Can you folks believe that it is July already? Here we are deep in the heart of summer vacation season. You probably have places to go (or come home from) and Navigon aims to get you there and back again. Their latest GPS, the 2100 Max is the perfect portable navigation system for the intrepid traveler. Let’s take a closer look.
Overview and Unboxing: Before we start talking about the features in this one, let’s just take a look at what you get. The first thing I noticed was how much smaller this model was than the 7100, which I previously reviewed. This was really nice. There are also almost no external controls, which meant it was very difficult to accidentally bump something. All of your controls are handled through the touch scree, which we will get back to in a minute. The only other controls you will find are:
— Power button on top
— SD card slot on the right (for swapping in new maps)
— Mini USB port on the bottom for charging the battery
That is it. There is a speaker on the back, but all of your other controls are found on the touch screen. I was pretty impressed by this screen, which is a bright and vivid 4:3 screen. Couple that with the loud (and polite) spoken navigation instructions, and you will always be able to find your way, whether it is through the busiest city streets, or the wide open country road.
In the box, you will also find a car adaptor, so you can plug it into your car while driving, as well as a stand. The nice thing about this stand is that it has both a suction cup and a sticky tape cover, meaning you can decide whether to permanently attach it to your dash or not. I was not crazy, however, with the design of the stand and how it connected to the GPS unit. I found it difficult to clip the unit in and out of the stand, meaning it was not always securely held in place. Once in, however, it was quite difficult to remove from the stand. Finally, there is a USB cable, which you can use to connect the unit to your computer.
Just turn the unit on and it will automatically calibrate with the satellites and you are ready to go.
Route Planning: Once you have the GPS unit out of the box and connected, it is time to go for a ride. The first thing you will want to do is set your home location. This is an extremely intuitive process, which begins with the largest geographical units, and works smaller. So, start by inputting your state and then select your city. Just start typing and you will find a list of names appearing. If you see your city then just select it from the list and move on to your street address.
Once you have set your home location, you can also enable one of my favorite features, the “Take Me Home” feature. When I was learning how to drive, I used to just like to go for rides in the back roads near my house (back in the days of under $2/gallon gas.) The only problem with this was sometimes I would hit an unfamiliar area and suddenly, I was navigating by the sun and moss on the trees. Looking back on that time, I wish I had the Navigon with me. From any location, just tap the “Take Me Home” button and it will automatically determine your current location and guide you home.
Additionally, the Navigon also allows you to save your favorite locations. This makes it very easy to find the way to Grandma’s house, your favorite restaurant, or just about anywhere else. One handy use I have found is when we find a new place to eat, I can find my current location on the GPS and save it. That makes it easy to find our way back. It works even better than a breadcrumb trail. If the Navigon 2100 Max is as easy to use as it is to program, then I may just have a new best friend in the car.
Getting There: Now that you have programmed the GPS receiver, it is time to hit the road. The first thing you will notice is how beautiful the maps look on this 4:3 screen. Absolutely stunning. Not only are they easy to follow, but, in addition to the three dimensional view shown above, your maps may also be displayed as:
two dimensional maps
night view colors
reality view, which is incredibly useful for determining which lane to use when entering and exiting a highway
One thing I really liked here was the vast amount of information on the screen. In addition to showing you the map view of your current location, you will also find:
— the name of the current road
— the name of your next turn
— distance to your next turn
— distance to your destination and time of arrival
You can even view turn by turn directions of your entire trip. This is very useful for those times when your wife asks you for the next three turns in advance. It is also a great tool for getting a larger picture of your entire trip, rather than just your immediate vicinity and the next turn.
The one oddity I did find here was the speed limit monitor. While I appreciated the fact that it alerted me when the speed limit was changing, the alert was really inadequate. It would flash the new speed limit in the corner of the screen and say, “Caution!” I found that while the word, “Caution!” got my attention, I had to stare at the screen to figure out what was changing. It would have been better if the unit would say, “Caution! The speed limit is changing to…” Even better would be if in addition, the screen were temporarily replaced with a large, flashing speed limit sign indicating the new speed.
Getting Help Along the Way: If you are anything like me, then you know when it comes to road trips, the best laid plans…well, you get the point. Things don’t always go as planned. For those times, Navigon offers several options to help pull you back on course.
First, one of the biggest frustrations is when you run across an unexpected road closure (such as an accident) along your chosen path. In order to set a road block, however, you have to tap road block while traveling on the blocked road. A road block is set from your current point forward a chosen distance. There is no way to tell it that such and such road is closed until you reach that road. By that time, it is too late to calculate a new route. As such, on our recent trip, we ended up with the frustrating situation of not being able to tell the GPS the road was closed, since we had already moved onto a detour route, and not being able to find an alternate. We ended up going back to the stone age and unfolding a paper map which we used to get back on track. I was extremely disappointed that the Navigon did not do better when faced with unexpected detours.
Like other Navigon units, the 2100 Max also offers their unique branded points of interest. I loved this, as it is fantastic to be able to look at the map and determine exactly when the next McDonalds or BP gas, or whatever will be. One of the frustrations of traveling with young children is that every stop becomes a mystery. You don’t know what lunch options will lurk beyond that next exit until you actually approach the exit. With Navigon’s branded POI, you can simply search for fast food and find all of your nearby options. I did think it would have been nice to have been able to search by brand, rather than just subcategory, but it functioned fairly well. I did notice, however, that smaller brands were not always included (such as gas stations), and don;t even bother if you are on the turnpike or other toll road with those large, all-in-one rest stops. The Navigon receiver does not even acknowledge them, even though they tend to contain name brand fast food and gas options.
The other cool new feature in the 2100 MAX is the SOS Direct Help (shown above). I remember when I was in law school and I had car problems on the way to visit my girlfriend. I pulled over, called AA, got a voice menu, which lead to a second voice menu, and ultimately, ended up on hold. A half hour later, I decided that my car wasn’t in such bad shape after all, and drove the rest of the way with the window open (don’t ask). Thinking back on that, it sure would have been nice if those roadside assistance people had actually…I don’t know…assisted me.
Well, Navigon has a solution. Just tap SOS Direct Help and you can be immediately connected to Roadside Assistance, Police, Hospitals, or Pharmacies. As an aside, I have no idea what kind of roadside emergency would require the immediate intervention of a pharmacist, but I am sure some pharmacist will read this and let us know. Otherwise, this instant assistance feature is fantastic. Thankfully, I did not have to test it out on any of my recent road trips, so I can’t tell you how well it works, but it does give me some measure of peace of mind knowing the option is there. Every GPS receiver should have a feature like this.
Menus and Options: The Navigon 2100 Max has dozens of features which can be accessed and settings which can be adjusted, so that every aspect of the unit can be calibrated to your specific trip. I loved the various options and settings, but found many of them to be simply inaccessible. Depending upon the options, they may be found:
— in the options menu
— in the settings menu
— by simply tapping the screen
There were a number of instances, in which I needed to change a setting or access an option, only to end up buried deep within the wrong menu. There really seemed to be little rhyme or reason to explain the organizational structure of these menus and options. I think Navigon needs to go back and start from scratch to redesign the menus in a far more intuitive manner. Really, who is going to tap the screen to access and option when there is a button labeled, “options?”
Battery: Perhaps my biggest disappointment with this unit was the battery, which was simply abysmal. Although the box indicates the 1200 mAh battery should last up to three hours, I got nowhere close to this. In fact, I found the GPS was almost completely unusable unless it was plugged in. Maybe I just got a defective unit, but it seemed that no matter how long I charged it, as soon as I turned on the screen, the battery was already low. It was no problem to plug it in in the car, but I felt as though I should not have had to do so on shorter trips.
What I Liked: Easy setup and programming. Great screen. Numerous modes and views tackle every situation. Branded POI. SOS Direct Help.
What Needs Improvement:Inconsistent results when you went off course or had an unplanned detour. Can’t search POI by brand. Menus and options are very poorly organized.
Where To Buy: Navigon