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The fight for directions

HT takes a comparative look and suggests who is your best co-driver.

autos Updated: Jun 22, 2012 00:59 IST
Sumant Banerji
Sumant Banerji
Hindustan Times

These days, there are a gamut of navigation systems available in the market. Some are offered as standalone devices such as the TomToms, MapmyIndias and Garmins of the world. Others come embedded as part of the accessory in the car even though the chances of spotting such a vehicle are rare in India. And there are the more basic ones that come as part of humble smartphones such as Nokia, Samsung, Blackberry, Apple. But which one of these is the best in a country where lanes and bylanes are as numerous as the number of Gods? Or is getting lost occasionally the sure-shot way of life here? We find out.

Stand alone devices:

Tom Tom VIA 120

TomTom is one of the better known companies that provides standalone navigation devices for cars. It claims to be the world’s largest in the business with over 55 million users. In India, TomTom’s Via series provides three products with prices ranging from the entry level Via 100 for Rs 10,000 to the top of the line Via 125 for Rs 16,000. For the sake of comparison, we took the middle of the road Via 120 that comes at Rs 13,000.

Navigation is the only thing that these cute looking devices do, so this should be their forte. It operates over a simple touch screen panel whose size varies between 4.3” and 5”. For a small car or a smallish sedan, the 4.3” version is more than adequate. Besides the basic pre-requisites like landmark navigation, voice activated support that calls out street names and lane guidance, it also offers features like Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity for hands-free calling. It will not play out music from your phone, but if you drive yourself and don’t have Bluetooth in your car — most cars still don’t offer it as a standard feature — then a standalone navigation system gives you a one-stop solution.

Some of the other features that are worth mentioning are the availability of over 10 regional languages that broaden the appeal of these devices and smart detailing like frequent destinations would be saved so that they can be retrieved without fuss. For those who have chauffeurs with them, TomTom also provides speed alert if the driver is over speeding.

In Car navigation system:

Mahindra XUV5OO

Navigation as part of accessories with cars is available on a host of models in developed markets such as US and Europe. In India, however, it is still in its infancy and available only in a select few models. It comes as standard on the top-end variant of Mahindra XUV5OO — the one which we tested — and some other models like Ford Endeavour. It is also available in some luxury cars like BMW 5 and 7 series and Mercedes S class.

There are many cars such as Hyundai Sonata, Skoda Superb, Honda Accord that offer navigation in markets abroad but are averse to doing so in India. The reason — the accuracy of mapping in India is suspect. Even then, we believe it will gradually become a part of the scheme of many car companies who will try to differentiate themselves from the rest through this.

The humble smartphone: Nokia Ovi maps

How do you differentiate between an average mobile phone and a smartphone? Simply, by looking at the list of features. While a mobile phone would be good enough to only make calls, a smartphone is like a virtual mini-computer on its own right. And it offers GPS-based navigation as well. Since a large section of our car-owning population in the big cities has at least one smartphone in his house, it was a pertinent question whether it offered a decent alternative and can be chosen over the other two.

The litmus test:

TomTom vs XUV Vs Nokia

This is quite a unique troika to be featured in a car and bike page but such is the mood. Mounting the Nokia and the TomTom on the dash and windshield of the XUV respectively, we set about choosing a route to test each of these capabilities. We chose three that would be a mix of various kinds of roads and driving conditions and give you an idea of the better one over a variety of situations.

For highways, we chose to drive down from Connaught Place in Delhi to the centre of Moradabad, a round distance of 320 kilometres. For in city driving, we chose Mayur Vihar phase 1 to New Delhi Railway station and Greater Kailash part 1 to Huda City Centre, Gurgaon.

Over the course of these excursions, the navigation system in the XUV provided the best feedback. It did not offer us as many routes or asked whether we wanted to avoid any toll road, which the TomTom did, but its directions were generally accurate and timely. The worst was the Ovi maps from Nokia but that was expected. Every time we crossed the limits of a district, it would stop and ask for a reconnection. If you are not alert each time to do that, you would end up misguided.

The TomTom tried its best but at times we found it wanting. There were occasions when the device would hit the snooze button and stay dormant for miles on end. All this while the lady doing the voice over in XUV was furiously active.

On some occasions, there were glaring errors in the process of mapping as well. TomTom, for example, kept suggesting a right turn from the main ITO redlight on the Vikas Marg towards Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. Not only is that road closed now due to construction, but even earlier a right turn from there was never allowed.

First Published: Jun 21, 2012 21:49 IST