As we began writing this review for the Mio DigiWalker C520, we discovered that its price had been cut by AU$200 to AU$499 and it's amazing what a difference AU$200 makes.
The C520 is a good looking device and there's no need for us to abuse that oft-used "for a GPS" qualifier either. It eschews the cues seen on most GPSes which conspire to make them look a little amateurish, namely the rounded edges and the silver-plastic-pretending-to-be-metal. In their place, the C520's front is rectilinear and hard edged. Its big 4.3-inch screen is framed by a ring of metallic grey overlaid with glossy clear plastic. It's a classy and attractive device full stop.
Not only is the C520's screen big, it's filled with pixel goodness -- 480 x 272 of them to be precise -- so maps are crisp and text smooth. The extra screen acreage allows the sidebar feature seen on previous Mios to be taken a step further. Previously the sidebar reduced the map size quite significantly and only showed instructions for the next turn. Well it could also show time to destination and current speed but the former is always woefully inaccurate and the latter only good for novelty value. Effectively there was a lot of wasted blank space under the upcoming turn instructions. In the C520, the sidebar can show either a list of nearby points of interest displayed or, best of all, a list of turn instructions many roads in advance. This has many advantages, for instance prior to setting off you can easily scroll through the instruction list and mark roads that you want to avoid or you can memorise key roads in case the GPS satellite signal drops out in the CBD. There's also the option for displaying traffic data but traffic subscription services won't be available in Australia until at least 2008.
Little else has changed with the Mio's interface. There's the easy-to-use main menu and predictive text keyboards for destination entry. If this is your first Mio device, we'd recommend having a quick browse through the manual because the plethora of information icons on the map screen double as shortcut buttons, and are a little bit mystifying for first-time users. We'd also recommend setting the C520's instruction volume before heading off because it requires diving through several layers of menus.
Like other Mios we've tested, the windscreen mount is a two piece design: there's the arm which attaches to the windscreen via a levered suction cup, and a backing plate which connects the arm to the C520. The arm provides ample adjustability and can be locked into position, if so desired. But for the C520, Mio has refined the backing plate, including for the first time a mini-USB port for charging, as well as a quick release lever. This means there's no more a-fussin' with wires and a-meddlin' slide latches when you arrive at your destination and just want to detach and hide your GPS.
It was only near the end of our reviewing time with the C520 that we learned that its price had been cut by AU$200 to AU$499. Given that the C520 is specified like a unit normally priced at AU$700-plus, it not only does changes the balance of this review but could potentially see competitors re-shape their pricing structures too.
In the C520's kitbag of goodies is Bluetooth, text-to-speech and music playback. We've been pretty disparaging about MP3 playback on GPS devices before, and the C520 hasn't changed our opinion one iota. You'll still need to quit out of the navigation program to access the music player. Listening to music can be done either via the tinny built-in speakers, which are fine for turn instructions but not much else, or through the headphone jack. Although you'll need either a pair of headphones with a 2.5mm connector -- not the common 3.5mm version -- or a plug converter.
Of greater use is the C520's Bluetooth support and built-in microphone, which allows it to function as an in-car hands-free kit. Pairing the phone and GPS together was hassle free, and the blinking Bluetooth light isn't a blinder like the one on the Pioneer AVIC-S2. Phone quality through the C520 was good, although some people we spoke to via hands-free complained about a hollow sound on their end.
We like text-to-speech in GPS devices -- it's much nicer to hear "turn left in 50m on to City Road" than just plain old "turn left in 50m" -- but these systems usually make a real hash of street names of Aboriginal origin. Not so the C520. It nearly floored us the first few times we heard Parramatta Road and Wattle Street enunciated correctly, although some names like Illawarra Road are still a mangled mess of vowels and consonants. Just be careful not to select Australian from the voice list because text-to-speech only works in American. It's not much of an issue though because the accent is much milder than any of the accents you'll hear on an episode of, say, House. What we found disconcerting though were the occasional, seemingly random, pauses in the middle of words.
This may be due to the fact that the C520's big screen and features are powered by a class standard 400MHz processor with access to 64MB of RAM and 1GB of ROM. As expected the C520 packs the ubiquitous SiRF Star III GPS receiver. We found the route calculation to be on the slow side and, although we couldn't do a back-to-back comparison, it certainly felt slower than the cheaper C220 we recently tested. Like all other portable GPSes, the C520 struggles in the depths of the city canyons and comes with a set of Whereis maps pre-installed -- the latest R14 maps in this case.
The same failings we noticed on previous Mio offerings are still present on the C520: the occasional addiction to advising illegal u-turns when veering off the Mio's preferred path and speed limit signs which are only shown for 40km/h zones. We did like the on-map speed and red-light camera warnings, although the information tags attached to the camera icons could do with being a bit larger. A word of warning: don't turn on the "advanced" audio warnings for traffic infringement cameras unless you have a (worrying) proclivity for ear-piercingly loud warning beeps.
At the original price of AU$699 the Mio DigiWalker C520 was a good GPS with a nice set of useful features. At AU$499, though, it's simply brilliant, nothing at its price point comes close in terms of features and sheer good looks. We await the response from the competition.