organiser, although to be honest it’s pretty poor at it.

As a satnav, however, it’s great. Getting a satellite fix takes a so-so five minutes, but selecting postcode destinations or points of interest (POI) using the touchscreen takes seconds, and route calculation is similarly brisk. Navigation is comparable to TomTom’s devices, with smooth, real-time 3D graphics, clear voice guidance at a volume that automatically goes up as you accelerate, and helpful on-screen info. You also get multiple route profiles and speed warnings, though there’s no camera database on board. You’ll need to buy a separate aerial for traffic updates though.
The more innovative additions include lane assistance, which indicates the suggested lane or lanes for your next manoeuvre, a function I’ve yet to see in action in my particular rural backwater. There are also some games, Pac Man – here renamed Smart Pixie – and a version of Breakout imaginatively titled Bricks.

The music player is better than you might expect, with superior earphones to the iPod (not that that’s saying much). Battery life is on the short side at about six hours, but for the occasional in-car use and tourist walkabouts, there isn’t a more convenient satnav around.

PROS: Most stylish GPS you’ll see.
CONS: Limited features.

Nokia N95
From free

It is, supposedly, the phone that could mean you never get lost again. With streetmaps of 130 countries, Nokia’s flagship N95 is the company’s attempt to integrate satnav into a gadget small enough to take anywhere.

The handset is very small, roughly the size of a pack of cigarettes, and the keypad is initially hidden. Slide it one way and the keypad appears, while sliding it the opposite way reveals a set of music controls for MP3 and video-playback software. Setting the handset up is easy, and within a few seconds it will locate exactly where you are, and show you a map of the surrounding streets. You can then either enter a location and postcode, or access the well thought-out menus, which also let you search for nearby bars, restaurants and tourist attractions. We found the mapping software to be excellent, and it was even able to accurately tell us which side of the street we were on.

For the GPS to work you do need to be in sight of the sky, so in built-up areas you may lose the signal, but the phone is pretty good at dealing with the abundance of large office blocks in London. Users can decide whether they want walking or driving directions, which are either displayed on screen or spoken through the loud speakers. Once your route is set, you can even put the phone in your pocket and hear spoken directions via a hands-free earpiece. There’s also a 5-megapixel digital camera, and it produces pictures comparable to all but the best digital cameras on the market – you really don’t need to carry a separate camera any more.

The satnav software is excellent, although Co-Pilot software is also available to buy as an extra, and well worth a look if you do a lot of driving. However, overall it’s a superb little gadget, and perfect if you’re constantly getting lost around town.

PROS: Every feature you could ever want in a phone.
CONS: Screen size is small in-car.

TomTom One XL
£249 UK version,
£279 Europe version

The TomTom One XL has been designed to be easily pocketable following the increase in crime for these desirable units – just remember to hide the cradle.

A recent upgrade has also given it a large 4.3-inch widescreen touchscreen which dominates the front. There’s just one power button and a SD slot, so the easy-to-use touchscreen is a simple way to get through the menus. The interface is easy to use and the maps clear and comprehensible when it came to following directions.

Of course, delving deeper into the spec sheet will show the differences between this and the more impressive TomTom 910 (see overleaf) – there is no hands-free Bluetooth connectivity, built in iPod controls or MP3 player, for example. Nor is there a 20GB internal hard drive or the text-to-speech option to have road names read out to you. Finally, the lazy will have to reach to the unit to change things rather than have to rely on the 910’s remote control. But then, you have to ask, do you really need all these over and above the mapping software? After all, you still get traffic support via your mobile phone and find your way to your mate’s house with little effort.

In use the TomTom performed well in most situations, although driving around the City of London with its high office blocks did cause the unit to get very confused, to the point that it even tried to get us to drive through a building to get back on to the road that we were still on. However, in most situations the TomTom One found the correct way to go and recalculated very quickly when we opted to ignore instructions.
At £249, the TomTom One XL offers a fantastic entry-level solution, and if you’re on a really tight budget there’s even a £199 version with a smaller screen.

PROS: Bargain price and simple to use.
CONS: Very little!

Eversham Navcam 7500

The NavCam 7500 uses Navigator 2006 software provided by the AA. As well as the usual 2D and 3D mapping, the voice alerts, and full seven-digit postcode searching, this brings one unexpected delight to drivers of older bangers: a breakdown button. Now don’t get too excited – what it actually does is display your precise location, in map co-ordinates, so you can tell the breakdown service where you are.

There’s a basic MP3 player and photo slideshow viewer. More important, though, is the speed-camera warning functionality which provides both visual and vocal and fully directional alerts for all six of the current speed camera types in the UK, although it actually just reports on likely locations of mobile cameras. We liked the intelligent warning system that monitors your speed and only gives a gentle ping if you approach a camera under the limit, but goes slightly mad if you are bombing it. Well, OK, not ballistic but it does yell the camera type and display the speed limit on-screen and then return to a gentle ping as you become a considerate driver once more. The Traffic Message Channel gives you real-time road traffic congestion alerts and automatic re-routing. The TMC FM receiver is included in the package, as is a lifetime licence for the alerts, which is a nice touch and one avoided by many of the cheaper suppliers. The 3.5-inch touchscreen is good, and the unit was also quick to pick up a signal. Overall, it’s a decent enough package, but doesn’t quite have the slick features of the TomTom products, for instance.

PROS: Good for speed-camera spotting.
CONS: Limited features

Garmin Nuvi 660

The Nuvi 660 comes with a 4.3-inch touchscreen, and is pretty simple to operate. With no buttons, control is completely orchestrated via the unit’s touchscreen and luckily Garmin has designed the unit for use by people with large fingers, and the additional screen space means everything is spaced out even more, rather than just displayed with black boxes either side.

On start-up, the screen offers three choices: you can view the map, ask for directions or access the unit’s multimedia features in the Travel Pack. The 660 offers a host of multimedia options including the ability to translate a foreign language, read audio books to you via an SD card or listen to MP3 tracks via the unit’s MP3 player. However, as with most satnavs, these functions are inhibited by the fact that the unit’s speaker is terrible.
The Garmin routing software is very good and easy to use, although we personally found the preferences menu a touch confusing – we had to look in the unit’s instruction book to find out how to change road preferences, for example.

Maps for all of Europe come as standard in the UK, and overall it’s a good, solid, straightforward little unit.

PROS: Packed with features – can even translate for you.
CONS: Menu can be a little confusing.