Navman Review: User Interface Hall of Shame

By | January 2, 2009

I remember this ancient site because of its description of those infuriating Lotus Notes command buttons. I came across those buttons as an IT guy trying to help my CEO with his new system. The way they operated was irritating, and patently wrong. Not “wrong” in one of those design-guru debates about which highlight colour to use, but properly wrong like a tap that turns the wrong way, or a “Hot” warning sign coloured blue.

Navman S200The Navman S200‘s user interface is wrong in the same way, and it’s wrong all over the place. It has been some time since I have been so immediately and utterly frustrated with an electronic device.

It starts from the first moment you power the device up. The S200, like most modern navigation GPS devices, is touch screen. The screen, you see, is designed to register touches. So what does one do after turning it on and being presented with a map? You touch the screen. Probably somewhere in the middle.

What happens next is enough – if you, like me are a “UI” person – to make you spit out your coffee and burst into laughter. The Navman sits there, and plays you a little popup video, showing that you are meant to touch the left edge of the screen to bring up a utility screen, not the middle of the screen. Silly rabbit! Unfortunately if you’re a regular Joe (plumber or otherwise), I imagine it is more frustrating than amusing. So then you touch the edge of the screen, and a utility window slides out. It has no scrollbar, and the bottom half is missing. At this point if you accidentally touch either edge of the screen, the utility window will slide away to that edge. So maybe you think back to that helpful little video and touch the left edge of the screen again? Bad luck if the utility window has slid to the right edge. And it just gets worse from there.

So I chuckled my way through using this device for several weeks. I tried to make it work. I tried to find the settings that would turn off that stupid video and instead do something useful with the initial “touch” but it is nowhere to be found. Even when you’ve been using the device correctly, located a destination, then you correctly tap on the distance indicator to get your trip details, it still plays the video to berate you for tapping incorrectly away from the edge of the screen.

Navman, if you read one thing, please let it be this: I rarely swear on this blog, but seriously, when you got to the point in testing that you realised you needed a fucking inline video to show people how to touch your touchscreen device, you should have realised that you were doing it wrong.

Navman calls the interface “Glide Touch”. This sounds lovely, but with an unsensitive, shiny, sticky, plastic screen and zero information telling the user when to scroll, Glide is the last thing on my mind. Eventually I discovered that the little blue line physically off the side of the screen was actually not a stylistic addition: it represented a button. Tapping that little blue line brings up a big-button menu. Again, with zero indication that there is more than one page of buttons. If you happen to accidentally slide your finger upwards, you see that the menu can “Glide” upwards, revealing a second page of buttons. Atrocious.

And then there is the reflective screen. It appears as if Navman have hidden the matte LCD behind a purely stylistic reflective screen that is difficult to read (and sometimes downright hazardous) in a moving vehicle.

So in conclusion, the new Navman S-series: counter-intuitive, irritating, badly designed, and just plain stupid. Zero stars out of any amount you care to think of. I wanted to love this device because Navman was originally a New Zealand company, but until they sort out the design and interface, please get a TomTom, or a Garmin, or anything else.

Update: Oh, I almost forgot, the S200 is “top of the range”, so it comes with a flakey FM transmitter and a bluetooth speakerphone that is too quiet for either party to hear the conversation at anything above walking speed.

23 thoughts on “Navman Review: User Interface Hall of Shame

  1. Kalena

    Hey Ben

    In your opinion, what is the best GPS device for geocaching? I would really love to buy an iPhone but can’t seem to find the Groundspeak iPhone app on iTunes in NZ so figure I need to get a regular GPS. What would you recommend?

    Reply
    1. Ben Gracewood Post author

      Hi Kalena

      Personally I use a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx for my Geocaching. It’s not ideal because you can’t actually look up cache info on it, but it is very compact and awesomely sensitive under trees (and even inside). I take printed info with me, or just remember this hints for the caches I’m looking for.

      I use GSAK to process the geocaching.com files that get emailed to me, and upload them to the GPS with Garmin’s POI Loader. I believe you can actually upload caches directly using http://my.garmin.com, but it sticks them in as Waypoints rather than Points of Interest which seems to clutter up the GPS.

      I’d love it if the iPhone had a more sensitive GPS, and if Groundspeak would release a proper API instead of being all walled-garden about their stuff. Pity.

      Reply
  2. HC

    Just RTFM. :)

    All you had to do to avoid all your problems was not to skip a tutorial when you first started your device. It’s just a handful of screens with nice pictures that explain all about new UI and even “little blue line”. I guess you not just skipped the tutorial but also selected the option to never show it again…

    As far as sliding “utility window with no scroll bar” goes, anyone who ever played with iPod Touch should figure it out pretty quickly. That includes all plumbers who, considering how much they charge, must all have iPhones. :)

    Animation that you mention is annoying but it doesn’t show up again once you successfully tap in the indicated area to open “utility window with no scroll bar” — until you turn off the device. However, if you just put S200 to sleep instead of turning it off completely (short tap on power button and then select “Sleep” instead of long press on power button which turns it off for long storage and air travel) then little animation won’t show up when you wake up S200 for next use.

    Reply
    1. Ben Gracewood Post author

      Almost everything you say is true, but it doesn’t change the fact that the interface sucks.

      I didn’t need a tutorial for the TomTom, and it offered me identical or better functionality. If the device needs a tutorial then it is too complicated. The pop-up windows and “scrolling” behaviour are pure eye candy and offer nothing over the normal modal interface of other devices.

      The whole thing screams “poor design” to me. Someone has gone to town with a colour palette and a drawing board, but hasn’t thought hard enough about how people actually use the device.

      Reply
      1. HC

        That just proves that no one can ever please everyone — I actually couldn’t quite figure out how that TomTom’s map screen works. No buttons, but taping on different bits of screens opens different menus which seemed pretty random to me since there is no obvious logical connection between screen area and menu that gets opened.

        Reply
    2. JC

      Regardless of the features being available, if a gadget veteran like Ben here struggles with the UI, something is wrong. It may be aimed at utter noobs, but real elegant design would cater for people of all skill levels, allowing top cats to skip inane tutorials and go straight to using the device intuitively.

      Reply
      1. HC

        That’s probably why Navman still sells units with previous UI (S35) — easy to use stuff for veterans, new cool stuff for younger generations.

        Reply
  3. gredge

    “…anyone who ever played with iPod Touch should figure it out pretty quickly.”

    Dude, seriously!

    1. Anyone who ever played with an iPod Touch didn’t need to RTFM, watch a tutorial, and still have inline video showing them they were using the interface wrong, in order to have an enjoyable experience. The Apple designers work hard to include all kinds of pixel-perfect and n00b-invisible cues to make sure you know what’s possible. Which leads me to:

    2. Expecting anyone who buys a NavMan unit to have had to have played with an iPod Touch prior to purchase is a pretty tall order (unless NavMan wants to give away an iPod Touch with each S200?).

    Designers who believe Apple has cracked the code, allowing them to throw out scrollbars, shadowing, and all the teensy user hints are kidding themselves.

    And when those designers work on a device that’s meant to be used in a moving vehicle by a confused/lost driver, they should be being TEN TIMES as careful. God forbid I should install an S200 in my car, then lend it to anyone in my family to drive my two kids around, unless they want to RTFM, watch the tutorial, watch the teeny inline video (that ONLY POPS UP WHEN YOU TOUCH THE SCREEN ANYWHERE BUT THE PLACE YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO TOUCH THE SCREEN, WHEN THE ONLY STEP AFTER TOUCHING THE SCREEN IS TO OPEN THE UTILITY WINDOW!) and then remember to scroll…

    I tried the S200 and was astounded at how counter-intuitive and difficult to use it was, even after becoming used to it. It’s not a well-designed product at all. Great pity.

    Reply
  4. gredge

    “Bad design is where the customer thinks it?s their fault that something doesn?t work. So if you can?t make your GPS device work in your car ? I mean, there should be a riot because they?re so poorly designed! Instead, the user thinks, ?Oh, I?m not very smart, I can?t make this GPS thing work.? People should demand more from the things they own, they need to demand that things work.” ? David Kelley, IDEO

    http://www.ideo.com/to-go/

    Reply
      1. gredge

        Um… you’re saying that because IDEO is allegedly more expert than I am at UI design, then this is all of a sudden usable?

        I love IDEO, but everyone has their off days, and this is one. Go watch someone who has never used an S200 before, try to use it. Don’t give them hints or tell them how it works, just let them use it and watch. And be a bit sad.

        Reply
  5. ojoj

    “So if you can?t make your GPS device work in your car ? I mean, there should be a riot because they?re so poorly designed!”

    Ah. Riot at IDEO, then? Say, knock-off time this afternoon?

    A (user)friendly riot, of course :-)

    Reply
  6. Martyn Price

    I agree totally. I just bought the s200 and feel I have wasted my money. Out of the box the device has the wrong time (Navman says its supposed to get the time from the satellite – maybe true – but for some reason my device has defaulted to the wrong time zone (Pacific Daylight Time) and I’m in Adelaide, SA!). Navman says they are working on a fix.

    I too had, and still have, difficulty with the ‘glide screen’. There seems to be nowhere to adjust its sensitivity. Sometimes it scrolls as desired but other times it selects an option or just wiggles the screen up and down. The scrollable regions that pop up (or out) seem to have no non-activate portion so you can safely scroll by gliding in that region only. If you are slightly heavy handed (or driving) its hard to be delicate that it scrolls rather than selects an unwanted option. Trying to select a POI or tap the ‘back’ buttons is a pain – if you are not quite spot on the screen jiggles about as though trying to avoide you!.

    But worst of all, the maps are pratically unreadable in the harsh Aussie sunlight. In walk mode you have to enter a shady spot to view the screen and then you usually end up loosing the GPS signal. The screen is really hard to see if you drive with polaroid sunglasses as all you see is a rainbow effect (not sure if this also an issue with other devices).

    I recently tested the device along side a MIO Digiwalker C520. The MIO device is much better at route calculation than the Navman. The voice prompts are better – clearer (although no street names are given), warn when you should change lanes or turn at a greater distance and seem to be more accurate. The Navman finds it hard to keep up especially on the winding roads of the Adelaide hills region, several times the prompt has ocurred right on top of the turn off or the device has rebooted forcing one to pull over, wait until the device has restarted and recalculated the route. The MIO maps are much easier to see and read, although way out of date for a 2008 model.

    Such a frustrating device.

    Reply
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  8. lesf

    I am pleased I read this blog first. I am doing some shopping to buy my son a GPS for his birthday. I had seriously considered the S200 and perhaps if he was happy, I would update my S90i. I went out today and had a fiddle at a retail shop and I agree it is NOT nice to use. I guess after a time, one could grow used to it but I don’t think it is worth it. I now have my sights on a GO 730.
    I guess, if they receive enough complaints, NAV may fix all the issues, but for my money it will go elsewhere.

    Reply
  9. Andy

    I was given an S200 as a birthday present and it definitely takes some time to come to terms with especially finger pressure on the screeen and it is counter intuitive for people who do not have an i-pod touch. My son has an s45 which is a breeze to use and functions as it should.
    I have already sent this unit back to Navman as it does not record distance accurately in fact travelling the same journey over several days gives results between 10 and 21 kms. not much help for logging trips.
    I now have the unit back and guess what it stil does the same inaccurate recording of trips so much for the repairs.
    The bluetooth connection is cumbersome so I have gone back to my Blueant and the MP3 /FM transmitter is so weak anyone driving past on the same frewquency overrides it.
    If you are going to purchase an incar GPS I would not recommend this model, after 2 months I am seeking a full refund and will go to a different brand.

    Reply
  10. Luke

    Wow kinda glad I got the “cheap” S35.. the UI is easy to use and logical. Seems there is sometimes advantages in not getting the top of the line ;-)

    Reply
  11. Fixer

    “Navman was originally a New Zealand company”
    They still are – Navman employs over 80 people in their Auckland development office. Unfortunately they’re now owned by Mitac, who also make the Mio device mentioned above, so decisions about IDEO-designed interfaces and popup videos are made by people in Taiwan with the engineering ability of an overripe banana.

    Reply
  12. Avowkind

    @HC
    IDEO designed the case for the older unit, and the UI for the new one. Both designs were severely compromised by cost cutting engineering decisions – e.g not to use correct touch screen technology.
    Apples ‘clue’ is that everything hw/sw/ui etc has to work together

    Thanks for the complements on the older UI. ;)

    Reply
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