Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/05/26/review_satnav_vexia_econav_480/

Vexia Econav 480 satnav

GPS for treehuggers?

By Sandra Vogel

Posted in Science, 26th May 2010 07:02 GMT

Review Arguably there’s been nothing really innovative in satnav for some time. But the Econav 480 claims to be able to help you save fuel and the environment by telling you how to drive in a fuel efficient way while getting you from A to B.

Vexia Econav 480

The Green Economy: Vexia's Econav 480

It does this by comparing your driving with what it knows is the optimum driving practice for your vehicle. It tells you when to change gear, alerts you when your driving exhibits excessive braking and acceleration, and produces stats to show how you improve over time. The vendors reckon that using Econav can reduce your CO2 emissions by up to 30 per cent.

Vexia Econav 480

Keeps a record of your motoring efficiency

The Econav’s 4.3in screen is quite sharp and bright. There is an on/off button on the top edge, a micro SD card slot, mini USB connector and 3.5mm headset jack on the left edge. The windshield mount is solid and dependable. The screen is touch sensitive and a small stylus lives in a housing on the Econav’s casing. I can’t see it taking the place of a finger very often, to be honest but it is there if you want it.

Vexia Econav 480

A weekly view of your motoring eco stats

Setting up trips follows the usual patterns. If you know the postcode just enter it, but there’s no house number accuracy using that method. Alternatively enter a location narrowing down from what the software calls a city but which can actually be a London borough, town, or somewhere smaller. To get somewhere useful in a town you don’t know, you can opt to search for a parking location, hotel, health location, entertainment spot or other Point of Interest.

When you set the Econav up you feed in your make of vehicle and registration year. There are over 11,000 in the database, and so yours should be there. Mine was. It can cope with more than one vehicle so can be shared in multi-car households and automatics too, but with more limited prompts.

Econav 480

Journey analysis

The Econav uses vehicle specific information alongside what it gets from the GPS such as speed of travel to suggest when you should change gear and calculate your fuel economy. A full screen Econav view shows the gear you should currently be in to maximise economy. It also gives a visual alert for excessive braking or acceleration, safe distance between you and the next vehicle, which you set for dry or wet conditions.

Econav 480

Naughty motoring flagged up
Click for a video clip

A colour bar shows whether you are driving at optimal speed – green is OK, orange is iffy, red is poor. Spoken instructions tell you to change gear and when a ‘safety’ camera is coming up. You can get the device to show alerts of penalty points and potential fines too.

Econav 480

It's a satnav too, don't forget

The small visual alerts for excessive braking and acceleration are pointless as no driver is going to look at the Econav screen often enough to see these and there is no aural alert for them either. However, the info they gather is brought together into a larger database that reports on your overall driving performance and gives tips on improving it. As you use the Econav over time, the reports show cumulative data, so you can see whether you are improving.

Actually driving with the Econav does mean you have to fight some old habits. The gear change timings are not always in sync with the natural flow when working through the gearbox. Upward prompts will sometimes occur a moment later than you’d instinctively change, particularly when pulling away. Whereas changing down or low speed driving, the Econav may suggest you remain in a lower gear for longer than you might otherwise choose.

Econav 480

Speed cameras plus those at traffic lights, box junctions and the like are flagged up

As for the visual feedback, the obvious problem with having the main Econav screen in view all the time is that is that you can’t see the more usual driving view. That’s fine all the time the spoken instructions are clear. But I had a couple of occasions when the device did not say what to do at junctions. Prodding at the screen to switch views is not advisable at the best of times, and the Econav is a bit slow to switch display modes. Add in that the screen doesn’t always register finger taps and this can be panic-inducing.

An alternative is to have a mini Econav bar on view as part of the more usual turn-by-turn screen. This provides enough information for glancing at without obscuring the turn by turn data.

Verdict

It is impossible to say how well the Econav performs over time on the basis of a test period of just a few days. It can, presumably, only improve driving efficiency if you implement its advice and this needs to happen over a period of months. However it does seem to offer good advice on smooth acceleration and braking and on using the appropriate gear.

As for its general turn by turn work, there are some rough edges such as its inability to give instruction at some junctions. And I’d like a more responsive touchscreen too. But the idea is a sound one, and it'll be interesting to see how the Econav concept develops. ®

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