GPS has become an enabling technology far exceeding the system designers’ wildest dreams for non-military applications. One area of exploding growth is in personal vehicle navigation systems. It seems new devices are showing up in the market place on a daily basis. So many choices…so many features…what, oh what to choose?
The choice of a personal vehicle navigation system is, like many things in life, driven by the features you desires and limited only by your financial constraints. Once you’ve decided on a features package and how much you are willing to spend, the ‘critical deciding factors’ in choosing a unit come down to performance and ease of use. After all, just about any of the units on the market will get your from point A to point B, but they differ dramatically in features, performance and usability.
The goal of this review is to provide you with a general idea of the features, performance, and ease of use of the Navman iCN 750. Readers are encouraged to visit the Navman website and view the 126 page User Manual to supplement the information contained in this review as it is impractical to discuss every capability of this feature loaded system.
Important note: Many of the pictures contained in this review are digital photographs of the iCN 750 screen. They are not as crisp, clear and vibrant as the display is when viewed in person. You may also notice a weave or hash pattern in some of the pictures. This is an artifact of the photographic process.
The iCN 750 is a portable 10.6 ounce, 5.4 x 3.0 x 1.2 inch self-contained GPS navigation system with a 4 inch color TFT 480 pixel wide by 272 pixel high touch screen used for feature selection and information display. It uses the SiRF Star III Generation 2 12 parallel channel receiver chipset as its GPS engine with an Intel PXA270 312MHz processor, using the Windows CE operating system, as the ‘brains’ of the unit.
Also contained within the unit are a 1.3 megapixel color camera (used with the NavPix™ feature) and a 4 gigabyte hard drive (which stores a complete set of street maps for the United States and Canada along with a Point of Interest (POI) database). Power for the unit is supplied by a DC car adapter, an AC adapter, or the built-in 1890mAH rechargeable Lithium-ion battery (estimated operating time of 2 to 4 hours from the battery).
The operating environmental characteristics are specified for a temperature range of 14◦ F to 140◦ F with a relative humidity between 45 to 80 percent. Storage environmental characteristics are specified for a temperature range of minus 22◦ F to 158◦ F with a relative humidity between 30 to 90 percent. Check Latest Prices HERE
The Navman iCN 750 comes in a well organized box which includes the AC and DC power adapters, a USB cable, mounting bracket and optional dashboard mount 'plastic disc', CDs which include a back up copy of the map and POI databases along with the desktop software, user manual, frequently asked GPS question guide, in-car installation guide, license and warranty information, global support information, and a product registration card.
The Navman iCN 750 comes ready to operate right out of the box; the maps and POI database for the United States and Canada are preinstalled at the factory. The only things required prior to using the unit are to enable the internal battery (by means of the small slide switch on the bottom of the unit) and charge the battery.
Shortly after the unit is turned on and it has ‘booted up’, a language selection screen is shown. I selected English (US) and uncheck the 'Show on startup' block so I wouldn't be bothered by this screen every time the unit is turned on. If at a later date a different language is desired, it can be selected from the system menu. The next screen displays a legal warning message which has to acknowledged. The final screen presented in this 'first time start up sequence' is a screen offering to run the iCN 750 operating tutorial. I uncheck the 'Show on startup' box as the tutorial can be viewed at a later date from the Preferences menu.
The first things I did after going through the steps outline above was to verify the basic operation of the unit. It rapidly locked on seven satellites while I was sitting inside my home and correctly showed my location. My next step was to venture over to the PC, where I installed Microsoft’s ActiveSync™ and Navman’s SmartST™ desktop software. These two packages are required to communicate via the USB port between the iCN 750 and your computer. I was greeted with the screen to the right on the iCN 750 display after I connected the USB cable. This screen is the user’s confirmation that successful two way communications has been established.
In the past I have been frustrated when using a new hardware because frequently the software shipped with the unit has had bugs in it. So the first thing I wanted to do was to check to see if Navman had any software updates available for the 750. Navman provides an easy way to check for updates via the SmartST™ software package (Internet connection required). Shortly after clicking the menu item to check for updates I was informed that a software update was available and was asked if I wanted to download it. I downloaded the update and installed it. The iCN 750’s display provides a bar graph display showing the status of the update; a nice feature to have showing you things are happening.
I did have one small surprise after updating the iCN 750 software. After unplugging the USB cable the unit rebooted itself! I wasn’t expecting this as it is not mentioned in the manual and initially made me wonder if something had gone wrong during the update process. I later learned this is normal anytime you’ve used the USB port.
Kudos to Navman! It’s clear that they did their homework and expended the resources required to make both the installation of the PC software packages and iCN 750 software update process function smooth and pain free.
There were no significant bug fixes in this package, which was advertised as ‘Service Pack 1’. This is another example of Navman doing the right thing before releasing a product to the market.
This software is used to acquire and install iCN 750 software updates, add or remove maps, add/manage custom POIs, and to backup the iCN 750 file set. The backup feature is especially nice if someone inadvertently deletes some of your favorite destinations or changes other settings.
The SmartST™ desktop software is menu-driven, making it very easy to use. My only big disappointment with this software is that you cannot search for destinations and use the results to build your own favorite destination database. This would make route planning so much easier than having to do this from the touch screen. I hope Navman will consider adding this capability in the future.
The only in-car installation work to do is to decide where to locate the mounting bracket in the vehicle. I studied this carefully wanting to achieve these objectives: easy access to and viewing of the iCN 750; connection of the DC adapter to a vehicle power outlet; and minimal blockage of the view outside of the vehicle.
If you live in California or Minnesota it is against the law to mount the iCN 750 on your windshield. Navman provides a ‘plastic disc’ to mount on your dashboard and you attach the main suction cup mounting bracket to this ‘disc’. The ‘plastic disc’ has an adhesive on the bottom of it making dashboard mounting somewhat of a permanent installation. Take extra time if you use this auxiliary mounting hardware to get it right the first time!
With the aid of an assistant holding the unit where I intend on mounting it, I confirmed that the mounting objectives outlined above are met (as much as possible) and that GPS signal reception was adequate.
I mounted the unit to the right of the mirror just as high as I could get it to go to reduce as much as possible blockage to my field of view. From an accessibility perspective the left side of the mirror would have been better, but it blocked too much of the outside view.
I guess I’m one of those picky individuals who likes the least amount of obstructions and distractions in my field of view as I drive. After a few test drives the power cord started to drive me nuts swinging back and forth. Mounting the unit on the dash would have solved the cord problem, but that approach blocked way too much of my outside view. I’ll probably end up fabricating some type of mounting attachment so I can mount it where the top of the unit is flush with the top of the dash; much like you see in vehicles which are equipped with a built-in system.
Moral of the story here is to carefully select the mounting location especially if you are forced to or choose the ‘plastic disc’ dashboard mounting option.
The proper thing to do before using any new piece of equipment is to read and understand the user manual. But let’s be honest here, 99 out of 100 of us want to see what our new priceless treasure can do. And you guessed it, I’m not in that 1 percent group that reads the manual from front to back before kicking the tires and lighting the fire! But I did take a few moments to understand the function of the four buttons on the front right hand side of the unit as they are the keys which open many doors.
The top button can be toggled up or down. Toggling it up gives you a text listing of nearby service stations and toggling it down provides a text listing of nearby parking locations. These locations come from the POI database and are based on the current location. The second button from the top displays the “Main Menu” screen. The third button displays the “Go To” menu screen and the bottom button cycles you through the 3D map, 2D map, Next Turn, and Turn List screens.
After powering on the unit and acquiring a sufficient number of GPS satellites for navigation, a screen similar to the one to the left appears showing the current location. There are a couple of features here worth noting. The address of the current location is displayed at the bottom of the screen. The blue circle on the bottom right corner shows where north is with respect to the direction of travel. Touch this circle and it changes into a GPS signal quality status indicator providing the user with a rough order of magnitude indication of the quality of the GPS signal reception. Touching and holding down the GPS signal quality indicator causes the GPS status screen to be displayed. Touching the magnifying glass (above the blue bearing circle in the photo) brings up a thumbwheel which allows you to zoom in our out. The current time is displayed in the upper right hand corner.
If you look closely near the center of this screen you will see a square box with a + inside of it. That's a curser which is displayed when you tap any part of the screen. This curser has many different functions. One is to allow the user to 'drag' the map to another location. Another use is to bring up a popup window allowing you to view additional information selected from popup menus. One feature I liked was to be able to tap the screen on top of a displayed POI icon to get detailed information on that POI. The options available using this curser are very valuable features.
There are five different methods of choosing a destination to navigate to. They are:
I used the first method to select several destinations and immediately saved them as favorites. I personally found this hard to do using the touch screen because I have large hands and fingers and would frequently overlap characters on the touch screen keyboard. Fortunately, the entire name of a city or street does not have to be entered as shown in the picture to the right. In fact in this example, I could have just entered an e and searched the entire listing of city names in Ohio which begin with an 'e' by touching the up-down arrows to the right of the name list.
I would make one strong plea to Navman to implement destination entry into the SmartST™ Desktop software package in a future release if possible. Using the touch screen keyboard in the field to make a few entries is fine, but with my big fingers it was a chore building up an initial list of favorite destinations.
I also found some limitations using the touch screen scroll wheel to scroll through text listings. I blame a lot of my frustrations again on my large fingers and I found the only effective way to use it was to turn my finger just right so the corner of my nail touched the screen. Even when doing it this way I had problems with overshooting an item I was looking for. My wife, who has much smaller hands, experienced similar problems. Perhaps this is a sensitivity issue which could be addressed with a software update. However, it did work and perhaps with time it will become more natural to me.
While I've got this screen up, I want to point out a small, but annoying issue with the map database. We have a lot of street names in this area which derived their names from the two major cities they connected years ago. Take for instance Dayton Springfield Road where you will observe sometimes it is hyphenated and other times not. The first time I tried to find a location in Enon the unit told me there was no such house number. When I used the hyphenated street name it found the house number I was looking for. I realize the map database is built from public information and I know for a fact even our maps in this area have these same inconsistencies with the hyphenation, but is sure would be nice if the street number matching algorithm treated anything between words in the street name as a wild card.
That said, I do have a lot of praise for the overall quality of the Tele Atlas map database. Apparently years ago the elders in this area must not have gotten along with each other as it is not uncommon for street names to change from one name to another in the strangest locations. This has always been a point of major heartburn when trying to give drivers directions. The database correctly identified all these name changes without fail and in the proper geographic location on all the roads I've traveled on so far. Well done!
Selecting a destination from the Favorites and Recent location screens is very easy. A simple touch on the name of the destination brings up a map display of that location and you simply touch the Go soft button to begin the destination routing process. It couldn't get any easier than that!
Using the POI menu is a bit challenging for the same reasons I outlined earlier regarding the human factors aspects when using the keyboard and my problems getting a smooth, even scroll of the list. Hard for me to do while sitting still and perhaps impossible (not verified, just a gut feel) for a passenger to do while moving.
Selecting the nearest gasoline station or parking area is much easier. Toggle the button on the upper right hand side of the iCN 750 for either parking or gasoline and you are presented with a list to choose from.
Since I've mentioned the POI function here, I might as well comment on another shortcoming. I don't know the criteria for points of interest getting in to the database, but I felt the some categories in InfoUSA POI database shipped with the iCN 750 were incomplete. We have three gas stations in the area and only one of the three is in the database. I can understand one of them being missing since it opened around a year ago, but the other missing one has been open for six years. Another example is the large credit union I do business with. They've been in business over 30 years (under the same name) and have a main office with over 10 branches and none of them are listed. This simply amazes me and makes me wonder how many more locations are missing!
Using the curser to select a destination is a quick method, but the accuracy is limited to how close you can position the curser to where you want to go. I have mixed feelings on how useful it will be in the long term and it is probably safe to say it is not a method which will see frequent use. However, still a nice option to have available at your finger tip.
A very nice feature of the iCN 750 is the ability to build and save a multi-destination list. Very useful for the traveler who runs a repetitive route of stops. Up to 200 multiple destination routes can be saved with 15 different destinations per route. It's very easy to add or remove destinations from this list as well as temporarily skipping one or more destinations if the need arises.
I was impressed with the speed and overall operation of the routing algorithms and methodologies used by Navman in this unit. Before I discuss this in greater detail I should spend a little time talking about the routing customization the user can select.
Navman allows the user to adjust several parameters which impact how the route to your destination is calculated. You can select your preference for a route to be fastest time to shortest distance and if freeways should be used less often to more often. I selected the middle of the road settings on both these options. The unit can also be configured to warn of and/or avoid toll roads, unsurfaced roads, and ferry routes when it builds the routing to your destination. I found the toll road warning function to be useful in giving me a heads-up so I could prepare for paying the tolls.
While not fitting the bill as configurable items which impact how the route is calculated, they are route related and I might as well cover them here. You can configure the voice directions to be in a male voice or female voice or disable them altogether. You can also configure the unit to warn you when a speed has been exceeded.
Once the user has instructed the unit where to go it starts 'number crunching' to determine a route from the current location to the destination as influenced by the configuration parameters selected. The time it takes to determine a route ranges from seconds to minutes depending on how far away the destination is. Navman understands we humans are an impatient lot and provides numeric feedback to the user on how much of the route has been calculated.
When the routing calculations have completed the screen will display the current location, the first maneuver which needs to be taken, and highlights the roads. By tapping the screen to bring up the cursor and tapping the curser you can bring up a menu which allows you to view the entire route from start to finish. This picture shows the route I'll be taking over the Christmas holidays.
The route to a destination may be viewed on one of four different screens: a 3D map; a 2D map; a next turn map; and a turn direction screen. While driving a pleasant sounding male or female voice (depending on which voice was selected and assuming voice directions have been enabled) informs the user of upcoming actions which need to be taken to follow the route. In general I found the voice instructions to come in a timely and clear manner. However there were times when the voice 'stuttered' (some other higher priority task got the CPU's attention) which is a very minor annoyance. During freeway travels I found these messages coming just a tad bit later than I would have liked. Perhaps Navman can synchronize these announcements to speed of travel so they come with a little more lead time. Otherwise, I was very pleased with them.
Below are pictures of the four navigation screens with a few brief comments about additional information displayed in addition to the route. Touching the soft button in the upper right hand corner of the display on any of the four navigation screens will change the info it displays. Choices are time, speed, time-to-go, distance-to-go, and estimated time of arrival.
|3D map screen
Next action to be taken is displayed in upper left hand corner of the screen and a text description of the next action at the top center of the display. Current location at the bottom of the screen. Speed is shown in the upper right hand corner. GPS status in the lower right hand corner.
|2D map screen
Distance left to go is displayed in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Direction to north shown by the arrow head in the blue circle in the lower right hand corner of the screen. Two points of interest are also visible in the display.
Large illustration of the next action along with text displayed on the screen
Soft thumbwheel scrollable listing of actions to be taken between the current location and the destination
What happens when you don't follow the route calculated? I was pleasantly surprised by the way the unit acted when I intentionally deviated from the planned route while driving some of the country roads in my neighborhood. Rather than nagging at me to turn around and get back on course, the unit accepted my deviation from the routing first calculated and promptly recalculated a new route for me to follow based on the deviation I made. I decided to try another intentional deviation by taking a road running parallel to and about a mile away from an interstate highway. Here the unit was not as graceful in how it treated my route change because of the weighting (emphasis) it was placing on using the interstate. It nagged for a considerable distance for me to make a U-turn and after several miles gave up that nagging but tried to get me to return back to the interstate at every potential cross road. Finally, when the distance to my destination became the predominate factor did it display a new route based on my current location.
This really isn't too bad, but I can think of an instance where it would be nice to have a means of disabling the weighting factors. Assume you are driving an interstate and encounter a detour due to road construction. It sure would be nice to disable the weighting factors so you could focus your attention on following the detour vs. being nagged to do the impossible; return to the interstate.
If you are aware of detours or high congestion areas, there is a feature available which allows you to designate areas to avoid. Up to ten such avoid areas can be specified at the same time. Perhaps using that is another solution to the nagging I mentioned above, but some thing difficult to do while moving.
One feature I've not discussed is the internal 1.3 megapixel color camera. This is another method to capture and store destination information in the iCN 750. To the left is a picture of one of our favorite family restaurants, The Golden Jersey Inn. Captured with the photo are the geographic coordinates of where the picture was taken. All photo are stored in a photo album area of the iCN 750. The iCN 750 software allows you to caption the pictures with a meaningful name and to store this information in your favorites list if you so desire. In addition, you can download the picture via the USB port or store it to the memory card if desired.
The quality of the photos is adequate for this application, but in my opinion not nearly as good a quality as those provided by dedicated digital cameras.
There are a few other features I found useful which deserve mention.
On the front of the iCN 750 is a battery status light which is a quick way to determine the overall battery status. Red indicates the internal battery needs charging; orange that the battery is charging; and green that the battery is fully charged. The red light will illuminate, even when the unit is turned off, to warn you there isn't enough battery power to use the unit. Orange and green are only displayed while the unit is connected to an external power source. A very handy little feature which saves you the steps of going to the detailed battery status screen to get a quick indication on the status of the internal battery.
The DC power adapter incorporates an LED to show you when power is available from the vehicle outlet. This might not sound like a big deal, but it is a nice little feature to show you that external power is available to the DC adapter.
The unit also stores trip statistics which can easily be called up for review. There are two trip stat screens, one stores data for the current route and the second cumulative data. Data recorded includes the distance traveled, average speed, maximum speed, time of travel, and stationary time. Each set of statistical data may be resent independently from the other.
Other user configurable features not mentioned earlier include: auto-power off of the unit (different time settings for internal power and external power); screen brightness; a screen alignment function; multiple map color and hue schemes; control over map auto-zoom; and the ability to configure the units of measure used for position, time, and distance.
My overall impression of the iCN 750 is very favorable and I found it to meet all the advertised feature and performance claims.
The sensitivity of the SiRF chipset based GPS receiver is remarkable. GPS reception should be more than adequate in all but the very worst case scenarios in city canyons or deep mountain valleys without the need of an external antenna.
The display is clear and crisp and smoothly responds well to vehicle dynamics.
The mapping database proved itself to be very accurate in the areas in which I've used it. I only found one error where the database showed the continuation of a road which no longer exists and hasn't for some 25 plus years. However, up until ten years ago some local maps still incorrectly showed it, so I can easily understand an error like this creeping into the database.
Battery life was impressive. I did not conduct any detailed battery life measurements, but the unit never left me down when I used it extensively between rechargings. I believe, even under heavy use, it easily exceed the minimum 2 hours advertised lifetime.
The smooth and trouble free software update to the iCN 750 and installation of PC software was very impressive as I mentioned earlier. A lot of manufacturers will cut corners here to save a little money and that is clearly not the case with Navman!
Most of the limitations I expressed in the review are based on human factors issues, the person-to-machine interface, and are indeed very subjective in nature. Users with average hand and finger sizes probably won't be as frustrated with using the touch screen keyboard as I was. However, I believe all users would benefit from the ability to use the SmartST™ Desktop software to do pre-trip destination planning. I hope Navman considers adding this capability in the future.
The only major disappointment I have is with the POI database. There is simply no good excuse for it missing so many places in this area. I realize keeping a points of interest database current is a huge effort, but omitting places which have been around for five years to several decades is inexcusable.
I come from a technical background and probably expect a little better performance than the average user so the following two observed limitations are, without a doubt, very subjective in nature. I was mildly disappointed that the iCN 750 was not WAAS enabled especial in light of the fact the SiRF GPS chipset supports it. This would have helped to have cut down on the drift and wandering I observed sitting in my driveway watching my location drift around by a couple of house numbers right and left and across the street from me. I found the drift rate of the internal timekeeping clock much higher than I would have liked to have seen when the unit was not tracking GPS satellites. The drift rate was around 1 minute per hour. Why does this bother me? Because it increases the time it takes the unit to acquire and lock on to the GPS satellite signals to determine a position fix. Neither of these nitnoids impact the overall performance of the unit and are just little things I observed.
Would I recommend this unit? You bet I would. The performance and features fully met my current and future needs.
Just as there is no perfect human being walking the face of this earth, there is no perfect in-car navigation system. So my closing remarks will be the same as my opening ones. Determine what features you need and how much you are willing to spend. Carefully read and study reviews and manufacturers' user manuals on all the units which fall into your feature/price criteria and pick the one you feel is best for you. And if this path leads you to the Navman iCN 750 you will not be disappointed.Questions? Comments? Corrections? Suggestions? Please Email Bruce