The last portable navigation system we reviewed from Mio Technology didn't fare so well in our tests. It's a shame, because the Mio C220 had so much going for it--affordable price, good performance, compact design--but its screen was a complete wash. Fortunately, Mio's latest GPS device, the Mio C520, delivers a better experience and packs in even more features at a wallet-friendly price of $399. For that money, you get a large 4.3-inch touch screen, integrated Bluetooth, multimedia capabilities, and accurate directions. It's certainly a better value than the Magellan Maestro 3100. That said, the C520 has its downfalls: the Bluetooth integration is limited, and real-time tracking and route recalculations could be better. If navigation and usability is of the utmost importance to you, and you can find a good deal on the Garmin Nuvi, you'd be better served by that device instead.
The Mio C520 is one of the best-looking portable navigation systems we've ever seen. The charcoal-gray-and-silver color scheme is attractive, but even more alluring is the thinness of the device. At just 4.9 inches wide by 3.2 inches tall by 0.8 inch deep and weighing 6.7 ounces, it's extremely sleek, so much so that of all the multimedia-capable GPS models we've tested, the Mio C520 is one we'd almost consider using as a portable media player--almost (more on this later).
There's also beauty in the simplicity of the design. Aside from a power button on the top of the unit, there are no other external controls cluttering the device. Instead, all functions and text are entered through the C520's spacious, 4.3-inch touch screen. It displays 65,000 colors at a 480x272-pixel resolution, making the maps and images look vibrant and text sharp. Also, much to our relief, we could still read the C520's screen under sunlight, unlike the Mio C220 whose screen washed out to the point of being unreadable. We still wish there was a bit more brightness and contrast to the maps, but still, it's a much improved experience over the C220. We should note that some address and POI listings are hard to read since the font size is pretty small.
The interface and main menu system are user-friendly, with clearly marked and bubbly icons. For the most part, we were able to use it without having to crack open the manual, but things do get a little less intuitive as you dig deeper into the applications. For example, there are a number of tabs on the map screen that open and hide various navigation tools that require some time to learn and master. Also, some of the media player controls are hard to discern since their functions aren't identified. On a brighter note, thanks to the larger screen, the virtual keyboard is easier to use than the C220's, and it's also in QWERTY format, so you get the familiar layout and feel of your computer's keyboard. In addition, like Magellan's GPS devices, the C520's keyboard has a predictive function, which will gray out any letters or numbers that don't match street names or numbers as you begin to enter an address.
Other mentionables include an external antenna port and speaker on the back, and a mini USB port and 18-pin power connector on the bottom. There's also an SD expansion slot and 2.5mm headphone jack on the left spine. We are a bit puzzled and disappointed that the C520 isn't equipped with a 3.5mm headphone jack for a better multimedia experience.
The Mio C520 comes packaged with a car charger, an AC adapter, a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a USB cable, and reference material. The windshield mount did a good job of securely holding the unit in place, although we think the cradle felt a bit plasticky and cheap, so take extra care when attaching and removing the system.