Saturday, May 18, 2013

Rand McNally "Good Sam" RVND 7725-LM GPS - First Impressions

I just received my new Good Sam RVND 7725-LM GPS powered by Rand McNally. I am going to share some initial thoughts and first impressions with you today. After a road test in a couple of weeks, I will post some more impressions after that longer use.

The 7725 is a new model, sold through Camping World only, as far as I can tell. It is branded as Good Sam on the bottom left of the GPS, but otherwise seems nearly identical to the Rand McNally branded 7720.  Whether there is any advantage to buying the 7725 over the 7720 remains to be seen. The fact is, in the online forums at least, no one seems to know. The 7725 curiously, is no where on Rand McNally's website, even in the support section. That is a little disconcerting.

I have a long history with personal navigation devices.  A long one. I also travel a lot, both for business and pleasure. I estimate approximately 25,000 miles per year on the road in some form - almost of all of which is with some sort of navigation device (or smartphone software) running.  I have a GPS on all the time, especially in later years as solutions like Google Maps, TomTom and Waze use my driving to feed its predictive traffic database. Over the years, I have owned and used the following products: Garmin SP III, SP 2710, SP 2730, Garmin i5, Garmin c330, Garmin 760, Garmin 885T, Dash Navigation, TeleNav for Sprint, TomTom 740 Live, CoPilot Live v8, Navigon for Android, Navigon for iPad, Google Navigation, Waze, Garmin Nuvi 3490LMT, Garmin 3590LMT, Scout by Telenav, TomTom for Android, Rand McNally 7725LM.  I've used each of those over the years, at least for one trip at a minimum. eBay is a wonderful thing!

I guess you could say that I am still searching for my perfect solution - no one has nailed it yet. The RVND 7725 will NOT be that perfect solution, but I knew that before I ever bought it. I purchased it with my expectations in check.

This blog post is not going to walk through each screen or explain the use of each feature in detail. Rand McNally has a very good user guide (use the one for the 7720) that does a great job of explaining everything this unit does.  I'll focus on what is not written and share my initial impressions.

Branding of the 7725 on the box

The 7725 is packaged in a solid box with a premium feel to it - no rattles or other signs of unsecured parts flying around in there. Immediately upon opening the box a "quick start" guide is available. Nice approach. There is a thick layer of Styrofoam before you reach the GPS itself, which is then packed inside of a thin Styrofoam bag within a form-fitting egg crate type shell.  Well packaged and presented.  Underneath the GPS itself is another egg crate with preformed areas that house the windshield mount, AC power cord, DC power cord and USB cable.

This is a big device. I knew that. I knew I was buying a 7" GPS but when I opened it I still laughed a little about how big it is. This is also a rugged looking device. This is not going to win any beauty awards in the design department. It isn't an elegant 7" tablet. This device is bulky, thick and somewhat gaudy, down to the bright orange power button, a color which seems totally unnecessary given how obvious the button is to begin with.  The average consumer knows how to operate those little smartphone and tablet power buttons. Certainly they can operate this massive power button without it being bright orange.

The actual GPS material is nice. It is that cross between rubber and plastic that will immediately be familiar to anyone with lots of experience in smartphone cases. It is hard to explain to those unfamiliar with it, but I like the texture.

Size comparison to standard office pen
Yes, this is one thick GPS
I also ordered the Rand McNally 7" GPS case. It gets the job done and looks decent. No issues with the case at all. Below is the 7725 mounted inside the case.  There appears to be room for the DC adapter. Putting the AC adapter in this case is not going to happen.

Rand McNally 7" GPS accessory case (sold separately)
I find the screen to have a good level of brightness when mounted in my car. Our RV is a Class C so with the cab over, I can't imagine having any concerns with the screen at all. I have not owned a previous Rand McNally GPS so I can't compare this to others. I have read complaints though, from owners of previous models. All I can say is that I don't have any concerns.  The picture below does not do the screen brightness justice. The screen is brighter than in the photo below.

Screen brightness in a car
I experienced no technical issues with the startup or setup of the 7725. Rand McNally doesn't do a good job of explaining whether to connect the GPS to the computer before installing the PC Dock software or after. However, when installing the PC Dock software, if the GPS isn't connected to the computer, eventually the installation will tell you that a GPS must be connected to continue. There was a small update available that took 10 seconds to apply to my newly shipped GPS. However, the area within the Dock software that is for update release notes simply said "this is the area where update release notes will be displayed."  Not helpful for the update that was just provided.

When I registered the device and connected it to the Dock software, the Dock software knows the content and version numbers of what is on my GPS. It would be nice if Rand McNally associated that information with my registration email address to proactively notify me every time there is something new in the Dock software to update. However, I have seen no evidence that this is the case, so I will plan on blindly connecting the 7725 to the Dock software periodically and certainly before every trip.

OK - let's talk about shortcomings.  All of these items are things that I knew about before buying so I can't complain. However, based on my previous GPS experience I miss them and the 7725 not having them caused me to think long and hard about buying it.
  1. No voice recognition.  It seems like a premium GPS sold in 2013 ought to have this.  I knew it didn't. I bought it anyway. But I find it annoying that it doesn't come with it, especially for use in a RV.
  2. Lack of traffic included. I knew this too, but I find it petty that the 7725 doesn't come with the lifetime traffic receiver. The Magellan RoadMate RV9165T-LM includes lifetime traffic at this same price point. Rand McNally should have included traffic at this price point.
  3. Lack of Bluetooth  The weather feature is nice and it seems well implemented. What I find incredibly shortsighted is that this feature only works over WIFI. The fact that it does work over WIFI is great, don't get me wrong. The issue is that it doesn't work over Bluetooth. It seems clear that many PND's such as Garmin Smartphone Link and Magellan SmartGPS, and many telematics solutions like Toyota Entune and others have gone the route of sharing a smartphone's data connection over Bluetooth  This costs the customer nothing and it supplies a robust pipeline of data to the GPS. Rand McNally not including this functionality was almost a deal breaker for me.
Immediate Dislikes

First of all, I hate the mount. I mean I despise it.  The mount itself is sturdy, built decent (as far as plastic builds can go) and is fully adjustable for any conceivable mounting situation.  However, when it comes to usability, it earns an 'F' and almost earned a chuck out the window on my first day of ownership.  Now, to be fair, if you want to mount this GPS and never move it again, then this mount is just fine.  In fact, it probably works well for that. However, I do not ever leave my GPS device visible on the windshield when parked (even when going into a restaurant or truck stop).  Once I get the mount set in the perfect position and angle I want to leave the mount alone. I will remove and replace the GPS from the mount when I park and leave the vehicle unattended.  This mount is a disaster if that is your mode of operation.

The 7725 mount. Well made and sturdy.
Here is the problem with the mount. The mount itself uses a large flat plastic "plate" which slides into a mating "slot" on the GPS. You have to line up the plate with the slot perfectly, in two planes, then slide the GPS down onto the plate and lock it in place. It is a nice secure fit. However, this is not a task that is easy to do blind. If the windshield mount stays on the windshield such that you can't see whether you've got the plate lined up with the slot (in two planes) then good luck trying to remount the GPS onto the windshield mount.  In addition, this is not a powered mount. The USB power cable plugs directly into the GPS itself, directly out of the back of the unit. Again, it is not easy to plug in the power cable blind.

Mate the GPS slot to the mount's plate. Don't try this without a direct view.
Removing the GPS from the mount requires some force. You must break the GPS free from the mount by sliding it in the reverse direction such that the GPS slot disengages from the mount's plate. It takes some force to overcome this tight fit and requires two hands. It takes a force such that a few times I've broken the windshield mount's suction from the windshield.

I've owned this device for one day and that is all it took to know that this mount isn't going to meet my needs. There is no way that I am going to fight with trying to attach the GPS to the mount blind every time I go into a store or truck stop. Nor am I going to remove the suction cup mount in its entirety from the windshield every time.

So, I added to my purchase cost and purchased a RAM Mounts X-Grip mount for tablets.  I already have this mount for my smartphone and it is stunningly awesome.  I look forward to using it with the 7725, despite the fact that it increased my purchase price by $45.

RAM Mount X-Grip Tablet mount
Some First Impressions

Having to acknowledge the Warning and Legal Consent screen every single time I turn the device on is lame.   The lawyers from Garmin, Google and TomTom don't seem to think that this is necessary.  Someone needs to go slap the Rand McNally attorneys upside the head and remove this annoyance in a future update.

I love the fact that this device has predictive traffic. It remains to be seen how robust this traffic content is compared to TomTom IQRoutes. Navteq is definitely in catch-up mode on this. However, predictive traffic is a crucial feature for a modern GPS and I am glad to see it in this device.  I was surprised to see that the predictive traffic slow downs appeared on the map by coloring coding the roads. This is a nice touch.  I will combine my use of the 7725 with a more robust traffic solution (either Google Navigation or TomTom for Android) while on the road. The 7725 will use its predictive traffic for general route planning purposes while Google Nav or TomTom will assist with the real world live traffic should something develop en route. I think it is a good combination.

It is extremely annoying that my selection of turning predictive traffic on doesn't stick through a power cycle. Every single time I turn on the device I have to turn predictive traffic back on. Annoying and unnecessary. Please fix this Rand McNally.

I like the layout of the screen. The screen is huge and there are a lot of pieces of information presented around the screen, but there is still a massive amount of screen left for the map.  I don't share the complaints others have voiced online about the busyness of the screen or the map being too small.  I've also found that the autozoom function works well so far in my limited use of the device today.

The male voice is significantly better than the female voice in my opinion. The female voice is too robotic but the male voice improves on that significantly.  I find the speaker to be a very good quality sound with a volume range that is more than adequate.

We know that this device has Navteq for the maps. As far as quality, it doesn't get better than Navteq for built-in maps. What we don't know is what vintage these maps are. Additionally, Rand McNally's only releases one map update per year so maps will remain 18 months to 2 years old on this device at best. Quarterly map updates should be provided on this device like most competitors but I knew that wasn't the case when I bought it and I still bought it.

I was really surprised to see the way Rand McNally implemented WIFI. If I have WIFI on and connected to a WAP, when I turn the GPS off (or let it turn off when turning the ignition off), they do not enable WIFI and reconnect to the WAP when power is restored. What? EVERY time you turn the device on you have to enable WIFI again in the settings and reconnect to the WAP. That is unbelievably annoying. WIFI should stay on once I turn it on and it should reconnect to the WAP when the GPS is turned back on.  I hope that there is not a technical reason that this cannot be changed by Rand McNally.

Concerning the WIFI, it is used for the weather content. I really wish Rand McNally would have used the WIFI for more robust traffic content as well. The separate, external Rand McNally traffic receiver gets slammed in online reviews. Plus, it is old school RDS traffic anyway. I find it frustrating that this device isn't being supplied traffic content using HD Radio or better yet online through WIFI. Let's hope that a future update brings us more robust traffic through the WIFI connection.

I like the fact that the device announces whether your destination is on the right or the left.  Navteq data makes this possible.  Nice touch.

I like the easily accessible slide-out menu that shows you an overview of your route. There is an option button at the bottom of this screen that shows you your route in different ways including an overview map. I wish Rand McNally would allow us to set one of these views as a default for the slide-out menu. I always check an overview map on any GPS to ensure the route that the device picked passes the smell test. I wish that this overview map could be set as my personal default for the route detail slide-out menu.

I like the fact that this GPS has packed in a lot of little niceties such as warnings for state line crossings, speed limit changes, time zone changes, curves and more. My family loves to take pictures of state welcome signs as we travel, so this will be a nice feature to have. I've read some online reviews about these features having inconsistent performance (alerting on some curves but not on worse curves) so it remains to be seen after more extended use how well this is implemented.

The RV database seems pretty robust and is likely the reason most people buy this unit. It contains a wealth of information about each location. One disappointment is that it doesn't seem to have local, city camping locations, even those that have hookups.

I like the inclusion of a directional compass on the map. This is something that I think Garmin is insane for never including on their GPS devices.

I've run many test routes from my home. In every case so far the 7725 has selected the "right" route as I see it. This is especially true for one of my big "test routes" which separates the men from the boys for PND routing. That route is the route from Des Moines, IA to St. Louis, MO.  I've written an extensive blog post about why this route is a great test route. I am glad to see that the 7725 nailed this route, both in the route selected as well as the ETA.  That is good news.  In other tests where I personally feel a non-interstate route is best, but an interstate route is also available as a close temptation, the 7725 seems to be more in line with my thinking by picking the non-interstate route. I've always felt like the Rand McNally website does a good job with route selection and ETA so I am glad to see that the 7725 behaves much like the website in this regard.

While I appreciate that the 7725 has route preferences to avoid things like tollways and gravel roads, I wish that it would give you these options on a route-by-route basis. I hope that Rand McNally will change this feature to act more like TomTom. After TomTom calculates a route, it prompts you with "This route contains a tollway (or dirt road). Would you like to use it or avoid it?"  When I am familiar with the route, there are times when I want to avoid a tollway and times when I want to take the tollway.  I'd like to quickly tell the unit my choice on a route-by-route basis instead of having to change a preference setting.  For example, if I am traveling from Indiana to the east coast, I may desire to avoid the Ohio turnpike. Upon route calculation, it would be nice to be asked whether I want to avoid tollways or not and have the unit recalculate taking US-30 instead.  Other times, say if I am using the device in my car and driving from the KOA West Chicago into downtown, I'd answer "yes, use the tollway" in that scenario.

Navteq data has car pool lanes available in the dataset. Garmin uses that data. Since the 7725 has a car mode and can be used in a toad or rental car, I wish that it also had car pool lane information. When driving in a major city using or avoiding car pool lanes can produce a major change to the route selected and the ETA, especially when the unit already has predictive traffic.  I hope the Rand McNally adds this feature.


I am looking forward to getting this device out on the road in a couple weeks on our first RV trip of the season. I am glad that when I do, I will have the RAM Mount X-Grip to replace the awful mount that comes with the 7725.  I will be glad to have route planning that is using predictive traffic content as well as (what appears so far at least) to be Rand McNally's pretty good routing and ETA algorithm that is similar to my positive experience with their website directions. I'll be happy to be able to advance plan my trip in the multi-stop route planner. I'll be pleased to execute the trip with a unit where the volume level will easily overcome all of the road noise of a RV.

I will look forward to having a weather overlay on the map while I navigate but be cussing Rand McNally every time that I have to enable WIFI and reconnect to the WAP when the 7725 turns on. This frustration will be equaled only by the frustration that I'll have as I start out on my journey only to realize that the map isn't being shown yet because I haven't acknowledged the legal disclaimer every time I turn the device on.

I'll drive down the road wishing that I had Bluetooth and wishing that my wife had a Rand McNally Android or iPhone app so she could be searching the POI database while I drive and pushing a stopover or destination to my 7725 over Bluetooth while I drive.  I won't regret not buying the Magellan SmartGPS for this feature but I will wish that my 7725 had it.

And I'll be using my 7725 with my smartphone running either Google Navigation or TomTom for Android to ensure I have more current maps and the most up-to-date live traffic to augment what the 7725 thinks it wants me to do.  Current maps and live traffic content will not be a strength of the 7725, I know that and I'll work around that until / if Rand McNally decides to improve that for us.

When I return from my trip in early June, I'm sure that I'll find that the 7725 worked pretty well, with a few drawbacks - much like my feeling about the device when I decided to buy it.  We'll see!