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The old adage 'you get what you pay for' still holds true, even with modern electronics such as the low priced Via Michelin X-930 GPS navigation unit.

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Via Michelin X-930 GPS Navigation Unit

Small and compact, but disappointingly underfeatured
 

The Via Michelin X-930 is small and compact, but note the wasteful use of screen space, leaving very little room for the actual map itself.

Part of our series on GPS - additional articles to be published in coming weeks.

 

 

The Via Michelin X-930 GPS receiver promises to be an appealing unit at a great price.  But, this promise is massively broken.  The unit suffers from irrational and inexplicable limitations and problems.  It is difficult to understand and use, and not nearly as flexible as other units.

Accordingly, this unit is a poster child example of how a unit can look great on paper (and get good generic reviews from reviewers who apparently have done nothing other than read the press release) but which is completely unsuitable for normal people and normal uses.

Not recommended.  If you're looking for a small size low price unit, choose the vastly superior GlobalSat GV-370 instead.


Via Michelin X-930 Overview

Michelin are best known for their travel guides, books that enjoy a very high quality reputation.  They moved into offering GPS receivers in Europe a couple of years ago and are now expanding into the North American market.

The X-930 went on sale in the US in December 2006.  It has already been superseded in Europe by first the X-950 and subsequently the big screen X-980, but these newer units are not yet (March 2007) available in the US.

At first blush, the X-930 has a lot going for it.  It comes from a respected supplier; it is small and lightweight, and has an acceptably large 3.5" screen.  Best of all, its list price of $299 has been discounted to $199 by Amazon, making it - in terms of price - one of the very best value units currently being sold.

But this unit is a classic example of how a unit that looks good on paper massively disappoints in real world testing.  Its user interface is obtuse and difficult to follow, and much of the screen is wasted with unnecessary and overly large data.

Programming is difficult, and unlike many competing units, simply using it to show you where you are is not a default action, but instead requires you to work through five layers of non-intuitive menus.

The design of the maps is also poor, with roads at certain scales being shown as thin orange lines against a lighter orange background.  This makes them almost completely invisible!

And, talking about scale, you have no way of knowing what scale the map is being displayed at.  Does an inch on the screen represent 100 feet or 100 miles?  Regrettably, we're not told that important information.

There are plenty of other quirks and failings, too.  For example, we can't get the unit to show our direction, in a straight line along a road, as a straight vertical line on the screen (as is uniformly the case with every other unit we've ever seen).  Instead, it is displayed as a slanting line from the bottom left part of the screen to the top right part of the screen.  When we called and asked Via Michelin's help desk about this, they variously didn't know what we meant, couldn't explain why the path was oriented that way, and were unable to fix the problem.

Using the Unit

The unit turns on and off instantly which is nice, and doesn't treat you to any warning screens about using the unit carefully when driving, which is even nicer still.

The unit had good sensitivity to satellite signals, even inside the vehicle with no external antenna, with at times as many as ten satellites being locked on.  But it sometimes took five minutes or more to get a 'lock' on sufficient satellites as to know where it was and be able to start helping you with directions - this is way too long; imagine having to wait five minutes or longer before being able to start your journey.  This is longer than other units, but might be reduced if you added an external antenna.

The screen is crisp and clear, but as soon as we confronted the main screen we found ourselves reaching for the manual.  The three options offered - 'Navigate to', 'Plan your journey' and 'Settings' were confusing when all we wanted to do was display the map and see where we currently were.

To get the unit to do this basic function, we had to follow this complicated sequence :

1.  Choose 'Plan your journey'
2.  Choose 'Display a Map'
3.  Choose 'Map Options'
4.  Choose 'Center Map'
5.  Choose 'on GPS position'

This is completely counter-intuitive.  The difficulty in mastering the unit is compounded by having sometimes strange symbols rather than names on the buttons on the front of it.  All in all, we could never adequately understand how to get the best use out of the unit.  Sure, we could have committed ourselves to an intensive course of study and practice, but that would not help us if we then didn't touch the unit for three months, because we'd for sure forget everything about the unit in the meantime and have to relearn everything once more.

This poorly designed interface is aggravated further by Via Michelin's penny pinching decision not to include a manual with the unit.  You have to go online and download a copy from their website instead.

In terms of actually using the unit, it suffers from significant drawbacks in that area, too.  As the picture at the top of this page shows, about half the screen is used for various informational displays, leaving only a slim narrow band in the middle for the map.  This is regrettable for two reasons - firstly it is a shame to waste so much valuable screen on this information, and secondly, when you're using the unit, most of the time you're interested in what is ahead of you, rather than what is on either side of you.  If Via Michelin really did need to use parts of the screen for the other information, it should do this on the sides, not on the top and bottom.

And for a really illogical arrangement, if you have the unit simply showing where you are on a map, the map is fixed in a north up direction - most of the time you'd want it to be in a 'direction of travel up' direction instead, but when you have the unit set to direct you somewhere, it switches into the direction of travel up mode.  Unlike most other units, it is impossible for you to change directional modes yourself.

Most people use their GPS in what I'd call 'active' or 'passive' modes.  In active mode, they have programmed in a destination and are using the GPS to guide them to that destination.  In passive mode, they are just using it as a moving map to see where they are.  This unit works acceptably (but not excellently) in active mode, but in passive mode it is very disappointing, showing little information on the screen.

In active mode, the unit was sometimes struggling to give us turn information ahead of when the turn appeared on the map, and unlike many units, it didn't clearly highlight exactly where and how to make turns.

There are problems and poorly thought out issues with many different parts of this unit's operation.  One other thing we really disliked was the lack of a scale on the map.  We had no way of knowing if the scale as zoomed in or out, and by how much.

Recalculating directions was automatic, and moderately fast, but not as quick as some units we've used.

For some strange reason, the unit decides that you've reached your destination way before you have.  Sometimes I could be five miles away from the destination and the unit switches from turn by turn guidance to triumphantly telling me I've arrived.  Wrong.

The Bottom Line

Much as we wanted to like this unit, we feel it to be a frustrating waste of money with no redeeming features.

You're much better advised to buy a unit with a more user-friendly interface and better laid out map and screen graphics.

Feature Analysis
 

Feature

Test Unit

Model

Via Michelin X-930

Price

$299 list, $199 at Amazon

Review Date/Details

Tested March 2007.

Version 5.0.0-AMN - Build 36 software in the test unit

Warranty

One year

Support

Via Email or (800) number 9am-7pm M-F EST.

Two test calls to phone support revealed short hold times, with one unskilled and one very helpful support person.

Inclusions

The unit comes complete with most things you'd need :

The unit itself
Windshield mounting bracket
Dash mounting adapter
Mains power adapter
Car power adapter
USB cable to connect to a computer
1GB SD card with US map preloaded
DVDrom with US and Canada map data
Quick Start guide in English and French

The unit does not have any type of carry case and neither does it come with an external antenna.

Runs out of the box

Yes, all you need to do is insert the SD card, turn it on, answer four or five easy configuration questions, and the unit is then immediately ready for use.

Warning - the unit might be ready for use, but you'll need to spend some considerable time learning its quirks before you can effectively use it!

Size

Unit measures 2.8" x 4.7" x 0.7".

The mounting adapter is a large ungainly and heavy device.

Weight

unit by itself = 5.0 oz

unit, mounting device, power cable = 15 oz.

Mounting Accessories

A rather ungainly looking mounting bracket can be affixed to the windshield with a very strong suction cup or to to dashboard with an adhesive mounting plate.

Screen Size

3.5" diagonal

2.25" x 2.85" = 3:4 aspect ratio

Screen Pixels

240 x 320 pixels

106 pixels/inch vertically

112 pixels/inch horizontally

Screen Colors

 

Screen Visibility

Fair.  Screen is reasonably bright, but colors are poorly chosen (eg bright orange streets on a pale orange background).

Screen Backlighting

Yes, multiple levels offered.

Day/Night Mode

Manual switching between day and night modes, which includes an automatic dimming/brightening of the screen.

Colors change as part of the mode change.

Controls

The unit has two volume buttons on the left, four 'main menu' type buttons on the right, an on/off switch on the top, and a SD card lock switch, also on the top, which prevents the unit from writing data to the SD card.

Interactive help files available

No

Limited functionality when moving

No

Graphics processor speed

Fair

GPS Receiver

SiRF Star III

Max number of satellites simultaneously tracked

12

WAAS enhanced

No

Dead reckoning capability

No

Satellite display

Yes, but it only shows the satellites on a bar chart, with each bar color and length representing if the unit is locked onto that satellite and the strength of the signal being received.

Accuracy calculation

No

Can the unit show you your current latitude and longitude and compass heading

Yes, on the satellite signal screen

Can the unit show you your current altitude

No

Can the unit show you the exact time

No - it can show you the time, but it doesn't seem to synchronize its internal clock with the satellite time.

External antenna capability

Yes, has a MMCX connector for an external antenna, but Via Michelin don't sell external antennas and didn't know if the unit requires a powered or passive antenna.

CPU processor speed

312MHz processor with 32MB of RAM.  This is only moderately fast compared to other units.

Trip Computer functions

No.  It can be set to display instantaneous speed in some display modes, but no other information is available.

Battery Type

Internal lithium polymer.

Battery Life

Said to be good for 3 - 5 hours between charges, depending on screen brightness.

Power Input

Yes, it has a mini USB port on the bottom of the unit, which in theory allows it to be charged via any external USB type charger, or to be powered while working.

But, theory and reality yet again collide.  Bizarrely, the unit will only recharge when you're using its own supplied power supply.  Yet another power supply to carry with you on your travels.

Via Michelin could not explain why the unit wouldn't recharge via any other usual USB power source, and this is probably the stupidest of the - alas, too many - stupid features on this disappointing unit.

Auto Power On/Off

No auto on/off, but will switch off if no movement for an extended period of time.

 

Mapping

Map provider

Navteq

Countries provided

US & Canada - US on SD card, Canada on DVD rom that needs to be copied to a SD card before it can be used.

Update policy, frequency and cost

Promise annual updates, with the first due in late fall/early winter 2007.

Pricing not set but will be discounted to people who register their units.

Other countries also available

Currently none; but have plans to add Europe in the future

How is map data loaded into the GPS receiver

Master information is on a DVD-rom disk, information is loaded into the receiver via an SD card.

Can the entire US be loaded into the unit

The unit holds all of the US but not Canada.

Speaks Directions

Yes

Speaks Street Names

No

Languages spoken

English (American female), French, Spanish, German, Italian

2D/3D

Yes

Can you choose between North up or Direction of Travel up

No.

Bizarrely, this unit doesn't have a direction of travel up orientation; instead, direction of travel is on a slant from about bottom left up to about top right.

This is crazy and confusing.

Split screen mode

No (and screen too small to allow this, anyway).

Map scale shown

No

Number of POIs provided

more than 1.5 million ViaMichelin qualified Points of Interest that allow users to easily find restaurants, lodging, gas stations, banks/ATMs and other businesses and services.

Number of user POIs that can be added

Unknown

POI information includes phone number

Yes for pre-programmed POIs, apparently no for user created POIs.

POI proximity alert

Bizarrely, this is available when navigating on a route, but not possible when simply driving without a programmed destination.

Speed limit warner

Yes, and warns you based on speeds you set for six different types of road you are on.  This is only moderately helpful, because, eg, a city street might have a 25 mph limit in one section and 35 mph in another.

Does it show both miles and kilometers

Yes

 

Route Planning

How to enter addresses and other data

ABСВ table layout

Can you build a multi-stop journey with waypoints

No

Will it solve the 'traveling salesman' puzzle

No

Can you program assumed speeds for different road types, and if so, how many different road types?

Yes, but only in 5mph increments.

Has six different types of roads.

Can you choose different settings for different types of vehicles

Yes, two - car and cycle.

Can you program preferences for road/route types

No

Does the unit present you with multiple route choices to choose from

No

Can you choose between fastest/quickest and shortest route options

Yes - choose from quickest or shortest, but you're not given any information about the distances or times involved.

Will it show breadcrumb trails?

No

 

Extra Features

Bluetooth

No

Export data to laptop

No

Can it play MP3 or other digital audio

No

Can it display MP4 or other digital video

No

Can it display pictures

No

Integrated with real time traffic reporting

No

Integrated with other location services

No

 

Read more in the GPS articles series

See the links at the top right of the page to visit other articles in our GPS series.

 

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Originally published 30 March 2007, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 

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