Navman iCN 630 Review

The Navman iCN 630 is a portable standalone GPS Navigation Device for vehicle use. Check the Navman web site for more information. The product reviewed is the USA Release, Version 1.1.3 which comes with Smart-Map USA software and uses map data from NavTech.

The iCN 630 is a complete self contained GPS with a full color display screen that is a full 3.8" diagonally and oriented in landscape mode. To the right of the screen is an array of keys that permit the user to control the operations of the unit. Behind the case is a flip-up antenna for the GPS signals and an external power cable supplies 5 Volts of power on the left side of the unit. The top has a Secure Digital (SD) memory slot for extra memory to augment the 64Meg of map memory that is built into the unit. The underside contains a USB slot for connection with a pc.

The color screen is 320x240 pixels in vibrant color and driven by an Intel X-scale processor. It has 64Meg of ROM to contain the firmware in addition to the map memory and utilizes an SiRF chipset. If needed there is also provision for an external antenna using an MCX plug on the back of the unit. A large speaker is located on the back for clear voice messages. The screen is illuminated with a variable intensity backlight that provides plenty of light.

The keyboard area is a cluster of keys around a rocker pad. This rocker pad has 8 positions. Above the rocker pad is the zoom key which is a two way switch that can zoom in or out. It also doubles as the screen brightness if you hold it down for a few seconds. To the left is an OK button for selecting things and to the right is an esc (escape) button for canceling or backing out of things. Below the rocker keys is a another two way switch that can adjust the sound volume up and down. It can be tapped to hear the next voice message. To its left is the power on key which also served to bring up the main menu screen. Press and hold this key for several seconds to shut the unit off. To the right is a page button that selects from the various pages that may be available for viewing or selection.

Installation

The product arrives with 2 cdroms and the Navman iCN 630 GPS hardware along with mounting and connection hardware. The cdroms contain the maps of the USA, the firmware for the GPS hardware, and a driver for the USB connection between the pc and the GPS. This unit requires a pc with a USB connection to load the firmware and the maps. You will need an internet connection to register this product during installation which is required to achieve the GPS functionality. To begin the installation insert the cdrom into the cdrom tray. You should probably insert whichever cdrom does not contain the maps for your area as they both contain the installation program but you will need both cdroms during the installation and it is easiest if you are left with the one for you area in the drive when you need to download maps. Install the desktop application. Plug the GPS unit into power using the supplied power adapter and then plug the USB connector between the unit and your home computer. Turn on the unit. The pc will detect the new hardware attachment and install the driver from the cdrom. Once this is accomplished you can download the firmware from the cdrom to the GPS. You will also need the product key contained on the outside of the cdrom cover and an internet connection to activate the installation.

Finally you can install the maps. There is 64 MegaBytes available in the unit to store maps but you may want more than this. If so you will need to purchase an SD card of an appropriate size, probably 64Meg to 256Meg. Maps stored in internal memory will need to be loaded via the USB connection to the GPS. Maps stored in SD memory can be loaded via the USB connection to an SD card plugged into the GPS or they can be loaded quicker onto an SD card that is plugged into a card reader. If you use a card reader you can simply move the SD card to the unit after the map installation. You can install as many maps as you have memory for and these can be replaced at any time. You can have several SD cards full of maps and then swap them into the GPS when you need additional maps. The USA maps include the 48 contiguous states and Hawaii in about two dozen map sets. In order for the unit to route from a source on one map set and a destination on another map set you will need to have all adjacent maps loaded.

Once everything is loaded you will move to your vehicle to complete the installation. Study the available brackets and find a location to mount the unit. Temporarily set the unit in or near the spot, plug the power into the accessory outlet, open the antenna, and power the unit up by pressing the power on switch for a second or so. (You may need to turn the ignition on to get power on the accessory outlet.) Initially you will have a tutorial screen to work through that will guide you through initial operation and then you will be left in the main menu screen. Select GPS and see if you have a fix by now. Most likely you will but if not check the satellite status and see what progress is being made. If nothing is happening it may be that there is poor GPS reception in your car due to windshield heat shielding. Some cars will not receive signals through the windshield and if yours is one of those you will need to obtain an external antenna to use the unit in your car. For now just take the unit outside as far as the cable will allow. Once you have a GPS fix you will want to adjust the clock time zone and set your home location.

To set the time zone go to the main menu and select settings, and then GPS (Menu -> settings -> GPS). Select the time offset and adjust until the hour agrees with the local time. You can also set your preference for 12 or 24 hour time display. Press esc twice to get back to the main menu (click ok to accept changes) and select the shortcuts menu. Select new and then current location to store the GPS position of your home as the first shortcut. Note that if you are too far from the road the current location won't work and you will have to move the car nearer the road for this. (There is no error message for this.) Having your home as the first shortcut will save you a lot of time later since it will be very easy to select your home as a destination. The User settings is where you can turn off the tutorial display if you don't want to see it the next time you power up.

After confirming the operation in the place you chose you can complete the installation of the mounting system. There is information in the manual about this. Once you have moved to the car you won't need the pc program any longer unless you wish to load different maps, wish to backup your user data, or want to read the supplied manual. However, you may want to download the updated manual from the web site.

Operation

Generally you will just snap the unit into its holder, plug in power, open the antenna and turn it on. It will load the maps you have selected and then go to the opening lawyer screen. You must ok this each time to get to the map screen. By the time you do this it is likely that the GPS already has a fix. You can simply drive with the GPS showing your position on the map, but this is missing most of the functionality of the unit.

To use the unit for navigation the first thing you will want to do after obtaining a fix on the GPS is to press the menu button to reach the main menu. From there you can select from:

Select Destination from this screen to bring up another menu where you can select from:

Note that the menu system is circular so the fastest way to reach the item you want may be by pressing the up button.

Once you have selected the destination the GPS will compute a route to the destination from your current location and begin navigation. The image shown at the left will appear and is the main navigation screen. (This photo was taken with a digital camera, the actual image is crisper and brighter.) The features of the display include the next turn data at the top of the screen and the current road is shown on the bottom. At the bottom left is an indicator for the GPS reception. The bars are symbolic and just indicate some relative indication of reception strength. In this case it is showing an ok fix but it could be better. Four bars is as good as it gets. The information in the lower right is selectable and will be one of: Current Speed, Current Time, Heading, Distance to Next Turn, Distance To Go (to Destination), Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA), and Time To Go (to Destination). You can look at any one of these by tapping the right or left side of the center rocker key. A brief help message will appear in place of the current road name to tell you what you have chosen. I would have liked a small abbreviation displayed near the value to remind me.

The map on the screen shows your current position and will always be displayed with your current direction of movement up. It will be zoomed automatically based on your speed and details about the upcoming turn. You can zoom manually but it will soon be overridden by the automatic zoom. The route chosen by the computer is clearly shown on the screen. In this case it wants me to drive around the block based on the direction I parked my car. I guess it doesn't know I intend to back out of the driveway and go the other way. It will correct itself once I am under way but I think it should have known the direction I wanted to go and picked the shorter way since I was parked at the time and you can't depend on the GPS to provide reliable direction data while stopped. The small arrow in the upper right corner shows the direction of North which can be optionally displayed as shown here. The scale is shown in the lower left corner of the map.

   

If you press the page key the second Navigation screen will appear. It looks like the information above on the left and displays the Navigation data as text with a large arrow. This provides an easy to read data at a glance for the driver. The data in the lower right of the window has the same choices as the ones on the main navigation screen and can be set independently from that screen. Pressing the page key again will display the next four turns which shows live data and will count down as you move. Again a customizable display on one piece of navigation data appears at the bottom right. With the exception of the data at the bottom of the screen this is very similar to what the full instruction list screen (Menu -> Destination -> Instruction List) looks like. In that case you use the page key to move through the instruction list which is display 4 entries at a time and the esc key will move you back.

Pressing the Page key one more time will show you the map page (shown below) which is the only page that can be displayed if you are not running a route. This page is always shown with North at the top of the screen. If you continue to press the Page key you will successively select all 4 pages in rotation. Unfortunately the esc key doesn't work in this context to reverse the direction. It would be nice to be able to go backwards sometimes.

Any of the pages can be used for visual navigation although the map screen doesn't provide any turn data except to show it on the map. There are also voice prompts to guide you through the turns. These can be in either a male or female voice. The messages are constructed from pre-recorded words and I had no problem understanding either voice. Since the words are not synthesized all the messages are generic without mentioning map features like road names although it does mention freeway ramps and other general map data. There are usually two messages telling you about an upcoming turn with the advanced message varying in time depending on your current speed to allow you to change lanes or otherwise prepare for the turn. If there are two turns really close together the voice message will warn you about this as well. For most legs there is also a message just after the turn that tells you then number of miles in the next leg.

Favorite places and POI's

Smart-Map supports a list of favorite places that can be saved in the database. The documentation says you can have 300 of these (and another 8 in the shortcuts). These can be used to position the map or to serve as targets for destinations. They will not be shown on the map but may be found by highlighting in a search and then selecting Show. The center of the screen is where the POI is located. You can read the Favorites list with Menu -> Destination -> Favorites. In addition the GPS keeps a list of recent places so once you visit a place you can return easily to the same place. There are about 30 of these which are named after the road name. This can also be used to capture some favorite places after the fact. The list of recent places contains only unique entries and is sorted by most recent use; use the page key to reach older entries. It will include places that were caused by the automatic rerouter.

You can also collect favorite places directly from the screen by panning and then pressing the OK button or from POI data. The unit does attempt to make a meaningful default name for the new favorite but you can also edit the name if desired. The current GPS location is a good method to collect a favorite place so long as you are on or near a road. The unit will not save a GPS location from a parking lot if it is too far from the main road. There is no error message, the command just doesn't work.

The name of favorite places can be edited but there is no other data that can be seen about the place. The actual GPS location cannot be viewed. These locations can be saved to the pc which is useful when you run out of locations or want to save locations in a remote place you don't visit very often. The pc file could even be exchanged with your friends but there is no way to merge two files together or manipulate the favorite place list from the pc. The favorite list is always sorted alphabetically.

Points of Interest (POI's) are shown directly on the screen with icons if you zoom in far enough. POI's can be selected directly from the screen. The current screen shows a view of the poi's such as banks, restaurants, fast food place, gas stations, tourist places, and a place to get your car fixed. Pressing the OK button on the screen will turn the center 8 way keypad into a mouse like device that can be scrolled over the screen to highlight POI's and other objects such as roads although it won't tell you the names of Highways for some reason. Placing the selection on a POI and pressing the OK button again will display some detailed information about the POI. At that point you could place it in your favorites list, show it centered on the screen, or set its location as a target destination for navigation. Note that there could be more than one POI on a particular spot as shown on the screen but there is no indication of this. Sometimes you can zoom in closer to resolve more locations.

POI's can be searched for similarly to favorites or addresses, Menu -> Destination -> Points of Interest. There are categories for Accommodations, Amenities, Automotive Facilities, Buildings and Monuments, Emergency Services, Entertainment, Financial Services, Food and Drink, Institutions, Medical Services, Natural Attractions, Shopping, Sports Facilities, and Transport. Each of these main categories can, optionally, be further divided into types. If you select a type the unique icon representing this type will be shown. When you have decided on the category and type of service then you pick the area by moving to the area field and pressing OK. (You can search the entire map database by not selecting an area.) An alphabetized list of up to 50 entries will be listed for any area you choose which can be reached by continuing to press the page key or you can enter a few characters to limit the list. If there are more than 50 entries you will need to narrow the search down with more detailed information about type or area, or enter a partial name. Select an entry to bring up the details screen. It can be saved in your favorites, shown on the map screen or be used as a target for navigation. Selecting one of these options will cause the search to be lost and you will have to start over, but if you don't select a choice you can return to the search screen with escape and search another entry. Note that this information is based on the current set of loaded maps.

Address lookup and intersection look-up work exactly the same as POI look-up except, of course, the data is different. You can search of an individual address or just the Road and these names can be displayed on the map are targeted as a destination. The state highways are shown first in the selection to make them easier to find. US or Interstate highways can be found by using US or I- as a prefix. You can leave out the city name for the search if you don't know what it is. Up to 99 road names will be displayed for you to scroll through or you can enter more data to narrow the search.

More about Routing

Routing can be programmed to try the quickest or the shortest and can be requested to avoid toll roads and urban areas. (Menu -> settings -> Route) Other than these general setup variable there is no method to guide the router and no way to block a road that is closed for construction or has a gate on it. The best you can do is just go a different way and let the router re-compute the course once it figures out you left the route. Often the first reroute will try and get you back on the original route so you may have to ignore that one too. It may say something like perform a U turn to redirect you back. However you can't depend on this behavior to guide you back to the road if you stop for gas. It may take an entirely different direction using local roads. In addition a reroute when you are closer to the destination may compute a different route than it did when you were further away. Note that if you change quickest to shortest or vice versa this will not effect the current route for any reroutes. You will need to redo the route from the beginning (menu -> destinations -> recent) to see the effect of this change which is also the way to force a recalculation whenever you want.

You can turn off reroute entirely if you wish. In this case, if you go off route there will be no indication except the next turn distance will disappear. You will need to use the map display to find your way back to the route but once you get there the voice prompt will tell you that you are back on the route.

Route Planning

There is support for route planning in this product. When you select a spot using the screen OK cross hairs or after showing the point selected in another search method you will also have a start button. Pressing this start button will set the beginning location for your route. You can then select the destination normally and the unit will calculate the route between the two points you chose.

Use menu -> settings -> GPS -> next page to reach the Auto Simulate function. This function will let you run the route at 31 mph. It will speed up a bit once you reach the freeway to 62 mph. Repeat can also be checked which is primarily used for a running demo mode in stores. Most of the time I could not get the auto simulate function to start properly as it did not shut off the GPS and if you did not have a GPS fix the unit would not function well until it had one. I would have liked a way to turn off the GPS when its not needed such as when in planning mode. Once I got it to accept simulation mode, as shown by the word "SIM" toggling with the regular display in the lower right corner, then the GPS solution was no longer needed. This seems much trickier than it should be and if you don't insure that simulation mode is set and you take it to a place where gps reception is not obtained it will eventually go into search the sky mode and throw away all the settings it will need later to get a quick fix. (See more about search the sky mode below.)

You can view the route on the map screen once the simulator is running and you can pan away from the simulated gps position to view other parts of the map. You can try what-ifs by changing the route options and you can pan around as need to study the route. You can look at the instruction list to study where all the turns are but the distances are shown from wherever the GPS simulation happens to be.

The maps and database

Once the decision was made to use NavTech maps there is very little control that Navman has over the map database. However, from the user perspective the database can make the product useful or worthless so I will give a few comments on it now.

NavTech is the leading supplier of autorouting map databases in the USA. It is used by all of the auto manufactures on their gps systems and most of the 3rd parties as well. They made their name and reputation from offering very accurate maps with good autorouting information for all of the major cites in the USA. In 2001 they decided that they needed to have coverage for the entire USA, not just the cities. This was the correct decision but the implementation seems to have left a lot to be desired. In the country the data is not nearly so accurate as it is the cities and NavTech in their rush to get the product out has really let the quality suffer, in my opinion. Note that some parts of the country are better than others so an individual opinion is likely to be made on a small sample of the overall database. For your area is might be perfect (well almost anyway).

As a case in point, I live in an area not covered by the city maps and I have 3 bogus turns within the first mile on every autoroute from my house. By bogus turns I mean the autoroute voice says turn left or turn right but in fact you continue straight on the same road. The starting and the ending road are shown as the same road. After this happens enough time you get fed up and tend to ignore the real data since you can't filter out the bogus stuff. Within 2 miles of my house are two private roads with locked gates. The autorouter insists on sending me down these roads even though I can't get through. On my street there are blocks of address missing from the database so those houses show up in the wrong part of the road. These are all errors caused by making a sloppy database. In addition the maps they are using are many years old and they haven't corrected them. Hopefully the next years database will be better. I have check some other areas and found better results and others have reported good to excellent results in their areas. However most of the problems I found could not be seen visually my looking at the maps.

The poi's in my area are also old and out of date and in the wrong places. This is not restricted totally to the country however as I notice that San Francisco shows two different locations for the Cliff House.

I will say that the roads are pretty much where they are supposed to be. I have seen other products where the roads are shown more than 500 feet from their true location and I haven't seen this so far on this database.

I realize that there are no perfect databases, but this one can be better than it is. I have submitted fixes to the NavTech web site and I suggest that each user do likewise. Navman has committed yearly updates so it won't take too long to get a good database if everyone inputs data.

More on GPS Operation

GPS reception on the unit is excellent. It is usable even if the antenna is not pulled up but you should pull it out anyway since it is better if you encounter some difficult conditions.

The GPS status screen, menu -> GPS Status, displays information about the current state of each of the satellites that the GPS knows about. This is displayed in the center of the screen by coloring the trapezoid shapes around the circle. Yellow means that the gps trying to gather information from that satellite while green means it is in use. If you only have a 2D fix (no altitude) then the satellites will show in red. The circle itself will change color from red to green. Other data on this screen includes the lat/lon for your location, your current velocity (speed and direction), and the local time and date. This information is accurate even if the position is currently locked to a road so this screen can be used to report or check your real position.

If you are color blind and have trouble with the red, green, yellow colors don't worry too much about it, the next page tells you explicitly if you have a fix or not in no uncertain terms. It also shows a set of bar charts to indicate the strength of signal from each of the satellites. Pressing page again shows the same bar chart with a map of the world. If you are searching for a fix the map will be scrolling slowly under the view of the satellites in space. If you have a fix then the map will be locked and your location will be shown. The location, speed and direction are shown at the top of the screen.

The left and right portions of the key pad can be used to select each of the satellites and find out all of the data from the almanac for that particular satellite.

If a fix is not obtained within about 5 minutes or so the unit will automatically go into a search the sky mode and throw away all of the satellite almanac data. The picture will show all of the satellites in a vertical row in the center of the screen once it is able to view satellites at all. Search the sky mode is needed if you move over two hundred miles or so while the unit is off. When you turn it on again all of the satellite data it has will be for the wrong location and useless. Searching the sky permits it to get new satellite data for the new location. Unfortunately the GPS can't tell when you are indoors with no reception or moved a large distance so it can accidently fall into this mode if you try and run it indoors. In addition there is no way to manually initiate this mode if you have moved so you will have to wait 5 minutes until the unit figures out on its own, then another 5 minutes or so for it to find itself again. You will know when it has given up regular searching when the lat/lon display sets itself to all zeros. Next time a view of the sky is seen by the GPS it will collapse the almanac data.

Two improvements would be to allow the user to force search the sky mode when desired and to provide a way to indicate the current location on the world map so that the fix could be obtained quicker. Note that this does not effect day to day operation but only when you take a long trip where the GPS is not in use like a plane trip. In normal day to day use this unit provides good, quick fixes.

Customization Setup

There are a few items that can be customized by the user. These are reached from the main menu by tapping Setup. The color scheme can be changed, Voice instructions can be turned off or set to the desired person and distances can be set to kilometers or miles.

In addition to the general setup mentioned in the navigation section you can also turn off automatic Re-routing if desired. There is also a button for turning on a log file. This is intended primarily for NavMan support but you might find it useful. It does not take effect until the next power on cycle and an extra screen indicating the file name will appear. You can name a new one or accept the default name. If you have an SD card plugged in the log file will be stored on the card. The log file will contain NMEA data from the GPS and will record your progress every second. You can use a card reader to download the text data to your computer later. Some pc map programs will accept NMEA data from a file such as this permitting you to play back your trip on the screen. This could be used to keep track of where the car has been so long as the driver is using the GPS.

The maps being used can be changed without reloading from the pc. Any changes to the settings require that you ok them when you exit which is a pain. Sometimes I wish programmers weren't always trying to save us from ourselves. It isn't like these changes were irreversible.

Off road use

This unit has no provision for off road use but since a user may drive down a road that is not on the map there are some things that can be done with this GPS to aid the user. This could be important if you take your RV down that dirt road into the back woods. First, the best solution is to have a handheld GPS for this case, but if you don't happen to have one try some of these tricks.

Bugs, Issues, and Tips

There are some of these mentioned in the text but this section will highlight a few more that just didn't fit in the narrative. They are in no particular order.

  1. Sometimes a section of road will disappear from view. It is there but not displayed. Changing the zoom level will make it re-appear.
  2. Each time you want to do a search you will have to start over since none of the search parameters are remembered, even the town you are looking it.
  3. Sometimes a key will bounce and you will get a double entry. This can be especially annoying when it is the OK key since you may OK the data on the next screen as well.
  4. You may have more maps loaded than you currently need. Use the setup screens to turn off the unneeded maps. This will speed up the start up and perhaps some of the searches.
  5. Some cars turn power off to the accessory outlet every time the ignition key is turned off. This can happen when you stop at a filling station for example. The unit does not remember the route when you turn it back on although it does remember the destination and will automatically compute a new route from the filling station after you turn it back on. If this bothers you, you might be tempted to hardwire it to the battery which would be a good idea except that the unit will be fried if directly connected to the battery without the regulator that is built into the accessory plug. If you decide to hardwire it in be sure and allow for the regulator.
  6. I found the release on the mount difficult to press from the front of the unit and sometimes ended up jerking the mount off the windshield. A spring on this release would be nice, particularly for my wife. Otherwise you tend to leave it in plain view.
  7. The map display data in the lower right corner is the same as the navigation screen. If you cancel the route and the navigation screen was displaying something other than speed or time the map display will be set to "-" and cannot be changed, since you can't bring up the navigation screen without a route. Be sure an change the data on the navigation screen to something useful before you cancel the route.
  8. I like to display the map with the direction up so sometimes I will set a destination and turn re-calculation off just to have the navigation screen display my route for me.

My wish list

Here are some of the things I wish were on the unit, but they are not bugs.

Conclusions

Navman has taken their successful pocketpc product and turned it into a very credible mobile self contained GPS unit. It has most of the features and functionality of the original product and some specialized unique features of its own. As compared to the pocketpc this unit is more rugged and with a dedicated keypad area it will be a bit easier to use in the car. I am not sure what the street price is for this unit but the list price seems a little high.

I found the GPS performance to be excellent but it could use some help when initializing it. This is a vehicle road only unit with no provision for any other use with the current features and maps.

Some pc based utilities would be nice such as the ability to exchange and manage waypoints.

Final Note

I have obtained comments on this review from Navman to ensure that it is technically accurate, but the opinions and ideas are mine.

By Dale DePriest - All rights reserved.

Revisions

Original release 2003/9/23