Evesham BlueMedia BM-6380 GPS navigator
Review Low-cost GPS satellite navigation systems have largely kept the European PDA market afloat for the past few years. Connecting a cheap GPS receiver to a Palm OS or Windows Mobile-based handheld and bundling some route-planning code has proved a popular, inexpensive alternative to high-end, high-price dedicated navigation systems. But the market continues to evolve, and the focus is shifting once again to dedicated, but still low-cost units.
Take BlueMedia's BM-6380. It's essentially the same hardware as a PocketPC but with the PDA features stripped out and replaced with a more basic, navigation-centric user interface and control cluster. It may not have Windows Mobile, but it's still a Windows CE device. UK and Ireland street maps are pre-installed on the bundled SD card.
Turn the BM-6380 and you're presented with a UI that's positively Mac-like. Selecting Navigation installs the bundled route-planner, Destinator ND 5.1.126. It presents you with a typical map view, with icons on the left- and right-hand sides for quick access to extra information, menus and to toggle certain features. To the right of the landscape-oriented, 3.5in, 320 x 240, 65,536-colour screen is a five-way navigator, though it's behaviour is odd: the up and down arrows scroll the map in their respective directions, but the left and right arrows rotate the map. This makes sense - it allows you to 'drive' over map to follow the route you intend to take - but it's not how you expect the controls to work, so takes some getting used to.
Below the navigation control is a flag key to select Destinator's menu - pressing it over and over cycles through the menu's three pages. Underneath are zoom in and out keys. To return from the menu, press the button above the navigation control. Above it are two more buttons, one to return to the device's own menu, the other to turn it off. All the buttons are dimpled to make them easier to push with the BM-6380's telescopic stylus, though you're unlikely to be using this when the BM-6380's mounted in your car, for which the box contains all the necessaries. Still, I found the buttons too small to be easy to pushed with finger, as they need to be when the unit's fixed to the windscreen. They're flat and flush with the casing, which doesn't help.
But why use the controls on the unit? It's much easier to use the bundled remote control, which replicates all the unit's buttons and saves you having to reach over your steering wheel or across to some other part of the upper dashboard. A nice touch, the remote.
What it doesn't do, alas, is activate the on-screen buttons, which, like the physical ones, are too small and too close to the edge of the display to be comfortably pushed with your finger, particularly if you have large hands.
To complete our look around the hardware, there's a volume rocker control and earphone socket on the right-hand side. Underneath is the power port and as mini USB connector. Round the left-hand side, you'll find the SD card slot and an infra-red port, and on top sits the stylus release, recessed reset button and and external antenna connector.
On the back is the unit's GPS antenna, which folds out and rotates round like a stand. Pressing the menu button calls up a set of buttons through which to select a destination. You can enter an address, select a pre-installed location of interest - tourist attractions, airports, railway stations, garages, that kind of thing - or pull up lists of favouite locations and previously visited places.
You can also enter lists of roads to avoid, but with the exception of motorways, it only accepts street names, not road classifications. Roads you want to avoid have to be recorded in categories. You need to create the category first, then edit the items stored within it. You can tell Destinator to avoid each category, or tell it to steer clear of individual roads within them. I'd rather it cut to the chase and just presented a list of roads to avoid, but without support for road classifications it's practically useless anyway. The radio will tell you there's a hold-up on the A508 near Northampton, not what street the jam is in.
The UI for selecting streets to avoid is the same one used to enter destination addresses: select the city or town from the list or shortcut down by entering characters on the virtual keypad to the right of the list. The keypad works like a mobile phone: letters are clustered, so pressing the first button three times in rapid succession displays 'C' rather than 'A', and so on. It's just like texting, and it allows you to operate the device with your index finger - a virtual QWERTY pad might be more useful, but you'd have to use the stylus.
When you've got your town entered, tap 'street' to select the road you want in the same way, then press 'number' to enter the house number. There's an icon nearby you can click that takes you through a variety of destination entry modes: street, city, number; postcode, street; street, postcode; city, street, street for intersections; and then back to city, street, number. At any time you can call up a mini map to where the place you've selected is.
You can add multi-stop routes, called Trips, which are entered using the same approach as the avoided roads: create a trip then add waypoints to it.
With a route in place, you can preview the route on a turn-by-turn basis or as a list of directions, the latter providing an opportunity to reject a particular part of the route which forces an immediate route recalculation. You can reformat the route for pedestrian use or vehicular.
The BM-6380's UK supplier, Evesham, claims the device has "the most up-to-date and accurate maps available". Maybe they are, but that doesn't mean they are actually up to date. I used the unit to take me to visit a chum who moved out to Potton, Befordshire a four years ago. True, he move into a brand new home, on a new street, but while the street's in the BM-6380's list, none of the houses are.
The navigator is also supposed to offer seven-digit postcode searching. Again, maybe it does, but I couldn't get it to recognise any of the codes I entered in the waypoint-setting section. It did work when setting a single destination, however.
On the road, the unit seemed to take longer than other GPS receivers to get a satellite fix. When it did, it put in on a road three streets away from mine. Once in motion, however, it soon figured out where I really was and started giving me appropriate directions - but not before I'd been given a spurious traffic-light camera warning. In fact, the speed camera alert I got not long after the device's map reading and my physical location co-incided was questionable: if there's a camera there, it's unmarked.
In other respects, the software works exactly as it should. It will get you from A to B, and back on to the route if you stray from your course. And there's a nice pedestrian mode for walkers. Don't do what I did and let the battery run flat. If you do, you'll have to reinstall all the navigation software, even though it's already installed. On the plus side, it will play any MP3s and show any photos stored on the SD card.
The BM-6380 is a competent GPS navigation product. The hardware isn't bad, but I didn't take to the Destinator software - apps like CoPilot Live, Navicore and even Navman's SmartST Pro do it better. These all run on top of Windows Mobile, but the fact that the BM-6380 doesn't have all that PocketPC stuff to handle too didn't make it any faster or, crucially, more responsive - there were plenty of pregnant pauses while the screen changes what it's showing.
Still, you pays your money, you takes your choice. You can't expect the latest GPS technology and the fastest CPU for £300. That's a little cheaper than other low-end dedicated GPS devices, such as the Mio DigiWalker 268 or the Navman iCN520. Like those it does what it's supposed to, and does it reasonably well, though for me the others have controls more suitable for in-car use. ®