When we began reviewing the Navigon 2150max we noticed a number of critical and annoying flaws. These included a painful screeching sound at start up, Bluetooth hands-free that failed to pair with any of the phones we had available, and text-to-speech that not only struggled with Australian street name pronunciation, but also failed miserably with many abbreviations, like "Rd" spoken as "arr-dee" and "Ave" as "arr-vay".
The flaws described above were fixed during our time with the 2150max and, unless otherwise stated, this review refers to the 2150max using the latest firmware version — 7.0.12 at the time of writing. If you're running the older, buggy firmware, the latest software is available free of charge from Navigon Australia's website.
It seems that designers, despite the fact that there are 92 elements naturally occurring on Earth and countless combinations thereof, seem to milk whatever is in vogue until its udders are so dry, it would make the Murray-darling basin look like the Garden of Eden. If you apply for a job as a designer of consumer electronic goods, then you'd better like the idea of fashioning long chains of carbon and hydrogen to look like the black off of a grand piano. And it seems the guys and gals at Navigon are strict adherents to this policy because, with the exception of a small band of grey around its perimeter, the 2150max is covered head to toe in the black shiny stuff and, frankly, it's a little bit overwhelming.
Housed within its all shiny, all-the-time body is a de rigueur widescreen 4.3-inch touchscreen. Setting up the Navigon in the car was a little bit harder than we would have liked, primarily because the windshield mount needs to be constructed with the help of two screw-in pins. This set-up is not only bulky and difficult to store in the glovebox, it also only allows for easy screen adjustment on the horizontal plane. Topping it off, the tall mini-USB connector at the other end of the cigarette lighter charger forced us to mount the 2150max further away from the dashboard than we'd like.
A rectangular motif and various shades of grey dominate the Navigon's touchscreen interface. While it may not win awards for being really, really good looking, it is generally easy to use despite a number of quirks. For instance, the first menu screen, which allows you to select between the navigation, phone and photo functions, does seem a little superfluous for a device with just a class standard 480x272-pixel display. Entering in destinations and points of interest is hampered by the lack of a QWERTY keyboard, not to mention the slow and awkward to use auto-completion feature.
The map screen suffers from choppy redraws whenever your direction changes and is, oddly, the only place from which you can access the Settings screen. As there's no automatic day/night mode you have to select it manually, however, this setting isn't in the Settings menu but in another on-screen menu accessed by clicking on the map for more than two seconds. We did like, though, the inclusion of phone and volume control buttons in the map screen, the latter especially, as many GPS units only allow muting and un-muting from here.
Although Navigon is proud to tout its "German engineering", it carries neither the hefty price premium of its erstwhile compatriots BMW and Mercedes-Benz, nor their relative dearth of features. At AU$479, the 2150max comes kitted out with Bluetooth hands-free which, post firmware upgrade, worked fine with a number of phones, while sound clarity was perfectly decent for brief conversations. Phone presets are also easily accessible via the main map screen.
After the firmware upgrade the text-to-speech system went from zero to hero's sidekick. As mentioned at the beginning, prior to the new firmware, the 2150max struggled with not just the pronunciation of Aboriginal names, which commonly trip up GPS units, but also more Anglo-Saxon names, like Goulburn. Abbreviations were also muddled up with "Rd" spoken as "arr-dee" and "Ave" as "arr-vay", although "St" came through perfectly as "street". In the aftermath of the upgrade, the Navigon was able to handle in its, almost sexy, breathy manner, most street names, even tricky ones like Illawarra.
The 2150max uses Road Sense alerts for red light cameras, speed cameras, and school zone locations. Like other GPS makers who use Navteq's Australian maps, the Navigon's camera warnings are a bit hit and miss. We often noted safety cameras located on the map, but without either a flashing visual or audible accompaniment. And when the alerts do work properly, we were always greeted with the same generic, and somewhat baffling, exhortation: "Caution, traffic control ahead". With little idea of which traffic control we were about to run the gauntlet of, we were forced to look at the screen and the flashing map icon. Annoyingly, most alerts were for school zones several streets away.
Despite there being a number of traffic-messaging related icons and menu items, the 2150max isn't equipped with either a traffic antenna or a Suna subscription.
Like almost every other GPS we've used over the years, the 2150max has a great fondness for main roads whenever it's planning a route, although peculiarly, the 2150max sometimes had a strange aversion to freeways even after we had enabled travel via toll roads. While many GPS navigators still get tripped up from time to time in the CBD thanks to the tall buildings bouncing satellite signals around, the Navigon fared worse than most units we've tested in the last half year — indeed it reminded us of a time when GPS units commonly retailed for AU$700-800.
On the plus side, there's lane information for some major roads, although the graphic is a mite too small for our tastes. Better though is a feature that's becoming more and more common in GPS devices this year: junction view. When it's available, primarily at motorway on- and off-ramps, a graphical representation of the junction — complete with road sign and arrows on the appropriate lanes — is displayed instead of the usual 3D map display.
This is a great GPS if you have a piano black fetish. For the rest of us, it's just OK. Its good points (Aussie-capable text-to-speech, junction view, extended lane info) are balanced out by an inconsistent interface and unfriendly windshield mount.