Nokia 500 Personal Navigation Device

n500I have been using a Garmin Nuvi 370 for a while and I have my gripes about it. But I am not quite ready to shell out another big chunk of change for one more overpriced Garmin. I have been a S60 user for a long time. Therefore ever since Nokia started putting its Nokia Maps on some of the S60 devices I have wanted to try out this technology on a real GPS device. For me a phone GPS does not yet do the job unless I am walking around some downtown. So I was mildly interested in checking it out when Nokia announced the 500 device last year. There was the 330 before that. But it used Route 66 software. The 500 uses the same Nokia Maps technology that is on their S60 devices and it had arrived in the form of Smart2Go via the Gate5 acquisition.

Of course, the Navteq acquisition does not hurt either. Maybe that is why the CD contains maps for multiple continents. Garmin will charge me an arm and a leg for that.  So when I recently saw the 500 on for sale at for $99 which is much cheaper than the list or retail price I decide to go for it and after taking it out for few spins I think I am probably happy at that price point.

Good things

  • Satellite fix seems to be reasonably quick.
  • The UI is clean and less cluttered compared to other units. Clean well separated buttons are always welcome while driving. the 4.3″ screen obviously helps. It is also very snappy.
  • The audio feedback is loud and audio quality is good.
  • I like the Info layering approach of selecting what POIs I want to see, even though I do not think the POI database is quite adequate for use in suburbia.
  • Has many features like Bluetooth integration with phones, FM transmitter, TTS, Traffic information, Intermediate Waypoint insertion, Alternate routing, Trip management.
  • Traffic information update does not require subscription and the Traffic antenna is integrated into the charger cable.
  • Alternate routing is something I am eagerly waiting to explore.
  • The Bluetooth connectivity with my E71 was obviously easy as it should be. But I am not sure how well it works with other vendor’s phones.
  • Since Nokia owns Navteq now, I hope the map updates will be cheap or free!

Not so good

Buttons to pay extra attention to

Buttons to pay extra attention to

  • The Map rendering can definitely be better when compared to other devices out there. The lines are not as crisp as they should be and the continuous map refresh leads to uneven rendering of characters. The current rendering of Nokia Maps looks ok for a phone, but it needs to be stepped up a notch for a 4.3″ screen device. Definitely diminishes the wow factor, if there is any.
  • PC software support non-existent except the updater.  I would like to have POI uploader etc. Right now the set of POI is fixed or Whatever came with the map. I would like to have offline trip creation on PC and then upload it to the device. With my Garmin I was able to locate and download POIs from Google Earth and then upload them into the device. Given Nokia’s PC Suite legacy I would think something like that should be in the works.
  • UI usability needs work particularly in terms of intuitiveness of app flow. Most of these are soft issues. But I do believe there is one hard issue.
  • It is when the main menu button (see A in the image) is pressed in the middle of an in-progress route navigation. If you press that and choose Navigation, there does not seem to be a way to cancel out and go back to the route screen besides having to recreate the route by selecting the destination again. This does not seem to be the case if I select music or photo option from the main menu. So do not press that main menu button and go into Navigation while en route.
  • The other thing that can be quite irritating while driving is – it is very hard to tap on a POI while driving and get details on it. The touch screen area that identifies a POI is probably very small and the fact that the map is moving does not help.
  • The selection button on the right bottom corner (see B in the image) of the screen seems to be the most important for in-context operation and yet somehow it is not that obvious. Its position needs to be more relevant to immediate task that the user is doing and sometimes the label graphic which changes depending on the screen, is not adequate to highlight its importance.
  • Often a one line text field is used to do search and display results and it is not obvious when there are multiple matches. You need to tap on another button or at times on the text field itself to open up that list.
  • Sometimes it is not that obvious on some of the screens what are my next available steps, even though on surface the UI design looks clean and simple.
  • I guess lot of these are soft usability issues and after some initial difficulty somebody will get used to the behavior. I probably will too.
  • The POI database needs to be larger.
  • The holder and cradle are big and needs to hang from windshield. I am not sure if a base accessory exists. Repeated removal of the holder from windshield can eventually weaken the seal like it did for my Nuvi. But leaving it there can be a magnet for would be car burglers.
  • Address entry process is non intuitive.
  • Not all included voices are TTS capable. Only one of the three included voices is.
  • Automatic change of daytime to nighttime display mode does not seem to work all the time.
  • If you have the map set up to display in track up mode, like I do, touching anywhere makes it go into North Up mode. Not a good thing especially if you are trying to move the map around with your finger, without getting disoriented.

None of the shortcomings are dealbreaker for me, specially at $99! Given its screen size and cleaner look and snappy response I think I will get used to the usability quirks and will it use it more often than the Nuvi. That is until I find out the POI database is inadequate or the directions it comes up with are no good. Hopefully it will not.

Music and photos on a navigation device are not important to me. To others I guess these can be nice extras to have. I have been a Nokia phone user for a long time and it is hard not to miss the similarities when it comes to UI elements. It is feature rich like Nokia S60 phones. But more work is needed for the thing to hang together as a great package. The same reason why people flock to iPhone over other brands.

This is Nokia’s second standalone navigation device. I think it would be fair to expect a nicer device in its next iteration. N810 also has GPS capability which I don’t use much. Given Nokia’s already existing hardware expertise and an enlarging business ecosystem I would think a Dash like device could be in play here for Nokia. Dash seems to be struggling and laying off people and getting out of hardware business. Hardware has been Nokia’s bread and butter.



Filed under gadgets

2 responses to “Nokia 500 Personal Navigation Device

  1. damba

    does this mean that nokia 500 has US and European map ready to use, unlocked. Thanks.

  2. I have not tried loading European maps myself yet. I think I will soon. Here is something I found on Nokia’s website.

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