Like the , the $799 Mio 269 is an automotive GPS with a built-in hard drive, an MP3 player, and a touch screen. However, unlike the iWay, the Mio 269 makes a poor first impression. It's slow, unintuitive, and maddeningly difficult to use until you study the instruction manual. It employs a flaky points-of-interest (POI) database and provides a mere 1GB of dedicated MP3 storage--a far cry from the iWay's 10GB. The few bright spots include a smartly designed windshield mount and a special mode for walkers. And once you read the manual, the Mio is easier to operate. But there's absolutely no question that if you have $800 to invest in a GPS, the Lowrance iWay is the better buy. Resembling an oversize PDA, the black-and-silver Mio 269 makes an attractive addition to most dashboards. Its 3.5-inch, 320x240-pixel touch screen displays 65,000 colors and is slightly larger than those used by some competitors, notably the and the . Even so, it doesn't quite measure up to the Lowrance iWay 500c's spacious 5-inch display.
The controls appear logical enough, with the Home, Navigation, and Zoom buttons to the right of the screen and the Mute and Back buttons and the four-way control pad on the left. The Mio 269 also includes a stylus tucked into a rear silo. There's a speaker in front, an SD/MMC slot on top, a headphone jack on the right side, and a jog dial (used solely for volume control) on the left.
The included suction-cup car mount affixes firmly to your windshield, and its high-tensile swivel arm keeps the GPS (which weighs a mere 8 ounces) from excessive wobbling while you're driving. When you're parked, you can easily slip the Mio from its mount to enter new navigation settings--much better than trying to interact with it while it's near the windshield; it returns to the mount just as easily. Other accessories that come with the Mio 269 include a car charger, earbud headphones, an AC adapter, and a USB cable.The Mio 269 comes with a 2.5GB hard drive, which somehow manages to hold map data for all of North America and Hawaii while still leaving about 1GB free for MP3 storage. Actually, Mio's Web site claims 500MB, the box says 700MB, and the device itself showed 1GB--at least it's a favorable error. But that means the only reason you'd need to connect the unit to your PC is to copy songs. Unfortunately, this is a relatively slow process due to the USB 1.1 interface. Using the included Mio Transfer utility (the only way to load songs onto the device), it took about 10 minutes to copy 150MB of music.
The Mio 269 incorporates most of the usual GPS navigation features, including automatic route recalculation, a POI database, and a trip planner. By tapping an onscreen icon, you can display 2D and 3D maps in both day and nighttime modes. To route yourself home from any location, just press the Home button--a major convenience. Walkers and potentially even cyclists will appreciate the Mio's Walker mode, which creates pedestrian-friendly routes with no freeways involved.
However, to take advantage of any of these features, you should plan on reading the user manual from start to finish. We've rarely had so much trouble using a GPS as we had with the Mio 269. Slow responsiveness is one part of the problem; the messy destination-selection screen is another. There's also an annoying disconnect between the main menu (used to select navigation, music, contact, and setup options), the MioMap application that handles navigation, and the Home button on the Mio itself.
After reading the clear, comprehensive, and nicely illustrated 127-page user guide, we had a much easier time with the device. The guide helps overcome some--but not all--of the difficulty in using the destination-selection screen, which is half keyboard and half a jumble of text, icons, and tiny scroll buttons. You will frequently need to retract the keyboard, since it leaves merely one visible line of search results. Even worse, it contains only letters; to access numbers, you have to tap twice on what looks like a refresh icon.
Once you actually start navigating, the Mio pulls its weight with voice-prompted driving directions and handy (though initially confusing) onscreen tools. Tapping these icons cycles through various kinds of information, such as GPS status, route details, and distance to destination. If you don't tap one for a minute or so, the icons become ghosted to make them less obtrusive. On the flip side, you can wind up with so much onscreen information that you can barely see the map. Again, consult the manual to learn the various functions of these icons and how to get the displays to go away when you're done with them.