Re(al)view: Insignia NS-CNV20 4.3" GPS

Re(al)view: Insignia NS-CNV20 4.3" GPS

Gregory Han
Feb 26, 2009

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We've been testing our first portable GPS unit for the last two months, using it on interstate trips and also day-to-day commutes, mostly getting to our destinations faster and easier. The Insignia NS-CNV20 4.3" GPS unit is as deluxe as they come spec wise: cellphone Bluetooth integration, real-time traffic routing and updates, Google local search, email address transfer, gas/food/accommodation search with 1 year free of data connectivity service. But in everyday use, this new unit revealed some flaws that made using it a pendulum of joy and horror while traveling...

Let's start off with the good things. As noted, the Insignia NS-CNV20 GPS is a portable and in-car unit with a large 4.3" screen, preloaded with US maps and 2 million points of interest out the box. The WAAS-enabled GPS receiver is partnered with a cellular modem, giving the NS-CNV20 access to up-to-the-minute traffic updates and offers more efficient routes. During our test period traveling into Las Vegas from Los Angeles, this real-time traffic feature proved valuable in neighborhoods we weren't acquainted with and the hands-off Bluetooth integration with our iPhone was a welcome feature as we sped into town. Turn by turn directions were offered clearly, though our unit's robotic voice had a strange insistence of pronouncing "avenue" as "ah-vin-yoooo" in a feminine Inspector Clouseau voice. The NS-CNV20 won brownie points in our book for offering a "sports car" graphic on their map display which matched our own car, a small detail that somehow personalized the unit further. We think it would be a great option if all units would allow users to customize their car's graphic specific to their own auto model.

Our favourite feature offered is the ability to email Google Map destinations directly from our home computer to the GPS unit before heading out on a trip; the unit is assigned it's own email which quickly receives addresses and notes sent to via Gmail. We loaded up our unit with destinations before leaving and it made accessing them while driving a simple task. Great, so far.

Startup of the unit is neither fast nor slow, with the GUI fairly well thought out and easy to use right out of the box. The large screen makes touch screen use easy for large hands, though we note the touchscreen exhibits some input issues when typing at speeds faster than what your mom would press, causing some annoying spelling errors. The screen is also is prone to be illegible due to glare, a common occurrence driving here in sunny Southern California.

Initially our first few weeks using the NS-CNV20 was fairly trouble free. Our above-mentioned trip out to Las Vegas for CES was aided quite gallantly by the unit's ability to track our distance, route us along the freeway and eventually lead us into a fairly new suburban tract of homes in Sin City without missing a beat. We were impressed and wondered how we had survived without real-time GPS (our iPhone is okay, but no turn-by-turn makes it a bit of a short bus player compared to a dedicated unit). No issues until we began using the unit back in Los Angeles where more everyday traffic use revealed several flaws that hampered our experience from falling into the fully positive range.

First off, the bracket and dock combination included with this device has a tendency to allow the unit to wiggle free from its seated position. Several times while driving over bumps or road construction sections common to urban destinations, the GPS unit literally jumped and fell out of its cradle, sliding underneath seats or at our feet. The first few times we blamed ourselves for incorrectly locking the unit. But after several instances of checking carefully that the unit was locked into place at the onset of our trip, we deemed the dock poorly designed at holding the large sized unit in less than smooth conditions. The suction cup bracket also released itself from the fairly smooth metal panel a few times; to test, we applied it to our windshield and it fell off twice while driving in transit. As you can see from the photos, our unit got cosmetically scratched because of its suicidal tendencies. We found ourselves searching under our seats one too many times and began just keeping the unit in the passenger seat or in the hands of our girlfriend as we drove.

The other major flaw with the NS-CNV20 is its habit of losing tracking on roads parallel to major freeways. Here in Los Angeles, it's common for roads to run alongside major freeways while merging on or off, or just offering a on-street route. The NS-CNV20 would often lose its bearings, unsure whether we were on or off the freeway, even if we were a far distance (more than a lane) away from being on or off the highway/freeway. In its confused state, the NS-CNV20 would have to recalculate coordinates, occasionally freezing up and requiring restart, defeating the purpose of a operating a GPS unit, and resulting in having to pull over while the unit was reset.

So as it stands, we think the NS-CNV20 is a feature rich unit with some serious flaws that make it difficult to recommend in regards to both safety and utility. We're in the process of purchasing a new car and our experience with the NS-CNV20 was positive enough for us to want either integrated navigation or an external unit similar in size to the Insignia unit. But because of the flaws noted above, we can't recommend the NS-CNV20 except for drivers who commute short distances and upon fairly smooth roads all of the time. Hopefully future units address these issues, because in many respects the NS-CNV20 is exactly what we want and need from a GPS unit...just better.

The Insignia NS-CNV20 is available at Best Buy for $349.99

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