When we last tested in-car navigation, we raised the question of why you’d buy a dedicated device when smartphone apps perform almost as well. The Navman MiVue Drive LM might have found the answer – by combining GPS navigation with a dashcam.

Dashcams have become incredibly popular. A YouTube search returns thousands of videos of scarcely believable near misses on Russian roads and there are Facebook pages dedicated to dashcam footage of bad driving in New Zealand.

But aside from recording funnier motoring moments, they can provide evidence in case of an accident, which could potentially make insurance claims less stressful.

I put the Navman MiVue Drive LM through the same tests as the in-car navigation devices and apps we tested last year.

I was impressed.

As a stand-alone GPS it scored 85% and would have earned our recommendation. Its on-road performance and navigation would have topped our test. It presented good route choices with accurate times and distances. The display was clear and road position accurate, it even aced our toughest test – recovering a GPS signal after exiting a tunnel in time to warn of a left turn. Voice guidance for turns was given in good time and without too many reminders or obtrusive instructions.

The device has a “landmark guidance plus” feature, which uses local features in its voice guidance. In the past, I’ve found these features simplistic and confusing. But this was different.

I was surprised when instructed to “turn right at the Pak ’n Save supermarket” and “bear right at Zip Plumbing Plus”. It felt like I was being guided by a human, not a small box stuck to my windscreen.

The Navman didn’t score as highly for ease of use. Searching for addresses requires the city/area to be input first, which can be difficult when searching for rural addresses. Searching for points of interest (POIs) is complicated by a multitude of search options. Several times I had to try more than one search type to find my destination. However, of the 25 rural and urban addresses and POIs I searched for, only three of the most obscure weren’t found. The touchscreen needed a firm press to activate, which isn’t easy when it’s mounted in the windscreen cradle.

The device needed to be mounted so the dashcam’s 120° wide-angle lens had a clear view of the road but also so that I could see and use the GPS. I settled on a position low in the centre of the windscreen. It wasn’t ideal as it recorded almost half a screen of dashboard, but it meant I could use the GPS while not obscuring my view.

A still frame from a MiVue Drive recording.
A still frame from a MiVue Drive recording.

In use, the dashcam function was unobtrusive. Of course, it can’t predict when an accident will occur, so the dashcam records video in one-minute chunks to an SD card whenever the GPS is on. Older videos are overwritten when the card is full. Recordings can be manually locked so they aren’t overwritten and the device uses a built-in accelerometer to automatically lock footage when high G-forces are sensed, for example, those caused by a collision or heavy braking. The recorded data combines video with GPS location, speed of travel and measured G-force.

The MiVue Drive LM uses Navman software to view and manage recordings, which works with Windows, but not with Mac OS. So what is the video quality like? On a sunny day, the 720p video was bright and vibration-free. The unit handled changes of light (driving into and out of tunnels) well and recording in lower-light areas, such as reasonably well-lit car parks and tunnels, was good. However, the overall video quality was disappointing, regardless of light conditions. It was difficult to discern number plates and words on road signs from more than a few metres away.

Overall, viewed as a very good GPS navigator with the bonus of a dashcam, the Navman MiVue Drive LM is a good option, though mediocre video quality lets it down.

First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

By Paul Smith.