Motorola took a pretty serious beating when we reviewed its MotoNav TN30 portable navigation device. However, instead of dropping out of the PND market or simply releasing an incremental update with fixes, Motorola went back to the drawing board and came back swinging with the all new MotoNav TN700 series.
The first model in this new line, the TN765t, not only retools the PND design but also completely reimagines the onscreen experience, merging the map and menu screens into a slick and seamless interface.
Then again, the old TN30 was also a slick-looking device. So, we had to wonder if the MotoNav TN765t could back up its impressive new form with an equal measure of impressive function.
The TN765t breaks from PND convention starting with its cinematic wide-screen display. This 5.1-inch color LCD features a 2.39:1 aspect ratio that is significantly wider than the 16:9 aspect ratio of most wide PNDs. This gives the MotoNav all of the advantages of a big screen with lots of pixel real estate, but with a much lower vertical profile. The TN765t takes up much less windshield space than other 5-inch devices for a less obstructed view of the road ahead. The screen features a matte finish that preserves visibility, even in direct sunlight.
As PNDs go, the MotoNav TN765t is absolutely rife with physical controls. Along the top edge are a power/lock switch and a dedicated menu button. On the back of the device, down either edge are six more physical keys. The left side features volume up, down, and mute; the right side features zoom in, out, and a customizable shortcut key. Volume and zoom can be switched to the opposing sides in the preferences menu.
Along the bottom edge of the device is a proprietary multipin connector for attaching the car dock, a recessed reset button, a microSD card slot, and a Micro-USB port. The device's loud speaker is located in the center of the back panel.
Like any good in-car PND, the MotoNav ships with a windshield-mount car kit. The MotoNav's car kit integrates an FM-traffic data receiver. The TN765t's cradle is atypical in that it can draw power from the PND's internal battery, enabling it to be used without a 12-volt power connection. This is a nice Easter egg for users who like to go cordless for short trips or carry the device from vehicle to vehicle.
The MotoNav TN765t also ships with a 12-volt power cable that is designed to connect to the car dock, an adhesive dashboard mounting disc, a Micro-USB cable, and a multilingual user's guide.
Power up the TN765t and, after a short loading screen, you'll be taken directly to the map screen. The main map screen is, by default, a fairly clean interface. There's an info bar along the top edge, transparent soft keys for voice command, alternate views, and--rather redundantly--zoom in and out. Users are able to overlay POI icons onto the map by choosing categories in a menu and, in the 3D view, major landmarks and large buildings are represented with simple 3D models. Traffic flow and incident data are also overlaid as icons and color-coded highways when available.
The new MotoNav interface doesn't feature a separate menu screen with routing options and preferences. Instead, the menus are overlaid onto the map, sliding in as left and right panels from beyond the edges of the screen.
Tapping anywhere on the map brings up the right panel menu. From here the user is presented with a large "Enter Destination" button and three soft keys along the screen's right edge. Two of these keys are customizable, but the third causes the right panel to slide further out, revealing an assortment of options.
Along the left edge is a thin bar that, when pressed, causes the left panel to appear. The left panel is home to a host of additional information that the driver may find useful while navigating, such as traffic data, a secondary map view, nearby POIs, route information, and speed and direction data.
Both panels slide out with smooth animations. Because of the extra wide screen, the TN765t is able to display most menu panels without completely obscuring the map, allowing users to navigate the menus and navigate the highways at the same time.
The only menu screen that completely blocks out the map is the destination entry screen, although we're not sure if you'll want to be typing an address while driving anyway. There are no separate interfaces for POI search and address entry. Instead TN765t uses a search function. Simply type an address, business name, or POI category, and the device will figure out what you're looking for. The entry screen features a full QWERTY keyboard and integrates an auto complete function that lists possible destinations along the right edge of the screen. Voice entry and Google Search are also rolled into this screen, which we'll cover later.
The Motorola MotoNav TN765t features all of the standard features that we'd expect to find in a GPS device of its price, including text-to-speech and graphic lane guidance. When connected to its charging cradle, the MotoNav can also download free traffic data for major highways. Traffic data is free but ad-supported, so occasionally we would see small unobtrusive text ads and offers appear.
The TN765t features Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free calling, a simple enough feature that Motorola has implemented in a very interesting way. After pairing with a four-digit PIN, the TN765t is able to make voice calls and, for compatible phones, can sync contacts. For phones that support Bluetooth messaging, the TN765t can even read SMS messages aloud and present a collection of quick messages for firing off a response at the touch of a button.
Motorola takes advantage of the Bluetooth connection to add data connectivity to the TN765t via a service that it calls MotoExtras. This system uses your phone's voice connection to access Motorola's servers via a dial-up connection to fetch data for fuel prices, weather forecasts, and flight status.
For example, say you're searching for a restaurant that isn't included in the TN765t's preloaded POI database. Simply hit the Google button from the destination entry screen, and then hit Search. The TN765t will make a short voice call (approx. 30 sec.) to Motorola's server and retrieve the first 10 or so results. Because it uses the voice call function, the MotoExtras service doesn't require a phone with a data connection or plan and thus can be used with just about any Bluetooth-enabled phone. However, it does require a subscription. The service is free for the first 90 days after registration, after which users will be charged a fee for the service.
Most basic functions can be access via voice command. When in voice mode, the device will present a collection of valid responses that guide the user in the right direction. The MotoNav's speech-to-text engine isn't as robust as, for example, Google's voice search, so it struggles a bit with odd proper nouns. However, for most functions and major business names (e.g. Starbucks, McDonalds, etc.) it gets the job done.
The first cold boot of the MotoNav TN765t took about 35 seconds, after which an additional minute was required for initial satellite lock. Subsequent reboots were almost instantaneous. The device's interface was responsive and snappily transitioned from menu to menu with smooth animations. Although the resistive touch screen won't hold a candle to that of, say, the iPhone, it was plenty responsive enough for our simple swipes and one-handed taps. Additionally, the resistive screen has the advantage of being usable with gloves, which is great for cold winter mornings.
We ran into a few issues with Bluetooth connection stability during our first day, but after connecting the TN765t to a PC we found that a firmware update was available. After a quick install and a few reboots, all of the issues were resolved. The fact that Motorola already has fixes available so soon after launch was refreshing.
Deep in the urban canyons of downtown San Francisco, among the city's tallest buildings, the TN765t struggled to maintain our position. However, when a clearer view of the sky opened up, the MotoNav was quick to reacquire our position and recalculate our route.
One feature that we really found useful was the Trip Planner. This menu allowed users to choose and save multiple points of interest in a sort of destination playlist for easy retrieval at a later date. For example, one could input all of the destinations for a day's chores or a list of clients to visit, then hit one button to navigate to each of them in succession. To avoid driving back and forth across town all day, the Trip Planner also features an Optimize button that automatically places the destinations in the most efficient order for the shortest overall trip. Users can move destinations around in the list by dragging for more fine tuned control.
At first, we were a bit miffed at the idea of paying for the MotoExtras service when it in fact makes use of the users' voice service (and calling minutes) to access the data. However, by pairing with the users' phone, Motorola was able to avoid the additional cost of installing a cellular chip in the TN765t's chassis, keeping the price well below that of other connected PNDs such as the TomTom GO 740 Live and Garmin Nuvi 1690 while still offering compatibility with the vast majority of Bluetooth phone on the market. However, the Motorola's data connection doesn't include high-resolution live traffic and always on fuel pricing, so there are compromises to this configuration.
The MotoNav TN765t represents a phenomenal improvement over Motorola's last attempt to break into the PND market. We love how the TN765t's turns the standard PND interface on its ear by ditching the discrete menu screen in favor of a single cohesive interface for mapping, navigation, and options. Given our choice of PND interfaces to use in a moving vehicle, the MotoNav beats all--even the longtime high watermark, the Garmin Nuvi. We also feel that the TN765t offers a good mix of features for its price point with Bluetooth hands-free calling, lifetime traffic data, text-to-speech, and enhanced map data with lane guidance and 3D landmark info.
While we generally have few complaints about the TN765t's FM-traffic data and dial-up style of data connectivity, we'd like to see Motorola offer a model in the TN700-series that features an always-on data connection with live HD traffic (a la Garmin NuLink), even if that model carries an additional cost. As it stands, the lack of such a constant stream of data, along with the MotoNav's so-so performance in urban environments among tall buildings, is the only thing holding the MotoNav TN765t back from our Editors' Choice Award, which--when you consider how far the MotoNav line has come in one generation--is fairly impressive in its own right.