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Sunday, March 18, 2012

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Mio C520 review

Mio_c520_review

UPDATE: This model has been discontinued. For current recommendations, please refer to our auto GPS buyers guide or check out our other Mio GPS reviews.

I’ve spent the last ten days or so trying out the Mio C520, also known as the Mio DigiWalker C520. This one is going to give Garmin a run for their money. I was impressed from the moment I took the unit out of the box – this GPS receiver looks great and feels great. It offers high-end features at a very reasonable price point.

Before we get into the details, lets talk about the basic feature set. The Mio C520 comes pre-loaded with TeleAtlas maps of the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. It has a thin, flat form factor, 4.3" wide touch screen, SiRFstar III chipset, 6 million POIs, an MP3 player, Bluetooth for hands free cell phone use, and can be upgraded for live traffic. The C520 features text-to-speech, so you’ll get "turn left on Highway 128" instead of just "turn left." Heck, this device can even play videos! If you don’t want all those bells and whistles, be sure to check out the budget-priced Mio C220. To see how the Mio C520 compares to other units, check out my Mio GPS comparison chart.

This unit does it all, and that is its strong suit. In the main menu screen below, you can see options for audio, video and pictures.

Mio_c520_main_menu

Note the Settings option in the screen shot above. These are hardware
settings. Once you go into MioMap, there are other settings options as
well.

Compare prices on the Mio C520


I’ll come back to some of the other main menu features later, when I discuss the pros and cons of the unit, but since the Mio C520 is first and foremost a navigation device, I want to delve right into that aspect of it.

The Mio C520 has numerous strengths, a couple of which bear mentioning right off the bat. One is the degree to which you can get in "under the hood" and fiddle with its settings. The inability to do this with Garmin’s nuvi and StreetPilot c5xx lines has led to some complaints. Another distinguishing feature is the split-screen map interface, shown and discussed below.

Mio C520 split screen

Mio_c520_split_screen_2

I really like this feature; it provides all the information you need at a glance, including distance to turn and direction of next maneuver, distance to destination, and speed. It also gives your estimated time of arrival, the current time and estimated time en route.

At the lower right portion of the screen are four icons which will place different information on the right side split-screen panel. The first is the information panel shown above. If there is no satellite lock, or you are not navigating to a destination, you will simply see the current time and a speedometer as shown below.

Mio_c520_without_lock

The second split-screen panel is the POI screen, shown below. This screen shows the nearest POIs, and they are numbered on the map panel. In the screen shot below, nine pages of POIs are available. Tapping a POI centers it on the map; a second tap brings up additional information about the POI, including the address and phone number, with options to route to the POI or dial the phone number.

Mio_c520_poi_screen

The third split-screen panel is for the TMC receiver’s traffic information, as shown below. I did not purchase a TMC receiver and was not able to test this feature. The TMC receiver may actually not even be available yet. I’ve seen reports that it will be shipping later this year.

Mio_c520_tmc_screen

The final split-screen panel is the itinerary, which shows route maneuvers.

Mio_c520_route_screen

Tapping a maneuver or street brings up one of my favorite C520 features, allowing you to avoid a certain maneuver or street. This lets you take a preferred route without having to endure "recalculating" commands ad nauseum before the unit figures out what you want to do.

Mio_c520_route_avoidances

Mio C520 map screen

Now that we’ve covered the right-hand side of the split-screen, lets look at the left-side — the map.

In the screen shot below, you’ll see two rows of translucent touch-screen buttons on the left and right sides of the map panel. On the left side are controls to zoom in and out, or tilt the 3-D map up or down. The 30 in a red circle is the current speed limit, which is only shown where that information is known. I do not recall seeing that show up in my out of town tests, nor have I seen it in the small town where I live.

Mio_c520_map_screen

On the right side, the first control is a map orientation and overview button, which flips between north up, track up and overview.  The overview mode is a much more effective way to zoom out and see a larger portion of your route, as opposed to using the zoom tools on the left.

The next button brings up the satellite screen providing, among other things, coordinates and elevation. Pressing the battery symbol actually takes you to the settings screen, giving you access to general, sound, route, language and advanced settings. Subtle variations in the satellite and battery icons provide status information directly on the map screen. The last icon on the right side of the map screen opens the Bluetooth window.

At three corners of the map panel are other controls. The top right arrow removes the split-screen, devoting the full 4.3" screen to the map panel. The Menu button, takes you to the screen below, offering quick access to the frequently used tools. It has three tabs – Find, Quick (settings) and Route.

Mio_c520_map_menu

The lower right arrow on the map panel opens the Cursor menu (shown below), which is used after you select a location to navigate to.

Mio_c520_cursor_menu

Mio C520 maps and routing

The Mio C520 uses TeleAtlas maps and offers three choices for how routes are calculated — Short, Fast and Economical. Some users have reported bizarre routing, possibly caused by using the "short" option.  I tested the unit using the "fast" option and had no such problems.

I live in a very small town so I made a two-day trip to the northern end of the San Francisco Bay region to test the unit in a more urban setting. During my tests there, I noticed no problems with the C520’s routing. However, back in my home town, I did see a tendency to try to redirect me back to a major thoroughfare if I was taking a back street to my home, even though I was only blocks away from my destination. My nuvi 660 did better; not only did it not redirect me back to the highway, it successfully called out the turn I wanted to make that would parallel the main drag.

This is just a minor annoyance though. I expect that the Mio C520 will perform well in most cases.

An "Optimize" function supposedly solves the traveling salesman problem, finding the shortest route when multiple Vias are included. I’m not sure how sophisticated the algorithm is for this though; it gave me some strange and inefficient results. You can easily move Vias around in a route if you don’t like the optimized order however.

The descriptions above explore only some of the myriad features of the Mio C520. At this point, I’ll go into the units pros and cons, lest this review turn into a substitute owners manual!

Compare prices on the Mio C520

Mio C520 pros

  • For a device as complex as this one, it is amazingly intuitive.
  • The split screen is a very nice feature. I especially like being able to see my current speed and the various ways time is reported relative to yourdestination.
  • Six million points of interest (POIs).
  • The Mio C520 screen is bright, perhaps not quite as good as the ones on Garmin nuvis, but quite legible.
  • A smart keyboard restricts you to valid selections and reduces typos. The keyboard can be set to QWERTY or ABC.
  • The Find > Address screen defaults to recent cities, and allows you
    to search by zip code and navigate to a city center (useful for vias).
  • Multi-segment routing.
  • As previously stated, you can avoid a maneuver or route segment, allowing you to customize a route with your preferences.
  • In case of traffic problems, a "Bypass" function allows you to
    leave your planned route, rejoining it after your choice of 1, 2, 5, 10
    or 20 miles.
  • Unlike my Garmin nuvi, it allows you to conduct a full search while navigating. If you are searching for a POI while navigating with a nuvi, it will kick you out of the search, returning you to the map screen each time a turn is announced. Then you have to start the search over. With the Mio, verbal directions for your current destination continue while you search for a new destination.
  • Safety cameras can be added. If you know where the red light cameras in your area are located, and you have the time and inclination, you can add them yourself.

Presentation and management of POIs is also well thought out:

  • Major POI categories such as lodging and shopping default to a series
    of screens showing major chains, making it incredibly easy to find the
    nearest Holiday Inn, Costco, etc.
  • As an ethnic food aficionado, I love the fact that restaurant subcategories include Creole-Cajun, Indian, Thai and Vietnamese. Then there is the Microbrewery / Beer Garden selection!
  • You can customize which POIs show on the map, allowing you to show some without overwhelming the map with clutter. I chose gas stations, Asian restaurants and rest areas.

Mio C520 cons

  • The unit has a lengthy start up sequence and time to first fix (TTFF). From pressing the power button to satellite lock took 1 minute and 12 seconds versus 45 seconds for my nuvi 660.
  • The Mio C520 doesn’t tell you if your destination is on the right or left.
  • It doesn’t come with a case.
  • While the suction material is high quality, some aspects of the mount leave a lot to be desired. It is bulky, and the power cord must be disconnected to separate the unit from the mount. Furthermore, the mount seems fragile. To reduce the possibility of theft, I often take the mount down and throw it in the passenger floor board, taking the GPS with me. I could see how a passenger’s foot could easily break the mount.
  • I could not get either my cell phone or my wife’s to work with the
    unit. They act like they pair, but then the C520 locks up. Others have reported similar problems so I’m hoping a firmware
    upgrade will fix it.
  • The unit doesn’t recognize daylight savings time until it locks onto satellites.
  • While you can record tracklogs, there is no simple way to extract them. Here’s the type of hacks people are using to do it.
  • There appears to be no way to create routes on a PC and transfer them to the device.
  • Because there are so many options and screens, this can be a confusing unit to operate. You may need to do a fair amount of customization to get the unit to function the way you want it to. I’m not sure if I initially made the wrong choices during setup, but I ended up with a non-text to speech voice, yards as a navigation unit, a military time format, and a night-time screen, which made it impossible to see in the daytime. I was able to resolve all of those, but it took some time working through the options.
  • Since there are so many options, the interface is somewhat cluttered. Personally, I don’t find it as visually appealling as the Garmin nuvi interface.

Conclusion

The Mio C520 is a great little unit. You won’t find this combination of feature set, quality and reasonable price on any other brand or model. I’m comfortable giving it a strong recommendation, albeit with a couple of caveats.

This is a unit for someone who wants a high degree of customization, someone who wants to get under the hood and tweak the thing. It is a joy to use. But if you want an easy to use navigation device, that’s a no fuss solution, get a Garmin nuvi instead. I’ve discussed this more in a post on choosing between the Mio C520 and a nuvi.

Also, consider  how you use your GPS receiver. Do you take long solo trips, where you depend upon it? If so, plan your routes ahead of time and use only the most basic functions while en route. You don’t need distractions while driving. If, on the other hand, you’re usually accompanied by a tech savvy passenger, this could be the ideal unit for you.

Again, for such a complex device, I am quite impressed with the intuitive nature of the C520. But you definitely want to peruse the manual with this one.

More Mio C520 reviews


I’ll be posting more hands on GPS reviews as they appear, but in the meantime, here are some…


Other Mio C520 resources



Compare prices on the Mio C520 at these merchants:


About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.

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