The Motorola Motonav TN555 is a very, very nice GPS with few negatives. First, all the standards are here: voice prompting with street names and landmarks, a rich points-of-interest database, easy entry of new navigation points, Bluetooth integration with your cell phone, and a widescreen display. What sets it apart, though, are the extras. For one thing, the Motonav takes advantage of the Bluetooth connection to the your phone, not only to download contacts and act as a microphone, but to download data to the GPS. It doesn’t use the phones data plan, however, but a voice call, like an old analog modem.
There are pros and cons to this approach. On the plus side, you don’t need an expensive data plan for the GPS nor do you have to have a phone that has one either (although I do have an iPhone with one). On the negative side, it interrupts whatever else your phone may be doing to make the call. Obviously, if you’re already on a call, it won’t work. And if you’re using your iPhone to listen to music or podcasts, for example, as I do when I’m driving, then those will be suspended while the GPS does its thing. As the only time I’m likely to be manipulating the GPS to download information is when I’m stopped and parked, that’s not a bad tradeoff for me.
So what can it download? How about addresses from Google Maps. If you look up an address at maps.google.com, you can click on the “Send” button and enter the model and serial number of the GPS. Then when you’re in your car, go to the menu, select “Google” in your favorites, have it download through your Bluetooth-connected phone, and, voilà!, there it is. The days of hurriedly writing down the address on a scrap of paper and remembering to bring it with you to the car to punch in at your dash are over.
The phone connection also offers another neat feature. You can set someone as a trusted contact and they can receive updates on your position via text message, either one time or any time they text “motonav” to your phone. It will respond either with your current location or, if you’re en route, your location, destination, and ETA. This could be great for your spouse so they don’t have to call you while you’re driving, but it could be awkward if your boss wants to be a trusted contact too.
There are a number of “Motoextras”, which are subscription-based services, including updatable weather, flight tracking, gas prices, and speed cameras. The speed camera shows an icon in the corner of the display while you’re driving, showing your current speed. It would be great if it knew the speed limit for your current road too. Real-time traffic is only available on the next higher model in the product line, the TN700.
One of my favorite features is the instant on. Our old Garmin Nüvi takes forever to start up, find the satellites, show the legal disclaimer, and get to where I can actually enter an address. I also like the physical volume and mute keys. On the Garmin, I had to navigate through several menus to adjust the volume on the touch screen, which I have to take my eyes off the road to do.
But how well does it navigate? Very well. It has a few of the same quirks that the Garmin did. Maybe they buy their maps from the same place, but they both show a “phantom” connecting road in my neighborhood that would be very convenient if it existed, but would require a US Army-issue Humvee to traverse today. On the other had, it lacks some of the Garmin’s quirks like the Nüvi’s insistence that I cannot turn left on my usual route at our closest major intersection. Even when I’m sitting at the light it wants me to go straight, turn right through some neighborhoods and come back on the intersecting road well out of my way. The Motonav just brings me along the logical route.
There’s also a setting that allows you to bias the route selection for or against highway driving (i.e. faster versus scenic). In theory this is a nice option, but the highway bias option often wants to turn me onto an interstate for a half-mile to saver mere seconds, while the scenic option sometimes chooses some very convoluted routes. A middleground would be nice.
But the bottom line is that Motorola’s GPS give industry-leader Garmin a run for its money. And at $219, that’s not a lot of money.
Dislaimer: I received a review unit of the Motonav through the Amazon.com Vine program and am keeping it free of charge.