Editors' note: Parts of the Features section were taken from our review of the Navigon 7200T, since the two GPS units share a number of the same features.
Navigon's portable navigation devices (PNDs) haven't had the best track record when it comes to performance, but we thought the tide had changed with the Navigon 7200T, which offered a far better user experience than previous models had and boasted accurate directions. That's why we had high hopes for the Navigon 8100T, the company's most ambitious GPS to date. The 8100T not only features an extra-wide touch screen, but it also has something called Panorama View 3D, which brings 3D topographic-like maps to the viewing experience. In addition, you also get a number of other great navigation features, including text-to-speech functionality, voice commands, advanced lane guidance, and free real-time traffic for life. However, it's all overshadowed by the PND's subpar performance. The Navigon 8100T is frustrating to use given its sluggishness and bugs, and while the panorama view is cool, it doesn't bring any significant benefit. This is really a shame, given that the 8100T does its main job of navigation well, but if we're expected to pay $599.99 for the GPS, we want something that will deliver on all fronts.
The Navigon 8100T is a bit of a departure from the company's other portable navigation systems as far as its design. It sports a silver brushed-metal finish rather than the typical black plastic casing, giving the GPS a more sophisticated look and quality build to match its high-end feature list. The 8100T is slightly on the larger and heavier side, at 5.3 inches wide by 3.3. inches tall by 0.9 inch deep and 9.4 ounces, but there's a good reason for the bigger size.
The reason is that the 8100T features an extra-wide, 4.8-inch touch screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Most of today's GPS devices sport 4.3-inch displays, but Navigon added the extra screen real estate to complement the 8100T's Panorama View 3D, which we'll talk about in the Features section. In general, maps and text look clear and bright. You can choose between day and night map colors or set it to automatic so the system will switch it for you based on the time of day.
The 8100T's user interface is like other Navigon products: fairly easy to use, but not as intuitive or simple as a TomTom or Garmin. The onscreen keyboard is large enough that you should be able to input addresses without too many mispresses. That said, we're disappointed that there's still no QWERTY format option, but even more frustrating is the system's sluggishness, which affected the address-entry process. We'd input letters, but they wouldn't appear for a couple of seconds, or we'd try to delete a letter, but since the system wasn't quick to respond, we thought our touch didn't register and ended up tapping the back button multiple times and inadvertently erasing everything.
Aside from the touch screen, the GPS does have some tactile controls. On the left side, there's a back key, a mute button, and an external antenna jack; there is a 3.5mm headphone jack and external volume controls on the right side, which we always appreciate since then you don't have to dig through menus to adjust the volume. The top of the unit holds the SD expansion slot and the power button. A mini USB port and reset hole are on the bottom, but be aware that when you're using the car charger, you need to plug it into the mini USB port on the vehicle mount and not the one on the unit.
The Navigon 8100T comes packaged with a car charger, a vehicle mount, an SD card preloaded with maps and points of interest, a soft protective pouch, and reference material. Navigon's Web site states that the 8100T comes with an adhesive disc for the dashboard, but our sales package didn't include one. The company reassured us that this was just a mistake and all others will ship with the accessory. The vehicle mount itself is similar to the one that ships with the Navigon 7100. It consists of one long arm and a suction cup. It's quite modern looking and works well, but we still prefer the more traditional vehicle mounts, since they allow for more adjustments as far as placement and angles.
Aside from the 3D panorama views, the Navigon 8100T offers a feature list very similar to that of the Navigon 7200T. The GPS is equipped with a SiRFStarIII GPS chip and comes with an SD card preloaded with maps of the United States and Canada and 5 million points of interest. To plan a trip, you can enter a location by specific address, point of interest, recent destination, user-defined home, and so forth. You can also enter addresses via the voice-command system. As with the 7200T, you will have to read a short paragraph so the system can learn your voice. It's also recommended you do this exercise in the car so the GPS can get the optimal settings for the environment. Unlike the Garmin Nuvi 880, the voice command system is limited to just address entry and can't be used for other tasks.
The 8100T can calculate routes in one of three ways--fast, optimum, and short--and gives you the option to allow or avoid highways and toll roads. There are also pedestrian and bicycle modes. In addition, like most other Navigon products, the 8100T offers free real-time traffic updates for life, so you can know the traffic condition before hitting the road or you can find alternative routes if you happen to get caught in traffic. If there are any incidents along your route, you'll see a little exclamation point on your map screen (and hear an audible cue) and by tapping it, the 8100T will bring up a list of congested areas. You can select a specific incident and get more details on the problem or choose to ignore it.
The PND supports multidestination routing so you can add multiple stops to your trip or add waypoints on the fly. The points-of-interest (POI) database includes all the major categories, including gas stations, lodging, and ATMs. You can search for restaurants by cuisine type, and there are also specialized categories like golf courses, marinas, and museums. In addition, you can 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 a business listing will then bring up specific ratings and reviews. You can then have it shown on a map or navigate to the POI from your current location.
You can view maps in 2D or 3D mode along with the Panorama 3D view. For the latter, the system uses NASA terrain data and provides digital elevations, so you'll see surrounding landscapes like rolling hills and so forth. It provides a nice visual reference and gives you a lay of the land, but our biggest problem is that street names are not displayed in panorama view. You still get the current street, distance to, and street name of your next turn, estimated time of arrival, speed limit, and more on the map screen. And yes, the panorama view is a cool feature, but we think it's a bit more important to know the names of streets rather than whether there's a hill on the horizon.
You do get some useful visual aids; for complicated intersections, the 8100T offers a couple of them. First, there's Reality View, which gives you a "photorealistic" view of complicated intersections, such as major highway exchanges, with a 3D image of the road. You also get something called Lane Assistant Pro, which will overlay arrows on the street to show you which lane you should want to be in and which direction you'll eventually be turning.
Other GPS features include automatic route recalculation, a turn-by-turn list of text directions, route simulation, speed warnings, and DirectHelp, which provides you with the location and contact information of the nearest police station, hospital, roadside assistance, and other emergency services based on your current location.
Finally, the 8100T has integrated Bluetooth so you can pair it with a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone and use GPS as a hands-free speaker system. Once paired with your handset, the you can make calls using the system's onscreen dial pad or, if there's a number associated with a POI, you can dial out directly. The 8100T will also automatically transfer your phone's address book over, so you don't have to manually enter in each number. We successfully paired the 8100T with the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8310 and were able to make and accept calls with no problem.
As we noted in the Design section, the Navigon 8100T can be slow and there are other performance issues. For example, the touch screen didn't always register our commands, particularly for icons along the bottom of the screen. Also, when we were using the voice-command system to enter an address, the voice prompts just dropped out of the blue. We thought we might have accidentally pressed the mute button or the volume controls, but that wasn't the case and the GPS was charged so it wasn't a battery issue. When it would work, we found that it wasn't very accurate, often coming up with the wrong city or street name. It was a bit baffling and disappointing, since we had a pretty good experience with the voice-entry system on the Navigon 7200T, but it really just wasn't worth the time or effort on the 8100T given all the mistakes.
Fortunately, the PND did better on the road. We tested the Navigon 8100T in San Francisco, and from a cold start, it took the unit about 3 minutes to get a fix on our location under cloudy skies, while subsequent starts were almost instantaneous. The GPS did a good job of keeping up with our movements as we drove throughout the city, and even kept its lock as we drove through the Financial District, which can be tricky, since tall buildings can interfere with satellite reception.
We also planned our standard trip from the Marina District to CNET's downtown headquarters. The 8100T was quick to come up with accurate directions, based on the text-based route summary. Once on the road, the GPS provided us with clear and loud voice directions. The text-to-speech pronunciation was also good. We missed several turns to test the route recalculation rate, and it was able to get us back on track efficiently and accurately. It's really too bad there were so many other issues, because the 8100T is a decent navigator.