Like the Lowrance iWay 500c, the $799 Mio 269 is an automotive GPS with a built-in hard drive, an MP3 player, and a touch screen. However, unlike the iWay, the Mio 269 makes a poor first impression. It's slow, unintuitive, and maddeningly difficult to use until you study the instruction manual. It employs a flaky points-of-interest (POI) database and provides a mere 1GB of dedicated MP3 storage--a far cry from the iWay's 10GB. The few bright spots include a smartly designed windshield mount and a special mode for walkers. And once you read the manual, the Mio is easier to operate. But there's absolutely no question that if you have $800 to invest in a GPS, the Lowrance iWay is the better buy. Resembling an oversize PDA, the black-and-silver Mio 269 makes an attractive addition to most dashboards. Its 3.5-inch, 320x240-pixel touch screen displays 65,000 colors and is slightly larger than those used by some competitors, notably the Garmin StreetPilot 2620 and the Magellan RoadMate 700. Even so, it doesn't quite measure up to the Lowrance iWay 500c's spacious 5-inch display.
The controls appear logical enough, with the Home, Navigation, and Zoom buttons to the right of the screen and the Mute and Back buttons and the four-way control pad on the left. The Mio 269 also includes a stylus tucked into a rear silo. There's a speaker in front, an SD/MMC slot on top, a headphone jack on the right side, and a jog dial (used solely for volume control) on the left.
The included suction-cup car mount affixes firmly to your windshield, and its high-tensile swivel arm keeps the GPS (which weighs a mere 8 ounces) from excessive wobbling while you're driving. When you're parked, you can easily slip the Mio from its mount to enter new navigation settings--much better than trying to interact with it while it's near the windshield; it returns to the mount just as easily. Other accessories that come with the Mio 269 include a car charger, earbud headphones, an AC adapter, and a USB cable.The Mio 269 comes with a 2.5GB hard drive, which somehow manages to hold map data for all of North America and Hawaii while still leaving about 1GB free for MP3 storage. Actually, Mio's Web site claims 500MB, the box says 700MB, and the device itself showed 1GB--at least it's a favorable error. But that means the only reason you'd need to connect the unit to your PC is to copy songs. Unfortunately, this is a relatively slow process due to the USB 1.1 interface. Using the included Mio Transfer utility (the only way to load songs onto the device), it took about 10 minutes to copy 150MB of music.
The Mio 269 incorporates most of the usual GPS navigation features, including automatic route recalculation, a POI database, and a trip planner. By tapping an onscreen icon, you can display 2D and 3D maps in both day and nighttime modes. To route yourself home from any location, just press the Home button--a major convenience. Walkers and potentially even cyclists will appreciate the Mio's Walker mode, which creates pedestrian-friendly routes with no freeways involved.
However, to take advantage of any of these features, you should plan on reading the user manual from start to finish. We've rarely had so much trouble using a GPS as we had with the Mio 269. Slow responsiveness is one part of the problem; the messy destination-selection screen is another. There's also an annoying disconnect between the main menu (used to select navigation, music, contact, and setup options), the MioMap application that handles navigation, and the Home button on the Mio itself.
After reading the clear, comprehensive, and nicely illustrated 127-page user guide, we had a much easier time with the device. The guide helps overcome some--but not all--of the difficulty in using the destination-selection screen, which is half keyboard and half a jumble of text, icons, and tiny scroll buttons. You will frequently need to retract the keyboard, since it leaves merely one visible line of search results. Even worse, it contains only letters; to access numbers, you have to tap twice on what looks like a refresh icon.
Once you actually start navigating, the Mio pulls its weight with voice-prompted driving directions and handy (though initially confusing) onscreen tools. Tapping these icons cycles through various kinds of information, such as GPS status, route details, and distance to destination. If you don't tap one for a minute or so, the icons become ghosted to make them less obtrusive. On the flip side, you can wind up with so much onscreen information that you can barely see the map. Again, consult the manual to learn the various functions of these icons and how to get the displays to go away when you're done with them.
We also encountered what seemed like a bug in the POI database. Regardless of which point-of-interest category we selected, the Mio listed only airports. It turns out that tapping the check box next to a given category isn't the correct action; you have to tap the name of the category itself. Admittedly, the instruction manual says as much, but it's just one more example of how unintuitive the Mio's interface can be.
The Mio 269's MP3 player is a stylish, easy-to-use applet with 17 equalizer presets and support for on-the-fly playlist building. Alas, if you plan to listen to music, you'll have to do so at the expense of navigation: the Mio can't map and play tunes at the same time. What's more, the speaker is barely loud enough to overcome normal road noise--not that you'd want to listen to your music through the tiny thing anyway. Passengers can plug in the included earbuds (in most states, it's illegal for drivers to wear them), or you can invest in an FM transmitter for listening through your car stereo.
It's bad enough that the tunes cut out when you switch to Map mode, but there's another oversight that's even worse: using the Mio Transfer utility, you can copy Microsoft Outlook contacts to the Mio 269, but all you get is a static address book. You can't automatically navigate to a contact's address or even look up an address while the navigation software is running.Part of what makes interacting with the Mio 269 so frustrating is its sluggish operation. Despite being equipped with a 300MHz Intel XScale processor, it's slow to recognize button presses, slow to load POI, and slow to refresh during navigation. On many occasions, we'd tap a button, and nothing would happen for several seconds. We didn't know if the tap didn't register, if we'd pushed the wrong button, or if we were just supposed to wait for the corresponding screen to appear.
What's more, whether you're viewing your map in 2D or 3D, the Mio can't keep up. Screen refreshes tend to lag behind your current position by at least a second or two, especially when you're driving at traffic speeds. This can be a problem when you're trying to determine when to make a turn or take an exit; at least the voice prompts stay ahead of the game. Even worse, the Mio was inconsistent and often inaccurate when generating routes. For example, we used it on two occasions to route to the same destination, and it provided different directions each time. What's more, when we pressed the Home button, the route it created took us considerably out of the way when there was a shorter alternative.
On the plus side, the Mio starts up almost instantly. There's no lengthy bootup process, as with some GPS devices. It also proved extremely quick at locking onto GPS signals during both warm and cold start-ups. It even managed to pull signals when we were parked in an open garage. As for map data, we found it admirably up-to-date; it included a traffic circle recently constructed in our neck of the woods. The Mio 269's battery is rated for 4.5 hours.