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I often have to drive to places I'm unfamiliar with for work, and for years this involved gripping the steering wheel with one hand, and gripping a printed set of AA directions with the other. In October last year I started a new job in a new area, with a new set of places to visit and the fun started again, but after one too many wrong turns left me wondering whether I could legitimately claim for a 40 mile round trip within Salford on my expenses form, a new approach was needed.
I chose this Sat Nav for all the wrong reasons: it was cheap (and in stock) in Argos. I did not consider screen size or accessories or anything else like that, so considering how little thought I put into it, I am reasonably pleased with it.
This is a 3.5 inch screen which you can tell from the name (a 4.5 inch would be called the 450 etc). There were other models available in store that day, but for those at this price this had the largest screen so although I couldn't quite picture how big it would be, I figured bigger was better. The maps come in either 2D or 3D options and as you drive you are shown your route and the direction you should take at the next few intersections or signs. It's quite a lot to include, but it fits onto the screen well and I have no trouble reading it quickly in the brief moment I let my eyes flicker off the road. This Binatone comes with a window mount though this is separate to the device, meaning you can leave it stuck to your windscreen while you remove the Sat Nav itself and either stash it in the glove box or pop it in your handbag. Yes, it still shows passers bye that you have one, but it's slightly less tempting than if you left it on display. The mount is one of those suction-lever things that can be fiddly to fit but do stay in place well once locked correctly. You can twist is round to face all sorts of directions depending on where you place it in relation to the driver's seat, and the only slight irritation is when you have to insert or remove the Sat Nav itself, as sometimes the plastic feels a bit flimsy as if it's going to snap if you're rough, and yet you need to be a little rough as it holds the device so snugly.
There are two key complaints I have about the display. The first concerns the battery level, as this only flashes up when you initially switch the device on, and then not again until the level is low when it can be a bit late if you haven't got it to hand. The device charges through the cigarette lighter and although that part is easy to connect, it can be a bit trickier to fit the other end of the cable into the side of the screen as the socket is small and it can be tricky to see which way round the cable needs to go. The second thing that annoys me concerns the time. Once a route is set, the Sat Nav will tell you the expected time of arrival at your destination...but doesn't tell you either the current time, or how long you have left to go, so you also need to keep checking either your watch or the clock in your car. It's all very well knowing you'll get somewhere for 8.02pm, but when you're lost in concentration driving and are coming up to Services, it would be really useful to know whether you have 10 minutes, an hour or 3 hours left on the road without having to try and calculate this yourself.
Driving with the Sat Nav is fine, although sometimes the screen and the voice don't quite match in terms of when to make a turn or change lanes or so on. They're never wildly out, but it seems odd that the voice will be telling you to do something in 2 miles while the screen is saying 'actually, make that 2.2 miles'. The first time I drove anywhere of any distance, I set off to Leeds after work and although it's not a city I know well, I was surprised by the rather attractive skyline shown on the screen when it was telling me to leave the M62. I later realised this was their generic city approach and comes up whenever you leave a motorway, but regardless it's a rather optimistic illustration that leaves me wondering when all the northern cities suddenly turned into New York or Chicago, because that's what it makes them look like.
For the most part, I find the routes suggested ok and I haven't been sent off any cliffs or into any dead ends yet, but I regularly find that I'm being told to go a way I know is longer and slower. Obviously this only applies when I'm driving locally as I know Manchester better than any other area, but for example I had to go to a sports centre near the Trafford Centre last weekend and it was only because I set off the way I wanted to go that my journey took 8 miles, not the initial 13 it would have done had I gone up to the Mancunian Way and back. The Sat Nav recalculates after a while, but often you are first told to 'Turn around if possible' before it will reconsider and see if it can set a new route for you. I'm sure as a result when I'm driving elsewhere I have taken slightly longer routes than needed simply because I've not known any better.
I didn't know much about Sat Navs so had assumed they had limited features. Not so - this one is crammed with additions that range from the mildly useless to the utterly pointless. When you switch it on (by pressing and holding down a button on the top for a fraction of a second longer than is ideal) you are presented with two choices - 'Navigation' or 'Settings'. Pressing settings on the touch screen gives you 3 more options: 'GPS', 'Settings' (again) and 'Multi Media'. We'll start with the latter. This is perhaps one of the more pointless features of this model, so I never use it. You have a picture viewer but since it's not a camera, you have to upload existing shots onto it beforehand. I'm not sure why anyone would ever want to do this when there are more sensible ways to transport photos, like on your phone, but it's there anyway. I thought that was dunce enough, but the other option under Multi Media is a document viewer. Really? I'm on the road and I want to read a file...on my Sat Nav? Who makes this stuff up? It just seems to be a clear case of...because we can. Why include all sorts of stuff no one sensible would ever need or want? Because the technology is there, so we're going to, end of. All I can say is, I would put good money on these options never being used by me. End of.
Back on the menu, if we head under 'Settings' the features get a bit more typical. There's volume for the directions, which can also be adjusted on the main map screen - a much better choice when you're driving. I think it goes quite loud but I don't have the radio turned right up - if you were pumping music you might find it only just passable as the two will compete in the confines of your car, and they don't dip in response to each other like traffic alerts for example do. The 'Power' button simply tells you how much charge your battery has on a scale of 1 to 5 bars (i.e. not a %) which is odd. Other options include adjusting the backlight, changing the date and time and choosing a (European) language setting, so really things you only have to configure once when you get it.
The GPS receiver shows your global location and speed, but only works when you're driving, when surely you'd want to have the route map showing instead, right? 'Navigation' gives you map options (3D vs 2D, motorway signs, voice guidance on or off). Under 'Safety alert' you have options like speed cameras - how is this a 'safety alert'?
Under 'Navigation' you can choose to go to a (new) address, a point of interest, a stored address in your address book, a recent destination, a point on a map or coordinates. While this is nice and useful I feel it takes a few too many screen taps to get here - the minimum to go to an address in your address book, for example, would be 5, and of course it's many more if you need to enter a destination address of postcode. Something I do quite like though is that it knows what valid postcodes look like, so once you've entered the first few letters / digits, it restricts what you can add next - if what you're after isn't there, it means you've made a mistake with the first bit. It's easy to enter addresses but I would like it if you could take either a new or recent address and add it to the address book without having to re-enter it, as if I'm in a rush I'll just go off the postcode, and later realise it's somewhere I'll be going back to quite a bit so could do with saving. You can add your home address so it's a standing menu item (saving a few of the aforementioned screen taps) but I have it both there and in my address book as sometimes I forget.
I struggled initially because, and I know this sounds daft, I set mine to Km (since I know how far 100m is, but can't picture 100 yards)...and then wondered why my screen was telling me I had much further to go than the road signs were suggesting. Since I measure speed in mph I decided I needed to switch it to miles instead which has made things easier, but although I know a meter measures 3 foot 3 (longer than a yard, you see) I still have to remind myself just how far a yard is whenever I'm told to do something in a certain number of them.
The touch screen is quite responsive, on a par with my new phone and the device rarely sticks or freezes while being used, though sometimes when I go to switch it off and it asks me to confirm this is what I want, for some reason it decides to ignore my instruction anyway.
I paid £49.99 for this Sat Nav which I thought excellent value for money compared to the likes of Tom Tom. I was also impressed to have an accessories pack included for free - the carry case in particular was something I wasn't expecting to receive. There are a few flaws with this model, and as I've indicated there's a lot of nonsense installed on it too, but this at least is easy to ignore. Overall I am happy with my purchase because I can't think of anything that this model is missing that might feature on a more expensive one (and please don't burst this bubble by telling me all the fancy things your £150+ models offer). There's no extended choice on some items - for example there's a default voice and you cannot change the accent or gender of this - but if it's not there you don't miss it is my view. This Binatone gets me from A to B without the need for printed directions, and that was all I was after, so it gets a solid 4 stars from me.
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Specs below are taken from the Argos website:
Model number G350+
· 3.5 inch touch screen
· Pre-loaded maps for UK and Republic of Ireland.
· Full postcode search.
· Dynamic routing.
· Safety camera alerts - no subscription required.
Sat Nav features:
· 2D and 3D mapping.
· Points of interest - displays locations such as petrol stations and restaurants.
· Removable memory card.
Accessories in the box:
· Car charger.
· Windscreen suction mount.
· Carry case.
· Weight 12g.
· Size H7.4, W9.9, D1.2cm