The one thing we couldn't complain about with last season's Navman S-Series models were their looks. And with 2009's top-of-the-range MY500XT, many of those design cues, such as the flush screen and the strip of real metal along the back, have been carried across.
Like the other members of this year's MY range — the 3.5-inch MY30 excluded, of course — the MY500XT features a 4.7-inch display. Unlike those models, however, the XT's screen is not only flush and glassy, but is the first dedicated GPS device to feature a screen with capacitive touchscreen technology. This technology is part of the reason why everyone's favourite smartphone, the iPhone, is so responsive, and it means that the XT is less likely to confuse a push with a scroll than its siblings and predecessors.
That said, it's neither as responsive nor as foolproof as the iPhone. So, if you find the standard swipe to scroll interface too fiddly and error prone, you can always switch to the more proletarian button scrolling set-up. The glossy screen is prone to reflections in bright daylight and drivers wearing polarised sunnies may think they've slipped back to the psychedelic '60s.
When we can see the screen, we're still fans of the stark white — almost modernist — map screen. Instructions and map detail are easy to see, although it may not be immediately apparent to all that there's an info box hidden away on the side of the screen or that tapping the map allows for quick access to volume settings. Despite its top-of-the-range billing, the MY500XT doesn't feature a faster processor, consequently many animations, as well as manual map zooming, are slower than a turtle on Prozac.
The main menu features a grid of good looking pastel coloured icons, but the layout is far from ideal, with items like traffic and settings requiring a scroll or two to get to. Keyword destination entry makes a welcome return and is an order of magnitude easier to use than the usual entry method requiring a suburb, followed by a street or point of interest. Although with popular street names, such as George, it's still necessary to enter a suburb or postcode entry first, unless you find scrolling through a list of a thousand George Streets a particular thrill.
With traffic messaging, music playback, an FM transmitter, guide book info, Bluetooth hands-free, text-to-speech, camera warnings, lane guidance, junction view and 3D landmarks, loaded to the gills is an accurate descriptor of the MY500XT's feature set.
The Wcities and Lonely Planet guide book info for points of interest may be nice to have if you're out of town and wondering which of the Big Banana or the Big Pineapple is a better destination. 3D landmarks on the other hand are a nuisance, especially in the CBD, where even in semi-opaque mode they obscure roads.
Given our trials and travails with the S300t's FM transmitter, we weren't exactly looking forward to testing this part of the XT's repertoire. Thankfully, Navman has turned the power up a notch or two and, assuming the right frequency is chosen, static shouldn't be an issue unless you're crawling from the CBD canyon. Unfortunately, that's the only item on our gripe list that's been fixed. Despite the presence of a microSD card slot, music must be loaded on to the device via the NavDesk computer software.
Once indexed, music selection is a royal pain and the act of changing tracks is not a feat to be attempted at the traffic lights. There's no shortcut on the map screen, so even pausing the music requires entering the main menu, scrolling down to the Music item, finding the pause button, going back to the main menu and exiting back to the map screen.
Similarly annoying are the school zone warnings, for which an annoying ping assailed our ears whenever we dared venture within a 500-metre radius of a school, regardless of the time of day. The alerts for the red light and speed cameras are markedly better as they only chirped up when we were actually hurtling towards one, although some cameras are incorrectly entered as only being in operation on one side of the road.
Hands-free calls via Bluetooth worked passably for short conversations. Calls, which only play through the built-in speaker and not the FM transmitter, sounded a little shallow and tinny, while the microphone's lack of sensitivity required us to raise our voices to the point of shouting. Try as we might, we were unable to Bluetooth configure data connections with any of our phones; consequently the TrueLocal and Google point of interest searches went untested.
Despite our first journey into Sydney's CBD being a foray into a GPS positioning black hole, in the main the XT performed as expected with just the occasional instance of signal drop out and confused bearings in the city. Route calculation times were also predictably decent and the routes, while far from efficient, got us to our destination. We did have to ignore the old illegal or impossible turn along the way, though.
The MY500XT comes fitted with the latest set of Navteq maps, which, as we've discovered before, suffers from a lack of traffic restriction information — no right turns, road barriers and the like. Like junction view, Navteq's lane guidance data is limited primarily to highways and motorways. Text-to-speech spoken street names make a fair stab at pronouncing Aussie street names.
With the traffic messaging antenna built into the charging cable and a lifetime Suna subscription on board, the XT can warn you of and route you around traffic incidents ranging from crashes and congestion to special events and road works. It's a great theory, but in practice it's far from perfect.
Sometimes we drove through phantom events that had either cleared up or were yet to actually occur, and in other instances we drove smack bang into a jam that had yet to make it on to the system. To get an overview of possible incidents on your route, you can either scroll through a long list of potential delays or spend a few millennia zooming in on the map and attempting to tap on the correct parts of the right icons.
This year's range topper in the Navman line-up is greatly improved over its predecessor, but it's still greatly flawed with the glare-prone, psychedelic screen, tedious music interface and annoying school zone alerts the lowlights. If you'd love a Navman, look further down the food chain; if you want your sweet tunes via FM, check out other brands.