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Though it'll be tough to stand up to the big boys such as TomTom and Garmin, the Navigon 5100 has a fighting chance by offering some useful navigation features that go beyond the basic turn-by-turn directions. First, there's a traffic receiver integrated into the sleek device and you get a free traffic subscription so you can check the road conditions before heading off on your drive. Also, to help make the ride as smooth as possible, there's a lane assistant function that will help find the best lane for your route and a 3D "photorealistic" view of complicated intersections. They all came in handy during our test drive, and most importantly, the system provided accurate directions. Of course, we do have items on our wish list, namely a larger screen, faster satellite acquisition, and a slightly lower price point (it's currently available for $499). That said, we like what the Navigon 5100 has to offer, especially since it focuses on the main task at hand: getting you to your destination with the least stress as possible.
With a sexy chrome finish and compact dimensions (4.2 inches wide by 3.3 inches high by 0.9 inch deep; 6.3 ounces), the Navigon 5100 is a nice-looking and ultraportable GPS device. However, its smaller size also means you won't get the luxury of the larger 4.3-inch displays that are popping up on some of the systems today. Instead, you get a 3.5-inch touch screen that's responsive and shows off sharp maps and bright colors. It's also readable in various lighting conditions, including daylight. Having said that, after testing a number of 4.3-inch models, we did miss viewing maps on the larger screens.
The power button is located on the top of the device along with the external antenna jack. Be aware that you have to hold down the power button for a few seconds to juice it up. On the right side, you have the SD expansion card slot and 3.5-millimeter headphone jack. Finally, there's a mini USB port on the bottom.
The Navigon 5100 is equipped with a SiRFstarIII GPS chip and all maps of the United States and Canada are preloaded on the included SD card. As with most GPS devices, you can enter a location by specific address, point of interest, recent destination, user-defined home, and so forth. The N100 can calculate routes in one of four ways--fast, optimum, short, or scenic--and gives you the option to allow or avoid highways and toll roads. There are also pedestrian, bicycle, and motorcycle route options, and our favorite, slow-car mode. Other standard navigation features include automatic route recalculation, multistop trips, simulated demos, speed alerts, and of course, text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, including text-to-speech functionality for specific street names.
You can view maps in 2D or 3D mode, and with day or night colors. The map screen shows you plenty of data, such as the name of the street you're on, distance to next turn, estimated time of arrival, remaining distance, a compass, signal strength, and more. You can always choose to hide some of these elements via the Settings menu, since the screen can get pretty overwhelming with all the data and points of interest.
Speaking of which, ike other Navigon products, such as the Fujitsu Siemens Pocket LOOX N100, the Navigon 5100 has a comprehensive POI database that includes branded icons for major corporations (e.g., McDonald's, Chevron, Shell). In addition, you can now search for POI by Zagat Survey ratings and reviews. It's available for hotels, night life, attractions, golf courses, and restaurants, and once you've selected your category, you can refine your search even more by top service, best buy, and so forth. Tapping the information icon on business listing will then bring up specific rating and reviews. The Zagat Survey data is particularly useful when you're in a new town and need recommendations of where to eat or go out. Overall, we found the database to be fairly up-to-date, though not perfect.
The Navigon 5100 also includes several other helpful and beneficial navigation features. First, it has an integrated traffic receiver so you get subscription-free traffic updates. You'll see a little exclamation point on your map screen and by tapping it, it will bring up a list of congested areas. You can select a specific incident and get more details on the problem. The system has the ability to plot an alternate course as well. To make for the smoothest ride possible, there's also a lane assistant function that will recommend the optimal lane for your route. Last but not least, in complicated intersections, such as major highway exchanges, the Navigon 5100 will present you with a 3D image of the road. For example, you will get a semi-realistic view of what the road looks like ahead of you, including road signs, so you're not completely confused as to what exit to take.
We tested the Navigon 5100 in San Francisco, and from a cold start, it took the unit a solid 7 minutes to get a satellite fix and unfortunately, subsequent starts weren't much faster. Once locked on, however, the GPS receiver did a good job of holding onto its lock and accurately tracked our location as we ran everyday errands around the city. We also entered our standard trip from the Marina district to CNET's downtown headquarters, and the Navigon 5100 returned with a route fairly quickly. A quick glance at the list of turn-by-turn text directions showed that they were accurate so we set off on our trip.
The text-to-speech voice prompts were loud and clear, and the pronunciation of street names wasn't bad; we were always able to understand them. We were impressed by how fast the system recalculated routes. In one instance, the route called us to take a right, but the Navigon 5100 already recognized that we were in the left lane and automatically started recalculating the course. The traffic, lane guidance, and 3D view features were nice and handy extras as well.