Although I love my 9-5 to bits, there are one or two features I cannot reward with a full “thumb’s up”. Time has come to discuss the 9-5’s built-in satnav system.
First niggle when using the satnav is the definition of “short”. The short version is this: Selecting “short” can get you into trouble fast.
I live in Mariestad and work in Oslo. Even though I know the road by heart, it still helps to tell the satnav just where I am going. That way I receive relevant traffic updates and, if I am lucky/adventurous, I might even get directions to avoid said obstacles. (In reality, it is hard to tell the difference between a one hour standoff and a five minute delay, but at least I have some choice in the matter)
Google Maps suggests two different routes. One goes south of Mariestad and is a little bit longer, but most of it is on the E6 which is very nice road to drive on if you want to get anywhere fast. The other goes north and ends up on the E18 which, in spots, is a good alternative. E18 is a little shorter, but my experience is that it adds at least 10-15 minutes to the drive and you more easily get stuck in traffic moving at lorry-speeds.
So, it boils down to fast versus short? Almost. The built-in satnav nearly suggests the same routes, with one exception: It has found that going through the village of Hasselrör will cut a few yards off the total distance. There is a similar section on the Norwegian side of this route as well which I haven’t explored, but it certainly is possible to cut a few yards here as well and the satnav knows it all too well.
What the built-in satnav lacks is the option of “short, but still reasonably sane”. I once took years off dear Swade’s life expectancy by choosing ‘short’ on our short road-trip up north in Sweden a year ago. He blames me, and I blame the satnav (maybe I should post a poll on this subject?). Luckily I think enough time has passed for us to look back on that ordeal and have a good laugh about it.
What I sometimes do now is to first select ‘short’ to get a rough idea of which direction and then select ‘fast’. Eventually it will re-calculate the ‘fast’ route properly and everybody wins. More often than not, I simply pick ‘fast’ all the way. I have a feeling this was not what the designer of the satnav intended.
The atheist with-in
On a personal note, I fancy myself as a man of science. If you have seen Santa Claus — good for you, but don’t bother telling me without some evidence to back up your observation. That said, having an entire category of POIs ripped out makes the satnav that much less useful. Yesterday, as my wife and I attended the Christening of Tompa’s daughter Ellen, I mentioned to Ellen’s god father RobinM that I had to consult my Garmin GPS. The reason ‘why’ is that the mighty (yet small) Garmin has a category of POIs known as “Places of Worship”. In Sweden, almost every little town and hamlet features a Church. If you are going someplace new to visit someone, a good place to start is “well, I found the church, now where do I go next?”.
This has nothing to do with the user’s personal faith (or lack thereof). Just another practical tool in the navigator’s tool-box.
…a problem easily solved by adding your own custom POIs. Not so with the built-in satnav. I have yet to figure out how to accomplish this task which by all means should be a simple requirement.
My preferable choice of fuel is E85. There are people out there who collects POIs showing the location of E85 pumps all around Europe. I have such a list on my Garmin, but not in my car’s built-in satnav.
Or how about an updated list of POIs for speed traps? (that information should ideally pop up in the HUD btw)
In the ‘vehicle’ category of POIs, there is a sub-category known as “GM”. This is where you will find your local Saab-dealership. I guess Saab did not have much time to adapt this generic GM satnav system to the 9-5. This is a very minor niggle, but one that had me a little bit stumped nonetheless.
Early onset of Alzheimer’s
Want to enter a new address? My satnav always suggest Belgium as the default country. It doesn’t matter that I usually enter addresses in Sweden or that both me and the car is currently in the middle of Sweden and has been for the last week or so. Still it figures out a good place to start is Belgium. I have no idea why Belgium is the first choice. Why not Austria (alphabetically A comes before B)?
Mix this with its inability to remember what album it was playing, and any doctor would be excused for concluding the unit is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Insisting on driving through hamlets like an old person would be apt to doing pretty much seals the deal.
BTW: The first track on the built-in drive is (I can’t get no) Satisfaction. The parentheses, of course, means this song is first in the sort order. (more on that later)
The reset can come at any time. Even just stopping to refuel the car can be enough to reset the satnav. (curiously enough: I have never seen it forget a destination or waypoint)
Last summer my wife and I headed to Georgia through Turkey. One of the problems that presented itself was the satnav’s complete unfamiliarity with European countries like Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. In Hungary we were apparently driving around a big magic flat field that did not contain any features whatsoever, let alone a road.
Eventually even the satnav got bored with this, so when we left Hungary it showed a fancy compass needle that was actually more helpful but still a bit short of what I needed. Again my old Garmin came out of the pocket and saved the day.
Meanwhile, back in the old country, more and more roads pop out of nowhere. There are now two places in Sweden where the satnav thinks I have been driving 110-120 kph off-road. SU has been in touch with Saab Parts AB and we hope to have a meeting with them shortly. This will be one of the questions I hope we will get to the bottom of.
Speed and altitude
My Garmin, btw, can also give a more accurate speed reading than the car’s own speedometer. This however seems to be largely fixed now that I have 19” wheels, but more testing remains. I would love for the built-in unit to give me some feedback of various speeds measured.
I have yet to discover what altitude we are at. Our recent road-trip through Norway left us without the answer to “just how high up are we now?” when looking down at a waterfall. We had left our Garmin at home which turned out to be a rookie mistake.
A good satnav should not only be able to tell you how to get to your destination. It should also be able to give you some simple facts of where you are at right now. It is not without reason that every train station in Norway is marked not only with the name of the station but also its altitude. Tourists want to know. It is part of the whole mountain-trekking experience. Would you climb mount Kilimanjaro without remembering how high up you came? (It was 5895 meters — I’ve checked)
My Garmin comes with a lot of software for my PC. One of the features I recently found useful was that it stores track information. The track information gives you a rough idea of where you have been driving when, at what speeds and altitude. When and where exactly did you stop for that lovely dinner after having filled up on gasoline? No worries, your hand-held GPS knows the answers to those questions. Just remember to transfer this information often.
The inept DJ
The satnav also controls my modest MP3 collection. I am an avid fan of The Rolling Stones and nearly all their songs (both live and studio versions) have been ripped from my CD collection.
A few problems have surfaced:
- Ripping CDs on my PC and simply copying the .mp3 files to the satnav resulted in the player messing up the track order. The player insists on playing the tracks alphabetically and not in the album order.
- Not able to figure out what id3 tags to resort to, I then ripped all my CDs in-situ. It now plays any one album just fine, but fails to continue playing the next album. It gets stuck playing the same album over and over again…
- I then switched to “shuffle mode”, preferring a random track over being forced to switch albums manually, which is a half-decent workaround…
- …until it forgets and simply starts playing the first song found on the drive.
Workaround: Put your collection on a USB-stick together with playlists. You will forfeit a USB socket (I have heard there are two USB sockets, but I have only managed to find one?), but at least it will stick with the playlists. However, at some point it will probably forget just where in those playlists it was, so I consider this a partial workaround at best.
In case of an emergency
In case of an accident, the satnav seems prone to display just the big Saab logo. One would think it more useful to display the last known coordinates (altitude information would also be nice…). I have yet to find this information anywhere, but I’m sure it is there someplace. It has to be, right? After all, the 9-5 will automatically start the emergency blinkers in case of the driver stepping on the brakes hard. Should it not also assume the driver may want to call and tell someone where he is at that point?
As I recall, the built-in satnav cost 15000 SEK (about 2000 USD). You can get awfully many modern Garmins and Tom-Toms for that price. A map update has yet to surface (though this being a GM sourced unit, one would think a Buick update would fit the bill) so it is difficult to say how much an update will cost. Updates for the previous generation 9-5’s satnav were quite expensive however, again costing more than what a stand-alone satnav unit would cost complete with hardware and a lifetime of upgrades.
The big redeeming feature is the HUD integration. As you approach an intersection or off-ramp, a big arrow appears together with a progress bar. Unless you are wearing polarized sunglasses you will find it difficult to miss your exit. I still sometimes struggle a bit with the graphics used to show where to go in a roundabout, but for roundabouts with four exits or less it usually gets the job done.
The IQON system promised to be a huge step in the right direction to address issues such as these. Maybe they would not have bundled the right navigation software out of the box, but Saab talked about letting people update it with trusted third-party software. I sincerely hope the good (ex-)engineers at Saab get a decent chance to finish the good work they started.