Considering how crowded the GPS market has become, a new player in the field may seem as welcome as a seven-mile traffic jam. But the Navigon 7100 adds some impressive new features that not only give it an edge but also may just shake up this complacent industry.
The 7100 has a glossy black exterior that should look right at home in even the fanciest cars, and the 4.3-inch 16:9 widescreen was always bright and clear in our testing. At $649, this unit is more expensive than today's $300-to-$500 sweet spot, but its innovative features pay for themselves. For starters, traffic data is free--a rarity among GPS devices
. We also like the Reality View, which offers a photorealistic view of tricky jughandles and turns, and Lane Assistant, which recommends the best lane for your route. Last but not least is integration with Zagat Survey ratings for nearly 70 cities--not so new for in-car navigation systems but a first for a standalone unit.
While the interface is efficient, it's too impersonal. The 7100 offers no voice options (just one female voice
). We prefer the friendlier experience provided by Garmin, Mio, and TomTom devices
. Selecting a destination and even adding interim destinations is simple, but we wish some of the onscreen buttons were bigger. Overall, the 7100's controls were easy to use, and the navigator performed fine for basic turn-by-turn navigation and even pronounced street names-a big plus.
The subscription-free real-time traffic was surprisingly good. The 7100 has an optional plug-in antenna that suction-cups to your windshield to enhance the signal for receiving traffic info, but you shouldn't need it in a major city. We tested with the antenna on the windshield and were surprised to see how fast it received data. As soon as we programmed in a route, several traffic and construction alerts were visible.
While real-time traffic is cool, the Reality View is priceless. New Jersey, for example, is full of complicated exits and turnoffs that can be confusing for even the most experienced drivers, but the 7100 handled them beautifully. We took to the Turnpike with the 7100 and then exited to Route 46. When we got to our exit, it replaced the map view with a photorealistic 3D image of the signs we were seeing and showed us how the road split. The Lane Assistant (a yellow arrow) then told us to keep to the right. Having our map taken away was a little jarring at first, but we quickly grew to appreciate the feature.
Zagat ratings programmed into the 7100's POI database let you read actual Zagat reviews for nearly 70 cities before you pick a destination. You can view Zagat reviews of restaurants, hotels, golf courses, attractions, and nightlife. We like that the POI interface offers quick-access buttons for gas, parking, and food, and that searching through the Zagat listings is easy and fun. The 7100 offers a total of five million POIs, not including the 25,000 Zagat entries .
You can also set the Navigon to warn you when you're speeding. The device offers Bluetooth for wireless phone calls (pairing with a phone is easy, but it doesn't accept your phone's contact list) and can place a call directly from a POI listing. You can find a restaurant in the Zagat listings and tap the Phone button to call them.
The Navigon 7100 could use a friendlier interface, and it doesn't offer bells and whistles like music playback, but the 7100's Reality View, Lane Assistant, and Zagat's listings make it stand out of from a very crowded pack. If you have less money to spend and don't need Bluetooth, pick up the Navigon 5100, which features a 3.5-inch display and costs $499.
Check out all our GPS navigator reviews, complete with star ratings.GPS vs. Cell Phone GPS
There are two budget GPS navigation options: Dashboard units or cell phone apps. Which is right for you?