I’ve spent the last few weeks driving around with Mio’s new Moov S501 GPS device and overall I’m happy with the experience. While the 4.7-inch touchscreen unit isn’t sold in Canada, Mio was kind enough to let me try one out in my hometown of Winnipeg. After all, the GPS unit does come with maps of Canada and Puerto Rico, despite the United States target market. So, after a few weeks of doing my best to throw the Mio S501 the toughest tricks I could think of, I’ll give you my impressions.
Removing the Mio S501 from the packaging, the first thing I noticed is how thin and lightweight the GPS unit is. At only 1.6 centimeters deep and weighing 159.6 grams, the S501 is small enough to easily fit into your pocket or backpack to use when navigating as a pedestrian.
The 4.7-inch anti-glare touchscreen is surrounded by a black and maroon bezel that’s simple and attractive. At the top of the unit is a sliding power switch and a Main Menu button is found on the top-left of the screen, under which is a small battery life indicator light. All of the other functions are accomplished by icons on the display keeping the overall design minimal, as I think it should be. There is also a small hole above the Main Menu button behind which is the microphone for voice commands.
On the bottom of the unit is a USB port for connecting to your computer to use the included MioMore Desktop 2 software, export saved trip information and receive map updates. There is also a slot at the bottom for the in-car charger and a small slot in the bottom backside of the unit for cradle-mounting. Both the cradle mount and a sticky pad for attaching it to the dashboard or windshield is included, and is simple to use.
Getting a First GPS Fix
For the Moov S501’s first and most comprehensive trial (which I’ll use as my reference in this review) I first tried to navigate the streets of Winnipeg, and then drove to Victoria Beach, roughly 115 kilometers northeast of the city. Upon leaving and turning on the Mio S501 it only took a few seconds to get a GPS fix with clear skies. The unit found my location with a margin of error limited to my apartment building parking lot.
Once a GPS fix is acquired you have a plethora of options to choose from. You can Find a place relative to your GPS location, by keyword, zipcode or street address. You can plan a trip, explore a database of over 12 million points of interest, find the nearest gas stations, restaurants, parking lots, banks and cash machines, and nearby tourist attractions. In case of an emergency there is also a dedicated SOS menu from which you can quickly get directions to local hospitals and doctors offices.
You can plan a trip very easily by searching for a destination manually, finding it on a map, or choosing from the My Places menu if you’ve previously saved favorite locations. Once you plan a route, as I did from Winnipeg to Victoria Beach, immediately you’ll receive voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. You can choose from three different voices: the default Samantha whose voice sounds like something from a telephone switchboard, US male or US femaie. Samantha is the smartest of the bunch as she says street names and speaks a variety of languages including English, French and Spanish. The other two voices don’t say street names and only speak in English.
In addition to the choice of voices, there a ton of other possible configurations as well. You can choose 2D or 3D maps; 4 possible routing options including shortest, fastest and economical; types of roads to avoid such as unpaved roads, toll roads and ferry routes; speed limit warnings; and, options such as power management, unit measurement type, and screen brightness. All of the configuration options are found under the My Mio icon.
The unit also has a Travel Book POI search feature though the only default city preloaded on my test unit was Los Angeles.
I had very few performance problems with the Mio S501 and was impressed with the overall experience. The new Spirit interface is intuitive and easy-to-use and the addition of the unobtrusive Main Menu button makes it easy to move back and forth between different menus. The only complaint I have with the UI interaction is the touchscreen sensitivity. Much of the time I found I’d tap the display only to get no response. It can’t be a fleeting tap like you can get away with on the iPhone. It has to be deliberate and at times the response is slow. This was a bit of an annoyance to me while driving, but given the performance success in other areas, it’s a minor inconvenience.
Planning a route is simple. As I mentioned above, it only requires a few steps to find a destination once your location is found. Once you’ve done that, pressing the Go button will return a planned route within a couple of seconds. The voice guidance works well. Before a turn you’re warned once roughly 20 to 30 seconds before it comes, and then again 4 or 5 seconds before–just in case you weren’t paying attention.
If you miss a turn, it only takes a few seconds to re-route. The only problem I had with the re-routing feature happened near the end of Highway 59 which ends on the shore of Lake Winnipeg. Unfortunately, the S501 didn’t want to route that far as some of the newer sideroads weren’t mapped. Once I disobeyed Samantha she went nuts, repeating to perform a u-turn over and over…and over, again. I forgave her though.
Searching for POIs within Winnipeg was simple and returned the results I would expect. Depending on what category you choose, you’ll receive a list of results ordered from the nearest to furthest away. Click on your POI of choice and you’ll receive address information, a phone number (which you can call from your cell over Bluetooth), and a Go button which will route you there instantly. I did find the POI search almost devoid of places once I was roughly 30 minutes outside of Winnipeg.
There is also a real-time traffic option accessible from the Main Menu, but it requires a separate TMC traffic receiver so I didn’t have the option of testing it.
The Bottom Line
Overall I was impressed with the performance, ease of use and design of the Mio Moov S501. The touchscreen could be slightly more responsive and I wish the battery life was a bit longer than 2.5 hours. While the battery life isn’t a problem when the unit is being used in the car as it can be plugged in, it would be nice if it was a bit longer for pedestrian use.
At the same time, a more powerful battery would mean a thicker design, and most of us have either handheld GPS units or GPS-enabled mobile phones for pedestrian navigation. The cheapest price I’ve found online is $150 at Radio Shack (until August 22) after which it’ll be $200–definitely worth the price. I’m giving the Mio Moov S501 a BUY rating.