(CNET) -- We've reviewed several of Navigon's portable navigation devices, and it always seems to be the same story: great features, affordable price, but always coming up short in performance.
The company's latest entry-level model, the Navigon 2000S, is another chapter in that saga, though it comes closer to a happy ending than previous models.
The 2000S offers advanced navigation features such as text-to-speech functionality and photo-realistic street views--all for a bargain price of $199.99. We were also encouraged by the general responsiveness of the in-car GPS, as it felt snappier for tasks like searching points of interest and planning trips.
Unfortunately, satellite acquisition took a long time, and it was a source of much frustration. Despite its value, we'd be willing to pay a little more to get better performance with a model from the TomTom One family or Garmin Nuvi 200 series..
The Navigon 2000S has a very simple design. The unit measures a petite 3.8 inches wide by 2.9 inches high by 0.7 inch deep and weighs 4.3 ounces. It's compact enough that you could fit it into a pants pocket or use it as a handheld navigator, and there is a pedestrian mode as well as a bicycle routing option.
Be careful when transporting the system or using it outside of the car, as the portable navigation device has a plastic casing that feels like it could easily crack if it took a tumble.
On front, there is a 3.5-inch touch screen with a 320x240-pixel resolution. It's vibrant and sharp, and Navigon products have always had some of the better-looking maps we've seen on other PNDs. You can adjust the brightness of the screen and choose between day or night map colors, though we recommend you just set it to automatic mode so you don't have to think about it.
The touch screen is responsive, but we found the onscreen keyboard to be a bit cramped. The Navigon 2000S has a feature called SmartSpeller that will bring up possible search results after you input a couple of letters, but even so, the smaller keyboard can lead to some mistakes. There's also no option to switch it to QWERTY format, only ABC.
The user interface of the Navigon 2000S is similar to the company's other products. The Main Menu page presents four clear choices: New Destination, My Destinations, Take Me Home, and Show Map. There's also an Options menu at the bottom of the screen where you can adjust various settings, such as routing preferences and map displays.
While the user experience is not as smooth or streamlined as Garmin or TomTom, it's still intuitive and general performance is snappy.
There's a microSD expansion slot on the left side, a reset hole on the right, and a mini USB port on the bottom. On top, you'll find a power button, but it's slightly wobbly and set deep beneath the device's surface, so it's a bit hard to press.
The Navigon 2000S comes packaged with a car charger, a vehicle mount (dashboard and windshield), and reference material. The car mount requires some assembly, but it's simple and the accessory securely held the unit in place during our road tests.
The Navigon 2000S is a good value, offering a lot of navigation features for the price. The system is equipped with a SiRF GRF3i+ GPS chip with InstantFix II and comes preloaded with Navteq maps of the lower 48 United States.
Planning a trip can start in several ways. You can enter a specific address, select a favorite location or recent destination, or search for a certain point of interest. The 2000S supports multidestination planning, so you can have more than one stop along your journey.
The points-of-interest database includes all the major categories, including gas stations, lodging, and ATMs. For certain POIs, there are also subcategories. For example, with restaurants, you can drill down further and find food by cuisine type, or you can search for shopping by type (book store, sporting goods, and so forth) or if it's a major corporation, by brand (for example, Best Buy, 7-Eleven, Safeway, or Walgreens).
The Navigon 2000S also has something called Direct Access, which gives you one-touch access to four-predefined categories (gas stations, parking and rest areas, restaurants, and lodging). Unlike the Navigon 7100, however, the Zagat reviews and ratings aren't preloaded on the device, but you can purchase this as an additional service for $19.99.
You can view maps in 2D or 3D mode, and the system tracks north up or the direction in which you are traveling. The map screen shows your current street, distance to, and street name of your next turn, estimated time of arrival, remaining distance, a compass, and signal strength.
For complicated intersections, the Navigon 2000S offers a couple of aids. First, there's Reality View, which gives you a "photorealistic" view of complicated intersections, such as major highway exchanges, with a 3D image of the road. You also get something called Lane Assistant Pro, which we first saw on the Navigon 2100 Max.
Again, the idea is to provide better visual cues for complex exchanges, so for where there are multiple lanes, the 2000S will overlay arrows on the street to show you which lane you should want to be in and which direction you'll eventually be turning.
In addition to the visual aids, of course, you get audible prompts. Despite being an entry-level system, the 2000S has text-to-speech functionality so you'll hear street names rather than generic directions. Other GPS features include automatic route recalculation, a turn-by-turn list of text directions, route simulation, and speed warnings.
Finally, like the Garmin's "Where am I?" feature and TomTom's "Help Me" tool, Navigon has something called DirectHelp, which provides you with the location and contact information of the nearest police station, hospital, roadside assistance, and other emergency services based on your current location. It's a nice safety feature to have, especially if you're in unknown territory.
In the past, we've made note of the sluggish performance of Navigon's GPS products, and with the Navigon 2000S, we have good news and bad news. First, general performance is much improved. The system responds faster to commands and we rarely experienced any delays, that is, except when it came time to hit the road.
We tested the Navigon 2000S in San Francisco, and from a cold start, it took the unit about 15 minutes to get a fix on our location. While cold starts usually take longer, this was a fairly significant amount of time and we grew impatient about 5 minutes in and completely frustrated after 10 minutes.
Subsequent starts weren't any better, taking up to 5 minutes. This was all with a clear view of the sky, too. While driving around the city, the 2000S did a fair job of tracking our position, though it could fall behind a half a block or so.
We also plotted our standard trip from the Marina District to CNET's downtown headquarters. While satellite acquisition might have been slow, the Navigon 2000S quickly returned with directions. We looked over the turn-by-turn list and were satisfied with the prescribed route.
Once on the road, we found the text-to-speech directions to be loud and clear. There were just a couple of mispronunciations of street names, but not so bad that we couldn't understand the instruction. We also missed several turns to test the route recalculation rate, which was mixed. At times, it was quick to get us back on track, while other times, we would get instructions to turn right as we passed the street.
We also wish there was some kind of audible notification that the system was recalculating a route for reassurance, as there is no such warning right now.
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